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Open Cultural Studies: Materiality, Objects and Objecthood

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Professor Erick Felinto (State University of Rio de Janeiro)



There are strong indications that a significant transformation is underway in the so-called “Humanities.”  After a period of intense crisis and uncertainty, in which the human sciences have frequently sought to mirror or approach the hard sciences, the beginning of the twenty-first century seems to witness a broad renewal of disciplines, approaches and methodologies. From the questioning of its traditional foundations, the Humanities are reinventing themselves by a broad reconfiguration of its borders and even of the notion of “humanity” that served as its cornerstone.

After a comprehensive deconstruction of the central place occupied by human actors in social life, it became necessary not only to investigate the role of things and objects in the social sciences (media, nature, animals, machines etc.), but also to highlight the issues that the strong tradition of hermeneutics of the humanities have often obscured. For instance, the question of what, without constituting meaning per se, contributes nonetheless to the production of meaning (Gumbrecht & Pfeiffer, 1994).  In other words, how does the particular material composition of different media and objects conditions signification processes?

Not surprisingly, one of the areas where the wealth of this new scenario is most clearly displayed is that of media studies. Spurred by the impact of new digital technologies and its material components (silicon, aluminum, nickel), the field of media studies cleverly learned to appropriate the epistemological principles and major theoretical issues that have come to characterize the contemporary cultural scene. However, several other disciplines, such as Philosophy, Anthropology, Aesthetics and Literary Studies have been deeply impacted by this reorientation of the anthropocentric perspective and a new interest in the “life of objects.” Recent examples of this interest can be found in collective works such as Cinematographic Objetcs: Things and Operations (Pantenburg, 2015) or Die Wiederkehr der Dinge (Balke, Muhle and Schöning, 2011).  The focus of this special issue is “materialities, objects and objecthood” and its underlying assumption is that we need to radically rethink the notion of epistemic agency in a context where the action and the impact of the objects, media and technological materiality become increasingly important.

Thus, the main goal of this special issue is not only to explore the place of human actors in a world enriched by the life of polymorphic objects, but also to investigate more deeply the role of objecthood and materiality in the development of cultural processes.

Suggested topics include (but are not limited to):

  • In what ways does technological materiality inform cultural worlds and determine forms of cognition?
  • What new models of historical research of techniques and culture are emerging within the current epistemological paradigms?
  • How are the material dimensions of experience combined with the intangible dimensions of culture?
  • What does it mean to purport an “object-oriented” philosophy, a “materialist feminism” or an “actor-network theory”?
  • In what sense does the category of the human is reconfigured in light of our new relations with objects and nonhuman entities?
  • How important is the legacy of the genealogy and archeology of knowledge (Nietzsche, Foucault) to a perspectivization of the impacts of "new" digital culture?


Complete proposals should be submitted to erickfelinto@gmail.com by May, 31 2017.


Pantenburg, V. (2015) Cinematographic Objects: Things and Operations, Köln: Ausgust Verlag.

Gumbrecht, H.U. & Pfeiffer, L. (1994) Materialities of Communication, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Bryant, L; Harman, G; Srnicek, N (2011). The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism. Melbourne: Re.press.

Coole, D. & Frost, S. (2010). New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Durham: Duke University Press.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Balke, F; Muhle, M.; Schöning, A. (2011). Die Wiederkehr der Dinge. Berlin: Kulturverlag.