Dec 5, 2014

Transvaluation: Making the world matter

International symposium searching for alternative making of value through and in research. May 21 -22, 2015.
Department of Architecture, Chalmers Univerity of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden. 

Call for abstracts – Brief

In the current measurement- and indicator-driven knowledge culture, research in architecture, art and several disciplines within humanities and social sciences may succumb to economic or scientific models, or be separated from important contexts of invention, risking to reduce research largely to standardized reproduction. Responding to the current proliferation of evaluation systems and the dominant culture of measurement that comes with it, the Transvaluation international symposium, May 21-22 2015, searches for alternative, cooperative environments of knowledge, of creation and invention, of 'making and thinking', and ways to trans- and re-value research cultures from within.

The ambition is a high quality event with top level keynote speeches, small format seminars and collective forum discussions, with the intent to start a broad debate addressing fundamental strategic research questions across disciplinary borders, and to instigate possibilities for change.

Key note speakers are international experts in social, global anthropology, Arjun Appadurai; art researching practice and doctoral education, Andrea Phillips; and speculative realism and material objects, Graham Harman.

The symposium will focus two major themes, Poetics and Politics of Value, referring to the (re-)making of values, both in artistic and architectural practice and in human scientific research, and their related political and systemic aspects. These themes are examined through two conceptual lenses: Worlding (shaping the world, transforming matter) and U-topos (space for speculative thinking and making).

We search for ways in which architecture, art, philosophy, anthropology and other areas of research may challenge, together, the very concept and formation of knowledge, stretching and enriching it, hence "transvaluing" material and spiritual research cultures from within, disclosing alternative approaches and strengthening their logics of argumentation within the interdisciplinary frame, with potential to change its systemic conventions.

We now invite researchers, doctoral students and practitioners to submit abstracts for discussion at the symposium. Abstracts will be peer reviewed and, if selected, developed into short papers.

Keywords: transvaluation - poetics of value - worlding - architecture - artistic research

Deadline for abstracts: December 19, 2014. For more information on the call and the selection process, please see end of this document or conference website,

Key note speakers

Key note speakers (confirmed), actively taking part in the entire event:

Arjun Appadurai – world famous social-cultural anthropologist, discussing cultural activity as the social imaginary forming modernity and global cultural flows into dimensions of e.g. ethno-scapes and mediascapes. From a critical perspective on the global academic system, Appadurai has created the New School University, New York, and is founder of the academic journal Public Culture.
Andrea Phillips – renowned designer, curator and Director of the Doctoral Research Programmes in Fine Art and Curating at Goldsmiths College, London University. Phillips also directs several international interdisciplinary research projects and publishes widely on art, curating, politics and public space.
Graham Harman – contemporary philosopher of metaphysics and professor at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. With outset in speculative realism and his concept of 'object oriented philosophy', Harman investigates alternatives to the linguistic turn in Western philosophy, hereby evoking extensive debate on our hermeneutic relation to the (technological) world of objects.

Description of the symposium themes

Transvaluation: Making the World Matter
in search for alternative, cooperative environments of knowledge, of creation and invention, of 'making and thinking'

Challenges and themes
Academic research and education are currently dominated by a measurement-culture and the proliferation of evaluation systems that comes with it. In response to this, the symposium aims to outline the possibilities for alternative, cooperative environments of knowledge, of creation and invention, of 'making and thinking'. Its first and most important concern is to start a broad debate on the following subjects: (1) the consequences of the (monopolization of) efficiency-standards in the spheres of science and creativity – a tendency reinforced by the Bologna educational system – and (2) the search for viable alternatives.

Efficiency-driven systems of evaluation are less innocent as one may think. They often hide an 'intellectual conformity', having nothing to do anymore with 'the animating spirit of discovery' and tending towards 'the mono-culture of a discipline grown too large and the accompanying failure of imagination', in one word: to the 'Big Creativity Deficit' (Murphy 2013). The rapidly risen and universalized practices of evaluation-controlled knowledge-production are thought to have led, during 'the past forty years [, to] a significant decline [of creativity] in the arts and sciences' (Murphy 2013).

"The exhaustion of creative science and arts" seems to have a hard social and political counterpart in different forms of exclusion, typical of this 'age of globalization': knowledge-systems are increasingly, and anonymously, controlling us from above, whereas we actually need a 'globalization from below', where imagination – no longer being 'a matter of individual genius, an escapism from ordinary life or just a dimension of aesthetics' – rather becomes a manifold 'faculty through which collective patterns of dissent and new design for collective life emerges' (Appadurai 2000).

Being part of a larger, already functioning project, this symposium seeks to initiate the debate, starting from the primarily architectural and artistic experience of working with concrete 'matter' and being, as a consequence, entirely involved in 'processes of making'. However, we believe that these very processes of making and transforming matter are also crucial to the so-called hard sciences, and to the human and social sciences. That is why we would like to invite representatives of all of them to participate in this debate.

Poetics of Value. Using the – historical – familiarity with making and transforming matter of certain disciplines, we introduce the concept of a Poetics of Value. 'Poetics' itself refers to the ancient Greek practice of poièsis (producing, making, creating, composing), whereas the focus on 'values' stands for the desired reversal of systemic evaluation-practices in Academia. Thereby, Poetics of Value isn't merely describing the relation between an individual (artist, designer, philosopher, scientist) and the matter she or he is transforming; it also takes into account the inventive collective effort communities all over the world will have to be engaged in as a 're-' and 'transvaluing' response to the challenging problems of our rapidly globalizing societies and economies.

Politics of Value. That is why we simultaneously call for a Politics of Value (following Appadurai, 1988), which is concerned with surpassing the possibly atomic relation between researchers and their objects, towards more complex meanings and frameworks of human transactions, attributions and motivations (Appadurai 1988, 1996). 'Practicing value' has an obvious ethical dimension we want to explore in these 'Politics'. The search for renewal, for originality and for the production of meaning, relates to the quest for the unexpected in making or transforming matter. This is essentially a culture-shaping activity which never aspires to reach stable knowledge or a fixed state, but strives for continuous evolving perfectibility. Hence, the creative processes involved lie beyond sheer knowledge-accumulation, since new or unforeseen artistic forms and designs do not necessarily increase or diminish knowledge, nor do they primarily seek to do so.

Worlding. Both the Poetics and Politics of Value are perspectives directed towards an intensive rethinking and redesigning of human relations with the world. In order to get a better view on both perspectives we propose two specific 'lenses': Worlding and U-topos. They represent a particular kind of practicing values that enables the enrichment and stretching of the concept of knowledge and the academic culture it creates. The idea of 'Worlding' refers to the fundamental task of research to 'think and, somehow, start living new worldly shapes' (Spivak, Nancy, White, e.a.). Using the lens of 'Worlding' we seek to conceptualize future alternative knowledge-creating practices and future alternative values, instead of merely evaluating existing knowledge procedures. This illuminates the very meaning of the Poetics and Politics of Value: to look ahead, to discover what remains hidden, to elaborate the speculative dimension of matter and material manipulation, engaging reality through the material (Harman).

U-Topos. The concept of 'U-topos' on the other hand is introduced as a place for utopian, speculative thinking. In contrast to preset images of 'Utopia', the U-topos encourages scholars and artists to think the not-yet visible and the not-yet valuable, a thinking/making propelled by individual and shared, collective curiosities, towards the formulation of future values and learning needs, allowing different topics, concepts, themes, perspectives to collide and combine. U-topos is meant to be an exercise in transforming both the 'spiritual' and 'material' working places of the future researcher – it represents university itself. The meaning, relevance and applicability of these concepts will be the object of debates during the symposium, from both angles: 'matter' (making, transforming, creating, designing) and 'thought' (critique, quest for alternatives, attempt to think the not-yet-available).

The overall project is called 'Transvaluation', designed to be an organized and, hopefully, energizing attempt to overcome the possibility of a scientific mono-culture that is actually threatening to sacrifice the whole of academic inventiveness to systems of calculable, quantitative measurement (creativity-deficit) and which is particularly harmful to many traditional creative disciplines, such as architecture, fine arts, philosophy, literature... The proposed debates are designed to be clear-cut: Can alternatives be conceptualized? Can they prove to be fruitful? If so, how should they be structured? Can architecture and fine arts, specifically, contribute to this effort? And how? Can the science – both the hard sciences and the human and social sciences make their contribution? And how? Can all these sciences and disciplines be convinced to join forces on this? Can university be effectively transformed in this sense?

