Doing Justice to Figures

A One Day Graduate Research Symposium

Friday June 19th, 2015
London School of Economics
Thai Theatre (New Academic Building – Lower Ground Floor)

Click here to register

Keynote: “Lesbian Brides: Post-Queer Popular Culture”
Kate McNicholas Smith (Lancaster)*

Doing Justice to Figures and Figuration seeks to bring together interdisciplinary scholars in the social sciences working on figuration and/or with figures. Figuration – the process of reification through the production of a particular form or idea – is increasingly understood as significant to mobilizing and understanding social and political life. The proliferation of contemporary iterations, including the benefits cheat, the Islamic extremist, the innocent child, and the integrated immigrant, are being used to justify everything from the increasing cuts in social welfare and education, to the ongoing funding of global warfare, and the heightened restrictions on immigration. In the stigmatization or celebration of figures, affective and historical discourses of gender, ability, race, religion, sexuality, age, class, and nation are called upon to structure social and political life. Simultaneously semiotic and material, figures can be used to powerful effect across divergent sites.

Resonant with meaning, the use of figures and figuration in the academy is equally complex. Within social science research, figures are employed to illustrate theories, unpacked to reveal structures of subject production, or cited and explored as knowledge-producers in their own right. But these strategies are not innocent of the dilemmas that popular forms of figuration face. Due to the heightened impact of contemporary figures on social life, academic research on or with figures requires urgent provocation and renewed critical reflection.

Asking, for example: How do figures structure contemporary forms of racism, nationalism, heterosexism, homonormativity, coloniality, and biopolitical regulation? How do we do justice to contemporary “optimistic” figures which might emerge out of and extend violent histories? What role does affect play in the prioritization or vilification of contemporary and historical figures? And, what methodological approaches, theoretical lenses, and modes of writing lend themselves to doing justice to figures? Doing Justice to Figures and Figuration seeks to create a space in which to discuss the potentials and risks of using and interrogating figures within academic research.


*Unfortunately, last-minute unforeseen family commitments have prevented Dr. Imogen Tyler from coming. She wants to stress how sad she is to miss everybody, and to say that reading about figures and figurative methods for the event has been incredibly useful. She will be writing up some of this work and applying it more consciously than before in her new book on stigma. While we are sad to not be joined by Imogen, we are very excited that Kate McNicholas Smith (one of Imogen’s colleagues at Lancaster) will be presenting a version of a co-authored paper that both Imogen and she are writing to begin our symposium.


Doing Justice to Figures is funded by the ESRC with support of the LSE Gender Institute. It is being organised by Emma Spruce and Jacob Breslow, doctoral researchers at the LSE’s Gender Institute.

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