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AHSS and B&L Inter-Faculty Research Conference – 21st June 2022

AHSS and B&L Inter-Faculty Research Conference – 21st June 2022

Call for Papers – The (re)search for new meanings

Following the success of our joint faculty conference in 2021, AHSS and B&L are again joining forces for 2022, drawing together our shared research interests and expertise around the theme ‘a world without meaning.’ We hope to offer the conference face to face but it will take place in a blended format if needed, on June 21st, 2022. The conference will celebrate research, innovation, and impact in and across the two Faculties, opening a space where we can share our knowledge and understanding to build new and, deepen existing, collaborations. Staff and students at all stages of research, and from all disciplines, are encouraged to contribute their work to create an enjoyable and inspiring event.

The conference theme should be interpreted in the widest possible sense. The inspiration comes from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, when Septimus Smith, looking out of his train window at England, reflects that 'it might be possible that the world itself is without meaning' (Woolf, 1925/2000:87). For Septimus, recently returned from war, we can understand this as a kind of post-traumatic shock. For the humanities and interpretive social sciences, however, it might also be considered as a constitutive problem of research: is meaning uncovered or created when we interpret a text, work of art, historical speech, or micro-social interaction? The correct interpretation of the law, or understanding leadership, enterprise and business culture all depend, fundamentally, on this question of meaning and its locus.

And yet, meaning itself can appear precarious and unstable. From Jean Francois Lyotard’s questioning of grand ‘metanarratives’ in The Postmodern Condition, we have travelled a long way to the ‘post-truth’ denial of objective meaning in politics, or in science. But this loss of meaning is not only a social, political, and human concern. Artificial intelligence has become a major economic force in displacing jobs that seemed impervious to automation just twenty years ago. AI is no longer mimicking human patterns of thought and meaning making. Machine learning algorithms identify patterns in complex data that have no connection to meaning as a human might recognise it but promise even greater leverage on the world because of that. For an AI, like Septimus, ‘the world itself’ might very well be ‘without meaning’, but with very different implications.

Where might these, or other, transformations of meaning, understanding, and pragmatics leave the arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law? Can and should we defend meaning as an ontological ground of social action, slide into solipsistic relativism, reappraise meaning as an historical and mutable construct, or accept its dissolution and innovate new methods for analysing the world around us?

Possible topics might include, but are not limited to:

  • how meaning is created
  • unstable or changing meanings
  • meanings outside the existing archives
  • absence of meaning/meaninglessness
  • creation of meaning beyond language
  • meaning/less art
  • meaning after the human
  • leaving the world behind
  • meaning and the metaverse
  • meaning, value and the bottom line
  • technology and meaning
  • meaning, truth and the law
  • is meaning necessary
  • meaning and/in method

We invite 250 word abstracts from staff and PGR students on their research, innovation and impact work demonstrating engagement with the broad conference theme of meaning and meaninglessness. Submissions ranging from conventional papers and posters, through to creative practice and performance based work are encouraged and interdisciplinary approaches are particularly welcome.

The conference will run on campus (Cambridge).

The time allowed for longer submission will be 15 minutes. There will also be the opportunity to give a 5 minute ‘Think piece’ which will be limited to 1 PowerPoint slide (for those presenting online) or a traditional poster-session near the coffee break areas (for those presenting on campus). Submissions for panels as well as from individuals are invited.

AHSS and B&L colleagues should submit their abstracts via this short online form:

Deadline: Wednesday 30th March 2022

The conference is free to staff and students of the Faculty. Should you have any questions please contact or