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WiSe 2017/18 & SoSe 2018: Emerging Topics in the Study of Culture

Winter Semester 2017/18 & Summer Semester 2018
Emerging Topics in the Study of Culture


Winter Semester 2017/18

Stefan Iversen (Aarhus University, Denmark)

Strange Narratives in Rhetorical Discourse

14.11.2017, 18-20, room 001, MFR


Associate Professor at the Department for Aesthetics and Communication at Aarhus University, Denmark

Main Research Interests

  • Narrativity and storytelling
  • Text theory and analysis
  • Rhetorical analysis

Publications (selected)

  • Interrogating Caribbean Masculinities: Theoretical and Empirical Analyses. St. Augustine: University of

    With Mikka Lene Pers-Højholt: Interlocking Narratives: The Personal Story and the Masterplot in Political Rhetoric. In: Narrativity, Fictionality and Factuality and the Staging of Identity. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2016.

  • Narrative. In: Mads Rosendahl Thomsen, Dan Ringgaard: Literature: An Introduction to Theory and Analysis. London: Bloomsbury, 2016

  • With Henrik Skov Nielsen: The Politics of Fictionality in The Act of Killing and The Ambassador. In: European Journal of English Studies, 2016.


During the last decade, narrative theory has seen a burst of interest in what has been called the nexus of mind and narrative (Herman 2013), carried forth by ideas of the similarities between understanding real life and understanding fiction (Zunshine 2007; Palmer 2010). This interest has been accompanied, and at times directly challenged, by an equally energetic interest in how experimental and strange narratives found in literature, film and other media may obstruct, subvert, or deconstruct real-world protocols for sense making by presenting readers with “strange” (Caracciolo 2016), “unreadable” (Abbott 2014), or “unnatural” phenomena (Richardson 2015; Alber 2016; Iversen 2013). The starting point for this talk is the observation that storytelling constellations that defy, test or mock everyday processes of sense-making also exist outside of the realms of generic fiction. Elaborating on a rhetorical reading of the concept of defamiliarization, the aim of the talk is to show that not only do experimental, strange and unnatural narratives materialize across contemporary public discourses; they also come to serve communicative functions. This will be shown trough readings of cases from a range of traditionally nonfictive rhetorical genres such as the discourse of humanitarianism, NGO-branding, protest movements and present-day political rhetoric.


Michael Hagner (ETH Zurich, Switzerland)

Image and Knowledge - A Liaison Postmoderne?

(!) Wednesday, 22.11.2017, 18-20, room 001, MFR


Professor for Science Studies at ETH Zürich, Switzerland

Main Research Interests

  • Historical epistemology of human sciences
  • Relations between art and science
  • History of cybernetics

Publications (selected)

  • With Erich Hörl (eds.): Die Transformation des Humanen. Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte der Kybernetik. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 2007.
  • Zur Sache des Buches. Göttingen: Wallstein 2015.
  • Der Hauslehrer. Die Geschichte eines Kriminalfalls. Erziehung, Sexualität und Medien um 1900. Berlin: Suhrkamp 2010.


It is a truism that history of science and – more generally – cultural studies was not interested in the role of visualisation in the process of knowledge production before the 1990s. Knowledge, it was said, was often produced without and sometimes with images, but in principle they were regarded as marginal. Why did the situation change so profoundly? In my lecture, I shall argue that the rise of images is part and parcel of the postmodern condition. My main point is not that this condition is characterized by an aesthetization of the world, but by a combination of new digital technologies of producing images and a new understanding of the status of knowledge. I will analyse the postmodern status of image and knowledge by focussing on the work of Lyotard and Latour, and then interpret neuroimaging as a paradigmatic case for the new regime of visualisation.


Prof. Bernhard Giesen (University of Konstanz, Germany)

Heroes, Perpetrators, Cultural Trauma and the Issue of Intransparency

05.12.2017, 18-20, room 001, MFR


Professor for Macrosociology at the University of Konstanz, Germany

Main Research Interests

  • Historic-comparative analysis of public opinion and collective identity on a national level

  • Sociological analysis of intellectual discourse rituals

  • Analysis of national rituals of commemoration

Publications (selected)

  • With J. C. Alexander, R. Eyermann, N. Smelser and P. Sztompka: Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press 2014.
  • With J.C. Alexander and D. Bartmanski (eds.): Iconic Power - Materiality and Meaning in Social Life. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2012.
  • With D. Suber (eds.): Religion and Politics. Cultural Perspectives. Leiden: Brill Publishers 2005.


