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Things for Politics' Sake: Aesthetic Objects and Social Change

Project description

How aesthetic objects change society and politics

Many believe that art is transformative, that it can change society and politics. The EU-funded THINGSTIGATE project advances toward theorising how this transformation happens. THINGSTIGATE hypothesises that this transformation pivots on aesthetic objects, and occurs within a tripartite framework of imagination, emotion, and sociopolitical institutions. The project combines archival studies, participatory art in everyday life, and longitudinal tracing of aesthetic objects, specifically ones that stimulate imagination and emotion on the nation state as a sociopolitical institution. It will reinvent methods from large-scale studies of contentious politics to analyse three decades of ”socially engaged art” archives, putting objects in grammatical subject positions in describing sociopolitical networks. Findings will be tested in public interventions where participants assemble aesthetic objects.


THINGSTIGATE aims to theorize how aesthetic objects mediate sociopolitical transformation. In a world where affective imagination increasingly sways society and politics, it is urgent to grasp the link between imagination, emotions, and sociopolitical institutions. Art for social change, ‘socially engaged art’, is pertinent, but its theories now dwell on usefulness. Imbued in a post-object relational art tradition despite the material turn in humanities and social sciences, these theories overlook aesthetic objects’ role in social processes. Tackling this, THINGSTIGATE draws on empirical hypotheses to assess aesthetic objects as a pivot of imagination, emotions, institutions. It extends aesthetic cosmopolitanism in confronting the imagined community of the nation-state as an institution. How do aesthetic objects behave in social relations, instigate change through imagination, intervene in the nation-states’ institutionalizing paths? How can they transform the imaginaries of a specific nation-state, and of a world beyond the nation-states? The study’s novel interdisciplinary methodology dissects the making of sociopolitical cultures by empirically tracing socially engaged objects – physical and digital – while they are in action, via artistic practice-based research. A posited framework will link imagination, institutions, and a relational objects typology distilled from major archives worldwide. It is then tested in two quantitative and qualitative fieldwork streams: iterative – via Make Your Own Passport workshop series in highly diverse public spaces in Sweden, Italy, and USA– and longitudinal –via 1965 Setiap Hari, a transnational social media initiative for Indonesia. The study’s impacts are manifold: in opening up a new, theoretically grounded methodological field of artistic practice-based research, it will advance the discourse on humans' relations with others in sociopolitical imagination and institution, a long debate since antiquity, in art and beyond.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 499 586,00
405 30 Goeteborg

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Södra Sverige Västsverige Västra Götalands län
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 499 586,00

Beneficiaries (1)