Biggs, Michael, and Henrik Karlsson, eds. 2010. The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts. London: Routledge.
Dunin-Woyseth, Halina. 2006. "The 'Thinkable' and 'Unthinkable' Doctorates. Three Perspectives on Doctoral Scholarship in Architecture." In Building a Doctoral Programme in Architecture and Design, edited by Jan Michl, and Liv Merete Nielsen, 149-174. Oslo: Oslo School of Architecture and Design.
Murphy, Peter (2013). Inaugural Lecture at James Cooke University, Australia, School of Creative Arts (Wednesday 25 September 2013).
Schiesser, Giaco. 2013. "A Certain Frustration...". Paradoxes, Voids, Perspectives in Artistic Research Today. In Practices of Experimentation, edited by The Department of Art & Media, Zurich University of the Arts, 97-110. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Appadurai, Arjun (1996, 2005). Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press; (2000), Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination. In Public Culture, vol. 12, #1, pp. 1-19.
Harman, Graham, ed., 2011. The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism. Melbourne:

Symposium format

The symposium aims to be a 'call for debate', therefore the emphasis is on conversation and discussion rather than paper presentations. Participants will be invited to cooperate in exercises of speculative thinking, aiming at creating new places and new spaces for future fundamental research. The ambition is to form this as a 'high quality conversation' centered on statement-lectures delivered by top level keynote speakers, small salons where participants discuss each other's papers (the grouping will be done beforehand and members of a group receive each other's papers for reading and commenting), and forum debates on the key themes.

The statement-lectures (providing the input for debate and topics for the conversation) and the forum debates are plenary. The Salon is organised in small groups of maximum 5x5 participants, with discussions moderated by members of the planning and review committee. The keynote speakers have already expressed their concerned interest for the themes and confirmed to take active part in the activities of the entire event.

Preliminary schedule, May 21-22, 2015:

May 21:
09.30 Coffee + registration
10.00 Intro
10.15 statement lecture 1
11.00 Salon 1 (maximum four groups of 25)
12.30 Lunch + walk
14.00 Salon 2 (groups of 25, A-D)
16.00 Coffee
16.30 Forum debate 1
18.15 Statement lecture 2
19.00 Mingle + dinner

May 22:
09.00 Statement lecture 3
10.00 Coffee
10.30 Salon 3 (reshuffled groups)
13.00 Lunch + walk
14.00 Critical connections of discussions + wallpapers (to feed into Forum debate 3)
15.30 Forum debate 3
17.00 Summing up
17.30 End of symposium

Submission process

Please submit abstracts of maximum 500 words (references may be added) before 19th of December to If accepted for the symposium, a short paper (maximum 7 pages including images) shall be delivered to the same email address by the latest on 20 April 2015.

December 19 Deadline for abstracts
January 26 Notification on abstracts
April 20 Deadline for full papers
April 24 Groups formed, papers distributed, and participants notified
May 21-22 Symposium

Review group:
Nel Janssens, KU Leuven, Faculty of Architecture, Campus Sint-Lucas Brussels & Chalmers University of Technology, Department of Architecture.

Peter De Graeve, Faculty of Fine Arts University of Leuven & Chalmers University of Technology, Department of Architecture

Catharina Dyrssen, Chalmers University of Technology, Department of Architecture

Mattias Kärrholm, University of Lund, Department of Architecture and Built Environment.

Hélène Frichot, KTH, School of Architecture, Division of Critical Studies, Stockholm

Rolf Hughes, Stockholm University of the Arts

Andrej Slavik, University of Gothenburg, Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion & Chalmers University of Technology, Department of Architecture.

Core planning group: Nel Janssens, Peter De Graeve, Catharina Dyrssen

Planning assistance: Julia Fredriksson (symposium contents), Nidal Yousif (facilities)

For more information on research contents etc., please use the symposium mail address, Questions can also be mailed directly to Julia Fredriksson,, or Catharina Dyrssen, For practicalities, travel and accommodation, please contact Nidal Yousif, Also see symposium website: