Politics of Substance (Winter Semester 2017/18)

This block seminar takes inspiration from Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and engages with the problematisation of drug use though a series of empirical analyses. More precisely, based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Lisbon in 2015, it focuses on the ways in which key works in ANT can be put to use in the realm of drug policy. The structure of the course is as follows: Drawing on Michel Callon’s classical study of scallop-farming, the first empirical analysis demonstrates the usefulness of ANT with regards to the problematisation of drug use in Europe. Centred on Bruno Latour’s introductory text, Reassembling the Social, the second empirical analysis shows how ANT refigures drug use as a social problem. Following Annemarie Mol’s work on care, the third empirical analysis highlights different ways of engaging with drug use, only some of which operate in terms of problem-solving. The final part of the course discusses the three analyses together and argues for a shift in ANT-inspired thinking towards a 'politics of substance'. 

Cosmopolitics – with Michaela Spencer (Summer Semester 2017)

One understanding of cosmopolitics can be traced back to Kant and associated with the extension of a particular – western, European, modern – way of being to the entire world. However, in an era of ecological crisis, refugee movements, and increasing calls for indigenous sovereignty, such understandings of cosmopolitics seem neither possible nor desirable. If we want to engage meaningfully with such issues, we need to learn to do politics between different worlds. How is this possible? The aim of this advanced masters course is to address this question with the help of such renowned anthropologists, sociologists, and philosophers as Ulrich Beck, Bruno Latour, Isabelle Stengers, Helen Verran, and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro.

Constructing Social Problems – with Johannes Kuhnert (Winter Semester 2015/16)

Inspired by Michel Foucault’s concept of problematisation, this course aims to contrast and compare different social scientific takes on the making and handling of social problems. After an introductory session, students will have the chance to familiarise themselves with a range of classical sociological approaches (e.g. the rise of ‘the social’, social problems theory, labelling) as well as a number of recent developments (e.g. genealogy, mattering) in this complex field. 

The Practice Turn in the Social Sciences (Summer Semester 2015)

This is an introductory course centred around the concept of practice. It aims to offer a general overview of the so-called practice turn in the social sciences, compare and contrast the most important theories of practice in sociology, and examine a series of case studies in practice research informed by recent developments in cultural anthropology, ethnomethodology, discourse analysis, and science and technology studies. 

Ethnography in Social Theory (Winter Semester 2014/15)

Over the past couple of decades, ethnography has become a popular method of social inquiry. As such, it has often been used to produce raw material for new theories and test the applicability of already existing ones. At the same time, it’s been rather uncommon to think of it as a mode of theorising in itself. The central purpose of this course is to problematise the boundary between theory and method by reviewing some of the most exciting developments in ethnographic research as distinct ways of doing theory, including Paul Rabinow’s anthropology of the contemporary, the empirical philosophies of Bruno Latour and Annemarie Mol, the analytical ethnographies of Herbert Kalthoff, Thomas Scheffer and Stefan Hirschauer, and the creative nonfictions of Hugh Raffles, Allen Shelton and Michael Taussig.


Modes of Doing Politics (Winter Semester 2014/15)

The central figure of contemporary democratic politics is undoubtedly ‘the citizen’: an independent, well-informed member of the political community who practices his or her sovereign rights mostly through elected representatives. Although this figure seems to have a timeless and placeless character in democractic theory, it is possible – some might even say necessary – to think of it as the effect of a culturally and historically specific development. The aim of this course is to outline a genealogy of ‘the citizen’ and its others – ‘the activist’, ‘the politician’, ‘the technocrat’, ‘the alien’ – and collectively explore what modes of doing politics they make im/possible and how those modes relate to each other in a liberal democracy. 

Relevant literature includes works by Etienne Balibar, Harry Collins, Barbara Cruikshank, Lisa Disch, Paul Friedland, David Graeber, Jürgen Habermas, Douglas Holmes, Engin Isin, and Richard Sennett.


The politics of Science and Technology Studies (Summer semester 2014)

In the post-Second World War period, sociologists and anthropologists of science in the US, the UK, France, the Netherlands and Western Germany made considerable efforts to problematise (natural) scientists’ self-understanding of knowledge-making as something that is external to (democratic) politics. The claim, which from the 1970s onwards came in different shapes and sizes, was that whatever was considered to be scientific, was also necessarily political, in the sense that it helped to legitimise important decisions and establish and maintain expensive institutions – from nuclear plants through space stations to the internet. But what about the politics of the sociology and anthropology of science itself? This course addresses this question by reviewing recent developments in science and technology studies (STS). More specifically, it examines three political strategies in STS, which (following John Law's terminology) could be called constitutionalism, prescriptive description, and interference.

The practice turn in social research - with Thomas Scheffer (Summer semester 2014)

This is an introductory course centred around the concept of practice. The first part of the course aims to offer a general overview of the so-called practice turn in the social sciences, while the second part compares and contrasts the most important theories of practice in sociology. The third and final part of the course consists of a series of case studies in practice research, informed by recent developments in cultural anthropology, ethnomethodology, discourse analysis, and science and technology studies.

Numerous orderings - with Susanne Bauer (Winter semester 2013/14)

Sociology has often been defined as the study of order in a modern society. In the past decades, Science and Technology Studies (STS) has successfully problematised this definition by shifting attention from single order to multiple orderings, that is, numerous ongoing processes that involve all sorts of entities, from abstract ideas through human bodies to material infrastructures. This course focuses on the role numbers play in socio-technical orderings, highlighting obvious differences and puzzling similarities among such developments as digitalisation, the calculation of risks in economy and public health, the measurement of public opinion, and the governance of climate change.

Topologies of power (Winter semester 2013/14)

What are the spatial assumptions of democratic politics? And, conversely, what can we learn about democratic politics if we attend to the ways in which practices are organised spatially? This course aims to address these questions by contrasting the notion of utopias (good places that don’t exist) with that of heterotopias. The latter, according to Michel Foucault, are places that can be treated as ‘effectively enacted utopias’ and, as such, help to reflect upon conflicting understandings of what might count as a perfectly ordered society. How heterotopias might be studied, and with what political effects, will be collectively explored through the discussion a number of empirical case studies on prisons, laboratories, hospitals, and – drawing on the ‘Limits of Democracy’ research programme – parliaments.

Political numbers (Summer semester 2013)

In what sense can numbers be considered as political entities, and what kind of political reality do they help to enact? This course addresses this question by examining the role numbers play in the making of a political community, the strengthening of political legitimacy, the constitution of a political market, and the formation of political subjects. Using the 2013 German federal election as a specific example, the dual purpose of the course is to shed light on the complex interplay between (social) scientific knowledge and democratic politics on the one hand, and the ways in which this interplay is expressed in various discursive and material practices on the other.

Ethnographic fieldnotes (Summer semester 2013)

If there ever was a formal division of labour within the social sciences as they developed in the nineteenth century, then it was based on a stark distinction between ‘us’ (moderns) and ‘them’ (pre-moderns, non-moderns). The detailed study of the former was claimed to be task of sociologists, whereas the analysis of the latter was believed to be the business of historians and anthropologists. Although ethnography as a distinct method was developed mostly within anthropology, over the course of the twentieth century it went through several waves of transformation, undermining the ‘us’/’them’ distinction both in a spatial and in a temporal sense. The aim of this course is to deepen students’ understanding of ethnography not by providing a general overview of different ethnographic approaches in the social sciences, but by offering a series of focused discussions and hands-on exercises centred around the making and uses of ethnography’s most sacred objects: ethnographic fieldnotes.