Matter, Sensation and Meaning

Joint Doctoral Seminar: This seminar is organised by Freie Universität Berlin, Goldsmiths and the PhD School at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen.

While the material turn has taken place especially in the arts, philosophy, aesthetics and cultural and social studies, it has also re-posed a set of methodological and representational questions relating to research in general. One of the prime reasons for this is perhaps that materiality entails sensation, matter, and other embodied phenomena that seem to be at a remove from the mainly discursive and interpretive world of academia. Here, research has long been dominated by hermeneutic, linguistic, and philosophical assumptions that have pitted human agency against passive objects, mind against body, meaning against matter and language against things. In recent years, however, such assumptions have been called into question. Whenever matter is turned into meaning it is always an uncertain process, which perhaps calls for a more ecological approach that sees language in itself as an object, as Timothy Morton has suggested. In line with this it might be useful to reconsider the interpretive effort as always also a reciprocal work within matter itself as already suggested by Jean-François Lyotard with his concept of the Figural. Mattering matter so to speak. Jacques Rancière’s aesthetic theory has furthermore emphasized the sensuous element in the establishment of meaning across different fields. Taken together, such theories call for a much more detailed inquiry into the entwinement of the material, the sensuous and the discursive.

This seminar asks its participants to reflect on the entanglements of matter and meaning in one or more of the following areas: 1) in their praxises of research, 2) in the research objects themselves, and 3) in the effects – social, aesthetic etc. – of the entwinement of matter and meaning in their fields of research.

What is the role of the ‘stuff’ in our fields of research? How do we distinguish between things, half-things, artifacts, objects and quasi-objects and to what extent does their materiality matter? Which material effects and affects arise in culture and in the arts? How is meaning distributed through and across material and sensuous phenomena such as sound, mood, space, actions, things and atmosphere? How are/can material and sensuous phenomena be transformed into meaning? And, conversely, how are sensuous effects generated by discourse? Which social meanings do they carry in addition to their aesthetic power?

The seminar will combine text workshops and presentations by the participants in plenum followed by discussion. Abstracts will be distributed in advance. When registering, please include a title and an abstract (2-300 words) for a 20-minute paper presentation or text reading.

Registration deadline is November 26 - for registration and contact details visit the seminar website.