From September 21st to 25th Morphomata held the first of a series of three Cologne Summer Schools in cooperation with the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities and the Collaborative Research Centre 806 ‘Our Way to Europe’. The Cologne Summer Schools are funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and deal with ‘The Phenomenality of Material Things’. This year, the interdisciplinary School hosted advanced M.A. and PhD students from Belgium, Romania, Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Russia, Brazil, Denmark, USA, and Germany for one week in Cologne.
The three institutions share a systematic interest in the ‘material turn’ and the ‘practice turn’. Both describe the relation between humans, things and signs. Through a symmetrization of human and non-human elements as sources of actions, our perspective on the socio-technical figuration of agency has been sharpened. Yet sharpening the perspective has brought intense scientific controversies, in which epistemological and anthropological questions have been raised. These questions concern the significance of things and materiality for the constitution of humans, human practices and the phenomenality of material things.
The participants discussed these issues with scholars of the University of Cologne in lectures, seminars and reading groups, as well as practical courses.
The first day focused on the relation of theory and practice and the relation of human and non-human beings. The classes were based on texts from the French philosopher Gilbert Simondon, the ancient philosopher Aristotle and the French sociologist Bruno Latour.
Further, the participants discussed the relations between humans and animals and the problems of their entanglement based on different kinds of existence. This was followed by a consideration of Ian Hodder’s archaeological perspective on entanglement, which led to the ontological status of humans. Non-human actors negotiate this status with human actors repeatedly by creating idiosyncratic body techniques.
The students had the chance to experience a specific kind of body technique in a stone-chipping course on the Wednesday, in which the prehistorians Prof. Dr. Jürgen Richter and Shumon Hussain taught the participants how stone axes were crafted in the Stone Age.
The confrontation with material things and their occurrences points to the relation between humans and things. The occurrences can make things ‘laborious’ (as an ontological category). In the final seminar the students discussed how archaeologists theorize the relation between ancient humans and their material culture.