In contrast to the conventional cultural analysis whose endeavor is to discover some hidden structures behind the surface of behavior, the following remarks will present a cultural paradigm that does not reveal valid, though hidden, cultural orders but, instead, presupposes the intransparency of the situation in which acting occurs. It is not intransparency that has to be replaced by enlightenment and a transparent cultural order but the intransparency of the environment of acting is the starting point. It is not the mostly assumed transparency but instead the intransparency and the readiness of actors to take this intransparency and at the end the inseparable social phenomena for regular and normal that provides the basis of social order. We do not act out of the urge for dissimulation and enlightenment; we do not act for enlightenment but for accepting secrets that we will never unveil: Vagueness and indeterminacy will never be replaced by clear definitions. Thinkers of indeterminacy are thinkers as diverse as Carl Schmitt and ethnomethodologists like Harold Garfinkel.

The assumption of a common culture provides a grammar of correct and understandable acting. This holds true in particular when it comes to decide about questions of inclusion and exclusion, for instance when membership is questioned in heroification, perpetratorship or cultural trauma issues. These liminal figures are at the center of the talk. The hero transcends the boundary separating the mundane and the divine. He acts beyond rational calculations and dares to do the unprecedented while the perpetrator is seduced by earthly considerations and falls prey of it.


Diana Hummel (Institute for Social-Ecological Research Germany)

Social Ecology as Transdisciplinary Science of Societal Relations to Nature

12.12.2017, 18-20, room 001, MFR


Political scientist, member of the executive board of ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research, Frankfurt am Main

Main Research Interests

  • Concepts of societal relations to nature
  • Population dynamics, biodiversity and provisioning systems
  • Gender and environment

Publications (selected)

  • Hummel, Diana, Thomas Jahn, Florian Keil, Immanuel Stieß & Stefan Liehr (2017): Social Ecology as Critical, Transdisciplinary Science – Conceptualizing, Analyzing and Shaping Societal Relations to Nature. Sustainability 9(7), 1050
  • Diana Hummel & Immanuel Stieß (2017): Social Ecology. A transdisciplinary approach on Gender and Environment research. In: MacGregor, Sherilyn (Ed.): Routledge International Handbook on Gender and Environment. London/New York., 186-201;
  • Mehring, Marion/Barbara Bernard/Diana Hummel/Stefan Liehr/Alexandra Lux (2017): Halting biodiversity loss: how social-ecological biodiversity research makes a difference. International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management 13 (1), 172-180


The discourse on sustainable development in the Anthropocene is, essentially, centered on the question of how the complex relations between society and nature can be conceptualized, analyzed, and shaped. In my lecture, I present a specific interpretation of social ecology as an attempt to address this question. The basic idea of Frankfurt social ecology is to put the modern distinction between nature and society at the start of a critical analysis. Theoretically, relationships between humans, society and nature are conceived as societal relations to nature. This concept focuses on patterns and modes of regulation, as well as on the entanglement of material-energetic and cultural-symbolic aspects of the relationship in different areas of action such land use, mobility, or water, energy and food supply. Using an approach that conceptualizes social-ecological systems as provisioning systems, I will show in which way theory and empirical research practice can be linked. Research that aims at contributing to sustainable development needs to integrate different kinds of scientific and non-scientific knowledge. It must combine scientific research with societal practice, in order to offer solutions for real-world problems while at the same time producing generalizable knowledge. Therefore, I will discuss transdisciplinarity as the research mode of choice for social ecology as a problem-oriented science.


Tim Cresswell (Trinity College, Connecticut, United States)

Space, Place and the Humanities: The Emergence of GeoHumanities

16.01.2018, 18-20, room 001, MFR


Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Professor of American Studies, Trinity College, Connecticut, United States

Main Research Interests

  • Geographies of Mobility
  • Geographies of Place

Publications (selected)

  • Geographic Thought: A Critical Introduction. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell 2013.
  • Citizenship in worlds of mobility. In: Ola Soderstrom, Didier Ruedin, Shalini Randeria, Gianni D’Amato and Francesco Panese (eds.): Critical Mobilities. London: Routledge 2013.


