New Materialism(s) and pre-modern dynamics of knowledge Workshop with Professor Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (George Washington University)

Mar 11, 2016 - Mar 12, 2016

Workshop organized by the projects B01 „Artefacts, Treasures and Ruins – Materiality and Historicity in the Literature of the English Middle Ages“ (Head of project: Prof. Dr. A. J. Johnston), B02 „The Marvellous as a Configuration of Knowledge in Medieval Literature“ (Head of project: Prof. Dr. J. Eming) and C04 „Spielteufel, Ship of Fools, Danse Macabre: Figurations of Hazardous Knowledge in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period“ (Head of project: Prof. Dr. V. Tkaczyk)

From the 1980s onward, the humanities have witnessed a shift toward the material. Initially, approaches such as material culture studies focused on cultural practices and the social/discursive construction of objects by human subjects. Since the late 1990s, however, a variety of movements in different fields classed collectively under the term ‘new materialism(s)’ have begun to question this anthropocentrism, concentrating instead on the interplay of different dynamic processes, with especial focus on non-human ones. From this perspective, it becomes possible to think of materiality within the context of self-organizing networks, in which the boundaries of bodies and objects become blurred. The new materialisms thus question traditional binary oppositions such as subject–object or nature–culture as narratives specific to modernity. As a consequence, pre-modern concepts and representations of materiality become important not only for Theory itself, but also for examining how knowledge of objects and materiality is (re-)constituted in literary or philosophical texts, in descriptions of objects and in religious, political or economic practices. Conversely, new materialist approaches provide tools for criticising narratives of rupture and radical periodization, which makes them highly relevant for investigating the processes by which knowledge is simultaneously transmitted and transformed.

In order to discuss questions such as these, the CRC 980 hosts a workshop with Professor Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (George Washington University, Washington D.C.), who has played a prominent role in introducing recent movements in criticism such as postcolonial studies, ecocriticism and the new materialisms to the field of medieval studies. The workshop will consist of two parts, a public lecture (11 March) and an open discussion (12 March) of a number of theoretical texts in which we want to discuss the relevance and applicability of new materialist approaches for investigating the dynamics of historical knowledge change as well as questions such as: In what ways is it possible to conceptualize things from a non-human perspective? In what way can matter be understood as ‘alive’ or ‘vital’, or even as ‘storied matter’, and how does this correlate with pre-modern conceptualizations of ‘agential materiality’? If matter is understood to possess agency, owing to its specific materiality as well as the intra-action with human subjects, how is this relevant for epistemic processes? How do new materialist approaches challenge current methodologies in the humanities that work with certain dichotomies? And in what ways is it possible to describe systemic interactions and interdependencies between humans and objects within a framework of ‘Wissensoikonomien’ as outlined by the CRC 980?

The lecture and the discussion will be in English. Both are open to all who are interested. Texts will be made available before the start of the workshop.

Due to the limited number of places on Saturday, please register by sending an email to falk.quenstedt[at] (deadline: March 5, 2016).



11 March 2016, 6 p.m.:
Public lecture by Jeffrey J. Cohen

12 March 2016, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.:
Discussion of the texts

Time & Location

Mar 11, 2016 - Mar 12, 2016

Sitzungsraum des Sonderforschungsbereichs 980 „Episteme in Bewegung“, Schwendenerstr. 8, 14192 Berlin

Further Information

Contact: Jan-Peer Hartmann, Peter Löffelbein and Falk Quenstedt