Call for Papers: Walter Benjamin and Method: Re-thinking the Legacy of the Frankfurt School

Walter Benjamin and Method: Re-thinking the Legacy of the Frankfurt School
IWBS Conference 2017 at the University of Oxford, 25th-27th Sept 2017
Convenors: Carolin Duttlinger and Ben Morgan
Call for Papers (Deadline: 10th March 2017)

The interdisciplinary project of the Frankfurt School set out by Max Horkheimer in 1931 remains a powerful model for new work that combines insights from across traditional divisions between the humanities, the social and the natural sciences. In Horkheimer’s account, the rigorous pooling of concepts and methods from philosophy, cultural criticism, psychology, anthropology, biology, economics and sociology should be guided by normative questions about human flourishing (Horkheimer 1993). The Frankfurt School approach unites interdisciplinarity with an attention to ethics often missing in contemporary work on the borders between the humanities and the natural sciences. Looking back almost ninety years later, the power of the Frankfurt School’s approach is partially masked by the way in which, in addition to prefiguring the concerns of the twenty-first century, their arguments are shaped by the intellectual habits of the early 20th century, in particular a debt to Hegel’s concept of totality, and his brand of dialectical argument. The conference will address this problem by returning to the most idiosyncratic of the thinkers associated with the Frankfurt School, Walter Benjamin. Benjamin’s work is especially fruitful for re-situating the work of the Frankfurt School, first, because he does not share the debt to Hegel that filters and obscures the insights of other members of the group such as Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse, and secondly and more importantly, because he shared, and indeed shaped, many of the most fruitful aspects of the Frankfurt School’s manner of thinking: the engagement with everyday context, the transcending of normative ideas of high and low culture; the reflection on the effects of technology on experience; the analytic attention given to human embodiment and forms of what later developmental psychologists call primary intersubjectivity; the productive redeployment of theological figures of thought; and a pluralistic engagement with a wide range of psychological theory from Freud and Jung to Vygotsky. The idea of the conference is to generate a critical discussion of Benjamin’s actual and potential contribution to methodologies across the disciplines he worked in. The focus on Benjamin’s method will enable a new perspective on the interdisciplinary project Horkheimer first set out in 1931.

In addition to key-note addresses by Emily Apter (NYU), Peter Fenves (Northwestern) and Eva Geulen (HU Berlin), the conference will be organized in six thematic strands with two convenors each. Panels in each strand will consist of three 20-minute papers.

Proposals (250 words) for 20-minute papers in either English or German should be submitted as Word documents to Carolin Duttliner  and Ben Morgan by 10th March 2017. The proposals should be anonymous, but please include your affiliation and a brief bio in the accompanying email, and say which strand(s) you wish to be considered for.

  1. Benjamin and the Study of the Image - Andrew Webber (Cambridge)/ Caroline Sauter (Berlin)
  2. Benjamin and the Study of the Human - Ben Morgan (Oxford) /Mike Jennings (Princeton)
  3. Benjamin and Reading - Hindy Najman (Oxford)/ Daniel Weidner (Berlin)
  4. Benjamin and Political Method -  Yoav Rinon (Jerusalem) /Julia Ng (Goldsmith’s)
  5. Benjamin between Theology and Philosophy -  Andrew Benjamin (Monash)/ Ilit Ferber (Tel Aviv)
  6. Benjamin’s Writings: Methodology, Archive, Edition – Carolin Duttlinger (Oxford)/ Erdmut Wizisla (Berlin)

See also:
International Walter Benjamin Society (Website)