PhD Project Christina Bert

Summary of the PhD Project

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 set the circle of social actors contingently” (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.