Personification Across Disciplines (PAD 2018) is a 3-day interdisciplinary conference organised by Hearing the Voice and funded by the Wellcome Trust. It will take place at Durham University on 17-19 September 2018.

Humans have a flair for attributing intentions, traits, agency, emotions and mental states to beings or things – either real or imagined. Whether anthropomorphising natural or abstract shapes, playing with imaginary companions, (re) constructing fictional characters and dialoguing with gods or hallucinatory presences, the attribution of an agentive mentality to human and non-human targets appears both natural and meaningful to our everyday life. The personification of inanimate, non-human, virtual or absent objects or entities seems at the core of human cognition, yet remains in many respects mysterious. To what extent is personification a conscious process whereby we extend intersubjective and narrative relations?  When does this capacity emerge? What are its cognitive underpinnings and what are its effects? Is there a continuum to be traced between these different cognitive, narrative, religious and hallucinatory experiences?

Our conference aims to explore personifying dynamics and experiences through a variety of disciplines, methods and perspectives. Although the complexity and ubiquity of these phenomena call for a multi-disciplinary approach, to date the topic has been mainly investigated only within the boundaries of specific fields and problems. For instance, a recent wave of cognitive studies on the psychology of anthropomorphism has set forth new hypotheses about its nature and function; fresh theoretical speculations have been produced by philosophers about the relation between the attribution of agency in voice-hearing and broader mechanisms of social cognition; other studies have investigated empathy with non-human interfaces; and cognitive literary approaches have been focusing on how we construct a frame for fictional consciousnesses.

However, these different levels and modalities of personification have never been brought into dialogue. This is the scope of our interdisciplinary conference. By bringing together keynotes and scholars from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, linguistics, narratology, literary studies, anthropology, and beyond, we hope to create a network for further collaborative exploration of these phenomena and to establish theoretical ground towards a shared study of the human flair for personification.

Please send us your abstracts (250-300 words) for a 20min presentation, including a short bionote (150 words) by February 9, 2018. We encourage interdisciplinary approaches, co-presentations, and performative modes of delivery. We also welcome pre-formed panels, for which we ask an additional panel description (150 words). To submit an abstract, please fill in our online submission form.

For further details, and for guidelines on topics to address, please see the Hearing the Voice conference website.


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Centre for Medical Humanities
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