CFP: Engaging the Contemporary 2018: Reconfiguring the Aesthetic

Submission deadline: June 30, 2018

Conference date(s):
November 1, 2018 - November 2, 2018

Go to the conference's page

Conference Venue:

Department of Philosophy, University of Malta
St Paul Street, Malta

Topic areas


The Department of Philosophy of the University of Malta is hosting the 5th edition of the international conference Engaging the Contemporary on 1-2 November 2018 at the University of Malta (Valletta Campus)Engaging the Contemporary 2018 (EtC18) addresses current debates on aesthetics and the philosophy of art by re-viewing the history of aesthetics; philosophical concepts in aesthetics; traditional and emerging media or art forms and their relationship to aesthetics; the intersections of aesthetics with various academic and non-academic disciplines as well as broader discourses and practices. The aesthetic can range from theories of sensual perception (aisthesis) to the philosophy and practice of aesthetic production and reception as well as concepts of art and beauty and their critical questioning and creative transformation.

EtC18 will reflect on the place of the aesthetic in contemporary times. It enquires into categories of contemporary artistic expression and judgement. It questions the commodification of art and beauty in contemporary cultures. It challenges the standardisation of aesthetic norms in capitalist societies. It analyses links between aesthetics, taste and class as well as the function of the aesthetic within discourses and practices of exclusion. At the same time, it raises questions on the extent to which artistic productions and creation as well as aesthetic perceptions can function as critical propellants inspiring and instigating reflection and change.

EtC18 challenges sedimented ways of thinking by moving beyond the established disciplinary boundaries that segregate the aesthetic from the non-aesthetic. While recognising the continuing role of both established and relatively recent aesthetic forms, the conference explores the outcomes of when the aesthetic spills over, as it seems to do by necessity, into other discourses and practices.

EtC18 recognises that to discuss aesthetics today also means to explore the history of aesthetics. The history of philosophy is rich with differing accounts of what constitutes the aesthetic. The notion of beauty, often seen as the concern of aesthetics, has been invoked and debated by canonical authors such as Plato, Aquinas, Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida and others. Besides contemporary explorations of such debates, EtC18 invites discussion of philosophers of aesthetics usually marginalised by the canonical shadow, as well as critical investigations of connections between aesthetics and constructions of gender, race and class. Moreover, it seeks to locate the aesthetic in underexplored places, such as writers’ styles, tone, writing and ethos. Apart from rooting contemporary debates, history can also function to prioritise, legitimise, or reify particular understandings of the aesthetic that must be subjected to scrutiny.

EtC18 recognises that central concepts in debates on aesthetics are continually revised and challenged. A notion such as creativity has entertained connotations that range from artistic genius to transgression to divine illumination to, more recently, entrepreneurship and innovation. The notions of art, beauty, and the sublime themselves have been subject to extensive rethinking and reconfiguration. Treading further conceptually, debates in aesthetics have engaged with the core concepts in the repertoire of philosophy, such as truth, value, ethics, reality, representation, and form. While these concepts have illuminated philosophical debates on aesthetics, philosophy does not have a monopoly over concepts, and these core concepts are also part of many other domains; moving between discourses, new pathways of thought about aesthetics emerge.

EtC18 recognises that debates on aesthetics and art must be sensitive to the variety of media and emerging art forms, as well as to how each form might defy the notion of medium. While aesthetics in traditional debates might have been more immediately associated with painting, sculpture, photography and film, this association has been widened. Not only have the performing, digital and applied arts widened the realm of aesthetic productions and their media quantitatively; they also necessitate a radical rethinking of what art is, where it could be looked for, and who gets to decide what constitutes it. The increasing presence of visual images and film through the spread of digital media also needs to be theorised critically. In how far can traditions of aesthetics inform such an approach?

EtC18 engages with the connection between aesthetics and politics. Constructed as opposites in notions of aesthetic autonomy, their relationship has also been debated in many other ways. Whilst hegemonic discourses tend to consider political, committed art as automatically of lower aesthetic value, other conceptions, such as Rancière’s, productively explore links between politics and aesthetics. In this context, the role of perception (aisthesis) in the political realm can be studied as well as, for example, questions of the interconnection between aesthetic norms and politics pertaining to the body or to changing views of nature and the built environment. A problematic aestheticisation of politics (Benjamin) can also be observed in current political media practices and spectacles, at the same time, it is highly relevant to ask how Benjamin’s positive counter-concept, the politicisation of art, is or can be theorised and practiced today.

EtC18 recognises that in the same way that, as suggested above, philosophy does not have a monopoly over philosophical concepts, neither does any discipline own aesthetics. The aesthetic is truly and necessarily trans-, multi-, inter-disciplinary, and intersects with a vast range of disciplines. Aesthetics intersects with psychology, cognitive science, theology, media and technology studies, disability studies, gender studies, game studies, sociology, anthropology and political sciences and theory. In as much as the study of aesthetics intersects with multiple disciplines, it necessarily invites analysis informed by multiple disciplines. No one discourse comes anywhere close to exhausting aesthetics, and this necessary flexibility leads to an openness to interdisciplinary or even anti-disciplinary approaches.

By way of indication, some pointers in the respective branches identified include, but are definitely not limited to:

I Engaging the Aesthetic in the History of Philosophy

  • History of Aesthetics from the Contemporary
  • Aesthetics and Ideology: Frankfurt School and Beyond
  • Feminism and/Feminist Aesthetics
  • Phenomenology and Aesthetics
  • Postmodernism and Aesthetics
  • Analytic Approaches to Aesthetics
  • Comparative Aesthetics
  • Aesthetics and Style in Philosophers’ Oeuvres

 II Contemporary Configurations of Concepts in Aesthetics

  • Core Notions in Aesthetics: Beauty, Form, Sublime, Expression, Creativity, Emotions
  • Conceptual Art
  • The Ontological Status of Art and the Aesthetic Object
  • Metaphysics, Aesthetics and Object-Oriented Ontologies
  • Aesthetics and Materiality
  • Aesthetics, Art, and Institutions
  • High, Low, Pop Culture

III Contemporary Formulations of Art Forms: Past, Present, Future 

  • Media and Aesthetics: Visual, Performative, Applied, Digital
  • Architecture and Aesthetics
  • Narrative and Poetic Aesthetics
  • Bodies and/as Aesthetics; Somaesthetics
  • Aesthetics and Ethics of Photography

IV Engaging Aesthetics at Intersections

  • Cognitive Science, Cognitive Psychology, Cognitivism and Aesthetics; Neuroesthetics
  • Psychoanalysis and Art
  • Aesthetics and the Senses: The Gaze; The Touch; The Pitch; The Palate
  • Sociological Aesthetics; Sociology of Art
  • Environmental Aesthetics; Aesthetics of Nature
  • Theological Aesthetics
  • Queer(ing) Aesthetics
  • Disability Arts Movement
  • Political Aesthetics: From Hegemony to Protest

Interested participants are to submit a 500-word abstract and a short biographical note through the Online Abstract Submission Form ( by 30 June 2018. Decisions will be communicated by 31 July 2018. Presentations are to be between 15-20 minutes long.

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