The stakes of understanding modernity have never been higher. A phenomenon of global proportions, modernity no longer poses problems and questions to a few Western nations. Modernity’s dangers are spreading just as rapidly as its benefits. As the global imperatives to understand modernity increase in urgency, the theoretical resources to which the humanities have access seem to diminish in proportion. We say we no longer believe in the meta-narratives we once used to explain how modernity happens and yet we have no adequate alternatives.
We may never have been modern but the increasing differentiation of the epistemological systems we draw on to think about what it means to be modern certainly have been. Perhaps, too modern. The resulting disciplines, both in the humanities and the sciences, have distinguished and developed methodologies to understand modernity with increasing finesse. But despite the successes that these independent knowledge systems have achieved, each is fraught with a serious, internal defect. As research has progressed in each individual discipline, the ability to communicate across disciplines has become all the more problematic and elusive. Modernity is too rich to be described, much less explained, in a single language. Isolated disciplines end up distorting human realities by reducing them to a particular language.
Perhaps the simple act of talking across disciplines will open up some possibilities. To this end, we propose a conference designed to introduce isolated disciplinary concepts, theories and methods to each other through empirical illustrations of them. The goal will be to make our disciplinary observations mutually comprehensible in a way that expands our understanding of the processes of modernity. The conference will provide a forum to present current, empirically grounded, research on any topic that has conceptual, theoretical or methodological implications for how we understand modernity. We would be pleased to receive submissions from scholars of history, anthropology, sociology, literary criticism, economics and political science. The organizers will work to establish panels in which participants from different fields can seek common ground.
Please email a short bio, including your discipline, with contact information and an abstract (200 words or less) of your proposal to: firstname.lastname@example.org by 15 SEPTEMBER 2008, VICE 2009.
The conference organizers are Arpita Roy and Penelope Ismay. Roy is a sixth year student in anthropology currently conducting research at the CERN in Switzerland examining the laboratory culture of the physicists in search of the Higgs-Boson. Penelope Ismay is a sixth year student of history whose dissertation focuses on 18th and 19th British Friendly Societies as a site for the continued importance of social relationships in modern market-economies.
The conference will be a single day, 24 January 2009, convening at 9:00 am ending at 5:00 pm at UC Berkeley. Panels, comprised of 3-4 papers representing as many disciplines as possible, 20 minutes each, will be moderated by invited guests whose work focuses on the meaning of modernity. Roundtable discussions will follow each panel. Two keynote speakers will give talks.
University of California, Berkeley
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