Challenging collectivities

Critical Matter (2012)

Call for Papers

Matter everywhere! We breathe, eat and die… Things surround and affect us until it becomes unclear who “we” are and what “we” can become. The question of materiality imposes itself.

Accordingly, materialities and materialisms gain popularity in social and cultural studies. Recently, scholars of diverse disciplines have increasingly stressed the importance of posing questions concerning the social life of things; the materiality of affects, emotions and the psyche; the material preconditions of the production of knowledge, the independent existence of epistemic things; the materiality of signifiers, signs and media, communication and information; the performative production of materiality in the arts and in literature; vitality and materiality of life in the age of biotechnology; the potentiality of bodies beyond anthropocentrism; the materiality of space; new materialist ontology; lastly, Marx-based historical materialism and new materialist approaches to the economy testify their relevancy in times of never-ending crisis and social distortions. These approaches have one thing in common. They no longer refer to matter as a passive carrier of meaning or human manipulation. The world of the material is not considered as a sphere of linear causality and determination; emphasis is rather put on the obstinacy and contingency of matter.

What is interesting in these debates is not so much what they turn away from (linguistic turn) or what they turn to (material turn), but rather which encounters they enable. “Matter” offers a flexible and pulsating point of reference for the concurrence of diverse materialisms, critical theories and radical politics. This encounter of critical materialistic approaches ranging from new to old, from feminist to postcolonial, from Marxist to post-structuralist, from the (social) sciences to the humanities raise questions such as: What forms of collective action emerge from assemblages of humans and non-humans? How considerable is the threat of exclusions, dependences and exploitation within these networks? Has a re-thinking of the classical conception of “reification” become necessary and how can the danger of essentialism be approached? What is critical in matter?

Abstracts for lectures can be handed in regarding the following and adjoined topics as well as the topic of the conference in general. Please indicate the preferred panel.

___Body and Affectivity
Is the affective material (emotions, the unconscious, critical neurosciences) and to what degree is the material affective (drive-nature, symbols, affective work)? What are the consequences of the embodiment of the affects and the psychologization of the body (newer psychopathologies, medicalization, responsibilization, narcissism)?

In what ways do life sciences contrive life (visualization, synthetical biology, bio- and reproduction technologies) and how does life contrive itself (evolution, élan vital, resilience)? Which borders, exclusions and hierarchies are either produced or questioned by that (human-animal, life-death, mechanical-vital, organic-anorganic, male-female)?

___Ontology and Epistemology
Which challenges are imposed to a (philosophical) understanding of matter by newer academic and scientific approaches (quantum physics, complexity theories)? What does that mean for extremes such as reason-sensual, mind-nature, etc.? How may the independent existence and contingency of the material be theorized and conceptualized without fixating it? What about the materiality of epistemic techniques and dispositives?

How do societal relations materialize themselves in space (built environment, spatio-temporal-fixes, places of remembrance, space and identity)? How does the materiality of space shift itself at present (regimes of borders and migration, transnational spaces, inclusion/exclusion, multiscalar spaces)? In what way may the materiality of spaces be worked with epistemologically?

Does a materiality of the aesthetical exist (aesthetic representation of materiality or material presence in the aesthetical)? How does the aesthetical materialize itself (factitiousness, shapeliness, artificiality of the material, form and content)? Why do aesthetics matter?

Which significance does matter have in the present economies? Problems of morality, distributive justice, justifications and economy are linked with the material world as much as emerging new markets (disembedding, neoliberalism, performing markets). How does the material shape the spheres of production, consumption and culture (technologies, forms of organizations, economization, construction of finance markets), and which interpretations do different theoretical threads give (new economic sociology, historical materialism)?

___Things and Fetishes

How may the idiosyncratic materialities of things in practices and tactics of everyday life be understood especially with regard to their inherent emerging forms of socialities (consumerism, sociology of residency/of nutrition, material culture)? Where are the intersections between theories of things (fetish character, reification, simulacrums, assemblages) and studies of subversive practices and tactics of appropriation, manipulation and transformation of things? What power relations run in-between, over and through things (property relations, civil law and rights, sustainability, and shortage in resources)?

Is – interlingual, cultural, normative – translation a way of dealing with the materiality of language and knowledge in international settings (the academy, global activism), shaped by unequal systems of exchange in the wake of post-/colonialism? Can translation burst the limits of binary concepts (original/repetition, domination/resistance, hegemony/subalternity, universalism/relativism), offering creative reiterations and representations? What is lost in translation?

What’s the matter with/of revolutions? To what extent do matters (food, housing, information technologies, veils, camouflage, flowers) function as triggers, decisive moments, eponymous symbols, as means and ends of emancipatory struggles? How and by who are they appropriated? Is a focus on matters a fruitful epistemological approach towards past and present revolutions, considering the death of the subject, the indecisiveness of the political and the end of history?

This call for papers addresses graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and junior faculty members. We explicitly invite you to also submit work-in-progress or cooperative works. Furthermore, we will be happy to accept artistic contributions, lecture performances and artistic undertakings.

The conference language is English. Abstracts should not exceed the maximum of 300 words. Deadline for submission of abstracts is February 15th 2012. Candidates will be informed by March 1st 2012 whether their paper has been accepted for the conference. The elaborated lectures should not exceed a 20 minutes time-frame. They will be presented within the three days of the conference in parallel panels. The panels are explicitly planned as discussion forums; subsequent to each lecture 20 minutes time for discussion is designated.

There will be a limited amount of daily allowance made available by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for graduate students coming as a group from countries of Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. If interested, please enquire.

Papers will be selected through a blind review process. Therefore, please do not include your name or other references to the author on the abstract and make sure to clearly state the title of your proposal in the e-mail and in the filename of the document. Attention will be paid that at least 50% of the presentations will be assigned to women.

Participants in need of childcare during the conference time, please indicate. In cooperation with the equality office of Goethe-University an effort will be taken to facilitate childcare.

Please submit abstracts and questions to the following e-mail address: