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John B. Hurford '60Center for the Arts and Humanities

A Sense of Things: Technology, Techniques, and Other Storied Matter

Mellon Symposium 2023

Organized by Jia Hui Lee
February 23-24, 2023

“I presumed that I would find in [things] … the congealed facts and fantasies of a culture.”
- Bill Brown, A Sense of Things (2003)
“The history of blackness is testament to the fact that objects can and do resist.”
- Fred Moten, In the Break (2003)

With their dimensions, densities, textures, shapes, colors, odors, fetishes, and auras, things evoke sensation and sentiment. To grasp something, or to craft and use a thing is to sense it, to understand its position in an entangled mesh of social, technological, material, historical, and political processes. To contend with things is to also confront breakage, decay, immobility, and inoperability.

Drawing on critical theory, science and technology studies, and anthropology we consider the power, promise, and perils of taking things seriously. Do things expose hierarchies of power and oppression made insensible by social and historical processes? Are they technologies imbued with capacities to reorder society or nature? Can they be sensed in ways that offer an opening for alternative expressions and embodiments? Do they mediate, filter, or distort perceptions of the world(s) we inhabit? Are things to be possessed? Or do they, indeed, possess us?

This symposium, convened by Jia Hui Lee, invites five scholars and artists to encounter, contest, and consider things that figure in their work through a series of several workshops. Participants bring a thing to the workshop that they would share with each other and with the greater Haverford community through storytelling, object lessons, and performance. The symposium ends with the launch of Ginssiyo Apara’s solo art exhibition, BAGGAGE.

Sponsored by the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities and the Haverford College Distinguished Visitors Program.

Blue tinged objects made of soft subtance with title of symposium overlaid
Untitled, 2022. Sculpture by Vy Le ‘25. Photograph taken by Reesha Gandhi '24

 


Schedule

Thursday, February 23, 2023

VCAM Lower Create Space

Workshops

These workshops are geared towards the participants but anyone is welcome to drop by and observe

    • 10:00 a.m. - 12 p.m.
    • Morning workshops
    • 12:00 - 1:00 p.m.
    • Break
    • 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.
    • Afternoon Object Lessons

Friday, February 24, 2023

VCAM Lounge

Public Events
    • 4:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
    • Bringing Things to Life
    • 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
    • Opening Reception for BAGGAGE, works by Ginssiyo Apara

Participants

Ginssiyo Apara

Ginssiyo Apara is an artist, and theorist working with various media, ranging from sound, sculpture, painting, poetry, and writing. A common theme that runs throughout his work centers around manipulating found plastic materials, synthesizing them with classic fine art materials. Recently, he has begun exploring the use of “playful” materials such as puffy paint, sequins, vintage stickers of nostalgic cartoon imagery, repurposing and arranging discarded items. He is interested in deconstructing the definitions and distinctions made between “art” and “trash”. In deconstructing these two categories his work aims to construct an allegory of the trials and tribulations of the black community in America. Example: the analogy of the simultaneous “trash”-like treatment of the black demographic yet overconsumption of the culture. Through this, he conceptualizes this notion of a “recycling” of black culture and existence. The recent ban of plastic bags is the ban on the black existence, yet in reality blackness will exist long after. Blackness is the creation that can’t be recycled, that never decomposes.

Elizabeth Chin

Elizabeth Chin is Professor in the MFA program, Media Design Practices at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. An anthropologist with a varied practice that includes performative research, ethnography, vernacular electronics, sewing, and dancing, she has published, installed, performed, and intervened in a wide variety of outlets and situations. Her most recent book is My Life With Things: The Consumer Diaries (Duke University Press, 2016). Currently, she is Editor in Chief at American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association.

