ASCA International Workshop, Amsterdam, March 26-28, 2008
Things in the world, objects of art and of everyday use, have functioned as core referents in contemporary cultural theory. Since the “linguistic turn”, technological devices and philosophical texts, dirty windows, typewriter-erasers, and cyber-space, have been proposed and contested as possible sites for re-encountering material reality. The 2008 ASCA International Workshop is a space open to reflect on the methodological nuances, theoretical consequences and political implications of engaging objects within the humanities.
“Engaging Objects” refers to the object’s possibilities of seduction and resistance, of compromise and failure. Objects engage researchers: they attract our interest, involve us and position us as scholars in relation to their cultural emergence. Similarly, while engaging with objects we, as theorists, also produce them as objects of study. We further engage with culture at large through artistic or mundane, actual or virtual objects—they work as mediators of social relationships and as translators between imaginary and lived culture. This sense of engagement can be found in the root of the verb “to engage”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a gage is “a valued object deposited as a guarantee of good faith”, as well as “a pledge, especially a glove, thrown down as a symbol of a challenge to fight”. Thus, engagement can be understood as an object’s promise, its act of commitment or provocation. The concept of engagement gains its sense metaphorically, developing from a concrete action in which the object stands in for a socially charged gesture. The mediatory role of objects may also be abused, although objects are always already engaged with the world in ways that exceed our scholarly framing of them.
The relationship between object and researcher is not only limited to a metaphorical promise; it is also an actual intervention. “Engaging Objects” is thus concerned with the act of engagement. This engagement is not with the respective parties of a relation, but with the relationship itself. “Engaging Objects” aims to investigate the politics of relating within scholarly practices. Thinking of this relationship as a site where the known and the knower are partly produced, we may focus on the fractures, irregularities and inconsistencies that are constitutive of our own production of knowledge today within fields such as visual culture, literature, history, art, music, performance, anthropology, theory, and politics.
These issues will be discussed in four panels:
This panel seeks to position theory as an object of study. In considering theory as an object, its material aspects are brought to the fore. Yet the material aspects of theory are not the same for scholars across different disciplines or schools of thought. Post-structuralist scholars, for example, might locate theory’s materiality in the actual language used to construct abstract concepts. Their more Marxist-oriented critics, however, might use the term “material” to name the wider socio-cultural and political networks within which the theoretical text is inserted. Creatively re-articulating these different traditions may make our own engagements with theory more politically and intellectually productive. This panel invites participants to think through the metaphor of the “engaging object” in order to explore theory as a literary text, as a cultural object, as a social promise and as a political act.
Sensory perception is the primary way in which we encounter objects. The senses are culturally conditioned, and each society tends to privilege certain types of sensory engagement. Modernity has often been characterized by the dominance of visuality, which posits a distant, distinct and disembodied viewer, and as such is presumed to underlie Western epistemology and theories of subjectivity. This panel seeks to explore alternatives to this, arguably still prominent, mode of sensory engagement. How can it be disrupted through the intervention of other senses (as in haptic visuality)? What kinds of engagement do the other senses, and their different interrelations, bring about? What alternative relationships between the object and the researcher do they generate (e.g. affective, ethical, erotic)? These questions imply a change of sensibility that is both perceptual and conceptual. What are the theoretical consequences of this shift from the visual to the aural, the tactile, to kinesis and proprioception? What can be gained from thinking synaesthetically? And, more generally, what art of knowing is produced in this new, sensuous engagement?
The living body has, as Crary and Kwinter (1992) state, a “menacing and delirious concreteness” and serves as a complex and fascinating object of study in cultural theory. Especially within academic research around minority subjectivities (including queer and feminist theory, disability and race studies), the body acquired an important role: it became a site for alternative modes of knowledge production. This focus on extraordinary forms of embodiment politicized certain traditions of thought. But to the extent that specifically marked bodies might feature as seductive and spectacular objects of study, it is essential to reflect on the relationship between the shape of our theories and our conceptions of embodiment. This panel further aims to explore how a critical analysis of the “unmarked” (white, male, “standard”) body helps to investigate the failures of cultural theory. Where are the limitations of treating the body in theory as meaningful object? How do particular cultural engagements with the body expose and/or expand the boundaries of theory?
No matter what discipline we work in, when we engage with our objects of study, we are always involved in some form of comparison. With “parity” at its etymological root, comparison is usually understood as a methodology based on similarity and equality. But comparison is a dangerous activity, one that often conceals universalist and essentialist suppositions and whose terms are never neutral. To deal with comparison in an engaged (engagé) way, it is important to reflect on our terms of comparison. How do we decide on these terms and how do we incorporate this decision process within the practice of comparison itself? This draws attention to the necessity for scholars to acknowledge their own role in positioning objects in relation to each other and themselves. Is it possible to stand back and let objects engage with each other, or is this engagement only possible through us? If so, how does such a mediating role affect our research position? In this panel, we would like to discuss ways of dealing with the politics of comparison and to explore how and to what extent the objects we study can affect both our terms and methodologies of comparative engagement.
This workshop is the latest in a series of ASCA International Workshops and is inspired by the 2006-2007 ASCA theory seminar “Ways of Writing: The Object Speaks Back”.
We welcome participants from any discipline. Please e-mail or send your one-page proposal (300 words maximum) and a short biographical note by October 31, 2007 to the ASCA office: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Eloe Kingma, Managing Director
Oude Turfmarkt 147
1012 GC, Amsterdam
tel: +31 20 525 3874
Please indicate which panel theme (out of the four mentioned above) you believe your proposal would best fit in.
Selected participants will be asked to send their 3000 words papers by January 31, so that papers can be distributed among participants in advance. To allow enough time for discussion, papers will not be read during the workshop. Instead, participants are expected to give a 10 minute summary, relating their argument to that of their fellow panelists.
We are also looking for performances to be presented during the workshop that are relevant to the workshop theme of “engaging objects”. Please send a proposal (500 words maximum) indicating duration, number of participants and technical requirements. We also require a sample of your work (hard copy or electronic reference). Please send your proposals by October 31, 2007 to the ASCA office: email@example.com
Dr. Eloe Kingma, managing Director ASCA
Oude Turfmarkt 147
1012 GC, Amsterdam
tel: +31 20 525 3874
Organizers: Paulina Aroch Fugellie, Tereza Havelkova, Jules Sturm, Astrid Van Weyenberg
Dr. Eloe Kingma (Managing Director)
Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis
University of Amsterdam
Oude Turfmarkt 147
1012 GC Amsterdam
Phone: +31 20 525 3874
Fax: +31 20 525 4773 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Visit the website at http://www.hum.uva.nl/asca
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