Materiality and Intangibility, contested zones (revised/extended)

N.B.  Note extended deadline for abstracts.

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Materiality and Intangibility: contested zones

An international two-day symposium for PhD students and early career researchers.

Provisionally scheduled for 24th and 25th September 2009 (subject to change)


Venue: TBC, Leicester, UK.

Museums are all about the material world; the display and preservation of objects and of art, their representation and interpretation to audiences, who make meaning for themselves and the wider world as a result of their interaction with the 'physical.' Yet it can be argued that it is the 'intangible' elements of objects, museums and audiences which help to create meaning from the material world; the emotions engendered by a museum experience, our interactions in the physical and virtual world, the narratives which position some objects as iconic and others as controversial, the narratives which confer importance and the narratives which exclude. Between the 'material' and the 'intangible' there is often a line drawn; it is in this area, what we conceive of as the 'contested zone' between overt and hidden meanings, inclusion and exclusion, how objects might speak or how they might be silenced, that we are looking to explore in a two-day seminar.

The PhD symposium Materiality and Intangibility: contested zones will comprise workshops to stimulate debate and practice, presentations, social events and keynote lectures from leading academics in the field. The event will be hosted by the research student community based in the Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, a leading, internationally renowned centre for museum studies and teaching since 1966. The Department was recently assessed as having the highest proportion of world-leading research in any subject in any UK university (RAE 2008).

We are looking for inter-disciplinary presentations from doctoral students of museology and allied subject areas, which engage with materiality and intangibility in inspiring and innovative ways. The symposium offers an opportunity to demonstrate your creativity and flair. Could your research translate to a film or digital presentation? How about leading a collaborative workshop? Perhaps organising an artistic intervention might be more your thing? Above all the event is envisioned as an informal arena for sharing and developing ideas in a supportive environment.

We have been purposefully broad in our approach to our theme and we do not wish to overly prescribe how potential presenters will respond. However some of the themes that can be covered under the broad over-arching theme of 'Materiality and Intangibility: contested zones' include:

  • How the history of the world is presented through the material objects that are on display in museums – what implications does this have for our understanding of history? Whose voices are included and whose voices are silenced? Who decides the narrative of history which underpins the presentation and interpretation of objects?

  • Every object tells a story – but whose story is told? Issues to do with the interpretation of objects. How do audiences make meanings from objects and how do these coincide or conflict with official meanings?

  • Digital technology and media pushes museums and their collections into the virtual world – what implications might this have for our understanding of what is material?

  • Concepts of tangible and intangible heritage – are these at odds with each other? Can the traditional concept of the museum incorporate a wider definition of heritage, one which includes the intangible as well as the intangible? Is this desirable?

  • In the consumer world emotions are encouraged by the media and marketing to create desire for products – how might museums and art galleries work in the same way to create 'desire' amongst audiences for their narratives and world views? Examine the use of music, temperature, colour, design etc in the museum and art gallery, the intangibles that combine together to create the optimum 'museum' or 'art' experience.

Live art event:

We are also seeking applications from practising artists, musicians, writers and designers working with, or inspired by, museums and collections who would like to contribute to a two-day live art event to run in parallel with the symposium. Please contact Serena Iervolino ( for more information. We may be able to offer a small contribution towards expenses, funding permitting.

How to apply:

If you would like to participate in the symposium as a presenter, please email an abstract (max. 500 words) to Jennifer Binnie ( by 5pm on Thursday 30th April 2009, giving details of your institutional affiliation and the proposed subject and mode of your presentation. Joint presentations (collaborations between more than one presenter) will be welcomed.

Successful applicants will be notified by the end of May.

Prospective delegates may wish to register their interest in attending the symposium by emailing Jennifer Binnie ( The likely cost will be £10 per day (£20 for both days), including lunch and refreshments.

Please address any enquiries to Jennifer Binnie (



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