Friday, May 27, 2016
9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Dabney Hall 110 (Treasure Room)

MTI Workshop

The Political, and Unpolitical, Lives of Things
Alexandre Dubé,

Is there such a thing as a "political" life of goods?

In the last twenty years materiality, as a heuristic device, has seen a remarkable resurgence across a range of disciplines, sometimes promising a sense of the "real", in a world of argument dominated by ethereal discourse. Even in ordinary disagreement, the sense of materiality, of the tangible, promises a way out of uncertainty. Materiality is not tainted by bias. It seems to offer truth, evidence – the sort of evidence which can convict people in a court of law, and shape policy for the best outcome. In ordinary debate, to label material objects as "political" is often an accusation: to make objects say what they were not intended to say. Yet, is there any moment when objects are not political, when they recess out of debate, out of view, out of the State's regulatory attention?

Featuring presentations by Jonathan Eacott (UC Riverside), Chandra Mukerji (UCSD), James Mulholland (North Carolina State), Keith Pluymers (Caltech) and Ben Wurgaft (MIT), this workshop explores the ebb and flow of concern over the political life of things – both in their making and unmaking. We seek to understand the ways in which materiality enters political debate, when the characteristics of specific objects become matters of conflict, and the ways in which materiality is reduced to "mere" details hindering a "real" debate happening in a higher sphere of ideas and principles. We will explore how the category of the "political" may be shaped by things of all kinds, or even if the notion of "political things" is, as some have suggested, redundant, as objects can "always" be considered as political. 

For more information, please contact Sini Elvington by phone at 626-395-1724 or by email at