CFP: [International] ASCA International Workshop "Engaging Objects", University of Amsterdam, March 26-28, 2008

full name / name of organization: 
Eloe Kingma
contact email:

Engaging Objects

ASCA International Workshop, Amsterdam, March 26-28, 2008

Things in the world, objects of art and of everyday use, have functioned
as core referents in contemporary cultural theory. Since the “linguistic
turn”, technological devices and philosophical texts, dirty windows,
typewriter-erasers, and cyber-space, have been proposed and contested as
possible sites for re-encountering material reality. The 2008 ASCA
International Workshop is a space open to reflect on the methodological
nuances, theoretical consequences and political implications of engaging
objects within the humanities.
“Engaging Objects” refers to the object’s possibilities of seduction and
resistance, of compromise and failure. Objects engage researchers: they
attract our interest, involve us and position us as scholars in relation
to their cultural emergence. Similarly, while engaging with objects we,
as theorists, also produce them as objects of study. We further engage
with culture at large through artistic or mundane, actual or virtual
objects—they work as mediators of social relationships and as translators
between imaginary and lived culture. This sense of engagement can be
found in the root of the verb “to engage”. According to the Oxford
English Dictionary, a gage is “a valued object deposited as a guarantee
of good faith”, as well as “a pledge, especially a glove, thrown down as
a symbol of a challenge to fight”. Thus, engagement can be understood as
an object’s promise, its act of commitment or provocation. The concept of
engagement gains its sense metaphorically, developing from a concrete
action in which the object stands in for a socially charged gesture. The
mediatory role of objects may also be abused, although objects are always
already engaged with the world in ways that exceed our scholarly framing
of them.
The relationship between object and researcher is not only limited to a
metaphorical promise; it is also an actual intervention. “Engaging
Objects” is thus concerned with the act of engagement. This engagement is
not with the respective parties of a relation, but with the relationship
itself. “Engaging Objects” aims to investigate the politics of relating
within scholarly practices. Thinking of this relationship as a site where
the known and the knower are partly produced, we may focus on the
fractures, irregularities and inconsistencies that are constitutive of
our own production of knowledge today within fields such as visual
culture, literature, history, art, music, performance, anthropology,
theory, and politics.

These issues will be discussed in four panels:

Engaging theory
This panel seeks to position theory as an object of study. In considering
theory as an object, its material aspects are brought to the fore. Yet
the material aspects of theory are not the same for scholars across
different disciplines or schools of thought. Post-structuralist scholars,
for example, might locate theory’s materiality in the actual language
used to construct abstract concepts. Their more Marxist-oriented critics,
however, might use the term “material” to name the wider socio-cultural
and political networks within which the theoretical text is inserted.
Creatively re-articulating these different traditions may make our own
engagements with theory more politically and intellectually productive.
This panel invites participants to think through the metaphor of
the “engaging object” in order to explore theory as a literary text, as a
cultural object, as a social promise and as a political act.

Sensory disruptions
Sensory perception is the primary way in which we encounter objects. The
senses are culturally conditioned, and each society tends to privilege
certain types of sensory engagement. Modernity has often been
characterized by the dominance of visuality, which posits a distant,
distinct and disembodied viewer, and as such is presumed to underlie
Western epistemology and theories of subjectivity. This panel seeks to
explore alternatives to this, arguably still prominent, mode of sensory
engagement. How can it be disrupted through the intervention of other
senses (as in haptic visuality)? What kinds of engagement do the other
senses, and their different interrelations, bring about? What alternative
relationships between the object and the researcher do they generate
(e.g. affective, ethical, erotic)? These questions imply a change of
sensibility that is both perceptual and conceptual. What are the
theoretical consequences of this shift from the visual to the aural, the
tactile, to kinesis and proprioception? What can be gained from thinking
synaesthetically? And, more generally, what art of knowing is produced in
this new, sensuous engagement?

Bodily interventions
The living body has, as Crary and Kwinter (1992) state, a “menacing and
delirious concreteness” and serves as a complex and fascinating object of
study in cultural theory. Especially within academic research around
minority subjectivities (including queer and feminist theory, disability
and race studies), the body acquired an important role: it became a site
for alternative modes of knowledge production. This focus on
extraordinary forms of embodiment politicized certain traditions of
thought. But to the extent that specifically marked bodies might feature
as seductive and spectacular objects of study, it is essential to reflect
on the relationship between the shape of our theories and our conceptions
of embodiment. This panel further aims to explore how a critical analysis
of the “unmarked” (white, male, “standard”) body helps to investigate the
failures of cultural theory. Where are the limitations of treating the
body in theory as meaningful object? How do particular cultural
engagements with the body expose and/or expand the boundaries of theory?

Comparison engagée
No matter what discipline we work in, when we engage with our objects of
study, we are always involved in some form of comparison. With “parity”
at its etymological root, comparison is usually understood as a
methodology based on similarity and equality. But comparison is a
dangerous activity, one that often conceals universalist and essentialist
suppositions and whose terms are never neutral. To deal with comparison
in an engaged (engagé) way, it is important to reflect on our terms of
comparison. How do we decide on these terms and how do we incorporate
this decision process within the practice of comparison itself? This
draws attention to the necessity for scholars to acknowledge their own
role in positioning objects in relation to each other and themselves. Is
it possible to stand back and let objects engage with each other, or is
this engagement only possible through us? If so, how does such a
mediating role affect our research position? In this panel, we would like
to discuss ways of dealing with the politics of comparison and to explore
how and to what extent the objects we study can affect both our terms and
methodologies of comparative engagement.

This workshop is the latest in a series of ASCA International Workshops
and is inspired by the 2006-2007 ASCA theory seminar “Ways of Writing:
The Object Speaks Back”. We welcome participants from any discipline.
Please e-mail or send your one-page proposal (300 words maximum) and a
short biographical note by October 31, 2007 to the ASCA office: asca-, Dr. Eloe Kingma (Managing Director), Oude Turfmarkt 147, 1012
GC, Amsterdam, tel: +31 20 525 3874. Please indicate which panel theme
(out of the four mentioned above) you believe your proposal would best
fit in.

Selected participants will be asked to send their 3000 words papers by
January 31, so that papers can be distributed among participants in
advance. To allow enough time for discussion, papers will not be read
during the workshop. Instead, participants are expected to give a 10
minute summary, relating their argument to that of their fellow panelists.

We are also looking for performances to be presented during the workshop
that are relevant to the workshop theme of “engaging objects”. Please
send a proposal (500 words maximum) indicating duration, number of
participants and technical requirements. We also require a sample of your
work (hard copy or electronic reference). Please send your proposals by
October 31, 2007 to the ASCA office:, Dr. Eloe Kingma
(managing Director ASCA), Oude Turfmarkt 147, 1012 GC, Amsterdam, tel:
+31 20 525 3874.

Organizers: Paulina Aroch Fugellie, Tereza Havelkova, Jules Sturm, Astrid
Van Weyenberg

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