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Art, Philosophy and Social Practice

Research cluster leader:

Professor John Roberts
+44 (0)1902 322017


Dr Alexei Penzin
Tel: +44 (0)1902 322415

The cluster is divided into three research strands, and contains both artists and theorists.

  1. philosophy and cultural theory
  2. contemporary art theory
  3. post-digital theories of representation.

Researchers may work in any of these areas, just as the research interests of each strand may cross over. Similarly some researchers contribute to the different strands as theorists and artists.

Research topics are as follows:

Philosophy and cultural theory: the politics of sleep (Alexei Penzin), voodoo and representation (Louise Fenton).

Art theory: the historic and contemporary avant-garde (Alexei Penzin, John Roberts), collaborative and participatory models of art practice (Alexei Penzin, John Roberts, Gavin Rogers)

Post-digital theories of representation: the historical archive and memory (Euripides Altintzoglou), light and luminosity (Euripides Altintzoglou), digitalization and the photographic installation (Su Fahy), painting after digitalization (Simon Harris) and the photo document (John Roberts).    

Broadly, the cluster is concerned with two key areas: 1) it draws on critical theory, social anthropology, post-war European philosophy, and contemporary Anglo-American art theory, in order to examine the new fault-lines of cultural production, identity and subjectivity under neoliberal globalization; and 2) it invites new forms of research into theory and practice in art, in particular those that keep open the links between the (post-digital) image, and the research-based demands and socially engaged possibilities of contemporary practice.  

This group is noted for its wide-ranging and internationally renowned analysis and engagement with models of sociability and performativity in contemporary art, and consists of three research strands:
  • Participatory and collaborative forms of artistic practice that explore and test art’s place outside of the gallery and the relationship between art and the public sphere, and, in turn, engage ways in which new forms of curatorship might support these explorations;
  • Interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary work across the art/science interface, which looks at the artist as facilitator of new routes and pathways into art’s utility; and
  • Cultural theory and the politics of representation, which covers the writing of cultural history, philosophy, art theory and photographic theory.

The first two strands mix different approaches to practice-based research (conference papers, essay writing and project work inside and outside of the gallery); the latter strand is predominantly theoretical and supports researchers engaged in book writing, contributions to journals and conferences papers.

Overall, however, the cluster draws on art theory, cultural theory and philosophy, to provide a theoretical framework for the support and discussion of art as a field of skills and competences that cross the art/non-art divide. In this sense the research of the cluster is concerned with the development of, and reflection on, new forms of social-critical art practice.

Selection of recent and forthcoming publications:

Alexei Penzin, Against the Continuum: Sleep and Subjectivity in Capitalist Modernity, Bloomsbury, 2017

John Roberts, Revolutionary Time and the Avant-Garde, Verso, 2015

Research active staff

PhD students

  • Carol Meachem
  • Anna Santomauro
  • Sunshine Wong