PhD Projects

Christina Bert

Summary of the PhD Project

Presence of Mind. A Phenomenologically Inspired Ethnography In Search of Transcendental, Posthuman Phenomena.

Under the label posthumanism, various approaches have been circulating in recent times which deal with the question whether and, if so, how so-called non-humans can be regarded as objects of sociological analyses. While the founding fathers of sociology usually focused on the human subject in their studies, the sociological view these days increasingly shifts to the phenomenon of the non-human. For sociology, this means significant challenges in both conceptional and methodological ways. Which entities get into the focus if we take seriously Gesa Lindemann’s recent desideratum “to contingently set the circle of social actors” (Lindemann 2014: 44)? And how can we approach these entities methodologically? This dissertation project tackles this very concern and dedicates itself to a particular species of non-human entities, the so-called Transcendental Phenomena.

With regard to a multi-sited ethnography, settings beyond ecclesiastic institutions are visited in which the presence of angels, spirits, the dead or other creatures is proclaimed. Notwithstanding the question about the ontological status of these entities, practices of putting forth transcendental presence are the subjects of this study. Which forms of expression or representation do these entities take on whose existence profoundly contradict the self-conception of an enlightened modernity? In which way can these entities be identified as social and thus sociologically relevant actors? How do the participants cope with the problem of their transcendental opposite’s non-visibility? Which techniques and strategies do they apply in order to make up for this deficit and to create in the respective recipients a situational impression of transcendental presence? Furthermore, how does an integration of those entities into an occasion of interaction succeed? These and other questions are addressed in this dissertation project by applying ethnographic methods.

Miriam Chebbah

Summary of the PhD Project

Codes of Intimate Advances

In dependence on the classic quote by Erving Goffman, this doctoral project asks: "What is going on when people advance each other intimately?” The dissertation seeks to investigate how overtures are carried out, how feelings of affection and interest are displayed or concealed, which signals of belonging and of one’s interconnection are created before a romantic relationship is established. Research on partnership and love deals with the societal construction of notions of love. Feelings and thoughts, notions of intimacy and intimate behavior, ideas of partnership and family are not expressions of human nature, but – so goes the theory – part of a practice that is predetermined by society and framed by culture. The doctoral project examines how this is executed. With a microscopic gaze, it scrutinizes how humans find each other or how they construct and display their (mutually assumed) match. With an ethnographic approach, the analysis takes a look at the stages before the beginning of a partnership.

Anna Dorn

Summary of the PhD Project

Substances, Elements, Mixtures. (Out-of-)School Chemical Experiments and their Representation (working title)

Over the last few years, various research projects have proven the significance of technical artefacts in very different areas: in private life, in professional contexts as well as in the science and technology studies themselves. The focus on these artefacts has resulted in other materialities (such as substances, organisms, nature) to be pushed into the background. Within the framework of the more recent materiality research, this dissertation assumes a wider materiality concept and investigates the role of substances and elements in (out-of-)school chemical experiments as well as their translation into the lettering of chemical equations. The dissertation empirically studies how the organisation’s staff (the teachers) and its inmates (the pupils) handle substances, elements, objects and symbols, which meanings are ascribed to them, how they are identified within their interdependencies and how they are framed discoursively.

The sometimes very complex (out-of-)school chemical experiments constitute a conglomerate of knacks, expertise, technical things as well as substances and elements. The dissertation investigates this co-operation and seeks to explicate the tension between acting and reacting with and through substances. Part of this is to observe substances as creation through depiction (Rheinberger), since they provide certain information by changing their colour and smell, which the participants can then experience with their senses. Also of particular importance for the chemical experiments is the generalisation through symbols: the reaction equation transfers the fugacious experiments into something that is precise, verifiable and discoursive. The substances and their reactions are transformed into signs and symbols which can be followed by further experiments. The dissertation is theoretically affiliated with the Social Science of Teaching and Education as well as with more recent materiality research and its concept of practice.

