Department of Media, Culture, and Communication
New York University Steinhardt
239 Greene Street, Floor 8
New York, NY 10003
This one-day workshop in NYU’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication will consider emergent approaches to media, materiality, and infrastructure. It is inspired by the recent expansion in research on the materiality of media and communication, undertaken in diverse scholarly lineages ranging from material culture, to urban studies, to German media-theory inspired media archaeology. The workshop will explore questions such as: how are new forms of material assemblage affecting mediation? What new forms of agency, sociality, and connectivity are at play? What kinds of materialist approaches are necessary to come to grips with the shifts in media infrastructure? It is our hope that the session will serve as a forum to foreground critical questions on media and materiality, and to connect and advance projects on these topics.
We request that participants register for full-day participation in order to assure a continuous conversation as well as stakeholders for future directions based on this workshop.
The 2013 session of the Parliament of Papua New Guinea (PNG) ended with drama from an unexpected place. After months of stories from PNG of mobs and armed gangs torturing women and men they accused of sorcery, and a campaign of symbolic mourning by women across the country against violence, most of December was given over to a media scandal about a decision by the Speaker of Parliament, Theo Zurenuoc, to remove carvings and statues he considered demonic from the parliament building.
On December 6, a normally quiet time in PNG before Christmas, the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier reported that the Speaker of Parliament, Theo Zurenuoc (Finschhafen, Morobe Provnice) planned to remove a lintel of 19 ornately carved faces from iconic facade of the national Parliament House.1 Objections came in from all quarters – from academia, unions, churches – and the Post-Courier, but the speaker’s staff continued to work, erecting scaffolding around a group of carved poles representing the nation’s diverse woodworking traditions in the main entrance hall of the building. Zurenuoc insisted that he would “cleanse” the building all “ungodly images and idols”2, not only these works, but all of the decorations in the building. It was part of his plan to “reform” and “modernise”3 Parliament itself. Critics accused the Speaker of magical thinking about merely artistic and “cultural” objects. They attributed his efforts to millenarianism, animism, religious fervor, and even foreign interference from Israel. Many said his actions would damage national unity because they brought religion into the state in a new and divisive way.
The lintel after it had been removed, damaged by Parliament workers and discarded. (Credit: Andrew Moutu, Facebook: Sharp Talk)
One reason why this issue seemed to catch fire has to do with PNG’s famously byzantine political machinations. Yet, as a bit of summertime political theatre, it also caught the public’s attention both domestically and internationally. In December two separate conferences were held by the National Museum and Art Gallery (NMAG)4 and the National Cultural Commission5, and an international network of anthropologists rallied online to support their colleague, Andrew Moutu, the director of NMAG, who has been challenging the action in court. It was a dispute over symbols on several levels: not only whether Christian or indigenous symbols should be used for national institutions, but also whether either of these kinds of images could still express a credible national identity, and one could still gave credence to the secular belief that there are no gods or ghosts in the constitutional machine, that symbols were merely objects. These kinds of disputes have come up several times in the history of PNG’s iconic ‘spirit house’ (haus tambaran).
Papua New Guinea’s Men’s House
As PNG prepared for independence from Australia in 1975, the territory’s government held a design competition for a permanent home for parliament. They wanted a grand building in the government district of Waigani that would symbolize the country’s future as a free nation. The design by Cecil Hogan entitled “A Modern Haus Man (Men’s House)” envisaged a complex of three buildings under a sharply steeped roof over the central hall, creating a profile evoking a haus tambaran (spirit house) of an East Sepik province men’s cult. The other buildings referenced places of male leadership found in other regions. Archie Brennan, a lecturer from the national arts school, was selected to manage the process of producing decorative artwork for the complex which would reflect different artistic traditions from around the country. Mimicking the painted bark facades of spirit houses, Brennan designed an intricate, colorful mosaic based on drawings by the renowned artist Mathias Kauage and others for the building’s front facade. It combined cultural motifs, symbols of the nation’s resources and future progress, and excerpts from the preamble to the constitution. Students from the school and carvers produced the lintel of nineteen faces for the front facade. Brennan also oversaw the creation of an assemblage of wooden poles entitled “Bung Wantaim” (Coming Together), placed in the front foyer. After four years construction and 23.4 million kina (approximately US$25 million then), the building opened in 19846.
