A very diverse and thought-provoking panel on Surfaces: Contesting Boundaries Between Mind, Body and World at the IUAES conference in Manchester yesterday. Thanks to Mike Anusas and Cristian Simonetti for convening!
Although we missed the first session on Tuesday, we got a really good sense of work being carried out on surfaces in anthropology (and allied disciplines). Tim Ingold and Susanne Kuechler (Anthropology, UCL) gave very helpful responses to the papers, and raised a number of issues about current and future directions of work on surfaces.
Most interestingly for us, these included how we might pay attention to the indexicality and topology of different surfaces, methodologies that need to be developed for researching surfaces, and where we might find resources to develop them. Kuechler suggested that social sciences and humanities might look to science to provide answers. We were interested in when and how this distinction between science and art was made, with Liz's work on the early modern period suggesting that pre-Enlightenment, the distinction wasn't made/doesn't hold.
Ingold's suggestion that attention to surfaces involves a shift from a 'Russian doll' or container model of understanding the world to a processual model seemed especially significant. In line with a range of other recent cultural theory, Ingold suggested that surface studies explores the in-between, or the 'in the midst of'; in media res. Kuechler suggested that 'surface studies' might signal that theory is on the cusp of inventing a range of new concepts and methods for understanding change and movement.
First responses from the panel are that we are interested in thinking more about are the status of the body and/or embodiment within this potentially new paradigm and, relatedly, the relationship between materials and materiality. We're also considering organising a second 'surface studies' event on lines in the new year.