Recent years have seen an increased interest in thinking about the societal ‘usability’ and ‘impact’ of the phenomena studied by the humanities and, by implication, the societal ‘relevance’ of the humanities themselves and the methodologies of the humanities. This interest has given new impetus to previously understudied questions, such as: Do art and culture function more at a cognitive or an affective level, or can these not be separated analytically? What about the social, political and economic functions of art and culture, and how are these linked to their affective and cognitive functions? Is it OK for an academic critic to enthusiastically identify with aspects of a work or a performance and take this attachment as the object of analysis, or is the point of criticism indeed to be critically detached and at a distance from oneself and the work? In other words, in what mood should we engage with art and culture? And how much should one’s subjective and situated political and ethical outlook be allowed to filter through to and shape one’s scholarly work?
Literature and art have always played an important role in society. How were art and culture used outside of academia in earlier centuries and how are they used today: in reading clubs and groups, in nursing homes, in museums and other cultural institutions, in theatre and art and cultural performances within and without institutions, in libraries, in the rehabilitation of terminally ill patients, in the news, in cultural tourism and as forms of entertainment in all kinds of media? How have theories and practices of art and culture been affected, even transformed, by the strong emphasis on the ‘user’ in the encompassing ‘participatory turn’ ‒ for instance, in the arts themselves, on media platforms and in non-formal education spaces and institutions such as museums? What do all these various uses signify? What changes have they brought about? And how can we approach and understand them methodologically?
At the annual Sandbjerg graduate seminar, we will meet to probe these and other questions across disciplines, including but not limited to literature, art history, museum studies, theatre and performance studies, media studies, musicology, creative writing studies, visual studies and cultural studies. This Call for Papers thus invites interested scholars to discuss how the concept of use is productive for their research in terms of either object of study or method of study.
Ideally, participants may also relate these issues to the bigger question of how their own research is of use, to whom, where and when both inside and outside of academia, perhaps ultimately gaining a more nuanced common understanding of how we can talk about ‘use’ and ‘relevance’ in relation to the humanities.