The Materiality of Politics and the Politics of Materiality

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
NeMLA 2017

From campaign slogans found on the walls in the ruins of Pompeii to lapel pins worn at the inauguration of George Washington in 1789 to today’s t-shirts, “I Voted” stickers, and protest signs, politics and material culture have always been interlinked. In a January 2016 interview, President Barack Obama was asked to discuss an object that held personal meaning for him. He chose to bring several items given to him by supporters, among them a rosary, a small statue, and a metal poker chip. Obama described how looking at these objects and carrying them in his pocket reminds him of the people he has met along his career, their stories, and his responsibilities to them. This movement of items from supporter to candidate exemplifies the mutability of objects and their meaning, the manner in which the personal luck charm of an individual can become a symbol of civic duty.

Material objects act as loci of political expression, as spaces of exchange, support, or dissension. This session seeks to foster an interdisciplinary discussion of the intersection of material culture and politics across cultures and time periods. Possible areas of interest include the interaction between object and text, the movement of objects from supporters to candidates, and the role of the political object as both a contemporary item and as part of a body of historical evidence. This session is also interested in considering how the emergence of digital objects, such as an app or Instagram photo, has altered ideas of materiality and modern political expression.