Start Making Sense?
The Question of Interpretation under the Condition of Technology's Ongoing Provocation
Princeton-Weimar Summer School for Media Studies
Internationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie
German Department (Princeton University)
Princeton, NJ, June 19–26, 2016
The Princeton-Weimar Summer School for Media Studies – a collaboration between Bauhaus-Universität Weimar (Internationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie, IKKM) and Princeton University (German Department) – returns to Princeton in 2016 for its sixth installment. 2016’s session will be concerned with the question of interpretation under the conditon of technology’s ongoing provocation of the humanities. Is it possible to understand technology? Is it possible to conceive of a non-human agency of understanding? Can machines/animals/materials interpret our Dasein? How can we understand our own reading if reading is no more an exclusively human activity? What is the difference between writing and implementation? What are the “objects” that we should address and analyze as “technical objects” (Gilbert Simondon)?
The Princeton-Weimar Summer School for Media Studies 2016 will map out approaches to technology from the point of view of a posthumanistic study of media culture. Of particular interest are two paradigms: The analysis of actual media usage, and the study of cultural techniques, which connects to the archaeology of the humanities-technology-relationship by studying the material operations that are (though often suppressed) at the basis of the arts and the concepts that formed the core of humanities.
The summer school will be directed by Bernhard Siegert (Weimar) and Nikolaus Wegmann (Princeton). The faculty will also include Claus Pias (Lüneburg).
The Princeton-Weimar Summer School for Media Studies invites applications from outstanding doctoral candidates throughout the world in media studies and related fields such as film studies, literary studies, philosophy, art history, architecture, sociology, politics, the history of science and visual culture.
Katharina Rein (Weimar), Mladen Gladic (Princeton/Weimar)
Please submit all inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Start Making Sense? The Question of Interpretation under the Condition of Technology's Ongoing Provocation
Hardware oriented media studies often posit a ‘technological’ or ‘medial’ a priori. Claiming that there is “no software” (Friedrich Kittler) this approach holds that “all social, cultural, and epistemological structures are the effect of the changing technological means of mediation“ (Geoffrey Winthrop-Young). This polemical claim has been accused of technological determinism and it implies that autonomous categories such as human agency, subjectivity or psychology, which have traditionally been at the core of classical humanities, should be treated only as dependent variables of media dispositives.
Starting in the 1980s, Friedrich Kittler spearheaded the study of technology as something that did not simply restrict consciousness and the autonomy of the classical subject, but constituted (archaeologically) the core of the subject and (apocalyptically) its future fate. Kittler’s intervention bears a historical signature in two regards: To begin with, his work joined a larger contemporaneous theoretical enterprise in criticizing the priority of interpretation within the humanities. At the same time, however, he attacked Michel Foucault’s concept of a “historical a priori” for failing to address the material substrate that provides the possibility of storing, transmitting, and processing information. Kittler furthermore denounced Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction as mere exegesis that is ultimately unable to grasp the material and technological preconditions of writing. The historical setting of Kittler’s approach is also evident in the inspiration he took from the computer and hacking culture of the early 1980s. His study thereby took its model from the hands-on experience of those directly interacting with the technological substratum.
By now, the next generation of German and Anglo-American Media Scholars, influenced by Simondon, Actor-Network-Theory, STS, the new materialisms in social anthropology and gender studies, has transformed this “hacking of German literary studies” (Claus Pias) into much more network-like, processual and practice-oriented notions of mediality by. Thus, the question of how “media technology determines our situation” (Kittler) seems to lose its institutional und discoursive place.
However, faced with the “big data” obsession of the new governmental-media-industrial complex, the ongoing coupling of technology with written and visual arts, and the impact of communications media on the social, knowledge, war, and politics in general, it remains a pressing task for the humanities to address technology – including the technicity of their own methods and procedures. Nevertheless, technology-focused as well as technologically-assisted approaches to the classical objects of the humanities are still met with considerable resistance. Digital Humanities, to name a prominent case, is for many precisely not part of humanistic studies.
Therefore it is obvious that the relationship between the humanities and technology urgently needs to be reviewed anew both in archaeological and methodological ways. As for the archaeological perspective, one can easily show that the confrontation between humanities and technology developed only in the early 19th century. When the term "technology" (“Technologie”) was invented by the German economist Johann Beckmann in 1777, it meant the knowledge of the technical production of useful things without making a distinction between the products of mental and physical labor. As for the methodological perspective, it becomes more and more clear that the concept of interpretation, instead of being discarded, is in need of a redefinition which takes into account limits, interruptions, disruptions, and empty spaces of sense-making.
The sixth installment of the Princeton-Weimar Summer School for Media Studies will raise the question of how to address interpretation and technicity without falling back into old dichotomies, that is, from the vantage point of a media studies beyond the traditional notions of humanities and technology. Is it possible to understand technology? Is it possible to conceive of a non-human agency of understanding? Can machines/animals/materials interpret our Dasein? How can we understand our own reading if reading is no more an exclusively human activity? What is the difference between writing and implementation? What are the “objects” that we should address and analyze as “technical objects” (Simondon)? The summer school will map out approaches to technology from the point of view of a posthumanistic study of media culture. Of particular interest are two paradigms: The analysis of actual media usage, and the study of cultural techniques, which connects to the archaeology of the humanities-technology-relationship by studying the material operations that are (though often suppressed) at the basis of the arts and the concepts that formed the core of humanities.
About the Summer School
The Princeton-Weimar Summer School for Media Studies provides advanced training in the study of media and cultural techniques. Focusing on one special topic annually, it affords a select group of fourteen graduate students the opportunity to work with distinguished international scholars from all fields of media studies in an intimate and highly focused context and provides a platform for participants to engage in dialogue with other doctoral students from around the world working in similar or related fields. In addition to the seminar sessions, workshops and lectures, the summer school program includes slots that are reserved for extended one-on-one consultations with the faculty.
The directors of the summer school lead five morning seminars. Afternoon sessions taught by the summer school faculty provide further opportunities for interaction and participation. A series of evening events such as invited lectures and film screenings explore other facets of the annual summer school topic.
Participants will receive a reader with texts and material for the seminars. The working language of the summer school is English.
How to Apply
All applications should be submitted electronically in PDF format and should include the following:
1. Letter of Intent indicating academic experience and interest in the summer school’s annual topic (max. 300 words);
2. Curriculum Vitae (max. 2 pages);
3. Abstract/paper of a possible presentation at the Princeton-Weimar Summer School for Media Studies, double spaced, with standard margins (no more than 2000 words);
4. Contact information (name, institutional address, email) of two potential references.
Please use the following naming convention for your application files:
All application materials should be sent by email to
and must be received by December 13, 2015.
Applicants who have been admitted will be notified by January 2016.
Once admitted, applicants are required to transfer a participation fee which covers full accommodation, meals, and all study materials during the entire week of the summer school. The payment of $750 should be received by February 28, 2016 to guarantee the spot. A limited amount of travel funding will be available upon application