In this talk I outline the development of the new interdisciplinary field of the GeoHumanities linking relatively recent developments in the digital humanities and GIS to ancient concerns for space, place and ways in which we inhabit the world, the flowering of spatial theory since the 1970s in geography, and the spatial turn across the humanities and social sciences of the last few decades. In addition, I link the fusion of all of these histories with the embrace of ‘geo’ themes in the creative arts ranging from geo-poetry to conceptual art. While the emergence of GeoHumanities is not without problems and dangers I argue that the new field presents many theoretical, creative and strategic opportunities for scholars across the humanities and social sciences.


Prof. Ramón Reichert (University of Vienna, Austria)

Emerging Topics in the Study of Culture: Introducing Digital Literacy

30.01.2018, 18-20, room 001, MFR


Professor at the Department for Theatre, Film and Media Studies, University of Vienna, Austria

Main Research Interests

  • Transition of media
  • Media theory and history
  • Digital media

Publications (selected)

  • Big Data. Analysen zum digitalen Wandel von Wissen, Macht und Ökonomie. Bielefeld: transcript 2014.
  • Die Macht der Vielen. Über den neuen Kult der digitalen Vernetzung. Bielefeld: transcript 2013.
  • With Barbara Eder, Elisabeth Klar, Martina Rosenthal: Theorien des Comics: ein Reader. Bielefeld: transcript 2011.


The term literacy has become a ubiquitous metaphor in recent years, particularly in connection with digital technologies. Literacies remain an attractive option to describe the use of new communication technologies and different communication modes for the production of medially-mediated utterances. This lecture gives an overview of the theories and methods of the new literacy studies and shows in this context their critical potentials and the latest developments in the research field of the digital literacies. Digital literacy involves an understanding how search engines function, how hypertexts and links are structured to encourage us to navigate in particular ways, how information is gathered about users, and how the activity of users is governed and constrained by technological and commercial forces. Digital Literacies develop a theoretical framework of their own owing to the media specificity of digital media culture. In another sense digital literacies focus on technological application competencies when it comes to using convergent media. Finally, i would like to point out that the idea of digital literacy is not only as a question of technological transformation but also as a question of social practices.


Summer Semester 2018

Frans Willem Korsten (Leiden University, Netherlands)

Empathy and Violence: The Chiasma of Politics and Law

17.04.2018, 18-20, room 001, MFR


Senior University Lecturer at the Department of Literary Studies

Main Research Interests

  • Rhetoric (Classical and Modern)
  • Literature and Politics
  • Politico-Cultural Organization of Europe

Publications (selected)

  • “Poet/healer/judge: Literature as cicatrix – the case of Maria Dermoût’”. In: Grave, Jaap; Honings, Rick; Noak, Bettina (eds.): Illness and Literature in the Low Contries: From the Middle Ages until the 21st Century. Göttingen: V&R Unipres 2016, 181-198.

  • “The comedic sublime in a dynamic of worlds: the work of Frans Hals in a Dutch Baroque”. In: Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 8(2): 1-24, 2016.

  • With Zeeuw T.L. de: “Towards a New Judicial Scene for Humans and Animals: Two Modes of Hypocrisy”. In: Law and Literature 27(1): 23-47, 2015.


My argument starts with two different readings of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda by two scholars who have a radically different idea on the force and goal of empathic reading: Martha Nussbaum and Sara Ahmed. The former bases her argument on a human subject that is coherent, stable and through an ethical mode of reading literature is able to place herself in the position of someone else. The latter takes willful, unstable, swerving subjects as her point of departure, who find themselves oppressed in such a way that the very idea of their having a will of their own is made impossible. Nussbaum is looking for an underpinning of justice on some sort of common human ground, while Ahmed accepts the irreconcilability of positions, or the principal impossibility of a common ground. Focusing on the ways in which both authors employ radically different strategies of empathy, I ask what the goals of empathic reading could be in a juridico-political context. Here, I trace a chiastic relation between politics and law that is of relevance at times in which politics is turning more and more into a power game propelled by emotions and the force of law is threatened by parties demanding that their emotions be served.

