The Lives of Things

Presented by

The Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory (3CT)

and The Object Cultures Project

All events will be held in the Franke Institute for the Humanities, 1100 East 57th Street

“The Lives of Things” conference, organized by the Object Cultures Project and the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory (3CT), explores the ‘life’ of Appadurai’s Social Lives of Things on the 25th anniversary of its publication. Importantly, this conference will focus on how that volume has transformed and been transformed by the wide group of scholars who have taken it up in their research and writing. “The Lives of Things,” in other words, is an occasion to engage questions around the scholarly study of things: How has the concept of ‘things,’ ‘objects,’ ‘life’ and ‘materiality’ changed over time from one field/methodology to another? How can they (or why don’t they) enable conversations across diverse disciplinary and methodological commitments? What is the relation between the much touted ‘material turn’ and historical materialism? And, how might we understand the ‘politics of value’ in current object-oriented conversation?

To explore such questions—and in keeping with OCP’s commitment to experimental process—the conference has assembled a group of scholars and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines: History, Art History, Modern Culture and Media, Anthropology, Literature, and Sociology. We hope that audience participation will both reflect and help to synthesize the efforts of this diverse collection of scholars. The growing enthusiasm for object-centered studies is the occasion of the reemergence of the Object Cultures Project, and this conference is intended to help mark and sustain that enthusiasm.

1:00-1:15 p.m. Opening Remarks

Bill Brown | Karla Scherer Distinguished Service Professor in American Culture, English Language and Literature and Visual Arts, University of Chicago

Introduced by Amanda Davis | Jacob K. Javits Fellow in English Language and Literature, University of Chicago

1:15-3:15 p.m. Panel I: Object Circulation

Wendy Chun | Professor of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University

“Soft Wares, Soft Things”

Rosalind Morris | Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

“A Pound Of Sugar, A Basket Of Eggs, And The Spillage Of Milk: Worldly Itineraries Of Domestic Commodities (Or, Recipe For A Personal History Of The World, Circa 1986/7, With Reference To Henri Lefebvre And Gertrude Stein, Via Karl Marx And Mao Zedong)”

Moderator: Patchen Markell | Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago

3:15-3:30 p.m. Coffee Break

3:30-5:30 pm Panel 2: Object Lives

Christy Anderson | Associate Professor, Art History, University of Toronto

“The Architectural Object: The Matter of Materials”

Harvey Molotch | Professor of Sociology and Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University

“Things of Public Trouble”

Moderator: Rebecca Zorach | Associate Professor, Department of Art History, and the College

5:30-6:15 p.m. Reception

Saturday, April 30

9:00-9:30 a.m. Breakfast

9:30-10:45 a.m. Keynote Address

Arjun Appadurai | Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University

“The Social Things of Life”

Introduced by Dipesh Chakrabarty | Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History, South Asian Languages and Civilizations and the College, University of Chicago

10:45-11:00 a.m. Coffee Break

11:00-1:00 p.m. Panel 3: Object Agency

Christopher Breward | Head of Research, Victoria & Albert Museum

“The Gritty Object—Things and Museum-based Research”

Didier Gondola | Professor of History, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, School of Liberal Arts

“The Life of Cloth: Fashion, Performativity, and Materiality in Contemporary Africa”

Moderator: Judith Farquhar | Max Palevsky Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences, University of Chicago

1:00-2:00 p.m. Lunch

2:00-4:00 p.m. Panel 4: Object Politics

Lynn Meskell | Professor of Anthropology, Stanford University

“Dirty, Pretty Things: On Archaeology and Prehistoric Materialities”

Jonathan Lamb | Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, Vanderbilt University

“Can Circulating Objects Also Be Things?”

Moderator: Bradin Cormack | Director, Nicholson, Center British Studies, Associate Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, and the College

4:00-4:15 p.m. Break

4:15-5:30 p.m. Closing Roundtable

A wine and cheese discussion led by OCP faculty:

Leora Auslander | Professor of European Social History, University of Chicago

Shannon Lee Dawdy | Assistant Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences in the College, University of Chicago

Christine Mehring | Associate Professor of Art History and the College, University of Chicago

Jane Taylor | Visiting Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Chicago

Sponsored by 3CT, the Franke Institute, the Department of Anthropology Lichtstern Conference Fund, the Division of the Humanities, the Division of the Social Sciences, the Department of English Language and Literature, the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture, the Smart Museum, and the Department of Art History.

Please see the conference blog for updated information: For more information on the Object Cultures Project, please see If you would like to be added to the Object Cultures Project mailing list, email

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.