The Ontology of Social Objects: Harman’s Immaterialism and Sartre’s Practico-Inert

Arjen Kleinherenbrink 1  and Simon Gusman 1
  • 1 Radboud University,, Nijmegen, Netherlands


In his recent Immaterialism, Graham Harman develops a theory of social objects based on his object-oriented ontology. Whereas some of the more mainstream theories in the humanities would dissolve such objects into their material constituents or their various effects on others, object-oriented social theory theorizes them as inert, resilient entities with a private reality that exceeds their components and actions. Harman’s theory focuses on what social entities are qua objects, and consequently says little about their specificity as social objects. A more complete social theory would also outline how human existence is to be understood in relation to a social world comprised of discrete and inert entities, as opposed to, for example, far more continuous material fields or networks of associations. We argue that an unexpected yet solid candidate for such an extension of object-oriented social theory already exists in Jean-Paul Sartre’s theory of practico-inert being and group formation. We first outline Harman’s and Sartre’s respective ontologies of social objects, and then discuss how their many complementarities make the latter a suitable extension of the former.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter - A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

  • Coole, Diana and Frost, Samantha (eds). New Materialism - Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019.

  • DeLanda, Manuel. Assemblage Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016.

  • DeLanda, Manuel. A New Philosophy of Society - Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. London: Continuum, 2006.

  • Harman, Graham. The Quadruple Object. Winchester: Zero Books, 2010.

  • Harman, Graham. Immaterialism - Objects and Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity, 2016.

  • Harman, Graham. Tool-Being - Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects. Chicago: Open Court, 2002.

  • Jeanson, Francis. Le problème moral et la pensée de Sartre, suivi de Un quidam nommé Sartre. Paris: Seuil, 1965.

  • Latour, Bruno. Pandora’s Hope - Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.

  • Latour, Bruno. Science in Action - How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987.

  • Margulis, Lynn. Symbiotic Planet - A New Look at Evolution. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

  • Mumford, Lewis. Technics and Civilization. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1934.

  • Negri, Antonio and Hardt, Michael. Empire. Camridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

  • Sartre, Jean-Paul. Critique of Dialectical Reason - Volume I: Theory of Practical Ensembles. Translated by Alan Sheridan-Smith. New York: New Left Books, 1976.

  • Sparrow, Tom. The End of Phenomenology - Metaphysics and the New Realism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.


Journal + Issues

Open Philosophy is an international Open Access, peer-reviewed academic journal covering all areas of philosophy. The objective of Open Philosophy is to foster free exchange of ideas and provide an appropriate platform for presenting, discussing and disseminating new concepts, current trends, theoretical developments and research findings related to the broadest philosophical spectrum.