CFP: Beyond Signification

Posted on August 17, 2007


On the 7th and 8th of December 2007 the Department of Philosophy at Free University Berlin will host its second International Graduate Conference in Philosophy. This year´s conference addresses the recent comeback of concepts such as substance, presence and reality in and outside the Humanities as well as the crisis of poststructuralism that accompanies it.

Beyond Signification. The Return of Reality and the Crisis of Poststructuralism

Today a growing number of people in the Humanities suggest that the times of poststructuralism have come to an end. According to them we concentrated on symbols, signs and discourse for far too long. Did we not thereby forget the reality of things? How do we account for the materiality of media, experiments, and writing? What happened to reality, substantiality and presence? This conference aims at discussing contemporary criticism of poststructuralism, its historical conditions, its impact on the present, and its implications for the future. Does poststructuralism really fail to acknowledge reality? How do we evaluate the emerging new theories that challenge poststructuralism? We would like to suggest three main areas for discussion:

1. How important are concepts like “reality” and “materiality” for contemporary debates in the Humanities? On the one hand there is increasing demand for the rehabilitation of a non-discursive reality; on the other hand there is a growing scepticism towards ideas such as the worldmaking power of discourse or the “free play of the signifyer”. In recent years this led to the development of new versions of cultural materialism. How do these conceive of culture and reality, of man and the world? What are their advantages and disadvantages and how big is their impact on the humanies? Do we witness a lasting turn from poststructuralism to cultural materialism, from symbol to substance?

2. Is the return of the real limited to academia or is it part of a more general shift that affects social and politial life as a whole? Outside of university, various discourses emphasise the constraints of reality. Consider the threat of global climate change and the diagnosis of a new age of vulnerability after 9/11. Can we identify a turn to materiality in such fields as politics, society, arts, and science? Are we faced with a paradigm shift?

3. Is it true that French Theory neglects materiality, and if so, why? Critics accuse poststructuralism of having forgotten or repressed the importance of reality and of having discredited thinking and writing about it. Others claim that these theories propose extraordinarily subtle ways of conceptualizing reality which are more adequate for an understanding of the complexities of the present. We would like to discuss various poststructuralist accounts of reality and we would like to speculate on the future of Derrida, Lyotard and Deleuze. Will they play a role in the debates to come? And what role could that be?

We invite graduate students and young researchers from all faculties to submit proposals for a 30-minute presentation. Presentations can be given in English or German; at least a passive knowledge of German is recommended. Free accomodation will be provided. Please send abstracts of no more than 500 words, accompanied by some biographical information to Johannes-Georg Schülein or Jan Wöpking
Deadline for abstracts: 30th August 2007