The Parliament Building and flags of PNG’s provinces (Credit: ABC)
From the beginning, the design and artwork of the building was controversial. Students from the University of Papua New Guinea protested the opening over the expense. Many other criticised that such a large building and grandiose design was chosen as opposed to a project that could be built in stages. Critics read it as a monument to the country’s new leaders, and suggested that the design really only symbolised the Sepik region of Michael Somare, the first prime minister, and not the country as a whole. Architects also faulted the use of indigenous design and artwork. One of the design competition’s judges, Balwant Saini said that indigenous styles and images were stripped of their original cultural context in order to make a political statement about national unity. The whole thing was a “cultural abortion.”7
As an attempt to plan a national identity, the haus man design and artwork is by its nature heavy-handed. It draws an explicit, rather simplistic analogy between the men’s house and the parliament. It leaves itself wide open to satire. Letters to the editor by readers of the PC over the last few years regularly poke fun at the haus tambaran image.
In a 2012 letter to the PC lamenting ethnic violence and lawlessness, Riwi Rindi “Let us not think as our so called leaders from the haus tambaran but as real Papua New Guineans. … The regionalistic thoughts are not from our fathers or a Melanesian way of thinking. It is a thought introduced by our so called leaders in the haus tambaran which is now beginning to eat away the fabric of this nation.”8 The author suggests that parliamentarians don’t deserve to be associated with the virtues of traditional leadership, and subtly reminds his readers of the Sepik roots of the supposedly national building.
Another letter-writer in the PC decried the influence of ‘millionaire’ donors on politics, saying those elected are beholden to them “in order to stay on the comfortable chairs of Haus Tambaran.”9 Writing a letter from the “Works Compound” (a Port Moresby housing compound for Department of Works staff), Robert Akunaii wrote a letter to the PC recently to lament the corruption of public spending. He writes: “[At independence] the Haus Tambaran was built with the finest materials and even the size of the building is huge, it is one of the best Parliament House amongst the Commonwealth Countries … [Today] Waigani has become a synonym for graft.”10
Among the many ironies that people play on, one is that parliament supposedly represents a Christian nation, yet its members can be quite wicked. In a 2008 speech in Parliament Francis Awesa MP remarked that “it was ironic that parliamentarians prayed for God’s guidance at the start of every session in a building dubbed Haus Tambaran.”11 In a 2010 opinion article in the PC, Isaac Lupari called for a parliament with a more “Christian environment.” He quipped that “the National Parliament changes people;” members are “converted” to a religion of corruption when they enter the building. Citing the country’s Christian principles in its constitution, he suggested that not only should its national legislature not be housed in a traditionally styled building, but that since the haus tambaran came from the Sepik, it could never be a national symbol anyways.12 The Christian critique of the state often sounds exactly like the traditional critique of the state. As Riwi Rindi says: “They are called leaders when in fact they lack all the leadership traits that makes a person be a leader.”
Some people see a deeper meaning in the building. For instance, Peter Pere, a pastor of the Port Moresby Church of God said that many public sculptures in Port Moresby, including Parliament House, were traditional idols that offended God and brought God’s curse upon the country. This was based on research for a forthcoming book “relating to Haus Tambaran and political leadership of Sir Michael Somare and his reign in his 40 years in political leadership.”13 For the pastor, traditional artwork should never symbolise a modern, Christian nation; in his worldview, traditional forms were by definition pre-Christian, and hence, evil. Awesa, in the speech cited above, also suggested that the traditional styles of sculpture in Parliament invited demons to enter.
These critics of Parliament don’t just question whether the metaphor of the building’s design and decoration is apt. They impose their own alternative meanings on traditional forms, connecting traditional ancestor and spirit worship associated specifically with men’s cults and men’s initiation rituals in many parts of the country, including the Sepik region, and pagan worship of Satan. Because the nation-state of PNG continues to celebrate non-Christian institutions, even in a token way, leaders in effect reject the salvation offered by Christianity, and the modernity and membership in the global Christian community this brings. For the independence generation, tradition was a key symbol of the new nation because it distinguished the country from Australian society and the colonial past. They did not, of course, have any desire to perpetuate traditional forms that prevented economic growth. In fact, many early politicians were hard anti-traditionalists. Yet then everyone mostly seemed to agree that traditional art, stripped of its original meaning, was still appropriate as a symbol for a uniquely Melanesian nation. For revivalist Christians like Peter Pere, though, colonialism and independence are in fact the same step in a totally different story, the advent of Christianity in PNG and the beginning of a totally new kind of society.
Cleansing House or Cleaning House?
