KONF: Theory as Event: Epistemic Cultures and Humanistic Knowledge Production in Germany Since 1968, St. Louis (14.09-17.09.2023)

Matt Erlin Discussion

Theory as Event: Epistemic Cultures and Humanistic Knowledge Production in Germany Since 1968

Washington University in St. Louis, September 14-17, 2023

(Travel grants available for graduate students and early career faculty: contact conference organizers)

It is a well-established paradox that theoretical knowledge, although it aspires by its very nature to universal validity, is in fact highly contingent, depending on a wide range of institutional, historical, political, material, and medial factors. Elucidating these factors as they pertain to the natural sciences has been a central preoccupation of scholars in science studies for several decades (Latour, Knorr-Cetina). More recent work by historians of knowledge (for example, those affiliated with the Zürich Center for the History of Knowledge) has expanded the scope of such investigations to include academic knowledge more generally as well as diverse forms of popular knowing. The German context in particular (Spoerhase, Felsch) has seen a rise in interest in “praxeological” approaches to the production, representation, and reception of humanistic knowledge, approaches that emphasize the everyday social and institutional practices that give rise to new insights and perspectives and enable the ascendency of particular theoretical paradigms.

Building on this research and extending it in new directions, the 26th Biennial Symposium on German Literature and Culture seeks to situate recent developments in the humanities and social sciences in German-speaking lands in their broader social and historical frameworks. Our reference to “theory as event,” is intended to draw attention to those specific occurrences that are often seen to be especially significant in this context: public controversies, debates, and other forms of popularization; lecture series, conferences, and exhibitions; individual book publications as well as the founding of new presses. Besides the events of the everyday that shape humanistic knowledge production, we are also interested in singular significant events within the academy – here one might think of Friedrich Kittler’s habilitation defense, the formation of the research group Poetik und Hermeneutik, or Niklas Luhmann filling in for Adorno as chair of sociology in Frankfurt in 1968. Finally, the term event can be understood in more praxeological terms, as referring to those inconspicuous but no less important acts of research, teaching, and even administration that have helped to shape the intellectual landscape of the humanities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland since 1968.



Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023

Location: Ginko Reading Room

5:30-7:00pm: Reading and Reception

Matthias Göritz (Washington University in St. Louis): “Auerbach in Istanbul: A Reading from Die Sprache der Sonne (2023)”


Friday, Sept. 15, 2023

Location: Umrath Lounge

9:00 – 9:30AM: Opening Remarks


PANEL 1: Frankfurt and its Discontents

9:30 – 10:00AM         

André Fischer (Washington University in St. Louis): “From Bielefeld with Love: Luhmann on Adorno’s Chair in 1968/69”

10:15 – 11:00AM

Philipp Felsch (Humboldt University Berlin): “The Thermidor of Jürgen Habermas”


11:00 – 11:30AM: COFFEE BREAK


11:30 – 12:15PM

Richard Langston (University of North Carolina): “Wendetheorie: On the Disjuncture of Theory and Revolution, Part II”


12:15 – 1:45PM: LUNCH BREAK


PANEL 2: Resistance to Theory I

1:45 – 2:30PM

Christine Weder (University of Geneva): “Historicizing Theory as ‘Eventization’: On the Birth of Postmodernism out of the Zürcher Literaturstreit

2:30 – 3:15PM

Matt Erlin (Washington University in St. Louis): “Postmodernism as (German) Media Event”




PANEL 3: Resistance to Theory II

4:00 – 4:45PM

Adrian Daub (Stanford University): “The Academic Praxeology of Anti: German Resistances to Theory after 1968”

4:45 – 5:30PM

Claudia Liebrand (University of Cologne): “Habilitation as Event in the History of the Humanities: Kittler’s Habilitation Defense and the Emergence of a New Discipline”


Saturday, Sept. 16, 2021

Location: Umrath Lounge


PANEL 4: Theory as Resistance

9:00 – 9:45AM

Paul Fleming (Cornell University): “1969: Marcuse, Davis, and the other Trajectory of Critical Theory”

9:45 – 10:30AM

Tiffany Florvil (University of New Mexico): “Black German Wake Work: The Intellectual Contours”


10:30 – 11:00AM: COFFEE BREAK


PANEL 5: Mediating Theory

11:00 – 11:45AM

Sean Franzel (University of Missouri): “Koselleck’s Inventories: Notes on the Media Practices of Conceptual History”

11:45 – 12:30pm

Leif Weatherby (New York University): “The Dialectical Surround”


12:45 – 2:00PM: LUNCH BREAK


PANEL 6: Theory as Practice I

2:00 – 2:45PM

Lilla Balint (University of California, Berkeley): “’Ich als Text’: Autotheory and/as Poetikvorlesung”

2:45 – 3:30pm

Arne Hoecker (University of Colorado, Boulder): “Spex 08/1993: The German Issue”




PANEL 7: Theory as Practice II

4:00 – 4:45PM

Nicolas Pethes (University of Cologne): Theory is History. Critical, Archeological, and Praxeological Trends in Recent Cultural and Literary Studies“

4:45 – 5:30PM

Kirk Wetters (Yale University): The Pre-History of the Edited Volume


Conference Organizers: Matt Erlin (merlin@wustl.edu) and André Fischer (andrefischer@wustl.edu)