Was heißt Kulturtechnik?

Last week Ana Ofak and I co-organized a workshop at the Humboldt University dedicated to bringing together a small group of Germanophone and Anglophone scholars to discuss current questions and emerging methods in research on culture, technology, and media science. Our ostensible point of departure was new German research on Kulturtechnik(en), variously translatable as cultural techniques, cultural technology, or more obscurely (though perhaps more precisely) as cultural technics. I touched on this in an earlier post, where I mentioned that Jussi Parikka, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, and Ilinca Iuraşcu are putting together a collection of essays on Kulturtechnik for Theory, Culture & Society. Our get-together made a point of gathering together a few Germans not working on "Kulturtechnik" per se, as well as a few Americans whose work matches the thematics of Kulturtechnik without using that partciular term. In this way we aimed less at "clarifying" an existing concept than in developing some new questions and concepts by getting together likeminded folks for conversation.  Among the presenters were Christian Kassung (HU), John Tresch (UPenn), Christoph Rosol (Bauhaus/MPI), Inga Pollmann (UNC-Chapel Hill), Sandra Schramke (HU), Christina Vagt (TU), Wolfgang Schäffner (HU), Anke te Heesen (HU), Rob Mitchell (Duke), Bernhard Siegert (Bauhaus), Sebastian Vehlken (Leuphana), and Mara Mills (NYU). I recorded the whole day's discussions, which prompted some serious debates about the limits, definitions, and constituents of culture, technology, and media, among other terms. Perhaps I'll post a few snippets in a week or two. There's also some talk about a publication, a second workshop in the future, or some other forum for pushing forward transatlantic and transdisciplinary research in this area.

 

I'm on the way to a two workshop in Bavaria tomorrow for our DFG (it's sort of like the National Science Foundation in Germany) research project on spiritualism and technical media in the nineteenth century. While there I hope to discuss the Kulturtechnik work with Erhard Schüttpelz, an leading media theorist and media anthropologist, though my focus there will be presenting some work I've been doing lately on the relationship between 19th century automata exhibitions and 20th century computer interfaces. That research, which started as something I didn't quite fit into the dissertation, is quickly becoming a more ambitious research project that attempts to redirect classical media archaeology towards a study of computers as "surfaces of speculation," that is, sites for scientific, commercial, and philosophical speculation, as well as nodes in the articulation and development of new forms of politics, class distinctions, and styles of reason.

 

Below is a little image I lifted from a late nineteeth century German manual on "Grundlehren der Kulturtechnik," or what may be translated as "Basic Tenets of Agricultural Engineering." Though this title may sound far afield from the workshop, I'm gambling on the idea that the peculiar eymologies of Kulturtechnik hint at an intimate yet obscure relationship between culture, technology, and the cultivation of life.