Bärbel Küster (University of Zurich, Switzerland)

Dialogic Principles in Cultural and Visual Studies

24.04.2018, 18-20, room 001, MFR


Professor for Modern and Contemporary Art at the Department of Art History at the University of Zurich, Switzerland

Main Research Interests

  • Art in Public Spaces
  • Theory and History of Museums
  • Transcultural Art History

Publications (selected)

  • „Die Zeitdimension der Wiederholung. Prozessästhetik bei Henri Matisse“. In: Krieger, Verena und Stang, Sophia (eds.): Wiederholungstäter. Die Selbstwiederholung als künstlerische Praxis in der Moderne. Köln, Weimar, Wien: Böhlau 2017, 81-94.

  • “Over-Exposed. Modern European Painting and J.F. Willumsen Seen Through the Light of Photography/Overeksponeret. Moderne europæisk maleri og J.F. Willumsen set i lyset af fotografiet.“ In: Rank Schelde, Jeanne und Pennington, Lise (eds.): Ausst. Kat. Wild, Bold and Late Willumsen/Den vilde, vovede og sene Willumsen, AroS Aarhus Kunstmuseum. 2016, 186-199.

    „Gesten des Dokumentierens – Archive des Scheiterns. Fotoalben der Kolonialzeit“. In: Schmidt, Sarah (ed.): Sprachen des Sammelns. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag 2016, 363-388.


After Cultural and Visual Studies long time analysed representation, hegemonial power relations and identity, the field of dialogic principles had turned into a main discussion area in the last years. But disciplinary focuses on dialogic principles differ significantly within the field of Cultural and Visual Studies. While questions of participartory practices in research techniques have been raised in ethnology and anthropology since the 1960s and then from the 1980s on in museum studies, art history has widened its perspective to global arts and transcultural perpectives but recently. Here, participatory methodologies and dialogic principles of spoken sources are rarely reflected. One of the most central tools of contemporary art history – the artist interview – has never been questioned in its transcultural implications. The lecture aims to question methodological differences between the disciplines. Dialogic knowledge production in academic research, indeed, is a relatively new topic, that still has to be discussed – especially on an institutional level.

Randall Halle (University of Pittsburgh, United States)

Framework for a Critical European Culture Studies

15.05.2018, 18-20, room 001, MFR


Professor of German Film and Cultural Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, United States

Main Research Interests

  • (Un)Popular Culture
  • Visual Alterity

Publications (selected)

  • The Europeanization of Cinema: Interzones and Imaginative Communities. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2014.

  • German Film after Germany: Toward a Transnational Aesthetic. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

  • After the Avant-garde: New Directions in Experimental Film. Rochester: Camden House Press, 2008.


Over a long history, Europe and culture are interwoven as terms. And within the contemporary context of European Unionization, the complex connection of the two has taken on new forms. The EU project is a singular project because it strives for economic, political, and cultural union. The globe is crisscrossed by free market-oriented projects to foster economic union, as well as supranational organizations that strive to accomplish various forms of political agreement. Only in the space of Europe does the project include a cultural component and of the three aspirational dynamics that drive European unification, culture remains both the least studied and yet the most compelling of the three. Nevertheless, Europe is not the EU, nor is culture equivalent to the current EU culture industry policy. This presentation will propose a framework for critical studies of European culture through attention to each of the terms: critical, Europe, and culture. Such a framework helps us better answer a number of questions. How do we approach culture in this political and economic context? How do we assess the European commercialization of cultural heritage? How does the striving for transnational cultural union differ from that cultural union produced in the nation state? In what way does the contemporary understanding of Europe call forth new histories? Among others.

Cornelius Borck (University of Lübeck, Germany)

How to Engage Critically and Responsibly with Cultural Neuroscience?

29.05.2018, 18-20, room 001, MFR


Professor for History, Theory and Ethics of Medicine and Science at the University of Lübeck

Main Research Interests

  • Medical Visualization Strategies
  • Contemporary Medical History
  • Epistemology of the Plain in Science and Art

Publications (selected)

  • “How We May Think: Imaging and Writing Technologies Across the History of the Neurosciences”. In: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 57, 2016, 112-120.
  • „Im Bilde sein. Selbstverhältnisse der Hirnforschung in wissenschaftshistorischer Perspektive.“ In: Phänomenologische Forschungen 2015, 9-31.

