Montreal, April 18, 2014
Registration deadline: Jan 24, 2014

Call for papers: Innovation and its Contestants

McGill University, Montreal
Department of Art History and Communication Studies, Fifth Annual Graduate
Student Conference

Keynote Speaker: Keith Moxey, Barbara Novak Professor of Art History and
Department Chair at Barnard College (Columbia University)

The concept of innovation buttresses a paradigmatically modern Western
belief in the possibility of infinite economic growth and technological
progress. It is in fact a buzzword with remarkable contemporary currency,
one that is instrumentalized as a constant search for new technologies,
means of production, market adaptations, scientific discoveries and social
changes. As a fundamental tenet in Western systems of thought, it is also –
and has long been – inscribed within the West’s very view of itself as more
successful and more ‘progressive’ than other societies. Note, for example,
G.W.F. Hegel’s famous juxtaposition of Europe’s ever- changing art against
the allegedly stagnant visual culture of India: the first modality
accounted for the privileged position of the West as the locus of the
emanation of universal Geist; while the latter stipulated an essentially
‘un-progressive’ timelessness in India.

The Western valuation and definition of innovation has thereby been
mobilized as a justification for diverse colonial, post-colonial and now
neoliberal enterprises. It operates as a smoke screen to preserve dominant
power regimes both within the West and globally, concealing simultaneously
the biased valuation of cultural production, and the unequal distribution
of technological and scientific headway among diverse social strata. This
is the case even as the current global financial crisis challenges the
West’s ability to regenerate perpetually. In fact, the stakes involved in
the Western impetus to innovate seem to intensify even as recent
projections of economic acceleration in several non-Western countries rouse
fears that the West is losing ground as innovation’s main stimulant.

The innovation paradigm is moreover implicit within the bulk of humanistic
academic production. As a case in point, the Greenbergian approach to art
history, which dominated much of the twentieth century, revolves
indisputably around a teleology of formal innovation. Meanwhile, within a
number of current academic discussions – for instance those concerning
experimentation and invention in the history of science (Galison); global
art history (Elkins); visual culture studies (Moxey); history of ideas
(Godin); the philosophy of mondialisation (Nancy); media archaeology
(Parikka); technological obsolescence (Kittler); and the aesthetics of
failure (Halberstam) – innovation is tacitly treated with caution, if not

Given this tangle of collusions and complexities, how are we to approach
and define innovation in academic discourse? Is the paradigm purely a means
of disarming social pressure for an all-inclusive equalized prosperity; or
might it be recuperated to provide a stimulus for sustainable growth? Can
we understand innovation in a broader global spectrum without falling into
the trap of cultural essentialism; or does this concept perpetuate
Western-centric views and mores? Can the concept of innovation be used for
the analysis of historical periods; or does it figure too easily in
teleological narratives?

With these questions in mind, the graduate students of McGill University’s
Department of Art History and Communication Studies are opening an enquiry
into the concept of innovation. We invite paper proposals addressing a
broad range of academic disciplines and historical periods. Papers might
address, but are by no means restricted to, the following questions:

 • Socio-economic implications of innovation. How do societies and specific
agents adapt to new conditions, once their old ways of life have been
 • The politics of innovation. Does innovation bring betterment or
 • What are the criteria of innovation?
 • Challenging the Western canon of art built on the notions of style,
progress, and originality
 • Technological progress
 • Patents
 • Is Western-centrism pervasive in the concept of innovation?
  • How does innovation affect personal identities (video games, Facebook,
 • How is innovation different from change?
 • The contestations of innovation; the discursive counterpoints to
 • Centre vs. periphery; milieus of innovation
 • Instances of anachronism masked as innovation in culture from the Middle
Ages to the present day. Recurring regimes: the old in the new, the new in
the old
 • Does materiality matter in innovation?
 • Temporality and innovation
 • Commodity culture and innovation

We welcome proposals for 20-minute presentations. Please send your
submission in the form of a 300-word abstract and a brief CV to
[email protected]. The deadline or submissions is January 24, 2014.
All candidates will be contacted by the first week of February.

For more information, please refer to the conference website ( or contact [email protected].