An ESRC Research Programme

ESRC logo

Animated Virtual Society? logo


Sociality/Materiality Conference

Sociality/Materiality: The Status of the Object in Social Science

9-11th September 1999

Department of Human Sciences
Brunel University
The conference is being held next month at Brunel University, 9-11 September 1999. The conference has had a very wide response, and we now have speakers coming from all over the world. As well as our Keynote speakers.

Conference aims
Subjects covered by the conference
Costs and registration

Keynote speakers

Each of the Keynote speakers has produced an abstract of their proposed paper. And will be hosting a plenary throughout the three days of the conference. Keynote Speakers Confirmed:

Aims of the Conference

The key challenge for this conference is how we can rethink traditional conceptions about the performance of social order and social relations in the face of the newly appreciated impact of material environments and the socialising effect of 'things'. In view of the 'weakening' of traditional views of social reality as an entirely social realm, a familiar issue resurfaces: what holds society in place? If (post)modern societies are able to survive on much less structure, cohesion, or foundation than social theorists have generally assumed, how much cement, how much 'existence' does the social actually need? And what is the stuff that it is made of?
Various new approaches in the anthropology and geography of material culture, in science and technology studies, in the new sociologies of consumption and risk culture, and in art criticism, have pointed towards an understanding of the performative and integrative capacity of 'things' to help make what we call society. By emphasising how much the social is ordered, held, and 'fixed' by the material, these new approaches pose a critical challenge to mainstream social theory, which has only been marginally interested in relationships between humans and nonhumans, culture and nature, or society and technology.
This conference is designed to promote cross-fertilizations between these various 'new materialisms', and to the forging of critical links with more classical tropes and themes in the history of thinking about institutionalisation, reification, fetishism, and the 'realisation' of social facts. By focusing more intently upon the social life of objects and the expressive, retroactive, or 'interpellating' effects which they have on human behaviour, our hope is for the conference to reinvigorate and alter the terms of classical debates about idealism vs. materialism, realism vs. constructivism, agency vs. structure, or essentialism vs. fluidity and difference.

Subjects covered by the conference

We now have over 90 speakers covering the four main topics. Speakers abstracts outlining their proposed talks can be found on our abstracts page.

  • Fetishes and Facts:

  • new approaches to fetishism in anthropology, science studies, art criticism, cultural studies, psychology, feminism
    cultural property
    beyond idealism vs. materialism
    things at risk/risky objects

  • Realising the Social:
    realism and constructivism: opposition and/or compatibility
    performativity and social reality
    how virtual is society?
    approaches to reification

  • The Culture of Objects:

  • the materiality of place
    art(ificial) objects
    emotional objects
    object-centred sociality

  • The Disorder of Things:

  • social ordering and complexity
    the fluidity of objects
    streams of materialisation
    objects and topology

Costs and registration

The costs of the conference will be:

Full Rate (including all meals and 2 nights accommodation): 185
Non-resident Rate (including all meals except breakfast): 135
Concessionary Rate - for Postgraduates (all meals and accommodation): 135

Details of costs for additional nights are available on request.
Places for the conference are still available but are going fast. If you would like to attend the conference please contact Liz Ackroyd for a booking form and to let us know you are interested. Details of the conference programme and abstracts are posted below.

The conference organisers can also be contacted by snail mail at:

Liz Ackroyd
Department of Human Sciences
Brunel University

Timetable for conference
List of Speakers
Keynote Speakers
Critical Realism & Social Epistemology
How to get to Brunel


Return to top of page
Switch to text only version

Page developed by Christine Hine
Page maintained by Kim Hickson
Contents current at 2nd September 1999