Material Matters Conference - 2-3 April 2012, London

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Profile: Susanne Küchler

Susanne Küchler is Professor Anthropology and Material Culture at University College London. She has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Papua New Guinea and Eastern Polynesia over the past 25 years, studying creativity, innovation and futurity in political economies of knowledge from a comparative perspective. Her more recent work on the history of the take-up, in the Pacific, of cloth and clothing as ‘new’ material has focused on social memory and material translation, and on the epistemic nature of materials and its role in long-term social change. Over the past 5 years she has extended the comparative remit of this research to science based materials innovation, commodification and consumption. Working from within material culture studies, her work is ethnographic in orientation and is influenced by a close reading of German and French writing on epistemology and the culture of things.

Plenary: Materials in Art and Society

We are surrounded, indeed overwhelmed, by new materials which flood in upon us at an ever-accelerating rate. Often un-noticed, we know little about how they come into being and tend to disregard their importance in shaping who we are and imagine ourselves to be, even though it is becoming clear that new materials frame everyday practice more subtly than law, cosmology and religion. New materials unavoidably draw our attention to the social intervention at work in their selection, composition and take-up, compelling us to rethink long-standing premises that inform research and teaching into materials, society, science and innovation. This paper considers the problems new materials pose for social science today and what is at stake in interrogating the boundaries that tend to obfuscate the challenge for science and design to successfully inform materials intended for living.