Over the past half-century, chemistry has innervated the contemporary sensorum and the parameters of what tastes, looks, smells, or feels ‘right’. From ketchup to carpets, pesticides to plywood, permanent press clothing to colas and cosmetics, chemicals inform the aesthetics of modernity. While much of the work on the synthetic constituents of the everyday revolves around health and risk issues, this panel considers desires, pleasures, and values that undergird common interactions with the chemical world. To apprehend the pallet of the contemporary one must understand chemical perceptivity as composed of cultural signals and imitations of essence.
In pursuit of maximizing a commodity’s value, aesthetics are often rendered as technical problems to be overcome by chemistry (shelf life, taste trade-offs of functional ‘healthy’ additives, color retention, rate of volatile chemical off-gassing, tensile strength, or texture of imitation products). These chemical manipulations are bundled with aesthetic and normative attributions. Taken together, these molecular relations form the underexplored dimensions of what Michelle Murphy refers to as ‘chemical regimes of living.’ This panel seeks to articulate a spectrum of chemical regimes of living by bringing together the disparate conversations on value and aesthetics, toxicity and disease, capitalism and commodity fetishes, affect and embodiment, and product design and marketing.
How are the various gustatory delights of a low-calorie yoghurt or the smell of a new car mobilized, engineered, or embodied? How do chemical scents and tastes evoke affect, memory and nostalgia, or distinguish luxury and prestige? How does the shared sensory experience of the synthetic mediate social and historical experience? What kinds of material and technical conditions delimit chemical possibilities for tastes, fashions, and the generation of value? How does the crafting of the chemical stimulation of the body complicate concepts of sensation and addiction, desire and programming? How does thinking through the lens of chemicals orient concepts of the senses, both ethnographically and theoretically?
If interested in participating in the panel, please send a 250 word abstract to the co-organizers Ella Butler firstname.lastname@example.org and Nick Shapiro email@example.com by April 1, 2013. Please put “AAA Panel” in the subject heading. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions.
University of Chicago
Department of Anthropology
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