This panel draws attention to conferences as manifestations of community and sociability. We welcome ethnographic and cultural-historical research that helps to understand the functions of conferences, especially in relation to issues of rituals, performances, spatial configurations and new media.
Conferences are standard features of scientific life and inalienable parts of the research profession. Thousands of meetings are held every year, varying in form and shape from intimate to massive, from open to selective, from local to international and from communal to commercial. Different varieties have evolved since their institutionalization in the late nineteenth century, as reflected in the plethora of designations: workshop, symposium, convention, annual meeting, congress, etc. Yet despite this colossal presence, conferences have rarely been studied as forms of scientific practice, ethnographically or cultural-historically. In this panel, we want to draw attention to conference meetings as forms of sociability and manifestations of community, with their own, discipline-bound dynamics. We want to understand the functions that conferences fulfil, programmatically or below the surface, for the academic community at large and for specific (inter)disciplinary communities. In doing so, we raise questions about contemporary and historical conference practices in relation to four types of issues: 1. Which rituals (e.g. opening ceremonies, banquets, excursions, and, historically, lady programs) have emerged in conferences, and how do they help to sustain academic communities? 2. Which types of performances (e.g. of speakers, commentators and audiences) have emerged, and how do they shape the formation of scholarly subjects and communities? 3. Which spatial configurations (e.g. room layouts, insides/outsides, spatial hierarchies) have emerged, and how do they shape scholarly interactions? 4. How do (new) media and technologies (e.g. blackboards, Powerpoint, twitter backchannels) affect forms of communication and sociability at conferences?