Research Topic 2

Order by Admiration

This research topic examines how effects of wonder function in discourses and dispositives of power and order. It analyzes practices that produce admiration, sometimes verging toward awe, overpowerment or even stupefaction, in political and scientific fields. Three levels of observation are crucial to this topic. A first emphasis will lie on the interrelation between the aesthetics and rhetoric of admiration and the establishing of political power. A second emphasis will lie on the interrelation between the aesthetics and rhetoric of admiration and the evaluation and justification of scientists and scientific inventions, particularly technological artifacts. Thirdly, close attention will be paid to the diverse strategies of the economy of attention, our ways of promoting and advertising ideas, products and individuals (particularly in self-fashioning), and their medial, social, economic, artistic and not least linguistic means. At all three levels of observation, a special focus will lie on the ambivalence of admiration that, on the one hand, attracts people enthusiastically to the admired person/institution/object and, on the other hand, makes them feel small and disempowered in front of this unreachable greatness.



Ecologies of Mind and Behavior.
Discovering the Human Psyche in its Environment 1900 – 1960 (Dissertation)

Ole Bogner

This dissertation project aims at bringing together and analyze developments in early psychology that relate to a common theoretical and practical problem for the human being in the twentieth century: being in an environment. Modern psychology evolved out of different and sometimes contradictory scientific paradigms, such as Psychoanalysis, Behaviorism and Gestaltpsychology, each of which provides different answers to questions relating to the human psyche and behavior. Despite putting forward disparate approaches to an understanding of the human being, the role of the environment became a central problem for all these branches of psychology. These debates can be traced through the work of Sigmund Freud who, for example, identified the bourgeois household as being the significant territory of the unconscious. Furthermore, John B. Watson, the founder of Behaviorism, studied human behavior in terms of adapting and reacting to a situation, negating the role of the human mind and equating human behavior with that of animals. In other ways, Kurt Lewin pushed the boundaries of his discipline by creating a topological psychology that positioned dynamic environments as being the central category of human behavior. Finally, cybernetics emerged and claimed to explain the human being in the abstract categories of system and environment. 
Taking into account this decentration of subjectivity, this study will explore the question of how cognitive affects were not only involved in, but also shaped the psychological inquiry of this unexplored territory. In which ways did astonishment at the dynamic realities that were found beyond the concept of the superior, rational, and humanistic subject facilitate or even produce these scientific debates? Or did they, on the contrary, provoke narratives of shame and mortification by illustrating the ordinary status of human being? These questions become even more relevant for the era of cybernetics, when the original human properties of thinking and mind were definitely transposed into the technological environment of information processing and computing.

(Advisors: Prof. Dr. Ulrich Bröckling, Prof. Dr. Stefan Kaufmann)


Ole Bogner studied Sociology and Philosophy at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (B.A.) and holds a Master’s degree in Sociology (from University of Freiburg). In 2016/17, he served as a Scientific Assistant (in the field of sociology of culture) at the University of Freiburg (in proxy) and, from 2017–2018 he was a researcher in the collaborative research project EVADEX at the Centre for Security and Society, University of Freiburg.

Power and Admiration on the Theatre Stage of the 18th and 19th Centuries

Power and Admiration on the Theatre Stage of the 18th and 19th Centuries (Dissertation)

Benjamin Dinkel

Stich des Sonnenaufgangs aus dem dritten Akt von Giacomo Meyerbeers  Le Prophète  (1850).

Stich des Sonnenaufgangs aus dem dritten Akt von Giacomo Meyerbeers Le Prophète (1850).

The dissertation project examines the phenomenon of wonder in historical dramas of the late 18th and early to mid-19th century. Special attention is paid to the thematic complexes of politics, power, and rule contained in these plays. Against this background, the project asks to what extent these topoi are constructed and represented by means of admiration and overwhelmingness. The analysis of historical dramas is particularly suited for this investigation as important plays of the chosen time period often centre around significant figures of power politics whose actions have (allegedly) shaped the course of history. These figures are overwhelming personalities and often represent the type of the great man.
In drama, however, questions of power are not only explored narratively, but performed in very concrete terms. Each production is a reinterpretation of a given text. And each revival of a play presents the themes in a different manner with varying registers of admiration and overwhelmingness that can be shown and discussed on stage. The dissertation therefore deals both with the stage as a place where power is negotiated and the power of the stage itself. Of particular interest are the historical dramas of Friedrich Schiller, Heinrich von Kleist, and Christian Dietrich Grabbe. The representations of wonder in these dramas will be examined in two distinct methodological steps: First, a textual approach will be applied to grasp the content and narrative nature of the dramas and thus to outline the presentation of power and admiration contained therein. Second, the technology of staging these dramas will be analyzed in order to examine their intellectual and affective impact on the audience. In this context, the project investigates concrete strategies of admiration and overwhelmingness (special effects, lighting, mass scenes, etc.) that theatre makers developed at the end of the 18th and in the course of the 19th century in order to impress the audience. Aside from historical dramas, productions of the German Great opera will be examined in correlation with the forms of wonder generated on stage.

(Advisors: Prof. Dr. Nicola Gess, Prof. Dr. Anselm Gerhard)


Benjamin Dinkel studied German Philology and History at the University of Basel and attained his Master's degree in May 2018. From January 2017 to May 2018, he worked as a student assistant to Prof. Dr. Alexander Honold. During his studies, he taught languages and history at various schools. Since June 2018, he is a PhD student in the SNF Sinergia project "The Power of Wonder" under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Nicola Gess.


The Staging of the Self in Early Modern Literature (Dissertation)

Sarah Möller

In recent years, historians have shown increased interest in the early modern period, especially the seventeenth century, for its concern with “ego-documents”, personal testimonial, and autobiography. With regard to the history of mind, society, religion and piety, their approaches aim at understanding the transitional period as a prehistory of the modern, autonomous subject. A persistent theme in these research contributions is the textual figure of a living, experiencing, and acting subject. Against this background, it is remarkable that literary texts in a narrower sense have – with few exceptions – been largely excluded from the corpus under consideration. This is all the more surprising since the literature of the seventeenth century is well-known for its sudden and massive outbreak of first-person narratives, such as Grimmelshausen’s ‘Simplicianischen Texten’, the writings of Johann Beer and others. The purpose of the dissertation project is to close said research gap by drawing on methods of literary studies (e.g. ‘close reading’) and by exploring processes of imagination as well as complex forms of self-conceptions. Although these literary texts are clearly not “ego-documents” insofar as they are not records of lived activities, they display reflections and conceptions attributed to first-person narrators who construct themselves in imagination, dreams, and self-narration. In this context, the project will not only investigate how the imagination of the self becomes an instrument to invent and construct the world, but also in what way the kaleidoscopic worldview mirrored in these texts can be understood in coherent structures of meaning. To this end, special attention will be paid to the role of astonishment and admiration since the specific ‘I’ in first-person narratives is often staged by using moments of wonder; be it that the narrating ‘I’ turns into the object of wonder, or that it itself experiences astonishment while perceiving the world. 

(Advisors: Prof. Dr. Mireille Schnyder, Prof. Dr. Rudolf Schlögl)


Sarah Möller recently received a Master’s degree in German Language and Literature and Film Studies. During her studies at the University of Zurich, she worked as a teaching assistant in German Literature. In 2018, she received a semester award for her MA thesis on the imagined artwork (‘Opus-Phantasie’) in Balzac’s novella Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu and Rivette’s Film La belle noiseuse. She is a member of the doctoral program “Mediality – Historical Perspectives” and her research interests involve aspects of mediality, poetology, and self-staging as well as the relationship between literature and visual arts.