Content of the theme

In recent decades, the ‘Material Turn’ has had a broad and deep impact across the humanities and social and natural sciences. Today research on materiality is an international, interdisciplinary field characterised by a fertile exchange of ideas between subject areas. Throughout the four courses offered under this theme students will explore and problematize the key concepts used in recent and ongoing materiality research in the humanities, probing the significance of material things across a range of social and cultural contexts. Students will appraise and apply a variety of current material perspectives, with inspiration drawn from fields including posthumanism, Actor Network Theory, object-oriented philosophy, and material culture studies.

The four courses held under this theme highlight different aspects of this widely ranging field. The first course is an introduction to key concepts and theoretical perspectives. The second focuses on the significance of materiality in visual media (images, art, film). Another explores how material perspectives can be used to study cultural and technical processes in today’s societies. In the final workshop course students will apply the knowledge and skills acquired to their own research, as well as presenting oral and written work in an international context.

The concept of materiality has a range of definitions, but differs from, for example, material culture in that it refers to material objects in the broadest sense, including ones untouched by humans (e.g. plants, animals, insects, bacteria, rain, snow, ice). Yet materiality also emphasizes social and generative aspects: how materials and material things can participate in and influence a variety of social processes.

Both materiality and the other central concept for the course, that of agency, can be described as ‘elastic’ in the sense that they take different expression in different disciplinary traditions, between which fruitful comparisons can be made. For example, within archaeology, history and classical studies, material agency or the agency of things are now heavily emphasised as active factors in historical processes. Historical disciplines also discuss the materiality of written sources: the materials with which and the tools through which both text and pictures take form. Within aesthetic disciplines, an influential recent trend shifts the focus of discussion from what we do with pictures, to what pictures in their material form do with us. Likewise work in architecture, landscape design, and sculpture emphasizes the characteristics of different materials, how they interact with form and style, and how they affect the viewer in ways which may not be intentional. Meanwhile in social anthropology and ethnology, increased attention has recently been paid to ontological aspects of relations between humans and materiality. And within language-based disciplines, material aspects of cognitive processes are discussed alongside phonetic and grammatical forms of language.

This research school theme thus includes a range of different theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of relations between humans and materiality. Its interdisciplinary character cuts across the whole breadth of humanistic research, making the theme relevant to research students from a wide variety of topic areas. The theme should be of immediate interest to students working on a range of subjects within disciplines including archaeology, history, ethnology, gender studies, media studies, history of art, aesthetics, history of religion, and literature. We hope that this broad foundation will form a basis for stimulating and wide-ranging interdisciplinary discussions, with the potential to generate new knowledge and new perspectives even within traditionally well-studied areas.

Four main components

Year one: Autumn 2017 — Spring 2018

The theme begins with an introductory overview, The Material Turn (5 ECTS), exploring a range of material perspectives through lectures from a variety of subject areas discussing how the key concepts take form in their research. This course is open for PhD researchers who want to orientate themselves in this new and growing field.

The second course, The Agency of Images: Materiality and Visual Culture (5 ECTS), deals with material aspects of visual culture. The module will include study of pictures, film, text, and other visual expressions within for example art and advertising. It raises questions about materiality and agency and the different ways in which visual expressions can be said to be active and to influence social processes rather than just reflecting ideology or society.

Year two: Autumn 2018 — Spring 2019

The third course, Field Study: Material in Society (5 ECTS), is an in-depth individual study highlighting the ‘silent’ influence of materiality on social processes. Topics could focus, for example, on the importance of materiality in exhibitions, art or literature, ritual or religious contexts, cultural heritage, or in everyday life.

The fourth and final course, Workshop: Materiality and the Human (5 ECTS), centres on a workshop which will conclude the two-year seminar series. Here the PhD researchers will present their own individual projects developed during the theme seminars and receive feedback from invited international researchers, who will also act as mentors before and after the workshop. The resulting papers will be published in an anthology.

Practical arrangements

The structure of the theme is based on three credit-bearing courses linked to a seminar series ending with a workshop. The seminar series will discuss current research in the field, with international speakers invited at least once each term. The PhD researchers will also have opportunities to present and receive feedback on their own texts. The seminars will sometimes be linked to other course elements within the theme. The other three courses will take place during one term each.

Participating teachers and researchers

  • Jacob Derkert, Musicology, Department of Culture and Aesthetics
  • Mats Burström, Archaeology, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies
  • Fredrik Fahlander, Archaeology, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies
  • Thomas Götselius, Literature, Department of Culture and Aesthetics.
  • Alison Klevnäs, Archaeology, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies
  • Emma H. Molin, History of Ideas, Department of Culture and Aesthetics
  • Catharina Nolin, Cultural Heritage Studies, Department of Culture and Aesthetics.
  • Mårten Snickare, Art History, Department of Culture and Aesthetics.
  • Lena Sjögren, Classical Studies, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies
  • Adam Wickberg Månsson, Literature, Department of Culture and Aesthetics


Co-ordinator: Dr Alison Klevnäs, Archaeology, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies