Archive for the 'conferences' Category

conferences, university museums

What shall I say about university museums?

I’ve been invited to give a keynote lecture at the 2011 University Museum Conference, which is going to be held 11-12 November at the National Cheng Kung University Museum in Tainan, Taiwan.

Apparently, I’m supposed to speak my mind, so this would be a great opportunity to think through the topic of university museums. But what to say? I’ve browsed all the issues of the University Museums and Collections Journal, but didn’t find anything that really caught my imagination.

Does anyone know a good, provocative, statement about university museums that could work as an appetizer? Any angle is welcomed.

By the way, I’ve never been in Taiwan before; Tainan is supposed to be a rather beautiful city, at least compared to Taipeh.

conferences, university museums

Next Universeum meeting will take place in Trondheim in 2012

Next year’s Universeum meeting (the 13th) will take place 14-16 June 2012 at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. An announcement and call for papers will be sent out in November. See further:

For those who have forgotten it: Universeum is an association for the preservation, study, access and promotion of university collections, museums, archives, libraries, botanical gardens, astronomical observatories, etc.

art and biomed, biotech, conferences, medical technology, news

Brain gear — a conference on neurodevices

I am repeatedly thrilled by news of events arranged by the European Neuroscience & Society Network (ENSN). If it does not clash too much with my planned research stay at BIOS in London in September, I will definitely find my way to Groningen for this conference as it fits very nicely with the next part of my ph.d.-project. See the conference description below.

In a museum context, I am also curious to see what kinds of objects the conference will contain. I have been thinking that it is very difficult to make neuroscience tangible, but maybe this will give some clues as to how it might be done. Neurodevices could be seen as very powerful objects in the sense that they literally touch upon (or mess with) the merging of self and materiality. Interesting stuff!

BRAIN GEAR – Discussing the design and use of neurodevices in neurosocieties

University of Groningen, the Netherlands, September 15-16th, 2011

European Neuroscience & Society Network; The Theory & History of Psychology Group

Scientists, sociologists of science, philosophers, and artists explore the emergence and implications of new ‘brain gear’ to repair and enhance our emotional and cognitive abilities.

What are the implications of brain-changing instruments that change our individual and collective self-image? Does their rise imply a fundamental change in the meaning of human life and should societies rethink fundamental concepts of justice and responsibility?

Various kinds of braindevices are in the making or already available. Firstly, there are implantable ones such as instruments for deep brain stimulation (DBS), epidural cortical stimulation (EpCS), vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) and on a molecular leven neuronanotubes.

Secondly, there are external devices including apparatus for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) or repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS).

And, thirdly, there are digital tools like ambient intelligence (wireless microprocessors integrated in the body or the environment like clothes and walls), ‘digital drugs’ (audio files giving people a high) or software programs for neurobio-feedback built into computers as well as ‘neury bears’ (teddy bears training children’s brainwaves through sounds).

While many welcome this kind of apparatus as ways to eradicate the woes and inconveniences of human life, others fear they will cause a loss of human dignity and freedom. Do such devices blur old distinctions between ‘human beings’ versus ‘things’ or ‘nature’ versus ‘nurture’? Or were these untenable distinctions anyway? Do they imply fundamental changes because they operate directly on the brain or are they not that different from more traditional means of enhancement like cars, contact lenses, or microphones?

Chemical technologies inducing neurobiological changes are already widely in use. Maybe arguments about psychopharmacological changes of our selves can be directly applied to non-chemical molecular technologies. The analogy brings debates to mind about safety and efficacy, and the regulation of admission to the market. In addition, fundamental issues about individual freedom and responsibility also rise. Will the same social pressures that encourage people to use psychopharmacological drugs from childhood on make them use brain changing apparatus from childhood on? What to think of electric devices to boost children’s learning abilities?

Such debates unavoidably revolve around questions about the nature of responsibility. A number of neuroscientists argue these days that such concepts are superseded notions from the past, since the mind is nothing more than what the brain causes us to do. If so, it would not make a difference if the already material mind is extended with material hardware or software.

If ‘my brain made me do it’ my technologically enhanced brain made me do it no less. Legal philosophers however, argue that neurobiology can never have an impact on our notions of free will and responsibility since such notions do not need a non-material basis. Would that imply that we remain as responsible for our enhanced brain as we are for our non-enhanced brains?

These and related questions will be discussed during the workshop from various perspectives. Each in their own way scientists, sociologists, ethicists and artists will express their views and expectations.

The conference takes place on September 15 and 16 (departure September 17) 2011 in the artists’ center at The Palace in Groningen ( The University of Groningen offers a satellite program on Monday September 12 and a debate on Wednesday September 14 (

abstracts, conferences, events, general, seminars, senses

Final call for presentations at The Sensuous Object workshop, 29-30 September

Here’s the final (and somewhat extended) call for presentations at the workshop ‘The Sensuous Object to be held at Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen, 29-30 September, 2011

‘The Sensuous Object’ is an interdisciplinary, participatory workshop concerned with ways we actually engage with objects and aimed at researchers in all disciplines interested in the materiality of actual artefacts and ways of understanding objects through the senses (smell and touch, ambience, aesthetic, visual thinking, tacit knowledge, sound and seduction).

1. An actual, material object must be central and a present part of the workshop. This artefact should be or relate in some way to objects found in medical museums.

You are welcome to arrange to choose an object from Medical Museion collections,
or bring your own,
or if you send a photo of an object from another medical museum I can try and find an equivalent here,
or if we can’t find it you can use an image of an object.

2. Engagement is vital; emphasis is on demonstration, experimentation and participation.

3. This is an opportunity for presenters to try out ideas and test new formats in a friendly environment where the starting point for discussion is the object present rather than previous research results.

We anticipate the definition of sensuous and approaches to presenting understanding of materiality of objects to be varied, even experimental!

How we experience and understand objects as sensuous objects that have been realized, produced, consumed through and by our senses, and how they impact on us and how we impact on them, are just a few of the expected discussion topics. By inviting participants to choose actual objects and use them as central to their presentations, the aim is to challenge established concepts and reveal new possibilities in our experiencing of and understanding through objects, using sensuous approaches. It will provide opportunity for presenters to test ideas, try out new formats of presentation and discussion, and examine their own research through the sensuous object.

The idea for this workshop began as a way to research objects from Medical Museion’s collections and for the objects themselves to form the basis of further research. Medical Museion is a university museum at the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Copenhagen, with an extensive collection of historical medical objects from the 18th through 20th centuries and with internationally award-winning exhibitions. Its field is the history of health and disease in a cultural perspective, with a focus on the material and iconographic culture of recent biomedicine. Research at Medical Museion is seen as essential to underpinning university teaching strategies for collection and conservation of medical heritage, exhibition making, and other material-based communication practices.

Speakers are invited to present their understanding of an object in terms of their methodological approaches and areas of research. Research areas of confirmed participants include senses of smell and touch, ambience, aesthetic, visual thinking, tacit knowledge, sound, and seduction.

Confirmed speakers:
Laura Gonzalez (Glasgow School of Art)
Ansa Lonstrup (University of Aarhus)
Anette Stenslund (Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen)
Jan-Eric Olsén (Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen)
Carsten Friberg (Aarhus School of Architecture)
Mats Fridlund (University of Gothenburg)

Postdoc Lucy Lyons ( and PhD student Anette Stenslund (, Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen, 18 Fredericiagade, Copenhagen (

More information:
If you are interested in presenting, please email a 200 word abstract by 15 JULY. If you would like to participate but do not wish to present, please email a paragraph about your area of research by 5 September. Contact:

‘The Sensuous Object’ workshop is free and Medical Museion will provide tea and coffee breaks and host lunch on both days and a drinks reception on 29 September. Participants will need to arrange and pay for their own travel and accommodation.

conferences, university museums

11th annual conference of University Collections and Museums (UMAC)

Many medical (history) museums are attached to universities, so if you’re interested in our kind of museums, you might want to attend the 11th annual conference of University Collections and Museums (UMAC) at the Museum of Science of the University of Lisbon, 21-25 September. See preliminary programme here.

conferences, general

Promoting best practice in academic meetings

Apropos Daniel’s blog post the other day about a not-so-well organised conference at the university here in Copenhagen — I’m afraid badly organised academic meetings are the rule rather than the exception.

The usual conference format — a number of plenaries with 20-40 minutes presentations (with powerpoints) in a theatre, followed by a few minutes of questions from the audience, followed by a 20 minutes coffee break in an ugly lobby, followed by another excruciating plenary — is a cognitive, emotional and social killer, and a major reason why I, for one, rarely attend conferences any more.

The entrenched format is rarely transcended. Even “workshops” and “seminars” are often organised in the same traditional way. Few meeting organisers ask the participants for longer predistributed written presentations; few pay attention to the physical space and routinely seat people in a theatre; few consider using other media than powerpoint; almost no organisers utilise social media as a tool to enhance the meeting; and generally there is a deep unwillingness to experiment with new formats, or just break up the monotonous time pattern. Humanities meetings are hardly better than science meetings; and Scandinavian and Dutch meetings are rarely better than German and American.

For sure, I have attended a few conferences that were memorable exceptions to the usual format. Usually they were small meetings of 15-25 people, but occasionally I’ve attended meetings of 50-75 people that were organised in a way that stimulated interaction and engagement. And I guess most of us have positive experiences that stand out as oases in the usual conference desert.

But few of us take the effort to summarise our experiences publicly. This recent report from a workshop on ‘Personhood and Identity in Medicine’  organised by Elselijn Kingma and MM McCabe at King’s College in March this year, is a rare exception:

In order to facilitate interdisciplinary discussion and engagement, attendance had been limited to a maximum of 30 participants. Following the success of this format in the previous workshop, the day was divided into four topics, each of which was briefly introduced by two participants, one with a predominantly medical and one with a predominantly philosophical background. After these introductions followed 45 minutes of chaired group discussion [...].

The aim of facilitating genuine discussion and interaction between people with very different backgrounds was met, and an improvement was noticed in comparison with the previous workshop. Group continuity – which meant many people had experience communicating in this format and knew what to expect – undoubtedly helped, as did explicit instructions to interrupt discussions for clarificatory questions.

It would be great to see more such experiences of good meeting formats published online. I’m looking forward to a blog called “Best practice in conference organisation” or something (maybe there already is one?).

I’ve also discussed with a few colleagues in Denmark and Sweden that we should organise a conference about good conference formats! Let’s get started!

conferences, museum and knowledge politics, museum studies, science centers, science communication studies

Public communication of science and technology

My impression of the first and only Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) conference I’ve attended (Malmö in 2008) was quite mixed. The academic quality wasn’t particularly high, there were pretty few theoretically interesting talks, not much surprising stuff, almost no nerds around, no sudden bursts of creativity — and new media were (with few exceptions :-) totally absent. The whole thing was smoothly organised but there was an aura of a public and business management hanging over the conference venue. I think these biannual meetings are a major hang-out for science communication managers.

But things can change for the better. And even better if researchers and curators from science, technology and medical museums were to attend (there was almost none in 2008). The next meeting will be held in Firenze in April 2012, and the programme will include themes such as:

  • What does quality mean in science communication?
  • Evaluating public communication of science
  • Art and/in science communication
  • Ethics and aesthetics of science communication
  • Reflexive challenges: communicating PCST?
  • Emerging trends and issues in science communication
  • Changing media, changing formats, changing science communication models?
  • Public communication of technology: the ‘Cinderella’ of PCST?

In other words, a lot of themes that are central to curators and researchers in museums of science, technology and medicine. Deadline for proposals is 30 September. More here

abstracts, conferences, material studies, recent biomed

Molecular being – philosophy between genes and proteins

I have had a paper accepted for the annual joint conference of the Society for European Philosophy and Forum for European Philosophy. Here is the abstract:

Molecular being – philosophy between genes and proteins

In this paper, I will attempt to connect the sparking wires of post-genomic molecular biology and new materialist philosophy, particularly the so-called object-oriented ontology.

Life is changing. The gene has, as historian of science Evelyn Fox Keller wrote some years ago, “had a glorious run in the twentieth century.” Since the publication of the working draft of the human genome in 2000 and the completed genome in 2003, however, it seems that the life sciences are at a juncture, requiring new concepts, terms and metaphors to grasp life in productive ways. It is increasingly being suggested that a straightforward relation between genes and their expressions is not tenable. The faith in the genome as the key with which to understand, decipher and decode ‘life itself’ is changing, partly due to the realisation that the translation process from gene to cell is a world unto itself. In other words, the list of parts that the Human Genome Project revealed turned out not to be a complete wiring diagram.

Post-genomic biomedicine is increasingly turning to the study of proteins for new concepts, terms and metaphors. In the hands of 21st century biomedical scientists, ‘life itself’ is taking on new forms. The understanding of life is shifting towards ideas of a multidimensional material body, made up of a complex system of proteins, where molecular structures, movements and interactions carry out the regulated work of the cell. Post-genomic researchers are no longer satisfied reducing the organism to the informational logic of coding system embedded in biological software (DNA); rather, the organism is now increasingly seen as a substantive, material architecture, filled to the brim with three-dimensional protein interactions.

Molecular biology, then, seems to be reconfiguring its underlying conception of life. And philosophy is similarly finding itself “in the middle of time and in the middle of objects, with a desire to become part of this material world,” as Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht writes. The change from a genetic to a protein-based understanding of life in molecular biology runs in an interesting parallel, I will argue, to the attempts to develop new material and object-oriented ontologies. Using empirical examples from the world of molecular biology and protein research, I will argue that understanding what takes place within molecular biology and its changing conceptions of life can be fruitfully accomplished at the intersections of philosophy, genes and proteins.

conferences, general

Annual SEP/FEP conference on “Philosophy & …”

The annual joint conference of the Society for European Philosophy and Forum for European Philosophy (SEP/FEP) is coming up soon. The call for papers (available here) was held under the title “Philosophy & …” and urged contributors to submit contributions that explore the limits of what can be placed together with, and within, the category of philosophy. Despite the somewhat bleak times for academic philosophy in England (the closing of the philosophy department at Middlesex being the premiere example), the organizers have struck a celebratory and exploratory note in the call for papers:

In a year when the UK has seen devastating cuts in the funding of the arts and humanities, it would be easy to be pessimistic about the future of Continental Philosophy. Yet, while reflection on the challenges ahead is certainly necessary, recent events also offer us the opportunity to respond to those who dismiss European Philosophy, not only with a vigorous defense, but also a demonstration and celebration of the profound impact it has had and continues to have on an enormous range of other disciplines.

So, while this year’s conference follows recent tradition in not having a theme, and thereby welcomes proposals from the broadest range of European philosophical thought, we particularly welcome papers and other contributions that explore the limits of what can be placed together with, and within, the category of philosophy.

Circling the philosophical wagons, so to speak. The conference has keynotes from Joan Copjec, Michéle Le Doeuff and one of my personal favorite philosophers at the moment, Graham Harman. His work under the banner of object-oriented ontology is fresh and stimulating, me thinks. Visit his (incredible active) blog here.

conferences, philosophy of medicine

Categories and concepts in health, medicine and society

The Nordic Research Network for Medical History (in which we play a minor role) is organising a workshop on ‘Categories and Concepts in Health, Medicine and Society’ to take place in Umeå in northern Sweden, 15–17 March 2012 (very chilly place at that time of year, but also a charming academic town with birchs tree all over and lots of sun and snow).

The workshop takes its point of departure in the fact that health and disease concepts and categories are ubiquitious, both in everyday life and in science. The organisers (Per Axelsson, Umeå, and Signild Vallgårda, Copenhagen) want to discuss different types of concepts and categories, the role of categories, and different theoretical approaches to the study of concepts and categories in medicine and health policy. For example, change and continuity in social categories in epidemiological research; comparisons of the uses of race and ethnicity classifications in different countries; inclusion/exclusion of populations; the evolution of new concepts and categories; effects on health policy of categories used; and how categories are shaped and how they shape those categorised. They have invited Eviatar Zerubavel, Department of Sociology, Rutgers University to give a keynote speech.

The network grant will cover accommodation and conference fees (but not travel expenses). So send a <500 words abstract and a short CV to Per Axelsson ( before 15 September. More info from Per Axelsson in Umeå ( or Signild Vallgårda here in Copenhagen (

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