The Political Life of Things – conference page

Event date: 3 December 2010
Imperial War Museum, London

The Political Life of Things

A One Day Workshop at The Imperial War Museum, London, UK

The BISA Poststructural Politics Working Group and BISA/PSA Art and Politics Group present a one day workshop at the Imperial War Museum London, 3 December 2010. This workshop starts from the assumption that the subject of politics is always already embodied and exists in the context of a multitude of material objects. Politics thus comprises complex assemblages in which things play a constitutive role. Despite often speaking of the role of things – from ballot papers to missiles – scholars of politics and international relations have largely overlooked their constitutive power. Indeed, the classical agenda of politics scholarship is dominated by an anthropocentrism that locates politics in the figure of the human individual. It is an agenda defined by ideas of agency and rationality that regards things as mere equipment. Despite this seeming neglect, the intersection of materiality and politics has recently become the focus of a number of innovative strands of thought. From Appadurai’s Social Life of Things to Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, via Deleuzian notions of affect and notions of non-representational geographies, new perspectives on what things are and do are re-problematising the constitutive materiality of politics. Artists and art practitioners, of course, have long been engaged with questions of materiality. Whether it is the embodiment of performance, the tactility of sculpture or the physical nature of imaging media, artists have probed the materiality of the assemblages they create. As such, the intersection between such artistic practice and scholarship on materiality provides a fertile ground for exploring the question of what things are and do in politics. This one-day workshop brings together scholars engaged in thinking about materiality to explore the nature, role and power of things in the assemblages of politics. In the context of the material culture collected and displayed by the Imperial War Museum, the workshop will explore how we can understand the role of things in war, conflict, violence and everyday practices of resistance. This workshop will be an interdisciplinary event bringing artists, art practitioners, museum curators, art historians, geographers, anthropologists and international relations scholars together to discuss questions of the political life of things.


Welcome and Introduction:  Martin Coward .


Keynote lecture:

Jane Bennett (Johns Hopkins): Powers of the Hoard: Notes on Material Agency
Discussant: Christine Sylvester (Lancaster University/University of Gothenburg)


questions .


Panel 1 – Do things matter?

Cindy Weber (Sussex University): 
Materializing Violence:  Terror and Horror and War and Citizenship (AUDIO HERE)

Louise Amoore (Durham University):
Making Things Secure: On Objects of Violence and Things of Beauty (AUDIO HERE)

questions .


Panel 2 – Art Matters

Edmond Clarke (Photographer) (AUDIO HERE)

Roger Tolson (Head of Collections, Imperial War Museum) (AUDIO HERE)

In conversation with Bernadette Buckley (Goldsmiths)

questions .


Panel 3 – Security Matters

Lisa Smirl & Beth Lister (Sussex University): 
Drive-By Development: Thinking Through the Sports Utility Vehicle in Humanitarian Assistance (AUDIO HERE)

Claudia Aradau (Open University):
‘Crowded Places Are Everywhere You Go’: Materialities of Terrorism and Unexpected Events (AUDIO HERE)

Jairus Grove (Johns Hopkins): Improvised Explosive Devices and The New Ecology Of War (AUDIO HERE)

Nick Vaughan-Williams (Warwick) & Tom Lundborg (Swedish Institute of International Affairs):
There’s More to Life than Biopolitics: Critical Infrastructure, Resilience Planning, and Molecular Security (AUDIO HERE)

questions .


Roundtable and closing comments .

Debbie Lisle (Queens University Belfast)
Alex Danchev (University of Nottingham)
Chair: Martin Coward (Newcastle University)

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