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Translation and Materiality: The Travels of European Porcelain (2017 Bauman Lecture)

News of the upcoming Richard Bauman Lecture in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University is now circulating on campus. Here are the details about this year’s talk by Professor Susan Gal of the University of Chicago. Quoting:

“Translation and Materiality: The Travels of European Porcelain”
Dr. Susan Gal

Friday, March 24th
3:00 PM
Wylie Hall 005
Indiana University Bloomington

Abstract:

Porcelain is, today, a familiar material of dishes, figurines and tiles. The qualities of such objects – fineness, artistry – point to similar qualities in their buyers and users. Certainly, that is the role of material objects in systems of social distinction. Yet, this view often presumes that material qualities pre-exist the social, and need only be recognized. In some versions of the current ontological debate in Anthropology and Cultural Studies, materiality is the ultimate limit on cultural interpretation. I argue, instead, that the properties of materials are not fixed. They are semiotic achievements reached by a dialectical process of embodied social interaction with objects within political and economic institutions. The histories of “porcelain” in Europe show the varied qualities it has embodied as it has been swept up – and translated – into diverse regimes of knowledge, state economic strategies, and politico-ethical discourses. Translations of porcelain destabilized attributed qualities, changing “it” as sign and as material.

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