Matter that Matters? Interrogating New Materialisms
In the Fall of 2014, the Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan University will take up the theme of “Matter.” Matter has long been an issue in the humanities, be it in the language of materialism, of material culture, of substance, or of science. For a long time, idealisms of all stripes have subordinated non-human matter to the ambitions and extensions of human thought. Materialisms, on the contrary, have traditionally seen matter itself as what matters: as what determines the shape and conditions of human life. More recent developments have sought to level down the cosmic hierarchies from theology to humanism by proffering a “flat ontology” wherein all matter “matters” equally. After decades of deconstructive undermining, reliance on the old Cartesian subject seems to finally have given way to a proliferation of often mutually incompatible post-Humanist theories whose desire to generate new forms of inquiry stem from a profound discontents with the Humanities and sciences having cultivated predominantly representational modes of knowledge. We see aspects of this in fields as diverse as material-culture studies, Animal(ity) Studies, Object-Oriented Ontology, commodity histories and various approaches to "things," and in Speculative Realism with its anti-Kantian pathos of knowing the thing-in-itself. Thus new emphases on the significance of substance and thingness -- and even the agency of matter as such -- have emerged across fields and disciplines. Of course, attention is also being drawn to the determination of what exactly matters and how to assess this. To put it simply, current contemporary thought insists that matter be given its due. Arguments within and across theoretical traditions seem to have converged, if only momentarily, on a vague but palpable sense that matter as such should be recognized: recognized as one subject recognizes another. It is not clear, however, whether the numerous articulations of this turn are working in tandem or at cross-purposes, how they can be mapped in relation to one another, or whether any of them manages to escape the subjectivist and hierarchical ontologies they criticize.
We seek to explore this convergence by bringing scholars from multiple fields and approaches into conversation around “matter.” We are interested in specific questions of method (for instance, modes of observing, measuring, speculating) as much as in meta-questions about the meaning and the consequences of this newly arisen fervor about matter. We invite applications from scholars, scientists, and artists whose work is concerned with old and new materialisms; we also encourage applications from scholars pursuing critiques of precisely these materialisms.
Over the past decade, a new approach to the study of mobilities has emerged involving research on the combined movement of peoples, animals, objects, ideas, and information. This can be viewed through the lens of complex networks, relational dynamics, and the redistribution or reification of power generated by movement. But despite the emphasis on movement, this “mobility turn” must be viewed in the light of the relationships between mobilities and associated immobilities: borders as well as border crossings, isolation as well as connectivity, disability as well as ability. It thus encompasses both the embodied practice of movement and the representations, ideologies, and meanings attached to the mobile and immobile. Should we embrace mobility as the constitutive condition of culture and not its disruption? How does mobility influence and even constitute our everyday life or the lives of past cultures? What exactly does it mean to be “socially mobile”? How might mobility affect our work? Do our “mobile” devices liberate us? What are the relations, if any, between the social mobility afforded by systems of connection such as the internet and the confined actual space in which it takes place?
We invite scholars from all disciplines, fields and approaches to help us examine “mobilities”. We are interested in specific questions of method, meta-questions about the meaning and the consequences of “the concept of “Mobilities” for research or scholarship, and scholars working on case studies that address the topic.