Καλώς ορίσατε (Welcome)!
We are happy to announce that this summer we will be hosting the 3rd Pelion Summer Lab for Cultural Theory and Experimental Humanities (PSL), an initiative of the Department of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology and the Laboratory of Social Anthropology of the University of Thessaly in Volos, Greece. The aim of this 10-day program (August 21-August 31, 2019) is to convene an interdisciplinary group of graduate students, advanced undergraduates, academics and cultural producers from fields such as anthropology, history, sociology, arts, political philosophy, gender studies, literary and cultural studies, and communication and new media studies for a period of intensive and provocative exchange regarding the pressing problems and questions of our research and our worlds.
This year’s theme Data & Power takes on the critical issue of how the production, tracking, mining, manipulation, sorting and categorization of data through algorithmic procedures has emerged as an increasingly dominant mode of political regulation, capitalist exploitation, identity formation, cultural expression and knowledge generation. Usually housed in monumental and imposing physical edifices, the archive as a locus of political power -- whether that of the ‘archon’-magistrate of antiquity, discussed by Derrida, or the modern bureaucratic state -- projects authority, exclusivity and control. By contrast, the digital database, the archive’s successor mode of information storage and classification, much like social media platforms, appears to promise a neutral, automated, objective and democratizing alternative, free of gender-, class- and race-bias and national identity politics. As opposed to the guardedness and limited, monitored access of the archive, the keywords of database culture are ‘open access’, ‘participation’, ‘sharing’ and ‘mobility’. Certainly, this false innocence has been exposed many a time, with the scandal around the data mining/analysis and political consulting company Cambridge Analytica a glaring recent example, while the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is ample evidence of the disruptive power of the hacker figure in our contemporary dataified context.
Yet, precisely how the new modes and mechanisms of power related to the production and control of data are imbricated in the contemporary biopolitics and necropolitics of neoliberal capitalism and the neocolonial condition is much more challenging to explain. In our opinion, trying to understand how these processes work across a wide range of spheres, from science to social media and art, from state, military and legal procedures to financial services and healthcare, represents one of the most pressing issues for critical cultural theory and social analysis. We have noticed though that the tendency on the part of small data ‘artisans’ like ethnographers (and allied researchers and critics devoted to qualitative research and close readings of cultural politics) is to avoid these technical and technological matters, demonize them, rather than untangle them. The premise of this year’s lab, thus, is two-fold: both to explore the essential contribution of cultural and social analysis to the study of our contemporary data-driven societies, rigorously historicizing, contextualizing, politicizing and bringing the body into the discussion, while at the same time demystifying concepts such as algorithm, database, virality, platform, etc. for students of cultural theory.
One might say that in part the turn to digital humanities and the need to demonstrate that humanities fields can ‘handle’ big data, as well as the funding that endorses this ‘salvatory’ move for the supposedly imploding field, is itself evidence of the database hegemony outlined above. We are indeed critical of technological fetishism of much digital humanities and the tendency toward a digital facelift of established practices and routines of teaching, research and communication of knowledge, insisting on a theory-driven approach to the new data order to understand, but also thrive in the post-bibliocentric situation. A fundamental aspect of the summer lab, thus, is the reimagining of our habitualized modes of teaching, researching and disseminating knowledge as part of the agenda of experimental humanities. We do not see this summer meeting as simply an extension of our normal way of doing things to another time and place. Instead, we envision these days together as an opportunity to experiment and reflect together on how to better develop communities of learning and intellectual exchange outside of established routines and hierarchies, unleashing creative possibilities and building global networks. As part of this rethinking of our methodologies and pedagogies, we are especially gratified by the continued support of the Research Centre for the Humanities based in Athens and the Center for Experimental Humanities at Bard College in the U.S.
This year we decided to shift the dates of the PSL to the end of the summer because we found that in our first two labs, we were all too burned at the close of the academic year to be fully present academically speaking. By the end of August, we reckon most of us will have rested -- and be restless, itching to get ‘back to school’ -- and thus the lab will serve as an ideal jump start for the new academic year.
We have also moved to yet another location - the cosmopolitan village of Makrinitsa, with its romantic restaurants, cafes and bars, architectural gems and, of course, touristic kitsch. Makrinitsa is not an 'undiscovered village' -- but there is a reason you will easily discover why such a village developed as tourist destination to begin with. Always cool in the summer, Makrinitsa is a mountain balcony overlooking the Pagasetic Gulf, easy to access from Volos and a great base for exploring Pelion's beaches and villages. We have found what we hope will be the ideal base in the village for our seminars and workshops: the historic stone-built local school that has been converted into a conference center. Simultaneously operational and ramshackle with surrounding gardens, grand trees and stone walls -- as well as an adjacent historic church and courtyard -- to hang around talking, reading, debating and dreaming. Meeting and working in this space supports our vision of creating a convivial environment for stimulating and challenging conversations, inquiry and creativity, laying the groundwork for future collaborations -- and PSL reunions, of course !
We really look forward to meeting you this summer.
The organizing committee:
Penelope Papailias, Associate Professor of Social Anthropology, Dept. of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Thessaly (Director)
Petros Petridis, Ph.D., Visiting Lecturer, Dept. of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Thessaly
Christina Mitsopoulou, Ph.D., Classical Archaeology, Laboratory Teaching Staff, Dept. of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Thessaly
Pantelis Probonas, Ph.D. candidate, Dept. of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Thessaly
George Mantzios, Ph.D. candidate, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Toronto (Teaching Fellow)
Constantinos Diamantis, Master’s student, Freie University, Berlin