Kwame Edwin Otu

Kwame Edwin Otu (PhD) is Assistant Professor of African American and African Studies at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia (USA). He is also the Guerrant Assistant Professor of Public Health at UVA’s Center for Global Health Equity. He is the author of Amphibious Subjects: Sasso and the Contested Politics of Queer Self-Making in Neoliberal Ghana (University of California Press, 2022). Currently, Professor Otu is an Associate Professor at Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service. You can find his writings in Feminist Africa, Journal of Critical Ethnic Studies, Sexualities, Body and Religion, Journal of African Cultural Studies, Journal of Queer World-Making etc.

Diana Pardo Pedraza

Diana Pardo Pedraza (she/hers/ella) is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at George Washington University. Her ethnographic research in rural Colombia considers (de)militarized landscapes, post-conflict economics, environmental politics, and multispecies relations of aid and care. Professor Pardo Pedraza is currently working on her book manuscript, Landscapes of Suspicion: Minefields, Peace Laboratories, and the Ecologies of (Post)War in Colombia, an ethnography of humanitarian efforts to clear and liberate territories occupied by the threat of improvised landmines. Her work has been published in Tapuya: Latin American Science, Technology and Society and Environment & Planning D: Society & Space and is forthcoming in Environmental Humanities, Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, and Technoscience, and Critical Ethnic Studies Journal. At GWU, Professor Pardo Pedraza teaches courses on topics ranging from environmental politics to feminist science and technology studies and multispecies ethnography.

Kate Poje

Headshot of Kate Poje

Kat Poje is a doctoral candidate in the History of Science at Harvard University. Her work focuses on the role of technology in relationships of violence and care across species. Her dissertation examines the development of animal euthanasia from the 19th century to the present, tracking how killing became an ethical imperative for animal advocates, and how animal advocates attempted to materialize a suffering-free death through technological innovation. Her work has been supported by the Tom Regan Visiting Research Fellowship at North Carolina State University; the Richardson Dilworth Fellowship for Law, Politics, and Reform at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Library Company of Philadelphia; and the Charles Warren Center for American Studies Research Grant Harvard University. She graduated from Haverford College in 2016.

Monique Scott

Monique Scott, PhD, is the Director of Museum Studies at Bryn Mawr College. She is an anthropologist that specializes in the representation of race in museums, particularly representations of Africa and people of African descent, the basis for her 2007 book Rethinking Evolution in the Museum: Envisioning African Origins. After serving as head of cultural education at the American Museum of Natural History for ten years, Monique joined Bryn Mawr College in 2015 to found the College’s Museum Studies program. At Bryn Mawr, Monique teaches about Africana studies, visual studies and museum anthropology; and uses Bryn Mawr’s robust collection of African objects to teach and curate campus exhibitions. Monique is a Consulting Scholar for the African Section at the Penn Museum and served on the curatorial advisory team responsible for the renovation and reinstallation of the Penn Museum permanent African galleries, which opened in the fall of 2019. Monique also co-curated the 2019 temporary exhibition “Colored People Time: Quotidian Pasts” at the Penn Institute of Contemporary Art, an exhibition that highlighted her archival research on the history of the Penn Museum’s Africa Collections. Monique also serves on the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s African-American Collections Committee, is a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History and is a Curatorial Associate at the Yale Peabody Museum.


Organizer

Jia Hui Lee

I am an anthropologist of science and technology. I examine the cultural, political, and historical dimensions of how people produce knowledge to explain the world ("science"). I also look at how people invent, innovate, subvert, undermine, and repurpose technology. I have lived in Southeast Asia, East Africa, Europe, and North America. I am Malaysian, and this is reflected in the multiple intersecting identities I inhabit.

I am currently the 2021-2023 Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow in the John B. Hurford '60 Center for the Arts and Humanities at Haverford College in Pennsylvania (Lenapehoking), USA. I am also a Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology.

My book project is a historically informed ethnography of various human-rodent encounters in zoological research, animal training, and pest management schemes in Tanzania. This project explores how more-than-human encounters in East Africa are crucial sites for generating theories and critiques that offer what Sylvia Wynter calls counterhumanist visions of being "human" in the 21st-century.