Thinking-with Physalias. Toward a Relational Account of Agency

  • Ilaria Santoemma Dirpolis Institute of the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa


How do we evaluate our material assemblages today? Is it possible to account for the agency of matter while remaining within an anthropocentric and teleologically oriented frontier of thought? This paper uses a material-semiotic figuration, that of the marine creature Physalia physalis, to discuss the hypothesis of a relational account of agency. Through a reading of posthumanist and new materialist feminist thought, the paper aims to discuss how matter, a tangle of human and non-human, organic and inorganic agency, has been emptied of its agential potential. Taking up the witness of the Physalia, the arguments focus on the impactful capacity of materiality, disengaging it from a model of voluntarist, aprioristic agency or from any action informed by moral laws and intentionality. The aim is to ground preliminary reflections for a model of relational and distributed agency. The first section of the paper will therefore discuss the state of the art of posthumanities and the contributions of new materialism to an agential ontoepistemology of matter/nature. The second and third sections will develop the argument of material agency through the idea of sympoiesis. The Physalia figuration will be examined as representative of an innovative relational agential form. In conclusion, a hypothesis of multi-species agentivity conceived in the intra-agent relationality will be proposed through an example coming from cutting-edge bio-technoscientific advances, the one related to the CRISPR/Cas9 technology.

Biografia autore

Ilaria Santoemma, Dirpolis Institute of the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa

Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Political Philosophy at the Dirpolis Institute of the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa. She is co-coordinator and lecturer of the “Science” module of the Master in Gender Studies and Policies - Università Roma Tre. Her areas of interest are political philosophy and philosophy of technology, gender studies. She works on gender and feminist theories, critical epistemology and posthumanist studies.

Come citare
Santoemma, I. (2023). Thinking-with Physalias. Toward a Relational Account of Agency. Philosophy Kitchen - Rivista Di Filosofia Contemporanea, (19), 149-165.