September 16, 2016
Ralf Klausnitzer (HU Berlin) began the Fall 2016 colloquium series with a presentation of his paper, “Paths of Knowledge and their Reconstruction: Concepts and Procedures to Identify Epistemic Migration (in the Humanities).” Discussion of this paper led off the Institute for German Cultural Studies’ “Theory Transfer Conference,” an international conference addressing the movement of theoretical models across national and epistemological borders.
Klausnitzer expounded upon an approach to the reconstruction of “epistemic transfer processes,” or how discrete theories are generated and evolve through their scholarly reception and distribution. This reception and distribution, he explained, can occur within different disciplinary and institutional contexts, as well as in different national and cultural settings. Claiming that all knowledge is both generated through transfer processes and bound to them, Klausnitzer argued that the active proliferation of knowledge can take place either as a rule-guided process in the framework of institutional instruction or in situations that are appear individual and unregulated. These situations—distinguished by constellations of medial practices, formal and informal procedures and by often implicit norms – imply the interaction of scientific actors as well. To model these types of interactions and further refine the study of epistemic transfer, Klausnitzer proposed the adoption of concepts of influence, reception and communication, which illuminate how instances of epistemic transfer entail interactions between specific scientific agents. Following this assumption, he asserted that the study of epistemic transfers, as a descriptive procedure, seeks less to explicate entire “knowledge stocks” and aims rather to reconstruct historically the emergence of particular epistemic claims under the influence of other claims and procedures. Research in this field therefore takes a particular interest in the “transformative integration and adaptation” of knowledge, which is the set of procedures by which knowledge claims are modified to become productive in new contexts. Klausnitzer cautioned against understanding instances of epistemic transfer as linear processes. Instead, as events, they encompass “highly complex” processes such as intentions and conditions, reception and conservation, adaptations and modifications, as well as instances of “intersubjective, interdisciplinary and intercultural” border crossings–all of which, he argues, are undergirded by social and epistemic asymmetries. (Will Krieger)