Somare was the country’s first prime minister, and also most frequent, leading four governments between 1975 and 2011. Being the so-called father of the nation has been double edged. He has been a fixture of politics, but his longevity has made the public anticipate the rise of the next generation of politicians all the more eagerly. In 2011, after months absent from the capital for medical treatment in Singapore, a group of parliamentarians led by Peter O’Neill (Ialibu-Pangia, Southern Highlands Province) changed the government, yet under a questionable application of procedure. Both sides obtained court decisions and orders bolstering their claims to a parliamentary majority. For months, the national media, unable to decide who was legitimate, referred to two governments, two governors-general, two police commissioners, and so on. Finally, a compromise was reached that placed O’Neill’s faction in power just in time for the 2012 general election. Claiming the mantle of the next generation, O’Neill and his supporters cemented their victory in the election. Since returning to office, O’Neill has formed quite possibly the broadest coalition in history – of parliaments, everywhere. By the end of 2013, the official opposition consisted of 6 out of 111 members and the government has 105 (although press reports suggest that groups within the government can still block legislation).
At the height of the crisis, the government formed by O’Neill met in Parliament. The session was boycotted by the Somare government. Theo Zurenuoc, one of O’Neill’s supporters, rose to speak on the dark days facing the republic. Poreni Umau, a reporter for the PC was in the gallery that day and wrote the following:
“I believe that this house (parliament) is cursed,” Mr Zurenuoc said. > > He went on to relate to parliament where on one Sunday, he went to pray in > parliament and saw 19 designs on the wall of the building. > > He said that he was taken aback by these designs saying that they represented > the 19 provinces and these designs may be evil spirits that have brought curse > to the parliament house. > > He said that he went ahead and began praying against the evil spirits, > rebuking them out of the house. > > […] > > He also spoke out against Sir Michael . . ., alleging that the Grand Chief > [as Somare is also widely known] and his followers were agents and > facilitators of evil. “I must say it here. I do not fear anyone. They are > agents and facilitators of evil,” he said.14
Zurenuoc’s prophecy recalls a lot of religious rhetoric one finds in PNG, but it also brings together all of the common critiques of the building. Amidst the monuments selected by Somare to represent the nation, Zurenuoc turns the building from a spirit house into his own private chapel. Where many see mere symbols of the national community, he wills himself to see more than meets the eye, the hidden powers behind the public image. What’s needed, he suggests, is not simply new people in power, but a new system and a new spirit – led by Christianity. After O’Neill and his group were returned to office, Zurenuoc was elected as Speaker of the ninth Parliament of PNG. From early days, he declared his intention to “restore, reform and modernise” the parliament, as he said in a speech at the Centre for Democratic Institutions at Australian National University during a workshop on parliamentary management.15 In that speech, he clearly distinguished himself from the independence generation of Somare. That generation’s approach to policymaking was derived directly from a traditional cultural system, and clashed with the principles of democracy. The traditional ethos had led to official corruption and ethnic favoritism, and his generation must break with this a build a rationally managed parliament based on formal procedures. Rather than pork-barrelling, every member should serve the public interest alone.16
After his first year in the Speaker’s office, Zurenuoc took an opportunity for an act of symbolic nation-making of his own by dismantling artwork that, for him and many others in government, represented the bad old days in more than one way.
Church and State
The response to Zurenuoc’s action was swift. The director of the National Museum and Art Gallery, anthropologist Andrew Moutu said that Zurenuoc’s actions a “perverse political form of millenarianism” and potentially illegal because the artwork was national cultural property.2 The Catholic archbishop of Port Moresby, John Ribat, called it a “disgrace.” He said that the Zurenuoc should have properly sought the input of “mainline churches, anthropologists, historians and educationists before going ahead with his action, as they are ones who can give a balanced opinion on the importance of our cultures and traditions”.17 The statement, like many, implied that Zurenuoc’s personal beliefs were fundamentalist. The reaction, especially internationally, seemed to play on primitive imagery twice over.18 Zurenuoc not only believed in the traditional spirits of indigenous beliefs, but also that they were demons from hell, too. PC editorials compared Zurenuoc to the Taliban, and his actions harmful to democracy.1920 In other words, when they called on the prime minister to intervene, implicitly, it was to rein in a zealot acting illegally. While the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Council of Churches, claiming to represent mainstream belief, condemned Zurenuoc2122, several pastors from Pentecostal churches spoke out in favour, one calling the removal “the work of God.”2324
“Please Stop!” The front page of the PNG Post Courier on December 13, 2013.
