Lost in Things

Questioning Functions and Meanings of the Material World

November 28th - 29th 2013

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The Conference

General Presentation

Most scientific conceptualizations of material culture focus on existing orders and on rationales that motivate the usages and arrangements of objects. Here, a usage is usually seen as connected to humans’ needs and objects are understood as representatives of a certain vision of the world. Although the existence of such arrangements is undeniable, material things are much more (or sometimes less) than this. They constitute a challenge to people’s capacity to manage their environment or even to confront them with an ontological alterity. The challenge of things is related to their uncontrollable presence long after they have been disposed of or their original users have gone, continuing through to the emergence of non-functional features and of material characteristics that have been hitherto invisible or suppressed. In such moments, the initial perception of a thing as a highly valued object can be challenged and reversed with the object even becoming a source of annoyance, disturbance or threat.

Inviting contributions from anthropologists and archaeologists, the conference will highlight processes of re-evaluation that emerge from the discovery and realization of additional properties of things. The contributions will examine objects, discussing how traces left by and through objects - as well as their interpretations - are not indicative of their usage only. Approaches include, but are not limited to, exploring questions of affect of objects, the felt presence of their absence or the ways shifts in semiotic contexts call into question the meanings of objects precisely because of the objects’ materiality. Closer examination of entangled histories of specific objects is expected, also, to reveal conceptual problems and theoretical issues. To a limited extent the conference is a follow-up to a lecture series entitled “The Obstinacy of Objects” (Eigensinn der Dinge), organized by the Research Training Group “Value and Equivalence” during the winter term 2012/13 and the Panel "The Obstinacy of Things", organized by Philipp Stockhammer in cooperation with Hans Peter Hahn at the Fourth Annual Conference of the Heidelberg Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context" in October 2012.

Publishing Date 19.07.2013 updated 16. 10. 2013