Activist Materialism

Short Summary

In his essay titled, "Activist Materialism," Dimitris Papadopoulos turns to Karl Marx and his early writings to describe activist materalism that he describes as having a common thread with neo materialism. Activist materialism, explains Papadopoulos, is activist because it refers to life activity which he describes as "everyday practical activity which has the capacity to change the material conditions of existence. The moment of transformation is the moment when, to use Marx's term, civil society collapses and a new social material order emerges" (65). This type of materialism is found in Marx's early writings, but later in his writing it shifted to another form of materialism. Papadopoulos describes the transformation of the interpretation of Marx's materialism in academics throughout his essay.

Papadopoulos explains that Marx's activist materialism was overshadowed by dialectical materialism that he describes as having a different conception of ontology/epistemology, specifically that practical ontology was removed which changed the meaning of activism from the transformative action of materiality (67). Throughout his essay Papadopoulos outlines the materialisms that were focused on before activist materialism returned in the 1990s (historical materialism, Lenin's materialism, and cultural materialism), Papadopoulos argues that activist, since 1990s, hoped to change lived experience through material in that "it consciously attempts to force existing institutions to change by creating alternative materialities and forms of life" (75).

Similarly to new materialism, material feminisms, and neo materialism, activist materialism draws on Deleuze and Guttari, focusing on matter's indeterminacy, and monism. Papadopoulos does argue that, "Deleuze and Guattari’s move to a monist materialism is not a theoretical choice; it is the result of a political diagnosis according to which any desire for change has been vampirised by the institutions of the state" (76). Papadopoulos's description of activist materialism is a way of reading new materialisms perpendicularly with activism.


Minor Science

Key Ideas, Concepts, Terms

indeterminacy of matter
minor science


Dimitris Papadopoulos

Authors Drawn on

Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, Donna Haraway, James Clifford


Papadopoulos, Dimitris. "Activist Materialism." Deleuze Studies 4 (2010): 64-83.

External Links