The Society for Critical Exchange

Con/texts of Invention:
A working conference

April 20-23, 2006
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, Ohio


Conference Home
Original Call for Papers
Participants' Notes
Paper Abstracts

Conference Objectives

Con/Texts of Invention, to be held at Case this April 20-23, will bring together the diverse strands of research on intellectual property that have developed over the last decade or so.

When scholars converged at Case in 1991 to investigate Intellectual Property and the Construction of Authorship , intellectual property was still largely a special interest just of lawyers and legal scholars. Since this time, and as a result of this seminal conference, the topic has become a focus of vital concern and of extraordinarily intense inquiry across the diverse fields and disciplines. It has taken center stage in art, literature, and music, science and technology, and in cyberculture and global politics more generally. And it has even come to dominate university life. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a set of issues that cuts across so many different fields and disciplines today.

Yet this stunning growth of interest in, and proliferation of writing about intellectual property has yet to be coupled with sustained conversation across the diverse fields and disciplines. Thus, for example, most historical and theoretical work to date has focused on copyright, leaving patent and trademark largely untouched. This is due in part to the traditional legal taxonomy we have inherited, which distinguishes sharply among these three domains. Disciplinarity - the boundaries between the diverse humanities and social sciences - is also responsible for sustaining specialized, rather than crossdisciplinary, research on intellectual property. Typically, copyright scholars and theorists do not engage with their counterparts in patent law, historians of intellectual property law do not attend conferences devoted to contemporary questions and problems, and even fewer people look beyond those problems that have been codified legally. Thus, for example, even as scholars voice their alarm about the mounting privatization of information - about the expansion of IP protectionism in our culture and pharmaceutical industries - they accept uncritically, or even help to craft and implement at their own universities ever more draconian "plagiarism policies" and ever more nuanced pedagogies to teach their students to individuate "mine" and "thine" in thought, word, and deed.

Con/Texts of Invention will foster the conversations that need to take place for IP studies to move beyond both the sort of predictable "critique" and the narrow "optimization" of IP doctrine that, however valuable, fails to confront the root problems of the scenarios we are all facing. We will do so by bringing the most engaging empirical historical, literary, legal, and anthropological studies together with theoretical discussions. At the same time, we will juxtapose analyses framed by specific disciplinary concerns with others that direct their sight both at the margins of modern IP and at other, alternative configurations of "intellectual property."

Perhaps the most exciting feature of the otherwise alarming trend toward indiscriminate application of IP protection is that, as a consequence, we are also witnessing the emergence of new, singular legal and discursive formations. The Open Source movement is but one example. Con/Texts of Invention seeks to make the most of this trend.

The conference organizers are Mario Biagioli (History of Science, Harvard U), Peter Jaszi (American U Law School), and Martha Woodmansee (English and Law, Case Western Reserve U).

The conference will take place at the Case Law School. Approximately 60 scholars in diverse disciplines from North America, Europe, and Australia will attend. As a "working" conference, Con/texts of Invention will not be open to the public, but the University community is welcome to attend free of charge with a Case ID . To facilitate discussion, many conference papers will be posted in advance of the conference on the web at , as will also the program and other important conference details; and selected panels will be audio taped for subsequent iPod casting.

The Society for Critical Exchange, a national organization devoted to collaborative interdisciplinary scholarship in theory, is convening the conference. Its sponsorship is being supported by the Case Department of English (which has hosted the SCE since 1990) and the Case School of Law's Center for Law, Technology, and the Arts; the History of Science Department at Harvard University; the Washington College of Law at American University; and the Morris Fishbein Center for the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Chicago.


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