Kornelia Engert

Summary of the PhD Project

The Body of Knowledge Fieldwork, Concept and Theory in the Social Sciences

In the tradition of Social Studies of Science, this project investigates the cultural conditions for the production of scientific knowledge. Taking sociology as a case in point, it assumes that researchers’ repertoires consist of a range of knowledge practices which serve to enable articulations, each in a specific way. Along these knowledge practices – such as speaking, writing, thinking –, the dissertation investigates how and through which academic and research-based methods the idea of a social world is transformed into its sociological representation. Academic and practical are not to be seen as antitheses; rather, the production of academic knowledge should be viewed as everyday practice.

The study does not focus on completed research projects, but examines situations in which sociological knowledge is in the making – e.g. when compiling and interpreting empirical data or when writing a sociological essay. In these everyday situations, sociological knowledge unfolds and articulates itself in a temporary and searching, tentative and creative manner. Formulation and gesticulation, quarreling and struggling with concepts may exhibit observable methods and intensities of an articulation practice that in its production makes use of oral and written, physical and cognitive repertoires.

The dissertation aims to show how

- situated conversations express themselves and become visible as methodological discourse;

- individual researchers stimulate themselves for thinking and reasoning;

- data and insight as well as references to associated literature are pinned down in variously revised research papers

Vanessa Wein

Summary of the PhD Project

Digital Choreography. Designs of Practice and Time in Online Worlds.

Every user of the internet inevitably leaves traces of himself (who?), of his location (where?), and of the point of time (when?) and period of usage (how long?). It is the task of automatic analysis tools to create these traces, viz. written protocols, to condense the data, and to present it in readable form. Through those tools, it is possible to observe how people use homepages. Those analysis tools are products or materialized theorems which are enhanced with theoretical considerations and enable the observation and simultaneously frame their results. From the perspective of the sociology of sociomateriality, the design and production of the analysis tool as well as its usage and effect are moved into the center of attention.
The subject of this dissertation is the virtual observation of the internet’s usage practices as mediated by analysis tools. In the style of theoretical and empirical considerations of the sociology of science and the sociology of finance in concerns of the reproduction and representation of expertise, this study examines, first, how the ‘deep space’ (Luhmann) of the internet is designed and used daily, secondly, how this daily usage is observed, and thirdly, how those observational results flow back into the design of websites with the aim of increasing the time of browsing on the users’ respective sites. The project tries to empirically answer the following questions: How is the control of user streams on the respective sites conducted over time? How is the usage pre-designed to enable the site’s affordance to unnoticeably frame the time of the internet usage? Which role do algorithms play and how are they generated? The study follows up on sociological approaches from i.a. media und materiality studies and thereby contributes to the analysis of how the usage is managed and designed.

Hannah Link

Summary of the PhD Project

'Humanity' and 'the Human'. Implications of the Human in Robotics.

Under the auspices of posthumanism and theories of practice, the extent to which non-humans can be integrated into sociological investigations is currently being discussed. While the founding fathers of sociology used the human subject as the starting point and focus of their analysis, it is now a matter of adjusting the sociological gaze: Material artifacts, animals, and ecological processes are just as suspected of being the starting point of an action as humans. Humans and non-humans are thus symmetrized and described either as interconnected or as opposing actors. In this context, the dissertation project asks how the 'human' is constituted as such in everyday practice. The guiding assumption is that neither 'the human' nor the 'non-human' is subject to natural, unalterable facts, but is to be understood as a product of social ordering performances. The subject of the dissertation is the empirical analysis of the differentiation between humans and non-humans in the case of robotics, as well as the societal impacts of these forms of differentiation. The focus is on roboticists knowledge and assumptions about 'the human' and the informational and machinic implementation of these knowledges in robots. The guiding question is how exactly the distinctions between humans and machines are carried out in manufacturing and in what way robots are induced with this distinctive knowledges. The dissertation project connects to studies in the sociology of knowledge and differentiation theory and contributes to a theory of the human.