Agential Realism & OOP

  • Agential Realism is a theoretical framework developed by Karen Barad.

  • ethico-onto-epistem-ology[Bar07](185)


  • Epistemology = the way knowledge is produced.

  • It is founded on the epistemology formulated by the physicist Niels Bohr:

The instruments we have developed and the measurements that are possible in principle and actually carried out are used to define what can be known about an object and what properties can be attributed to it as a result. [Bar07](19-21)

  • Basically Bohr’s epistemology is an early form of acknowledging situated knowledge (Haraway).

Valentin Beinroth: General Survey Antipodes Expedition

Valentin Beinroth: General Survey Antipodes Expedition (2014/15)

Valentin Beinroth: General Survey Antipodes Expedition (2014/15)

Valentin Beinroth- General Survey Antipodes Expedition

Philipp Schmitt: Computed Curation (2016-17/18)




Computed Curation is a photobook created by a computer. Taking the human editor out of the loop, it uses machine learning and computer vision tools to curate a series of photos from an archive of pictures.

Considering both image content and composition — but through the sober eyes of neural networks, vectors and pixels — the algorithms uncover unexpected connections and interpretations that a human editor might have missed.

Machine learning based image recognition tools are already adept at recognizing training images (umbrella, dog on a beach, car), but quickly expose their flaws and biases when challenged with more complex input.

In Computed Curation, these flaws surface in often bizarre and sometimes poetic captions, tags and connections. Moreover, by urging the viewer to constantly speculate on the logic behind its arrangement, the book teaches how to see the world through the eyes of an algorithm.

Relational Ontology

This epistemology has consequences for an ontology. (According to Barad, epistemology and ontology can’t be separated)

“[…] relational ontology […] is at the core of agential realism. It does not take the boundaries of any of the objects or subjects of these studies for granted but rather investigates the material-discursive boundary-making practices that produce »objects« and »subjects« and other differences out of, and in terms of, a changing relationality.” [Bar07](93)

  • things (including us) don’t have inherent properties

  • things don’t have clear and static borders

“In summary, the primary ontological units are not »things« but phenomena — dynamic topological reconfigurings/entanglements/relationalities/(re)articulations of the world. And the primary semantic units are not »words« but material-discursive practices through which (ontic and semantic) boundaries are constituted. This dynamism is agency. Agency is not an attribute but the ongoing reconfigurings of the world. The universe is agential intra-activity in its becoming.” [Bar07](141)

Johanna Reich: Face Detection (2018)

Johanna Reich - Face Detection

Johanna Reich - Face Detection

“In her work „Face Detecion“ JOHANNA REICH explores the relationship between man and machine in the digital age. In front of a smartphone camera with face detection she is forming clumps of clay until they were recognized by the facial recognition program of the smartphone as humans. At the point of recognition she stops forming. When does the human appear? When does it disappear? And: What does humanity actually look like? The Software obviously has a sense of abstraction, because it discovers it already in roughly worked lumps.” (Website)

Christian Doeller: CYTTER

Christian Doeller: CYTTER (2020)

Christian Doeller: CYTTER (2020)

Christian Doeller: CYTTER (2020)

Christian Doeller: CYTTER (2020)

Mattis Kuhn: sketch_150709b (2015)

Mattis Kuhn: sketch_150709b (2015)

Mattis Kuhn: sketch_150709b (2015)

Intra-Actions & Agency

“Crucially, agency is a matter of intra-acting; it is an enactment, not something that someone or something has. It cannot be designated as an attribute of subjects or objects (as they do not preexist as such). It is not an attribute whatsoever. Agency is »doing« or »being« in its intra-activity. It is the enactment of iterative changes to particular practices — iterative reconfigurings of topological manifolds of spacetime-matter relations — through the dynamics of intra-activity. Agency is about changing possibilities of change entailed in reconfiguring material-discursive apparatuses of bodily production, including the boundary articulations and exclusions that are marked by those practices in the enactment of a causal structure. Particular possibilities for (intra-)acting exist at every moment, and these changing possibilities entail an ethical obligation to intra-act responsibly in the world’s becoming, to contest and rework what matters and what is excluded from mattering.” [Bar07](178)

Entanglement HCI

In his article »Entanglement HCI The Next Wave?«, Christoper Frauenberger presents several theories of relational ontologies under the umbrella of »entanglement theories«,1 which may be the 4th wave of HCI (Following Steve Harrison et al. (2007), the first can be described as focusing on adapting the machine to the centered human; the second as focusing on the strength of the human and the machine, trying to reduce each’s weaknesses; “the third is focused on interaction that is situated in the social and bodily complexities of a messy, real world.”) [Fra19](1 f.)2

Actor-Network Theory

  • Developed by Bruno Latour and Michel Callon

  • Agency does not require being a human or having intentions

  • For e.g., things like social norms and laws are associated actors in a network between humans and non-humans