The situation became quite tense, it appears. On December 11, O’Neill said in an interview with the PC that work has stopped, then it commenced again.25 The speaker’s office issued no statement, while the PC published a front page story on the issue every single day for two weeks.26 MPs current and former made their stances known. Many prominent members gave support to Zurenuoc, saying he had the authority to act and endorsing the religious meaning as well. Others, including former Speakers and current members, opposed him. The PC ran a picture of Somare on the front page with the headline “‘Please Stop!’: Sir Michael Appeals for End to Desecration.”27 The PC editors accused the speaker’s staff of intimidating reporters on the parliament grounds.28
Finally, on the 18th, Zurenuoc took out a eight page advertisement in the National, a competing newspaper. He toned down his spiritual interpretation of the artwork, saying:
While the carvings are harmless and lifeless wood, they symbolically represent > ancestral gods and spirits of idolatry, immorality and witchcraft. I am not > making this up. I am paraphrasing what the Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare said > on the eve of Independence. (In the book Living Spirits with Fixed Abodes: The > Masterpieces Exhibition of the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art > Gallery, edited by Barry Craig, published in 2010.)3
He wanted to “modernise” Parliament by installing works that would symbolise what he said were the true sources of national unity, the constitution, the Bible and (oddly) Michael Somare. He announced a plan to erect a National Unity Pole which would combine these and the word ‘unity’ in the 800 indigenous languages of the country. His plan was still steeped in religious language, but carefully avoided anything that smacked of animism, instead attributing that view to Somare and anthropologist Barry Craig.29
On December 27, O’Neill called for a debate in parliament over the fate of the artwork.30 Meanwhile, the issue was debated all over Port Moresby. NMAG held a conference on the topic with several academic and religious speakers.4 Another conference was sponsored by the National Cultural Commission.5
If one looks only at the positions taken by politicians and editorialists, the debate revolved around proving that one’s position was the most consistent with Enlightenment rationality. On Twitter, Deni ToKunai (@Tavurur) tweeted:
My people have a custom of chasing evil spirits away every NY. We bang > saucepans. The Speaker should invest in crockery. Seems to work > #PNG31
For his part, when he finally did speak up, Zurenuoc took the emphasis away from what he wanted to remove, and talked up his own vision. His National Unity Pole would consist mainly of words, of God and the law, not to mention a single abstract noun in 800 different languages. In other words, it would be an expression of pure rationality, ornamented only by a single eternal flame. It seemed calculated to present him as moderniser, working according to his stated plans for parliament, instead of a renegade. Readers of the PC, however, expressed a much broader range of views. While opinion was split, there was much more openness to change.
Between December 6 and January 15, the PC published 21 letters and opinion pieces on the issue. A quick read shows a nearly even split in opinion among the 20 authors. Nine supported Zurenuoc, nine opposed him, and two others expressed a neutral view. The trustees of NMAG32 and a linguistics professor at Divine Word University33 both strongly opposed the speaker’s actions as destruction of cultural heritage. Joseph Walters, the pastor of a popular Pentecostal church, endorsed Zurenuoc and called on churches to support him.34 One tour operator said that cultural heritage was good for the tourism business.35 The other writers, though, actually did want to discuss whether and in what respect PNG was Christian, which traditions still mattered and what would really represent them as a nation. They engaged directly with the question of whether or not the carvings were good, evil or maybe something else. The realm of public discourse was a lot wider.
One strand uniting them is a Christian critique of Zurenuoc’s focus on objects. These authors more or less agreed that PNG was a Christian country, for some even a country founded on a covenant with God, as Zurenuoc claimed. But they said that true reform would come from conversion of parliament’s members. In a sense, these writers make the same kind of critique that PNG people have always had of their government. The dismantling of the decorations was just as empty a gesture as putting them up.363738
Related to this was a position articulated by a few against the speaker. As Nema Yalo writes, “It is contrary to … Christian faith to despise other religions and superimpose Christianity.”393640 The supporters of Zurenuoc were not ready to believe that the state should be neutral on religious questions. In the words of one writer, calling for tolerance is an “atheist’s” view.41 If the state paid respect to culture, or other religions, it would be breaking the first commandment.42
Some people wanted the objects removed because they were part of the past, not because they were evil. Two letter writers recommended that they should be removed, but donated to NMAG. They represented the traditional cultures of PNG, and should be respected as such, just not in Parliament.4344 One author compared the faces and poles to the ritual objects of the Old Testament Canaanites.44 Another author, tongue firmly in cheek, suggested that women had polluted the national haus man. Typically women are forbidden from entering men’s houses, and men’s affairs are officially secret to women. By building a men’s cult building as its national legislature, PNG chose to follow the rules that come with this. Yet this society has always embraced gender equality too. “Don’t you agree?”, the author winks, “[I]f we follow customs and traditions we have ourselves to blame for the traditional misdemeanour and a breach of the cardinal rule – women are out of bounds from the Haus Tambaran.” IF PNG really wants to live up to its own ideals, it needs a change. “I propose we build a new Parliament House with a new design and get rid of the Haus Tambaran full of evil spirits.”45
Blessing or Curse
With Parliament away, the criticism of Zurenuoc’s actions in last two months has focused on its religious underpinnings and its implications for a secular, liberal democracy in PNG. As Parliament reconvenes in February, it is possible that another narrative will come out as members of parliament take a stand. Zurenuoc’s speeches during the recess indicate that his stance is good populism as well as moral politics.46
When one looks more closely at people’s reactions, it becomes clear that one can’t explain the scandal purely as a war of ideologies or mere manoeuvring. Zurenuoc has reopened an even bigger question in the minds of many grassroots people. Is it possible at all for there to be a symbol of the national community? For Zurenuoc, the answer seems clearly to be yes. Christianity can transcend all of the different communities of the country more than any traditional expression. While he has a lot of support, people’s views are much more nuanced in their answers.
