CFP Nov 15, 2023

Diffractions, Issue 9: Beyond the Object - Immaterial Pasts, Immaterial Futures

Research Center for Communication and Culture (CECC) Universidade Católica Portuguesa – Lisbon
Deadline: Dec 15, 2023


Call for papers | Diffractions, Issue 9.
Beyond the Object: Immaterial Pasts, Immaterial Futures.

The next issue of Diffractions explores immateriality in artistic and cultural practices as a form of both expression and resistance. For centuries, the histories of artistic practices (as well as historiographies and historicities) have been anchored to materiality and the production of objects. As Michel Claura argues, “[t]he history of art is the history of the technique of art” (1969, 83). Indeed, curatorship as we know it today initially developed around objects and their need of care.

However, artists have constantly been questioning and deconstructing the need to produce objects, shifting the focus from physical artworks to their assigned concepts and intentions. These practices include performances, happenings, participatory and socially engaged artistic movements, and Nicolas Bourriaud (2002)’s relational aesthetics in one of the best-known examples. While artistic production has challenged the dogmatic authority of materiality and its exhibition and conservation practices (from private collections to national archives, among many others), cultural institutions and political bodies (and the so-called Western ones in particular) have only recently started to value the immaterial artistic expressions of individuals and communities.

For instance, the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage only dates back to 2003, and is still today a source of discussion for its polarising nature and limitations (Van Damme and Jacobs 2002). A very discussed case is the 2010 inscription of the Mediterranean Diet in the 2003 UNESCO Convention, which comprises as geographically and culturally different cuisines as the Cypriot, Italian and Portuguese culinary traditions.

However, it has emerged that the description of the Mediterranean diet has turned out to be complex and almost impossible (Ferro-Luzzi and Sette 1989), while “[r]ecent investigations of the dietary patterns and health status of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean basin clearly indicate major differences among them in both dietary intake and health status” and therefore “the term “Mediterranean diet” is a misnomer” (Simopoulos 2001, 3065). To fit the limits of the Convention, the inscribed object ended up being broad and even generic, as a result of the absence of a specific domain of culinary heritage and the significant territorial differences between the co-signatory countries.

Despite the western centric idea that Marcel Duchamp’s conceptual turn caused an unprecedented shift in the artworld by allowing intentional acts to be technically considered art, the presence of immaterial practices as both cultural artefacts and tools for the production of knowledge has long existed in multiple cultures over millennia. Described by Brandt as the art of “picking up an object and displaying it, or even of merely declaring the intention to do so” (2004, 210), Duchamp’s ready-mades (but also Isamu Noguchi’s practice of rock placement, for instance) have long and improperly been addressed as a first example of physical and technical abstraction. Not only has the dematerialization of art been explored in different periods and geographies as a way of criticising art systems and challenging institutional structures (Osborne 2018; Ramírez 1993; Stimson 1999), but certain cultures have rarely or even never resorted to physical media, favouring, for instance, orality over the use of writing.

On this subject, in her book Immaterial Archives: An African Diaspora Poetics of Loss comparative literature scholar Jenny Sharpe addresses “the paucity of documentary evidence concerning the lives of people who were immaterial to the archiving process, but not by treating contemporary art and literature as an alternative archive” (Sharpe 2020, 3). Here, she continues, immaterial “refers to the intangible quality of affects, dreams, spirits, and visions that art and literature introduce into material archives” and, in particular, “to the degraded status of African-derived knowledge, languages, and cultures within colonial archives, as well as the diminished status of the humanities in an information-based society today” (2020, 4). If these phenomena are made up of visions, affects, mythologies, dreams and even silence (and much more), Sharpe asks, are they something or nothing? Do they have substance even though they have a different relationship to traditional Western archival practices and written records?

The link between materiality and extractivist colonialism first and accumulative capitalism later is not new. As sociologist Rolando Vázquez writes, the objectification of the world is needed in order to conquer it (2020). This economic interest-based attitude towards materiality traces back to the enlightenment rational belief that the natural world subsists only as an instrument for human ambition. In their article “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter”, Karen Barad challenges this anthropocentric separation arguing that “«[w]e» are not outside observers of the world. Nor are we simply located at particular places in the world; rather, we are part of the world in its ongoing intra-activity” (2003, 828). In fact, the idea that humans are outside nature is addressed by Anna Grear as a contributing factor to the “climate and environmental fallouts; the fundamentally colonial capitalist imperatives driving the continuing structural dominance of the fossil-fuel economy; extensive, and continuing, corporate enclosures in the Global South; and the pervasive and expanding commodification and technification of «nature»” (2020, 338). Within a context of fast-paced logic of industrial and cultural production (Bouteloup 2020) based on practices of human and non-human exploitation, how should we question the historically dominant focus on materiality in artistic and cultural practices today?

This issue of Diffractions wants to start a discussion about how multiple perspectives and fields of research and action have blurred the boundaries between binary conceptions such as human-nature, subject-object, and material-immaterial to acknowledge alternative narratives, existences, and temporalities (Bellacasa 2017; Krasny 2022; Vásquez 2020). These include, but are not limited to, posthumanist studies, decolonial and care practices, gender and feminist studies, artistic and activist actions, and many more. It intends to challenge materialist theories and reflect on the importance of non-materials such as ideas, emotions, sensations, and questions of being and becoming – what Elizabeth Grosz coined as the “incorporeal” (2017) – on our ethical and political existences and on the relationships between humans and other living beings. In fact, we believe that new materialities and immaterialities are particularly significant in their attempts to question and eventually overcome anthropocentrism, but also in the celebration of listening practices and oral traditions through the recognition of knowledge as discursive, embodied, and affective across “more than human materialities and existences” (Bellacasa 2017, 221).

We look forward to receiving proposals for contributions addressing these or related questions in several different formats (research paper, creative essay, documentation of art-based research and practices, …). Topics include but are not limited to:

● Immaterialities and new materialities in artistic and cultural practices;

● Alternative art histories, historiographies, and historicities;

● Documenting, archiving and collecting the immaterial;

● Curating the immaterial;

● Performativity and relationality in immateriality;

● Listening practices from the past, through the present, and towards the future: orality and transmission;

● Ancestral, virtual, hybrid: on non-physical bodies;

● Immateriality as decolonial and postcolonial praxis;

● Capitalism and commodification: immateriality as resistance;

● Dematerialization of artistic practices: the curatorial, research, dialogue, and knowledge production;

● Physicality and ephemerality: cultural spaces;

● Digital and virtual expressions;

● Immaterial existences: posthumanism and new materialism;

● Immateriality and alternative temporalities;

● Material and immaterial power dynamics.

● …

Submissions and review process:
Abstracts will be received and reviewed by the Diffractions editorial board who will decide on the pertinence of proposals for the upcoming issue. After submission, we will get in touch with the authors of accepted abstracts in order to invite them to submit a full article. However, this does not imply that these papers will be automatically published. Rather, they will go through a peer-review process that will determine whether papers are publishable with minor or major changes, or they do not fulfill the criteria for publication.

Please send abstracts of 150 to 250 words and 5-8 keywords as well as a short biography (100 words) by DECEMBER 15th, 2023 to with the subject “Diffractions 9”, followed by your last name.

The full papers should be submitted by MARCH 31st, 2024, through the journal’s platform:

Every issue of Diffractions has a thematic focus but also contains a special section for non-thematic articles. If you are interested in submitting an article that is not related to the topic of this particular issue, please consult the general guidelines available at the Diffractions website at The submission and review process for non-thematic articles is the same as for the general thematic issue. All research areas of the humanities are welcome.

Guest Editors: Federico Rudari, Teresa Pinheiro


Barad, Karen. 2003. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Signs 28, no. 3, Gender and Science: New Issues (Spring): 801–831. The University of Chicago Press.

Bellacasa, María Puig de la. 2017. Matters of care: speculative ethics in more than human worlds. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Bourriaud, Nicolas. 2002. Relational Aesthetics. Translated by Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods. Dijon: Les Presses du réel.

Bouteloup, Mélanie. 2020. “Autohistoria as praxis.” In Institution as Praxis – New Curatorial Directions for Collaborative Research, edited by Carolina Rito and Bill Balaskas, 156–169. London: Sternberg Press.

Brandt, Per Aage. 2004. Space, Domains and Meanings – Essays in Cognitive Semiotics. Pieterlen: Peter Lang.

Claura, Michel. 1969. “Paris Commentary.” Studio International 177, no. 907 (January): 47–49.

Ferro-Luzzi, Anna and Stefania Sette. 1989. “The Mediterranean Diet: an attempt to define its present and past composition.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 43, Suppl 2 (February): 13–29.

Grear, Anna. 2020. “Resisting Anthropocene Neoliberalism: Towards New Materialist.” In The Great Awakening: New Modes of Life amidst Capitalist Ruins, edited by Anna Grear and David Bollier, 317–356. Punctum Books.

Grosz, Elizabeth. 2017. The Incorporeal: Ontology, Ethics, and the Limits of Materialism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Krasny, Elke. 2022. “Radicalizing Care Feminist Futures for Living with an Infected Planet.” In Radicalizing Care: Feminist and Queer Activism in Curating, edited by Elke Krasny, Sophie Ling, Lena Fritsch, Birgit Bosold, and Vera Hofmann, 29–36. London: Sternberg Press.

Osborne, Peter. 2018. The Postconceptual Condition. London, New York: Verso.

Ramírez, Mari Carmen. 1993. “Blueprint Circuits: Conceptual Art and Politics in Latin America.” In Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century, edited by Waldo Rasmussen, 156–167. New York: Museum of Modern Art.

Sharpe, Jenny. 2020. Immaterial Archive: An African Diaspora Poetics of Loss. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Simopoulos, Artemis P. 2001. “The Mediterranean diets: What is so special about the diet of Greece? The scientific evidence.” Journal of Nutrition 131, no. 11: 3065–3073.

Stimson, Blake. 1999. “The promise of conceptual art.” In Conceptual art: a critical anthology, edited by Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson, xxxviii-lii. Cambridge, London: The MIT Press.

Van Damme, Marthe and Dirk Jacobs. 2002. “UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage and its polarising nature: A case study on Aalst Carnival.” International Journal of Intangible Heritage 17 (2022): 116–121.

Vázquez, Rolando. 2020. vistas of modernity: decolonial aesthesis and the end of the contemporary. Amsterdam: Mondriaan Fund.

CFP: Diffractions, Issue 9: Beyond the Object - Immaterial Pasts, Immaterial Futures. In:, Nov 15, 2023 (accessed Dec 1, 2023), <>.