In the wake of what in the 1990s came to be known as ‘the material turn’, scholars have increasingly attended to physicality as a locus of theorisation. Such studies of material artefacts—of objects, tools, and things—initiated a dialogue between different disciplines inside and outside of the humanities. Objects were no longer considered merely as the embodiment of human ideas or behaviours but were accorded an active role of their own, agency (Gell, 1998), or vibrancy (Bennett, 2010) in a networked world. This ontological shift, where material artefacts are no longer held to be subordinate to the intentions of their creators, or to human intentionality tout court, thus heralds in turn a decentring of the human subject.
Because it dethrones the human and sets aside the idea of human agency, the material turn can be seen as a movement away from political questions. This is especially the case when it comes to the materiality of aesthetic forms. In recent years, however, art historians have expanded and enlivened the technical study of art, looking more and more at how the treatment of colours, textures, or surfaces can serve to question power structures. The deanthrocentric turn invites us to purge human dregs from the realm of things and, at the same time, to deal with incumbent power relations that persist as a trace.
This one-day conference will concentrate on the tension that holds together materialism and the question of political criticism. It aims to draw on the recent tendency of material studies to retheorize the politics of matter. Following what Jennifer Roberts calls the different ‘horizons’ of transnational material studies (‘The Ecological Horizon’, ‘The Horizon of Virtuality’, and ‘The Horizon of Western Dualism’) (Roberts, 2017), feminist materialism (Alaimo and Hekman, 2007), and queer theory, it invites an evaluation of the critical potential of material studies and its rejection of anthropocentrism. It will be an occasion to explore how material studies can hold together the question of materiality with renewed attention to the questions of post-enlightenment human subjectivity.
Thinking about matter is a way of deconstructing hegemonic forms of existence. The politics of matter also provides us with a valuable lens to appreciate devaluated relations to materiality and practices such as crafts. By putting workers and makers in the spotlight, the current coronavirus crisis reveals how those who entertain a close relation to bare matter have been assigned to the margins of society. This conference will thus offer an opportunity to assess how scholars in the humanities have dealt with the question: What counts as matter, and what counts as matter that matters?
Not only does the current context invite us to deconstruct hierarchies, but it is also an incentive to reflect on human hubris. This conference will thus consider the politics inherent in the urgent reevaluation of our place as earthlings, in a continuum of organic life now globally threatened by destructive practices of occupying space and consuming its resources. In doing so it opens the way to another understanding of the economics of matter – from the infinite and unsustainable supply and demand of stuff to the apprehension of earth as one fragile oekoumene. Drawing back from the aporetic potential of ‘post’ human thinking, this involves an investigation of interconnectedness, that is new ways for humans to be ‘com-post’ (Haraway, 2008): to exist with our organic counterparts, sharing distinctive but overlapping ecosystems. It also calls for attention to how material studies might appear problematic in applying humanist values to non-human things (Žižek, 2014).
This one day-conference is open to scholars interested in theorising matter across the disciplines. We welcome interdisciplinary and historiographical discussions, case studies and crossovers. We also invite contributions from artists.
Topics may include, but are not limited to:
- New Materialism and how it has shaped contemporary artistic and literary creation and practices
- The artistic use of materials and techniques and their political implication
- Humans and objects
- Compost narratives: forms of narrations that are centered on things or animals.
- The historiography of Material Studies
- Exhibitions and curatorial projects that focus on materiality
- The way material studies change the way we understand humans and human interactions
- The politics of object-oriented ontologies
- The material and the virtual
- The recycling and consumption of artistic artefacts
- Vibrant Matter
- Materiality, race, and gender politics
- Critical Materialism
- Dialectical Materialism
- Material Studies critiques
This conference day will be convened by Dr. Sarah Gould (Université Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne) with the support of the Histoire Culturelle et Sociale de l’Art research center (HiCSA), Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne. It will be held on March the 6th 2021 at the INHA (Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art) in Paris. Due to the current situation, this event might be replaced by an online webinar.
Proposals of 300 words and a short biography should be sent to Dr. Diane Leblond (email@example.com), Dr. Sarah Gould (firstname.lastname@example.org), Dr. Estelle Murail (email@example.com) by December 15th 2020.
This study day is part of the project ‘Deconstructing anthropocentrism: Humanities After Humans?’, which is a project in collaboration between Dr. Sarah Gould (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, EA 4100 – HiCSA – histoire culturelle et sociale de l’art), Dr. Diane Leblond (Université de Lorraine, EA 2338 – IDEA) and Dr. Estelle Murail (ICP, EA 7403 – UR “Religion, Culture et Société”).
Dr. Sarah Gould (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, EA 4100 – HiCSA – histoire culturelle et sociale de l’art)