Knowing the Nonhuman
Call for Proposals: 2021 German Studies Association Panel
German Studies Association Annual Conference
September 30 – October 3, 2021
In 1929, the then-unknown microbiologist Ludwik Fleck historicized the problem of knowledge in his “On the Crisis of ‘Reality.’” Knowledge, he wrote, “is neither passive contemplation nor acquisition of the only possible insight into something that is already finished and given in advance.” He defined it as an interactive process: “It is an active, living entering-into-relation-with, a transformation and being transformed, in short, creation.” This panel takes as its point of departure Fleck’s early articulation of a dynamic, creative intersubjectivity which transforms not only the object of knowledge but those who seek knowledge. Guided by the more recent theorical work of Hans-Jörg Rheinberger and Donna Haraway, this panel is interested in how nonhumans, especially, may foreground the generative work of interspecies relationality at the heart of the knowledge production process, whether in the sciences, the social sciences, or the arts. Knowing nonhumans, in this sense, might mean not knowing nonhumans—but nonetheless observing, thinking (like), experimenting on, reading and writing about, depicting, questioning, interpreting, theorizing, living with, and reaching out to nonhumans.
With the aim of unraveling the methods, complications, limits, and promises of seeking knowledge about nonhumans as they extend beyond one set of disciplinary and medial boundaries, this panel explores the following questions: Which questions about nonhumans are certain modes of knowledge production equipped to answer? Which nonhuman phenomena pose questions so unanswerable for our epistemological categories as to go unperceived? What, then, are the stakes of asking and answering questions about nonhumans, such as the destabilization of our human knowledge systems or the creation of new forms of interspecies meaning-making? And how might decentering the human from our material and conceptual constructs bring to light the ethical possibilities of “entering-into-relation-with” nonhumans?
Possible topics include but are not limited to:
- Figures and works which have leaned into the complexities of (not) knowing nonhumans
- Literary, visual, cinematic, and aural representations of nonhumans
- Hybrid and interdisciplinary approaches to nonhuman unknowability
- Naming and classifying nonhumans and the role of language therein
- Anthropomorphism as a constantly evolving quandary
- Disqualified or forgotten forms of knowledge production
- Epistemic imprecision
- Nonhuman agency and subjectivity
This panel welcomes proposals with materials from all German-language contexts and all time periods. For consideration, please submit an abstract of up to 300 words with a title and a short biography to Elizabeth McNeill (firstname.lastname@example.org) by February 8, 2021.