  • Developed by Don Ihde

  • Tools don’t put us into distance from the world, they are mediators and constitute subjects and objects

“Verbeek [2015] prominently argues for a post-phenomenological move in HCI that shifts our focus away from designing interactions with technologies towards designing human relationships with their world, in which technologies play a mediating role. Drawing on the post-phenomenological argument that humans and technologies constitute each other in the act of experiencing the world, he provocatively states ‘Designing technology is designing human beings’.” [Fra19](7)3

“This also re-orients the debate around responsibility and the ethics of design. As Verbeek [2015] argues, defending human autonomy against the powers of technology may be an unhelpful framing of what responsible innovation could be. Instead he advocates for the developing responsible forms of (unavoidable) technological mediation.” [Fra19](7)

Object-Oriented Ontology

  • developed by Graham Harman

  • flat (posthumanist) hierarchy

  • objects exist independent of relations (critics argue that this means they are static)

Agential Realism

  • developed by Karen Barad

  • opposite of object-oriented ontology

“Barad argues the exact opposite to OOO, where things exist independent of their relations, while in Agential Realism things are only coming into existence through discursive practices.”[Fra19](9)

Entanglement HCI

We are not designing computers nor interactions, but configurations, which produce phenomena.

“Configurations are hybrid networks in which human and non-human actors intra-act. These actors are not fixed representations of entities, but only exist in their situated intra-action, i.e., their relations and configurations create agential cuts that draw the boundaries between entities for the duration of the phenomena. As configurations change and shift, new phenomena are enacted and new agential cuts create new actors.”[Fra19](12)

Code is agency

The special thing about code is that it’s performing. That’s why it’s also called executable text. In it’s execution, it is performing agency somewhat independent of it’s author/user.

“»I would rather suggest we should be thinking about embedding our own creative subjectivity into automated systems, rather than naively trying to get a robot to have its ,own‘ creative agenda. A lot of us do this day in, day out. We call it programming.«” [Adrian Ward, E-Mail an die Netzkunst-Mailingliste rhizome, 7.5.2001.] [Cra11](215)

In the chapter “Keine Experimente. Über künstlerische Künstliche Intelligenz” [“No experiments. On artistic artifical intelligence”], Hannes Bajohr reflects on the interaction between the author Daniel Kehlmann and an AI language model called »CTRL«:

“Es ist also gut möglich, dass nicht die Künstliche Intelligenz an der Literatur gescheitert ist, sondern Kehlmann an der Künstlichen Intelligenz – und damit irgendwie auch an der Literatur. Denn in seiner Gegenüberstellung von vollwertigem „künstlerischen Werk“ und bloßem „Experiment“ zeigt sich, wie wenig ihm in den Sinn kommt, dass man mit Maschinen anders Literatur machen kann oder vielleicht sogar muss, statt sie über das Stöckchen der eigenen Poetik springen zu lassen. So sind ihm die Entgleisungen und Absurditäten, die CTRL ausspuckt, offensichtlich bug, nicht feature. Was Literatur ist und welcher Ästhetik sie zu folgen hat, steht von Anfang an fest.” [Baj22] (174)

“It is therefore quite possible that it was not artificial intelligence that failed because of literature, but Kehlmann because of artificial intelligence - and therefore somehow also because of literature. Because his juxtaposition of a fully-fledged “artistic work” and a mere “experiment” shows how little it occurs to him that you can or perhaps even have to make literature differently with machines instead of letting them jump over the stick of your own poetics. So the derailments and absurdities that CTRL spits out are obviously bug to him, not feature. What literature is and what aesthetics it has to follow is clear from the outset.” [Translated with (free version)] [Baj22] (174)



Hannes Bajohr. Schreibenlassen. Texte zur Literatur im Digitalen. August Verlag, Berlin, 2022.


Karen Barad. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press, 2007.


Florian Cramer. Exe.cut[up]able statements. Poetische Kalküle und Phantasmen des selbstausführenden Texts. Fink, Paderborn, 2011. URL:


Christopher Frauenberger. Entanglement HCI The Next Wave? ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact., November 2019. Place: New York, NY, USA Publisher: Association for Computing Machinery. URL:, doi:10.1145/3364998.


The term was described by W. J. Orlikowski. 2010. The sociomateriality of organisational life: Considering technology in management research. Cam- bridge Journal of Economics 34, 1 (Jan. 2010), 125–141. DOI:


S. Harrison, D. Tatar, and P. Sengers. 2007. The three paradigms of HCI. In Proceedings of Alt. Chi. ACM SIGCHI.


Peter-Paul Verbeek. 2015. Beyond interaction: A short introduction to mediation theory. Interactions 22, 3 (Apr. 2015), 26–31. DOI: