The seventh annual What is…? conference-experience will engage communication, media, and nature by examining everyday life—our lifeworks and lifestyles—emphasizing the lifeworlds we live in. It will investigate how communication and information constitute and permeate all avenues and forms of life—from scale, pace, and pattern to the public, private, and organic. By building bridges through multidisciplinary networks, the event emphasizes how communication is instrumental in and for living systems. What is life and how is life mediated?

What is Life? (2017) builds on last year’s conference-experience, What is Media? (2016), expanding a transdisciplinary notion of medium/media with special attention to its material, historical, and ecological ramifications. It marks the second collaboration with scholars from the natural sciences (physical and life sciences) and the arts.


The CONFERENCE commenced Thursday, April 6th with the 2017 Leonardo da Vinci Lecture featuring Fritjof Capra of The Center for Ecoliteracy and Schumacher College, followed by the grand opening of the LIFEWORLDS EXHIBITION.

The event continued on Friday, April 7th, with Technological Culture & Aesthetics professor Jussi Parikka (Univ. of Southampton) and Toby Miller (Loughborough Univ. London). The program featured plenaries with Salma Monani (Gettysburg College), Arlene Schnitzer Curator Diane Durston (Portland Japanese Garden), Ted Toadvine (Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State Univ.), and Brendan Bohannan (Biology, UO). It concluded with an EXPERIENCE with Garden Curator Sadafumi Uchiyama at the Portland Japanese Garden.

Saturday, April 8th, began with the Media Literacies for a Living World Roundtable featuring W. James Potter (Univ. of California, Santa Barbara), Renee Hobbs (Univ. of Rhode Island), Ed Madison (UO), Divina Frau-Meigs (Univ. Sorbonne Nouvelle, France), Jeremy Swartz & Carl Bybee (UO), and Antonio López (John Cabot Univ., Italy). The final day, following plenaries by Gabriela Martinez (UO) and Douglas Rushkoff (Queens College, CUNY), concluded with philosopher of language, Mark Johnson (UO) and philosopher of living technologies, Mark Bedau (Reed College/Portland State Univ.).

The event brings together scholars, government and community officials, industry professionals, alumni and students, as well as scientists, artists, filmmakers, grassroots community organizations, and the public.

This year’s conference-experience is dedicated to Prof. Umberto Eco (1932-2016).