  • "Die Weisheit der Homöostase und die Freiheit des Körpers. Walter B. Cannons integrierte Theorie des Organismus." In: Zeithistorische Forschungen 11(3) 2014, 472-477.


Since a couple of years, the new sub-discipline of cultural neuroscience announces the neurosciences to be ready to address and investigate the fabric of culture in its relation to its natural substrates. Especially the means of functional imaging are mobilized to show intricate differences and similarities among the neurophysiological basis of highly specific cultural tasks. Is cultural neuroscience a new and viable approach bridging between nature and culture – or rather a problematic example for the dominance of neuro-talk? And what can be a productive role of cultural studies in critiquing its more problematic aspects?

Tanvi Solanki (Cornell University, New York, United States)

Cultural Acoustics: Sound Studies and the Study of Culture

12.06.2018, 18-20, room 001, MFR


Postdoctoral Associate at the Department of German Studies at Cornell University, United States

Main Research Interests

  • 17th to 19th Century German Literature and Philology
  • Theories and Practices of Reading
  • Digital Humanities

Publications (selected)

  • “Sounding Culture from the Pulpit.” In: Couturier-Heinrich, Clémence (ed.): Revue Germanique Internationale. (Forthcoming 2018, in French)

  • “Cultural Hierarchies and Vital Tones: The Making of Herder’s ‘Mother Tongue.’” In: Gramling, David and Wiggin, Bethany (eds.): German Studies Review 41.3, 2017. (Forthcoming)

  • “A Book of Living Paintings: Tableaux Vivants in Goethe’s Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809).” In: Daub, Adrian and Krimmer, Elisabeth: Goethe Yearbook 23, 2016, 245-270.


Without doubt, Sound Studies has become a burgeoning field for rich, eminently interdisciplinary initiatives in the humanities. One of the major contributions of the field has been to mark out the neglect in theories of medial modernity that focus entirely on various kinds of visual culture and their historicity. What I call "cultural acoustics," while under the broad rubric of sound studies, specifically draws attention to the potent role that acoustic practices could play in distinguishing, comparing, establishing, and dispersing cultures, whether scientific, musical, political, national, trans-national, or religiously bound. Examples include the work of Ana Maria Ochoa on listening and knowledge in nineteenth-century Colombia, Jonathan Sterne’s work on the centrality of sound, hearing, and listening to the “cultural life of modernity,” or Charles Hirschkind’s on the “ethical listening” of sermons and its role in the social and political transformations in Egypt. In my talk, I will use my own research on eighteenth-century Europe to discuss the key role played by listening practices and conceptions of sound in formative ideas of culture, nation, and anthropology and what these findings offer to the contemporary study of culture.

Thomas Claviez (University of Bern, Switzerland)

The Road Not Taken: Ethics, Reciprocity, and Non-Negative Non-Agency

19.06.2018, 18-20, room 001, MFR


Professor of Literary Theory and Director of the Department of English

Main Research Interests

  • Theories of Community
  • Ethics and Otherness
  • Cosmopolitanism and World Literature

Publications (selected)

  • Editor of The Common Growl: Toward a Poetics of Precarious Community. New York: Fordham UP, 2016.
  • Editor of The Conditions of Hospitality. Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics on the Threshold of the Possible. New York: Fordham UP, 2013.

  • Aesthetics & Ethics: Otherness and Moral Imagination from Aristotle to Levinas and from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to House Made of Dawn. Heidelberg: Winter, 2008.


The term “agency” has played – and still plays – a rather strange role in our moral philosophies in general, and in ecocriticism specifically, as it represents one term of one binary that has proven almost indeconstructable: that of activity and passivity. It is hardly possible to turn around – let alone overcome – the highly normatively charged connotations of these two terms, which would be a first step to deconstruct this binary. I will, in a first step, try to draw out the implications – both linguistically and ethically – of the fact that we are not able to formulate a non-negative concept of the contrary to "acting" or "agency", and relate this fact to two key terms in the moral philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas: that of passivity and that of irreciprocity. In a second one, I will try to gauge the implications this has for traditional moral philosophy, arguing that our incapability to disentangle agency from moral subjecthood has severe repercussions for our thinking of ethics. In a last part, I will reconnect these thoughts to one of the most influential theories in posthumanism: Bruno Latour's "Actors Network Theory."