Resource – Event – Practice: A Recap

Resource—Event—Practice: A Recap

From the 22nd to the 24th of June, the ReForm conference on “Resource—Event—Practice. Interdisciplinary Perspectives on New Materialism” was held at the seminar center of the FernUniversität in Hagen. The event was organized by the ReForm team members Frank Hillebrandt, Johannes Jungfleisch, and Constance von Rüden.

During the opening ceremony, Professor Dr. Ada Pellert, the Rector of the FernUniverisität in Hagen, and Professor Dr. Thomas Stöllner, Head of the Research Department at the German Mining Museum in Bochum and spokesperson of the Leibniz-ScienceCampus “ReForm,” extended a warm welcome to the conference participants, including numerous students of Archaeological Sciences from Bochum.

The highlight of the evening was the keynote address, presented remotely by the renowned Professor Dr. Ian Hodder from Stanford University. Although unforeseen circumstances prevented him from attending the conference in person, Hodder managed to captivate his audience through his lecture: “Towards a More Materialist New Materialism.” In this thought-provoking talk, he delved into his latest theoretical concepts, building upon his entanglement theory introduced in 2012. Furthermore, he illustrated the potential of these ideas by drawing upon several cases studies, using data gleaned from his extensive and long-term excavations at Çatal Höyük in Turkey. After this intellectually stimulating presentation, the audience enjoyed a buffet-style dinner and drinks at the conference reception in the seminar center of the FernUniversität in Hagen.

The next day began with a brief introduction to the conference theme, given by the conference organizers Frank Hillebrandt and Constance von Rüden. It was Frank Hillebrandt who initiated the first session, which revolved around the topic of “Materiality from a Sociological and Archaeological Perspective.” In his talk titled “Socialized Material in Practice: What Kind of Materialism Does Social Theory Need,” he started by critiquing sociology’s exclusive focus on social relations, arguing that new materialist perspectives are essential for comprehending materiality as an integral part of social practice. In addition to stressing the pivotal role of matter, including socialized bodies and artifacts, Hillebrandt emphasized the situational becoming of practices during events. To illustrate his theoretical reflections, he drew from various examples, such as the ‘Love-and-Peace-Festival’ held on the German island Fehmarn in the Baltic Sea in 1970.

After Hillebrandt’s sociological perspective, theoretical archaeologist Oliver Harris delved into the worlds of new materialist philosophy and archaeological science in his paper titled “Memories of Another World: Deleuze, Leibniz and the Object’s Point of View.” In his presentation, Harris shed light on a lesser-known facet of Gilles Deleuze’s widely adopted assemblage theory—the notion of ‘monads.’ This concept derived from the French philosopher’s reading of Gottfried Leibniz. Harris applied this philosophical framework practically, employing the archaeological method of microwear analysis on Bronze Age stone bracers form Great Britain. Through this examination, he aimed to reveal the intricate relations of potential events and stories encapsulated within the materiality of these ancient objects.

The next speaker in the session, sociologist Herbert Kalthoff, provided a comprehensive overview of materialist theories. He began with an examination of philosophers from Classical Antiquity, progressed with the philosophies of Kant, Hegel, and Marx, and ended with approaches of Science and Technology Studies and Posthumanism. Alongside exploring the concept of materiality in Western thought, Kalthoff shared empirical insights into material practices and socio-material relations, focusing on a robotics laboratory within the engineering.

The conference’s second session on the topic of “Corporeality, Sensuality, Affectivity, and Perception” commenced with a presentation given by sociologist Christiane Schürkmann. Her talk titled “From the Materiality of Practice to the Practice of Matter: Reflections on Corporeality, Affectivity, and Perception in Dealing with Active Materials,” explored the reconceptualization of practices through new materialist approaches, considering both the active and affecting materiality as well as the affected and perceiving human bodies. In addition to discussing key ideas of important theorists of practice theory and new materialism, including Theodore Schatzki, Andreas Reckwitz, Karen Barad, Donna Haraway, and Jane Bennet, Schürkmann provided us with examples from her ethnographic research in the fields of visual art and nuclear waste management.

Tina Asmussen, a specialist for early modern history, presented a paper on “Spirited Metals and Resource Affect: Perspectives from Early Modern Mining.” In her lecture, she explored early modern mining in Europe through the lens of Jane Benett’s concept of ‘vibrant matter.’ By examining visual, material, and literary sources form the 16th and 17th centuries, Asmussen argued for a non-reductionist understanding of early modern European mining, placing it within an intricate web of mind, material, knowledge, infrastructure, experiences, and beliefs at that time.

The final presentation of this session, marking the conclusion of the second conference day, was delivered by sociologist Franka Schäfer. Her papermtitled “Entangled Resources in so called Utopian Spaces – generate and/or analyze Utopian Design Spaces in the Field of Sustainable Food Practices” offered a comprehensive discussion of key concepts in new materialism, notably ‘event’ and ‘affection.’ Schäfer integrated these concepts into her theoretical framework, blending them with a performative sociology of public action. In the empirical part of her presentation, she investigated how materials in ‘Utopian Design Spaces,’ such as give-away shops, undergo transformation into resources through redistribution practices.

After a day filled with stimulating discussions, the conference participants gathered at a downtown venue in Hagen to socialize over glasses of wine, beer, or-alcoholic beverages and to enjoy the Italian cuisine served during the conference dinner.

The third and last day of the conference was dedicated to the theme of “Material Entanglements.” The sessions started with a presentation by archaeologists Constance von Rüden and Johannes Jungfleisch, titled “Eventful Histories: Thoughts on the Material-discursive and Corporeal Becoming of ‘Aegean’ Wall-paintings in Tell el-Dab’a/Egypt.” Beginning with theoretical reflections on the practice-theoretical approaches and the concept of event in Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy, they aimed to explore the situational becoming of ‘Aegean’-style wall paintings at Tell el-Dab’a/Egypt and their reception within the local Egyptian context.

Unfortunately, the next scheduled speaker in the session, Estrid Sørensen, was unable to contribute to the conference. However, the historian Julia Mariko Jacoby stepped in admirably and delivered an excellent paper on “Water, Practices, and the Law: Material Entanglements of Water Disputes in Early Modern Japan.” Jacoby’s presentation explored the complexities of procuring water for agricultural production in early modern Japan, shedding light on emerging conflicts in water management among various actors involved. In this context, she examined written sources and material artifacts as materialization of material-discursive practices in the context of new materialism.

Stefan Schreiber, theoretical archaeologist, took the stage as the final speaker at this year’s ReForm conference, leaving the audience with much to contemplate. In his paper titled “Beyond the Separation of Matter and Practice: Archaeological Thoughts on Resources as Material-discursive Apparatuses,” Schreiber began his discourse with a profound critique of conventional notions that view resources merely as exploitable materials and instrumental means, an understanding all too common in the field of archaeology. Drawing inspiration from Karen Barad’s theory of agential realism, Schreiber offered a novel approach towards resources, perceiving them in a relational, non-anthropocentric way as unfolding material-discursive apparatuses.

Schreiber’s presentation served as an ideal catalyst for the subsequent discussion revolving around the merits and demerits of new materialist paradigm and its application to resources. Three days of intense debates and intellectual exchange found an appropriate conclusion in this final discussion.

We extend our gratitude to the fabulous speakers and all those who played a role in organizing and supporting this remarkable event at the splendid venue of the FernUniversität in Hagen. Your contributions have undoubtedly enriched the academic discourse and furthered our understanding of these crucial concepts.


For those who missed the conference, you can access all presentations by following this link:

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