Zurenuoc’s critics want people to come together as fellow citizens with rights to their beliefs and respect for each other. It’s hard to argue with this liberal vision, especially given that any alternative is bound to exclude someone. So why are people debating the carvings? The real conflict at the heart of this issue is not between religious unity and secular tolerance. There is a deeper difference over what you can and can’t debate in the modern public sphere. Let’s for the moment assume that Zurenuoc was within his authority to hack off a piece of the Parliament facade – and that still remains to be seen as many different laws apply. If he could though, many people wanted to say he shouldn’t simply because basing policy on the supernatural is out of bounds. The carvings could not be evil, because they were symbols and nothing more. Even Zurenuoc himself ultimately conceded that the works were “lifeless wood.” You can believe whatever you want about them, but that’s all it is, a personal belief.
And yet, these tenets of the liberal modern creed sound pretty hollow to many in PNG, and have for some time. The possibility that there were unseen forces has been, though, if not credible, good to think and good to debate. It’s a debate that is not, at least in a strict sense, rational. It still resonates in part because it draws upon the long tradition of accusing politicians of hypocrisy. It starts as a joke, and becomes a speculation. While officials and experts confidently assert claims to truth, letter writers, tentatively and pragmatically, probe, question and suggest. If it is possible that there are hidden forces in state pageantry, people can then ask an unaskable question. Just why is this constitutional order the right one? The parliament house tangibly embodies the PNG polity more tangibly than the constitution and other national symbols. While the objects that adorn it may or may not have powers of their own, the possibility that someone could take down one embodiment of the collective self and put in place another seems to be what critics fear and others find fascinating. In PNG, “Christian country” and “Melanesian way” are more often than not empty slogans. Politicians flog them to stir up sentiment. Why do people keep talking about them in earnest? Because they offer a chance to rethink things that are often too readily left unquestioned.
Balwant Saini quoted in Rosi 1991, p. 311, speaking at a seminar entitled “The State of the Arts in the Pacific.” ↩
Rindi, Riwi. 2012. “We Must All Strive for Unity.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, April 11. ↩
Observer. 2012. “Please Respect Democracy.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, July 18. ↩
Akunaii, Robert D. 2012. “Corruption a Major Stumbling Block.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, July 4. ↩
The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier. 2008. “Awesa: House of God or Satan?” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, May 21. ↩
Lupari, Isaac B. 2010. “PNG Resource-Rich yet Spiritually Poor.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, May 7. ↩
Eroro, Simon. 2011. “Pastor against Sculptures.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, February 2. While Somare has been prominent in national politics for nearly 40 years, he has not actually led the country for 40 years. As discussed below, he served as prime minister for about 17 years on four separate occasions. Naturally he casts a long shadow and this is how readers of Pere’s statement would take it. ↩
Umau, Poreni. 2011. “Parlt Is Haunted.” Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, December 15. ↩
Akane, Milka, and Alexander Rheeney. 2013. “Cultural Terrorist.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, December 10. ↩
The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier. 2013. “Speaker Should Resign from Office.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, December 20. ↩
Bauai, Gloria. 2013. “Church Condemns Speaker’s Moves.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, December 10. ↩
Bauai, Gloria. 2013. “Council of Churches Demand Face to Face Meeting with Government Parlt Move Fuels Tension.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, December 17. ↩
The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier. 2013. “Walters Supports Speaker.” Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, December 23. ↩
Martin, Melissa. 2014. “Removal of Masks a Work of God.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, January 28. ↩
Rheeney, Alexander, and Armstrong Saiyama. 2013. “Parlt Madness Ends.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, December 11. ↩
The other major English-language newspaper, the National, published only a few news stories, one editorial (favourable to Zurenuoc) and a handful of letters on this issue, compared to the daily drumbeat of criticism of Zurenuoc from the PC. The editorial positions of the two papers often contrast. The differences in coverage among PNG media, though, is outside the scope of this essay. ↩
Rheeney, Alexander. 2013. “‘Please Stop!’: Sir Michael Appeals for End to Desecration.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, December 13. ↩
The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier. 2013. “Harassment of Our Staff Unjustified.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier. December 18. ↩
