Lists are known as a medium of order which contributes significantly to the ways in which we organise and classify knowledge. In online and social media, lists are currently experiencing a remarking proliferation. Digital cultures have brought about “new” types of lists, which are data intensive, algorithmic and dynamic, but also share significant formal and functional features with lists prevalent in bureaucratic organisations, popular culture or literature.
The ubiquity of lists in everyday life asks researchers to revisit what lists are, both empirically and conceptually, to explore what differentiates them from tables, catalogues or databases, and also to account for what lists do and what we do we with them. The objective of the conference is to approach lists from an interdisciplinary perspective as performative, epistemological processes and to explore how their minimalist form can enable various functionalities.
Three key observations are central to our approach:
- Lists assemble and create relations: Lists rely on connecting previously distinct objects, persons, attributes into new units or sets of relations. They enable connectivity between heterogeneous elements.
- Lists sort, order and value: Lists that rely on ordinal data or seek to create rankings not only assemble, but also evaluate and valorise the assembled elements based on selected criteria of relevance, meaning or worth. In popular culture lists operate as condition for the possibility of popularity as they order, sort, hierarchise and quantify aggregated decisions and taste.
- Lists contribute to the making of paradigms based on sorting, selecting and valuation as well as inclusion and exclusion. The narratives afforded by lists exceed the individual qualities and capacities of their elements and rely on the making of specifically motivated connections between them. In that sense, lists are dependent, continuous and in need of completion.
The conference brings together an interdisciplinary range of scholars from media studies, sociology, mathematics, computer science, philosophy, and literary studies to discuss how to study lists in contemporary popular culture both empirically and conceptually. We approach lists as performative processes of knowledge and value making and as situated in specific contexts and debates, which select, sort and transform what we know through socio-technical operations. Doing so, lists gain their very own aesthetic qualities, which reflect their making, but also create inscriptions.