Call for Proposals: Innovation and its Contestants


5th Annual Emerging Scholars Conference
McGill University Department of Art History and Communications Studies
18 April 2014

Keynote Speaker: Keith Moxey, Barbara Novak Professor of Art History
and Department Chair at Barnard College (Columbia University)

Deadline for Submissions: 24 January 2014

The concept of innovation buttresses a paradigmatically modern Western
belief in the possibility of infinite economic growth and technological
progress. It is in fact a buzzword with remarkable contemporary
currency, one that is instrumentalized as a constant search for new
technologies, means of production, market adaptations, scientific
discoveries and social changes. As a fundamental tenet in Western
systems of thought, it is also – and has long been – inscribed within
the West’s very view of itself as more successful and more
‘progressive’ than other societies. Note, for example, G.W.F. Hegel’s
famous juxtaposition of Europe’s ever- changing art against the
allegedly stagnant visual culture of India: the first modality
accounted for the privileged position of the West as the locus of the
emanation of universal Geist; while the latter stipulated an
essentially ‘un-progressive’ timelessness in India.

The Western valuation and definition of innovation has thereby been
mobilized as a justification for diverse colonial, post-colonial and
now neoliberal enterprises. It operates as a smoke screen to preserve
dominant power regimes both within the West and globally, concealing
simultaneously the biased valuation of cultural production, and the
unequal distribution of technological and scientific headway among
diverse social strata. This is the case even as the current global
financial crisis challenges the West’s ability to regenerate
perpetually. In fact, the stakes involved in the Western impetus to
innovate seem to intensify even as recent projections of economic
acceleration in several non-Western countries rouse fears that the West
is losing ground as innovation’s main stimulant.

The innovation paradigm is moreover implicit within the bulk of
humanistic academic production. As a case in point, the Greenbergian
approach to art history, which dominated much of the twentieth century,
revolves indisputably around a teleology of formal innovation.
Meanwhile, within a number of current academic discussions – for
instance those concerning experimentation and invention in the history
of science (Galison); global art history (Elkins); visual culture
studies (Moxey); history of ideas (Godin); the philosophy of
mondialisation (Nancy); media archaeology (Parikka); technological
obsolescence (Kittler); and the aesthetics of failure (Halberstam) –
innovation is tacitly treated with caution, if not skepticism.

Given this tangle of collusions and complexities, how are we to
approach and define innovation in academic discourse? Is the paradigm
purely a means of disarming social pressure for an all-inclusive
equalized prosperity; or might it be recuperated to provide a stimulus
for sustainable growth? Can we understand innovation in a broader
global spectrum without falling into the trap of cultural essentialism;
or does this concept perpetuate Western-centric views and mores? Can
the concept of innovation be used for the analysis of historical
periods; or does it figure too easily in teleological narratives?

With these questions in mind, we are opening an enquiry into the
concept of innovation. We invite paper proposals addressing a broad
range of academic disciplines and historical periods. Papers might
address, but are by no means restricted to, the following questions:
• Socio-economic implications of innovation. How do societies and
specific agents adapt to new conditions once their old ways of life
have been destroyed?
• The politics of innovation. Does innovation bring betterment or
• What are the criteria of innovation?
• Challenging the Western canon of art built on the notions of style,
progress, and originality
• Technological progress
• Patents
• Is Western-centrism pervasive in the concept of innovation?
• How does innovation affect personal identities (video games,
Facebook, etc.)?
• How is innovation different from change?
• The contestations of innovation; the discursive counterpoints to
• Centre vs. periphery; milieus of innovation
• Instances of anachronism masked as innovation in culture from the
Middle Ages to the present day. Recurring regimes: the old in the new,
the new in the old
• Does materiality matter in innovation?
• Temporality and innovation
• Commodity culture and innovation

We welcome proposals for 20-minute presentations. Please send your
submission in the form of a 300-word abstract and a brief CV to All candidates will be contacted by the first
week of February.

For more information, please visit the website.

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