Craig has since disputed the way his work his being used in Zurenuoc’s announcement, denying that he writes anything that Zurenuoc attributes to him, and arguing that Zurenuoc is overinterpreting his claims about the cultural and religious significance of carved objects in PNG societies. For his part, Zurenuoc seems not to rely on Craig for ethnographic evidence per se, but is attempting to claim the privileged position of epistemological relativism that ethnographers claim. Ethnographers speak about magic credulously, as if it were real, without being challenged, and then step away from that position and provide an objective explanation of a person’s belief. In a sense, many critics of Zurenuoc attempted claim epistemological authority when they refused to engage with his statements and declared him a maniac. In his supplement, Zurenuoc seems to be turning the tables. ↩
The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier. 2013. “PM Calls for Debate on Parlt Cleansing.” The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, December 27. ↩
The 2014 Otsego Institute for Native North American Art History will focus on two interrelated issues of fundamental importance to advanced students in this field: the connoisseurship of materials and the theorization of materiality. Through workshops and close hands-on examination of objects in the Thaw Collection of American Indian Art, as well as lectures, readings, and group discussions, we will develop skills in identifying the materials, styles, and techniques of preparation used by Native North American artists in the production of both historic and current art. At the same time, we will explore Indigenous and Western intellectual engagements with material phenomena: the nature and culture of materiality, how it embodies the spiritual, and how different materialities – human, animal, environmental— act on each other in artistic contexts.
The workshops will include presentations, discussions and hands-on examination of original works of art. There will be time for participants to present informally their own current and prospective dissertations and curatorial projects to co-participants and faculty.
Music flows. Evocative metaphorically while directing our attention to the global circulation of songs, the theme for the 2014 IASPM-US Annual Conference takes its inspiration from the UNC campus-wide Water initiative. Water in its many forms is a ubiquitous subject of pop songs. Whether as metaphor or literal reference, water imagery as a theme in popular music has been used to celebrate identity, express emotions, address environmental issues, convey pleasure, pay homage to spiritual beings, and shape communities of resistance. Here we take up notions of fluidity and flow to address not only what many deem our most important natural resource, but to consider the ways in which water’s qualities may yield productive insights into the present and future of popular music.
Fluidity suggests smoothness and flow, as well as uncertainty, indefiniteness, and mutability. This tension is felt across global capital, ecology, and the business of music, as money, energy, and sounds flow around the world, their movement unevenly enabled and restricted by a range of economic, political, and cultural forces. From the licit or illicit circulation of songs to the melting of glaciers, popular music – and the world in which it exists – faces a future in which the status quo is quite literally in flux. With seemingly solid foundations melting away, we face a moment of productive instability, in which new potentialities emerge even as life as we know it may be dramatically transformed.
The 2014 IASPM-US Annual Conference will take place from March 13-16, 2014 at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The Center for the Study of the American South (CSAS) will be our host on campus, in collaboration with the Department of Music and the Southern Folklife Collection. Papers related to popular music and southern culture are especially welcome. Look for a featured panel on southern music and enjoy a lively reception hosted by the Center.
Papers may focus on one of the following aspects of the theme, on other aspects of the conference theme, or – as always – any other issue in the study of popular music.
by Joshua A. Bell, Joel Kuipers, Jacqueline Hazen, Amanda Kemble, and Briel Kobak
In June 2013, our collaborative George Washington University/Smithsonian Institution team–Joshua A. Bell (NMNH Anthropology), Joel Kuipers (GWU Anthropology), Briel Kobak, Amanda Kemble, and Jacqueline Hazen–hosted a Wenner-Gren funded workshop, Linguistic and Material Intimacies of Mobile Phones, at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. The workshop grew out of our anthropological project “Fixing Connections: The Art & Science of Repair,” which is funded by support a grant from the Smithsonian’s Consortium for World Cultures and Understanding the American Experience (www.si.edu/consortia). Since May 2012 we have been conducting ethnographic research in cell phone repair shops across the Washington, DC area to investigate the cultural intimacies associated with cell phones as well as their materiality. Repair shops are dynamic sites in which the social and linguistic components of technology – anxieties about damage and loss of information, connection and availability– articulate with the material realities of cell phones– the parts, supply chains, and labor that are required for repair (See Figures 1 and 2).
Figure 1: Cell phone repair technician takes apart an iPhone 4S in the shop’s backroom. (Photo Credit: Joshua A. Bell)
Figure 2: Cell phone repair technician replaces iPhone 4 cracked screen on countertop in front of customers. (Photo Credit: Briel Kobak)
To further explore the ways in which the social, linguistic, cultural, and material facets of cell phone use overlap and intersect, we convened a diverse group of 14 international scholars to explore the social and material implications of cell phones, from the mineral extraction necessary for their manufacturing, through their various cultural uses and adaptations, to their breakdown and repair. Ten papers were presented with Anna Tsing (UCSC) and Webb Keane (Michigan) acting as discussants. A number of themes and motifs emerged over the course of the workshop, including not only the profound ambivalence that users feel towards the technology’s affordances and drawbacks, but also the uncertainty we felt as a group of anthropologists attempting to document the use of such a ubiquitous yet highly personal device. Because of this uncertainty, we talked about cell phones through a number of seemingly opposing binaries: connections and disconnections, intimacy and anxiety, rupture and repair.
To organize the contents of the workshop, we categorized the articles into three synthetic, cross-cutting themes: fetishization, inscription, and intimacy. This first dimension allowed us to examine agency, value and meaning-making along the various points of the commodity chain of a mobile phone (Appadurai 1986; Spyer 1998; Tsing 2009). Papers on this theme included explorations of the political economy of coltan in the DRC (Jeffrey Mantz, GMU), attributions of value in processes of material repair (GWU/SI Repair Collective), and anxieties over ownership and privacy in Brazil (Alexander Dent, GWU). The second analytic of inscription interrogated the cultural variation by which mobile phones structure new forms of temporal and spatial practices of users in their respective media worlds (Orr 1996; Latour 1999; Keane 2003). Papers on inscription included examinations of the re-curation of museum artifacts via Instagram (Alexandra Weilenmann & Thomas Hillman, Gothenburg) and the worlding of worlds through video sharing amongst the Yolngu in Australia (Jennifer Deger, ANU). The third thematic, intimacy, centered on the ability for these devices to construct subjective emotional experience along specific cultural dimensions (Ito et al. 2005; Horst & Miller 2006; Katsuno and Yano 2007). Participants in this grouping wrote on varying topics, such as experiences of disruption across 15 cultures, including the blind, deaf, and elderly in the US (Elizabeth Keating, UT Austin), state and familial networks on a Caribbean border (Heather Horst, RMIT University), communicative patterns among Norwegians during times of crisis (Rich Ling, IT University of Copenhagen), the management and presentation of self through social media (Ilana Gershon, IU), and the cell phone’s role in romance and the intimate economy in Mozambique (Julie Archambault, Oxford).
Figure 3: Participants conversing at the workshop held in the National Museum of Natural History. Photo Credit: Rob Leopold.
Read together as a special collection or edited volume, the articles presented at this workshop will bring together actor-oriented, fine-grained ethnographic data with broader anthropological theory on materiality, technology studies, linguistics, and anthropology of the self. The workshop will also provide the theoretical foundation for a planned exhibit on mobile phones tentatively titled, Unseen Connections: Natural Histories of the Mobile Phone to be held at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC
Read together as a special collection or edited volume, the articles presented at this workshop will bring together actor-oriented, fine-grained ethnographic data with broader anthropological theory on materiality, technology studies, linguistics, and anthropology of the self. The workshop will also provide the theoretical foundation for a planned exhibit on mobile phones tentatively titled, Unseen Connections: Natural Histories of the Mobile Phone to be held at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.
Appadurai, A. (Ed.) (1986). The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Horst, H. A. and D. Miller. (2006). The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication. New York, NY. Berg Publishers.
Ito, M., D. Okabe, M. Matsuda (Eds). (2005). Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life. Cambridge, MA. The MIT Press.
Katsuno, H. and C. Yano. (2007). “Kaomoji and Expressivity in Japanese Chat Rooms.” In B. Danet and S.Herring (Eds.), The Multilingual Internet (278-300). New York: Oxford University Press.
Keane, W. (2003). Semiotics and the social analysis of material things. Language and Communication 23 (3-4), 409-425.
Latour, B. (1999). Pandora’s hope: essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Orr, J. (1996). Talking About Machines. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Spyer, P. (Ed.) (1998). Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Places. London: Routledge.
Tsing, A.(2009). Supply Chains and the Human Condition. Rethinking Marxism 21(2), 148-176.
Properties and Social Imagination is a book length project that drew on explorations and experiments by students and staff working with UCL’s Ethnography Collections.
The project has drawn together Masters and PhD students, staff, and a team of scholars and artists based in the College for Creative Arts at Massey University. Our primary focus is UCL’s ethnographic collections and we have explored the dynamic ways in which the formal qualities of stone, wood and cloth create new cultural sensibilities and new collaborative research practices. Our projects instantiates the dynamism of collections-based research and presents a number of visual projects inspired by these processes, demonstrating that collections are not static but continually in motion.
Housed within the Anthropology department, the ethnographic collection is used as a teaching collection, but our understandings of what can be learnt from it have changed radically over the past few decades. The collection, comprising over 3000 artifacts, contains objects from every continent of the world, made out of every kind of material, and referencing many different cultural groups and practices. Originally part of the Henry Wellcome non-Medical collection, the collection was gifted to UCL in the early 1950s and has been periodically added to over the years through fieldwork of departmental staff. The collection was separated from its original catalogue and supporting documentation and arrived in UCL as essentially a series of orphaned objects. This was of less concern to anthropologists at that time, who were able to draw the collection extensively into their teaching, allowing students to handle objects as three-dimensional illustrations of the cultural groups, ethnographic data, and theories they were being taught at the time. For many decades the collection was used to exemplify ritual and artistic traditions, regional variation and specificity, and as a tool in the comparative analysis of cultural production. With the emergence in the 1990s of Material Culture Studies as a subfield within the department, the collection was increasingly recognized as a storehouse of materials – different forms with properties that themselves contributed to the cultural environments that had produced them.
We wanted to respect the unique qualities of each object in the collection, rather than subsuming their materiality to understand them as “typical” or “illustrations” of culture located elsewhere. We wanted to explore what we could learn from the objects themselves, starting first and foremost with their material properties. We chose three objects – a piece of unadorned barkcloth from Sulawesi, a greenstone adze from Papua New Guinea, and a carved wooden Aboriginal spear- thrower from Australia and breaking into small groups started to explore the objects, from their surfaces, both outwards and inwards.
Our starting questions were:
What kinds of cultural information, context and knowledge may be found in the form of the object itself?
What kinds of research methods can be developed from a focus on the material or physical properties of objects?
What methods can we, as anthropologists, contribute to others (material scientists, artists, and so on) working with materials?
Working in groups we pulled apart our understanding of what the objects were, using the sensory experience of the objects and their physical forms as the starting point to engage with the cultural uses and practices that these objects inhabit. Alongside these investigations, our project partners in New Zealand worked remotely with these, and other, objects from the ethnographic collections, making them the centerpiece of artistic explorations of form, physical encounter, and indeed loss.
The book can be downloaded here and is also available to purchase as a print copy here:
The Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Queensland is seeking expressions of interest for applications for 3 year UQ Postdoctoral Research Fellowships for 2014-2016. The UQ postdoctoral scheme seeks to attract talented early career researchers with well-developed research programs and strong track records. The fellowships support full time research, although it is possible to organise some teaching experience if desired.
Materiality has recently claimed centre stage in architectural discourse and practice, yet its critical meaning is ever receding. Tropes like material honesty, digital materiality, material responsiveness and dematerialisation mark out an interdisciplinary field where scientific fact and artistic experimentation interact, and where what in fact constitutes materiality and immateriality is constantly re-imagined.
Interstices14 invites contributions that address the thematic strands: Immateriality; Atmosphere+Experience; Interactivity; Material Politics; Material Technology+Aesthetics; Material Referents.
Immateriality: As a reaction to developments in science, materiality came under scrutiny with the emergence of nineteenth century German aesthetics (Vischer, Schmarsow) and the early avant-garde projects (Lissitzky, van Doesburg). Initiating an epistemic shift in art and architecture, these works pointed point to the connection between the concrete material properties of objects and their interaction with the inhabitant through psycho-physiological effects. From one of these early projects, this publication borrows its title – Immaterial Materialities – a term invented by El Lissitzky to describe the dynamics of our spatial conception, which could be explored through the design of imaginary spaces – possibilities pioneered by film and modern mass media. The inclusion of ephemeral elements such as light, line, colour, and media, reconceptualised materiality as an entirely dynamic category, a kind of ‘materialised energy’ (Vesnin). These ideas re-emerged transformed in the work of the Neo-avant-garde of the 1960s and 70s, and surfaced again in contemporary architectural debates.
From the pioneer software sharing communities created around UNIX to the community of Emacs hackers and beyond, Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) development has been growing exponentially, following the popularization and widespread usage of personal computers and the Internet. Not only have FOSS communities expanded globally, but also its body of literature, becoming relevant for computer scientists and engineers, as well as for researchers in the humanities and social sciences. In the past decade, FOSS research was consolidated around questions such as individual motivation, collaborative practices, issues of scale, governance, and coordination of development efforts, as well as problems of political economy, involving the study of economic models, and forms of political mobilization around Free Software.