CMCS Thing Tank 2023–24: Subaltern Matters

Photograph of salt pans in Peru

Salt pans, Peru.

The forum topic for 2023–2024, Subaltern Matters: Knowledge and Technologies from Below, considers the intersections of material culture studies and subaltern studies. Conventional scholarship has often presented globalization and capitalist expansion as unilateral processes in which subjugated communities provide precious resources and inexpensive labor to dominant powers. Rarely are the subaltern knowledges about materials and technologies that accompany such extractive practices recognized as crucial components in these asymmetrical exchanges. But the rise of world powers has always depended precisely on such knowledges and practices, despite a general disavowal of this dependence. This Thing Tank will thus focus on subaltern materialities and technologies to explore not only subaltern agency in material culture production, but also the ways in which local material cultures and technologies, as well as those mobilized by forced migrations, have influenced past historical developments, and have important bearing on present and future opportunities.

Through workshops, lectures, and site visits, participants in Thing Tank will explore subaltern matters from various disciplinary angles. We will consider how to center subaltern expertise and praxes that have been historically marginalized or erased from material culture studies. How can we bring the methods of material culture studies to bear on questions of asymmetrical power and the forms of agency that spring up in its wake? We invite a diversity of perspectives to consider fundamental questions about the material knowledges and technologies that arise and flourish “from below.”

Thing Tank is supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and Delaware Humanities, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Topic Director
Mónica Domínguez Torres (Professor, Art History)

Thing Tank 2023–2024 Fellows:
Prof. Geoffrey Bil (History)
Prof. Pascha Bueno-Hansen (Women and Gender Studies)
Prof. Ben Stanley (English)
Prof. Jennifer Van Horn (Art History)
Bradie Crandall (Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering)
Cecelia Eure (WPAMC)
Mikayla Harden (History)
Rebecca Lo Presti (WPAMC)
Claudia Stemberger (Art History)