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4th Annual Graduate Student Conference Stony Brook University – Cultural Analysis and Theory Department – October 18th-19th 2013

Call for Papers

4th Annual Graduate Student Conference
Stony Brook University, The State University of New York
Cultural Analysis and Theory Department
Stony Brook Manhattan
October 18th & 19th, 2013

Containers have a dual function – to store and to deliver – and thus an inherent provisionality. Unlike a boundary, a container denotes some kind of material object or thing. Both may imply delimitation, but while boundaries suggest an abstract notion of crossing, breaking and transgressing, containers draw attention to what is being contained, the tensile strength needed to hold it, the function of the lid and the physical force needed to unfasten that lid. The question of containment is also inherently political: it suggests a potential volatility, ephemerality or threat of the matter contained. We propose four main conceptual frames for thinking what containers are and what they do: (1) the contained object (2) the uncontainable/immaterial ephemera (3) the container’s (im)materiality and design (4) the temporality of storage and delivery. We propose that these frames offer new and unforeseen critical paradigms to certain disciplinary and theoretical perspectives.

1) Our first frame prompts inquiry into the material conditions of the physical substance filling the container’s volumetric space. Object and thing theory, as well as new materialism, provide a range of differing analytical tools for thinking through the contained substance’s materiality, its agency and its structural integrity. Thinking of the contained in terms of content naturally draws attention to the historical conditions affecting that content, such that processes of technological development, modes of consumption and distribution affect the materiality of the contained object.

2) Containers are not only material structures containing solids or fluids, but also immaterial forms that contain ephemeral substances or concepts. Adorno, for instance, postulated thought as the attempt to contain its object via the identity of the concept. Likewise, affect theory conceives of language and representation more generally in terms of its attempt to contain experience; meanwhile, affect itself exceeds such containment. Additionally, the recent turn towards questions of bodies and embodiment underscores the inherently unstable opposition of material and immaterial phenomena: the body is, at least in part, socially produced as a container of both material and immaterial flows in a way that destabilizes the distinction between the two.

3) Containers are designed for the specific function of holding in something; they must be strong and durable. And yet, the container’s design also evokes the aesthetic mode. Among other fields, film and media studies have increasingly broached design studies in exploring the aesthetic dimensions of the consoles, housings, and packaging of technological components and audio/visual media. As Lynn Spigel reminds us, a television is equally important as a piece of furniture in the aesthetic production of the domestic space.

4) The temporal frame of containment calls our attention to the process in play as a container reverses from its storage to delivery function. Whereas ‘storage’ contains notions of material apparatus, structural design and archive or collection, ‘delivery’ carries a teleological function as well as the physical place or site in which a container opens, empties or interfaces. To give just two examples, both freight containers transporting commodities along the exchange circuits of global capitalism and fiber optic cables delivering information across national and transnational communication networks act in varying ways to produce the conditions for what David Harvey identifies as the experience of space-time compression that has marked modernity and postmodernity.

How, then, might these different frameworks for thinking about containers inform our involvement with material and immaterial phenomena? What affordances does the concept of the container provide for the humanities and social sciences in engaging with contemporary social, cultural, political and economic conditions? We invite graduate student submissions from a wide variety of disciplines to engage with these questions.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • New materialisms of containers or contained
  • Affect theory and the uncontainable
  • Containers in/as cultural (literary, filmic, televisual, etc.) texts
  • Object oriented ontology
  • The body and (dis)embodiment
  • Virality and containment
  • Media objects as containers
  • Urban space and containment
  • Resistance to containment
  • Thing theory of containers or contained
  • Exhibition spaces as containers
  • Transgression and limit experiences
  • Design and containers
  • The politics of containment
  • ‘Trans’ -national/-gender/-disciplinary problematization of containment
  • ‘Trans’ troubling of globalization, race, and the nation-state containment

Please send a 250-300 word abstract by June 15th, 2013 to We are tentatively planning on sending out acceptance and declination notices around the beginning of July.