click for flyer buttonIt’s Not What You Think:
Communicating Medical Materialities

Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen

March 8-9, 2013

Organised by Adam Bencard and Louise Whiteley, coordinated by Lasse Frank, as part of the research programme of the Section for Science Communication at CBMR, director Thomas Söderqvist.

Click for flyer, or scroll down to read more about the workshop aims and format. Click for participant bios. Click here for programme. Twitter hashtag: #inwyt.

Workshop Aims

In recent years, disciplines such as philosophy, literary criticism, science and technology studies, and museum studies, have taken an intense interest in things: materiality is seeping into the academy. In many of these fields a focus on materiality grows out of an interest in the relations between scientific and other ways of knowing about the world, and in the shape of these relations in the wake of crumbling distinctions between e.g., nature and culture, bodies and technology, and human and non-human. In this turbulent material world, we need to augment discourse-based approaches to studying and intervening in the relationships between scientific research and the objects that are its subjects.

Recent discussions about science communication and public engagement have also focused on the limits of discourse. Embodied and emotional encounters with the stuff of science have traditionally been valued as a generator of wonder and excitement in museums and schools, but sidelined in public consultation and debate about the meanings, directions, and applications of research. And whilst popular science has key roles to play in disseminating the outcomes of research, there are untapped opportunities for grounding public engagement in the messy, material processes of science.

Thus, as the title of the workshop suggests, what we think is not the sole point from which to unpack our relationship with the world, and its mediations through science and technology. Our singular, embodied sensations and the complex material networks they reside in are equally important. As the workshop title also suggests, materiality is not what you think. It is surprising, provocative, confusing, suggestive, effective, affective, and above all generative of new understandings and relationships. But it remains frustratingly difficult to communicate.

This workshop at Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen, focuses on the fundamental dilemma of what happens when we talk about the objects that too much ‘talk’ has left behind? How can we communicate about and through materiality – within academia, across disciplinary boundaries, and in public realms flowing with political, ethical, and practical eddies stirred up by a discussion of things? We take up this question in the context of medicine and the body, and through a focus on specific configurations of bodies and medical objects; from blood-sugar monitoring devices to unconscious drivers of food choice; from technologically augmented bodies of surgeons to the gut-feelings of risk and propriety evoked by media descriptions of medical research. We see medicine as an ideal domain for exploring the workshop question, and one where the time is ripe to apply broader developments in material theory and integrate research insights with material communication practice.

The workshop is a meeting ground for people with both intellectual interests and pragmatic concerns: the problem of communicating materiality arises for both scholars and practitioners, and from multiple standpoints. Participants fall into at least three overlapping groups:

(1) Communicators of medicine and science (e.g., scholars and practitioners of science communication and public engagement, museum curators and researchers, and artists working with medicine);

(2) Researchers of medicine or the body from material perspectives who face challenges of how to communicate their work and its importance (e.g., from sociology, anthropology, history, STS);

(3) Theoreticians of materiality/objects concerned with questions of communication and the politics of public relevance (e.g., from materialist philosophy, thing theory, media theory, museum studies, affect theory).

The aim is to work out, and work on, theoretical and practical concerns amongst people who rarely come together, informing and drawing from each contributor discipline, and allowing for both practical and conceptual exchange and refinement.  You can read bios of the participants here.

Format and Location

The workshop is less about presenting current work, and instead puts shared concerns about communicating materiality at centre stage. The format of the workshop will echo this intention, involving around 30 participants in extended periods of discussion, hands-on engagement, and creative experimentation. Participants will be asked to bring along their problems with materiality, medical objects, and their communication, and will work together to come up with partial solutions, pragmatic fixes, and novel approaches.

The workshop will be held on March 8th-9th 2013, at Medical Museion, which is housed in the old Royal Academy of Surgeons building in the heart of Copenhagen. Medical Museion is part of the University of Copenhagen, and is a combined multidisciplinary research and museum institution that showcases a world-standard historical collection alongside innovative exhibitions and events on contemporary biomedicine. Sessions will also take place in the Danish Design Museum, housed in the old city hospital next door. Previous Museion workshops include The Sensuous Object and Contemporary medical science and technology as a challenge for museums.

Fees and Sponsorship

There is no fee for participation, and refreshments are provided.

The workshop is one of the activities of the Section for Science Communication of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (, based at Medical Museion at the University of Copenhagen and led by Professor Thomas Söderqvist. The Section for Science Communication is engaged in both academic research and experimental science communication activities, focusing on the metabolic sciences.

This workshop reflects research activities of section members Adam Bencard, Louise Whiteley, and Thomas Söderqvist, and draws on the curatorial support of Nanna Gerdes and Niels Christian Vilstrup Møller. It forms a key part of our ongoing project to examine the relation between material practices and conceptual frameworks for science communication and public engagement.