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CfP: The Popular Life of Things

The Institute of English Cultures and Literatures, University of Silesia (Poland) is happy to announce a CFP for an upcoming international conference:

The Popular Life of Things. Material Culture(s) and Popular Processes to be held in Sosnowiec (Poland), 3-4 July 2014

In the preface to Les Mots et les choses (1966), a work on the relationship between discourse and things, Michel Foucault observes that “the fundamental codes of culture – those governing its language, its schemas of perception, its exchanges, its techniques, its values, the hierarchy of practices – establish for every man (…) the empirical orders with which he will be dealing and within which he will be at home.” A predominant cultural code today, popular culture, “offers” processes, mechanisms and representations which mediate the experience and uses of things, changing the ways we understand / approach materiality and engage with objects in our domestic, social and professional lives.

Appropriating and rewriting Arjun Appadurai’s famous phrase: “the social life of things”, with which he inspired scholars to take material culture more seriously and, as a result, treat it as an important and revealing area of cultural studies, the conference wishes to address the relation between the material and the popular shaped by the post/late popular condition. We wish to ask about the impact popular processes, such as popularization, customization, serialization etc., have made on everyday practices, activities, and habits involving objects as well as about if and how this influence contributes to the exchange with(in) other cultural domains.

We cordially invite papers that explore the following areas focused on (pop)cultural biographies of things: new shapes of long-established material traditions as influenced by popular culture, popular reinventions of cultural routines, changes in domestic, pastime and professional practices, as well as meanings that emerge with the modes (accessibility, convenience, user-friendliness) and manners (individual, group, autonomous, social) of the popular.

Suggested topics include but are not limited to:

  • representation of objects in popular culture/ popular narratives
  • temporal and spatial trajectories (biographies) of objects in popular contexts
  • popular culture and processes of objectification, reification/ subjectification of objects
  • commodification, circulation and exchange in the context of the popular
  • the fetish and the popular
  • materializing the immaterial
  • objectification of services/ turning  objects or material practices into services
  • (im)material objects in video games/ virtual environments
  • (popular) materiality and cultural routines (e.g. reading, watching TV, etc. )
  • “tangibility” and “value” of experiences
  • the question of agency and effect
  • authenticity and cultural mimicry
  • uniqueness, exceptionality, rarity
  • the popular, objects and distinction
  • romanticizing material practices
  • gadgets, accessories, trivia, toys
  • creativity (in participation culture) and material culture
  • objects and fandom
  • “popular” bricolage
  • the effort/ labour of collecting and the question of “friction”
  • collecting and serialization
  • history objects (objects as synecdoches of history in popular contexts; historical authenticity)

Proposals for presentations, papers and full panels (of approx. 500 words) followed by a short bio note should be submitted to by 30 March 2014.

All proposals will be peer reviewed. The cost of the conference is 250 PLN (£50 / €63) and 150 PLN (£30 / €38) for graduate students. Registration details will be announced soon. For further queries, please contact Dr Karolina Lebek ( or Dr Ania Malinowska (


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