Collecting, Sorting, Ordering. Practices of Listing in Popular Culture.

Collecting, Sorting, Ordering. Practices of Listing in Popular Culture.

University of Siegen

Conference, 27-28 Oct 2016

Lists are known as a medium of order which contributes significantly to the ways in which we organise and classify knowledge. In online and social media, lists are currently experiencing a remarking proliferation. Digital cultures have brought about “new” types of lists, which are data intensive, algorithmic and dynamic, but also share with significant formal and functional similarities with lists prevalent in bureaucratic organizations, popular culture or literature. The ubiquity of lists and their proliferating functions in everyday life asks researchers to revisit what lists are, both empirically and conceptually, to explore what differentiates them from tables, catalogues or databases, but also to account for what lists do and what we do we with them. The objective of the conference is to approach lists from an interdisciplinary perspective as performative, epistemological processes and to explore how their minimalist form can enable proliferating functionalities.

Three key observations are central to our approach:

  • Lists assemble and create relations: Lists rely on connecting previously distinct objects, persons, attributes into new units or sets of relations. They enable connectivity between heterogeneous elements. 
  • Lists sort, order and value: Lists that rely on ordinal data or seek to create rankings not only assemble, but also evaluate and valorise the assembled elements based on selected criteria of relevance, meaning or worth. In popular culture lists operate as condition for the possibility of popularity as they order, sort, hierarchize and quantify aggregated decisions and taste.
  • Lists contribute to the making of paradigms based on sorting, selecting and valuation as well as inclusion and exclusion. The narratives afforded by lists exceed the individual qualities and capacities of their elements and rely on the making of specifically motivated connections between them. In that sense, lists are dependent, continuous and in need of completion.

The conference brings together an interdisciplinary range of scholars from media studies, sociology, mathematics, philosophy, literature to discuss how to approach lists in contemporary (popular) culture both empirically and conceptually. We approach lists as performative processes of knowledge and value making and as situated in specific contexts and debates, which select, sort and transform what we know through socio-technical operations. Doing so, lists gain their very own aesthetic qualities, which reflect their making, but also create inscriptions.


Thursday, Oct 27

13:30 Welcome and introduction

14:00-15:00 Elena Esposito (Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia) - Organising without understanding. Lists in divinatory and in digital cultures

15:00-16:00 Urs Stäheli (Sociology, University of Hamburg) - Travelling by Lists: Listmaking and Logistics in Tourism

16:00-16:30 Coffee and tea

16:30-17:30 Gerd Stumme (Computer Science, University of Kassel) - Automated Making of Lists

17:30-18:30 Adrian Mackenzie (Sociology, Lancaster University) - Streams, pipelines and trees: living with unending lists

Friday, Oct 28

10:00-11:00 Sabine Mainberger (Literature Studies, University of Bonn) - “… and so much more”. The potential of lists and some shortcomings of theory

11:00-11:30 Coffee and tea

11:30-12:30 Andrea Mennicken (Accounting, The London School of Economics and Political Science) Numbers and Lists: Ratings and Rankings in Healthcare and the Correctional Services

12:30-14:00 Lunch

14:00-15:00 Philipp Ullmann (Mathematics, Goethe University Frankfurt) - Of Lists and Mathematics – a Digression

15:00-15:30 Coffee and tea

15:30-16:30 Celia Lury (CIM, Warwick University) - How a list becomes a series: the making of serial logics

Each session includes a 25-30 min talk followed by discussion 


Artur-Woll-Haus (AE) Siegen University, Am Eichenhang 50, 57076 Siegen



Carolin Gerlitz (University of Siegen, Media Studies)

Markus A. Helmerich (University of Siegen, Mathematics)

Johannes Paßmann (University of Siegen, New German Literature, Media- and Cultural Studies)

Matthias Schaffrick (University of Siegen, New German Literature)

Contact and Registration

Johannes Paßmann

University of Siegen

Adolf-Reichwein-Straße 2

57068 Siegen