Site Specificity Without Borders: A Research Symposium

Friday, November 11, 2016  9:00am - 5:00pm The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room


Free and open to the public

No registration necessary

First come, first seated


Lenfest Junior Faculty Development Fund, Faculty of Arts & Sciences, Columbia University

Department of English & Comparative Literature

Heyman Center for the Humanities

    Event Video
    Site Specificity Without Borders Symposium Roundtable

Our epoch is one in which space takes for us the form of relations among sites.

--Michel Foucault, 1967

Sites suck.

-- Anonymous, 2016

Since the land art movement of the late ’60s, site-specific practices have been central to the arts. Scholars, too, have embraced the language of “site.” We use it to explain new forms, such as the GPS-enabled geo-novel, and also to interpret artworks in place, asking not what a poem or photo means generally, but what it means here, for these people, in this site. Site specificity is a strange kind of phenomenon, which travels because it is fixed.

Participants in this symposium will discuss how site-specific discourse and practices have moved across media, space, and time. They will ask whether it’s contradictory to demand a general theory of site-specificity. And they will question whether the localizing language of site is adequate to social or environmental challenges that emerge at a planetary scale, or that embrace technologies unimagined by the pioneers of the 1960s and 1970s. Above all, speakers will try to identify what is living and what is dead in site specificity. Is site worn out? Is this once-insurgent practice anything more, these days, than a generalized idiom for attaching social values to artistic objects?


9:30-9:45     Welcoming Remarks
Matthew Hart (Columbia University)

9:45-11:15   New York City Sites & the Performance of Race & Locality
Glenda Carpio (Harvard University) “The Whiteness of the Whale as a Sugar Baby"
Peter L’Official (Bard College) “Internationally Known, Locally Respected: Fashion Moda is..."

11:15-11:30  Break

11:30-1:00   Situating Critical Theory / Dematerializing Sites
Karen Benezra (Columbia University) "Garbage, Money, Capital"
Lytle Shaw (NYU) “lower case theory And the Site-Specific Turn”         

1-2:00     Break

2-3:30         Sites from 30,000 Feet & Rising: Ecology, the Digital, Earth
James Hodge (Northwestern) "Does the Earth Move? Site Specificity, Phenomenology, Cinema"
Genevieve Yue (New School) “The Sight Specificity of Aerial Imaging”

3:30 – 3:45  Break

3:45-5:15     Roundtable: What is Living & What is Dead in Site Specificity?
David J. Alworth (Harvard), Maggie Cao (UNC – Chapel Hill), and Irene Small (Princeton)


  • Participant

    Matthew Hart

    Associate Professor of English & Comparative Literature

    Columbia University

  • Participant

    David J. Alworth

    Associate Professor of the Humanities

    Harvard University

  • Participant

    Karen Benezra

    Assistant Professor, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures, Institute for Latin American Studies, Institute for Comparative Literature and Society

    Columbia University

  • Participant

    Maggie Cao

    David F. Grey Assistant Professor, Art Department

    University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

  • Participant

    Glenda Carpio

    Professor of English and of African and African American Studies

    Harvard University

  • Participant

    James J. Hodge

    Assistant Professor, Department of English and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities


  • Participant

    Peter L’Official

    Assistant Professor of Literature

    Bard College

  • Participant

    Lytle Shaw

    Professor of English

    New York University

  • Participant

    Irene Small

    Assistant Professor, Department of Art & Archaeology

    Princeton University

  • Participant

    Genevieve Yue

    Assistant Professor of Culture and Media

    The New School


By Semester