Membranes, Surfaces and Boundaries: interstices in the history of science, technology and culture

Workshop at the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science, Berlin.

October 7-9, 2010

organized by Mathias Grote, Laura Otis and Max Stadler

The world, more of than not, is and has been conceived in its compactness, as stuff, things, and objects; far less so, in its interstices. Science, technology and culture, of course, are permeated and traversed by boundary phenomena: From the materialities of life itself, whether cellular membranes, skin, immune-systems or ecological habitats, to surface, separation and purification processes in chemistry and industry to the making, processing and exhibition of photographs and films, things coalesced at surfaces. They are palpable as well in the history of geography and politics, of urban and private spaces, of literature, art, psychology and the self, and certainly enough, as interfaces, in contemporary media theory.

The workshop Membranes, Surfaces and Boundaries aims to recover and bring together these interstices. We wish to attract contributions from a wide range of disciplines, including the natural sciences, that cross, straddle and make permeable these specialist divides, and that interrogate the historical being of surfaces. We wish to focus the workshop on the materialities of  embranes, surfaces, and boundaries themselves. Possible anchors are surfaces and membranes as biological entities; chemical and technical phenomena at boundaries such as catalysis, filtration or electrophoresis; or films, photographic and otherwise, as media of projection and material surface processes. We invite contributions engaging with these and other spheres and their manifold intersections.

Some illustrative questions include: In the history of science, can we generate cultural histories of the biological cell, a historiographically rather neglected object? Or related, of the similarly neglected but important, huge fields such as electro-chemistry or chemical engineering? Might we re-read through surface-objects disciplinary histories, experimental practices or the ways science is permeable to its social and cultural settings (and vice versa)? In film and media studies, how can attention to the materialities of surfaces incorporate the histories of science, technology or industry? Or again, more philosophically, how can we bring together concepts and materials, the abstract and concrete, metaphors and physical boundaries in re-thinking the histories of interstices?

All submitted abstracts showing some relation to our main theme will be given careful consideration. Abstracts of up to 300 words should include your name, institutional affiliation, and email address. These should be submitted by email to Mathias Grote ([email protected]) and Max Stadler ([email protected]). The deadline for abstract submission is 31 January 2010.