Description Across the Disciplines

Description Across the Disciplines

A conference at Columbia University organized by Stephen Best, Sharon Marcus, and Heather Love

Thursday, April 23, 2015 – Friday, April 24, 2015


Participants in “Description Across the Disciplines” will consider the relation between description and other modes of engaging with objects of analysis, such as interpretation, evaluation, argument, and critique.

While description has proven to be contentious in literary studies and critical theory, it constitutes a central and prized aspect of scholarly practice in fields such as anthropology, musicology, and art history and has remained so despite critiques of objectivity and the “view from nowhere.”

How have practices of description—from ethnography to ekphrasis—shifted in light of changing views of the role of the observer, scholarly ethics, and epistemology? What protocols are involved in describing people, texts, images, musical scores, and material artifacts?

Questions of description have been taken up recently within several disciplines; we hope to expand these conversations by offering a comparative perspective.

The conference brings together presenters from history, anthropology, psychology, art history, and literary studies alongside curators and artists working in different genres, such as observational documentary and graphic memoir, for whom description represents a crucial aspect of their practice.

Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus are also the co-editors of the Representations special issue “The Way We Read Now,” a much-discussed collection of essays on surface reading published in Fall 2009.