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Biomedicine in museums

The virulence of material objects in the historiography of science

By February 26, 2008No Comments

It probably hasn’t escaped anyone that the really material (and not just talking-about-it material) culture of science has become a hot area.

For example, I just saw this message about the newly formed TRAFIK working group for cultural studies (’Kulturwissenschaft’) in Vienna which will hold its first meeting 16 May on ‘the virulence of material objects in the current historiography of knowledge’ (’Virulenz materieller Gegenstände in der aktuellen Historiographie des Wissens’).

The workshop format is pretty innovative too (and here is where the ‘really material’ comes in). Participants are invited to bring a small object (small enough to fit into a pack of cigarettes) which they believe ‘organises, infects, structures’ their own research. Each is expected to give a 5 min. presentation of it to inspire the discussion about the relations of the objects and the networks and worldviews formed by these things – and if possible to bring them in ‘intelligible / surprising / disturbing’ (‘einleuchtende / überraschende / verstörende’) connections with each other.

This is a great idea and a wonderful format for a workshop; and the venue—the WerkzeugH in Vienna—looks like the perfect place for this kind of discussion. My only caveat is the current ’things-that-talk’ jargon that informs the event. I don’t have any problems with discussing objects with other people, but I get slightly worried about the prospect of having to argue and discuss with the objects themselves (’mit den Dinge, zu argumentieren und diskutieren’). Or, as the organisers say, ’the things in themselves shall have their say’ (to let ’die Dinge gleichsam selbst zu Wort kommen’).

The idea of letting things have their say reminds me of Hobbes speaking to Calvin. Frankly, I haven’t heard any convincing argument for why ‘things-that-talk’-talk may be useful. But maybe I’ve missed some important metaphorical virulence here 🙂

Read more (in German) here (and thanks to my intellectual buddy Michael for the tip!)

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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