call for papers: knowledge in a box

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Maria Rentetzi

Nov 4, 2011, 2:51:44 AM11/4/11
Call For Papers

Knowledge in a Box: How Mundane Things Shape Knowledge Production

Organizing committee:

Susanne Bauer, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science,
Berlin, Germany
Maria Rentetzi, National Technical University of Athens, Athens,
Martina Schlünder, Justus-Liebig-University, Giessen, Athens, Germany

The topic:

We invite proposals from scholars in the history of science,
technology, and medicine, science and technology studies, the
humanities, visual and performing arts, museum and cultural studies
and other related disciplines for a workshop on the uses and meanings
of mundane things such as boxes, packages, bottles, and vials in
shaping knowledge production. In keeping with the conference theme, we
are asking contributors to include specific references to the ways in
which boxes have played a role—commercial, epistemic or otherwise—in
their own particular disciplinary frameworks.

Boxes have always supported the significance of the objects they
contained, allowing specific activities to arise. In the hands of
natural historians and collectors, boxes functioned as a means of
organizing their knowledge throughout the eighteenth century. They
formed the material bases of the cabinet or established collection and
accompanied the collector from the initial gathering of natural
specimens to their final display. As “knowledge chests” or “magazining
tools” the history of box-like containers also go back to book
printing and the typographical culture. The artists’ boxes of the
early nineteenth century were used to store the paraphernalia of a new
fashionable trend. In the late nineteenth century the box became the
pharmacist’s laboratory and a device for standardizing and controlling
dosage of oral remedies. In the twentieth century radiotherapy the box
was elevated to a multifunctional tool working as a memory aid to
forgetful patients or as “knowledge package” that predetermined
dosages, included equipment, and ready-made radium applicators.

Focusing on medicine, boxes have played a crucial role since the
eighteenth century when doctors ought to bring instruments to their
patient’s house for surgical or obstetrical interventions. In modern
operating rooms boxes organize the workflow and build an essential
part of the aseptical regime. Late twentieth century biomedical
scientists store tissue samples in large-scale biobanks, where samples
contained in straws are placed in vials, then the vials in boxes which
in turn are stacked up in "elevators". This storage system facilitates
retrieval with barcodes, indexing each individual sample so that
additional variables can be retrieved from a database. Thus the
container and its content are tied up in a close epistemic and
material relationship.
As it is usually the case the box embodies the knowledge that goes
into the chemical laboratory and its function; it classifies objects
into collections of natural history; it meaningfully orders letters in
a printer’s composition or painting equipment for the artist’
convenience; it standardizes pharmaceutical dosage forms and allows
pharmacists to control the production and consumption of their
remedies; in the commercial world it misleads or informs customers; it
persuades consumers for the integrity of the product that they
enclose; it hides the identity of the object(s) that contains, it
shapes professional identities and is essential for mobilizing,
transporting, accumulating and circulating materials and the knowledge
they produce and embody.

Furthermore, if we do understand matter and materiality not as given,
solid, continuous, and stable but rather as something being done,
performed, shaped and embedded in practices, then we should examine
closer how bottles and boxes themselves materialize differently in a
set of diverse practices. How do they change their ontologies by
migrating from the kitchen to the laboratory, from the workshop to the
operating room?

We welcome innovative understandings of the role that boxes and
containers have played historically and continue to play in
technology, medicine, and science. We see the workshop as contributing
to an ongoing interest in science and technology studies on the
importance of mundane things in scientific practice and technological

July 26-29, 2012

Submission guidelines:
Deadline for proposals: January 15, 2012
Please submit a 300-words abstract along with your name, institutional
affiliation, email and phone number as a word or pdf attachment to the
organizers of the conference

Proposals will be reviewed and notification of the outcome will be
made in February 15, 2012. We are pursuing publication outlets for
selected papers from the workshop. Therefore we expect full papers
from those that will participate by May 30, 2012. Details will be
provided after notification.

Conference registration fee: 50 euros

The venue of the conference is a wonderful tobacco warehouse renovated
to host the tobacco museum of the city of Kavala in northern Greece.

Contact info:
For further information please contact the organizers:
Susanne Bauer
Maria Rentetzi
Martina Schlünder
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