Composting. Material Cycles and Reusability in Biology, Literature and Technology

Compost has a firm place in gardens and park landscapes as well as in agriculture. Usually kept away from cultivated areas and out of sight, it is composed of various organic materials. In biology, the process of composting is understood as a reintegration of organic materials into a (local) nutrient cycle. Early discussions of compost and of composting can be found in Aristotle’s humus theory and, in the context of maximising agricultural yield, in the economic doctrines of the 19th century. In view of the increasing exploitation of energy resources and irreversible environmental changes, the process of composting is currently coming to the fore again. Thus, composting is not only being rediscovered as a household and cultivation practice through which mankind may regain balance with nature. The organic layer model, which is essential for compost, as well as its intrinsic temporality have also returned to literary and epistemological discourses about living beings. The interdisciplinary debate on New Materialism, in particular, refers to compost as an organic and material utopia by reflecting on difference, diversity, and relativity.

Based on these observations, the project aims at a history of knowledge of compost and composting, particularly in biology, literature, philosophy of science, and technology. The project proposes two perspectives to elucidate the origins, prerequisites, and transformations of compost and composting:

First, the project traces the role and relevance of compost in exemplary non-fictional texts on landscape gardening and horticulture since the 19th century. It aims to reconstruct the transformation of composting from the growth-oriented practice of political economy to an individual activity expressing an ethical stance in the face of the current debates on the Anthropocene and degrowth. In parallel, the project examines literary texts in which the cycle of materials is negotiated as a motif or narrative. These include not only the prose of German realism (Auerbach, Raabe, Storm) but also the literature of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich (Tucholsky, Jünger, Sander).

A second perspective describes compost and composting in relation to the tension between organic materiality and formal-abstract immateriality in the philosophy of science and technology. The discursive nature of compost in New Materialism and critical posthumanism (Haraway, Barad, Puig de la Bellacasa) as well as in descriptions of socio-technical infrastructures will be examined. Here, it is not only the biologically shaped conceptual apparatus (e.g., “software ecosystems”) that is of interest but especially the relationship of compost to related metaphors such as net, graph, and cloud. Using recent approaches in critical infrastructure studies and digital materialism in the Digital Humanities as examples, the project discusses models of the circulation of data, algorithms, and software, feeding into a reflection on the self-image of digital humanities. Thus, the question of (re)usability provides a critical perspective on the culture of knowledge in the digital humanities, which addresses, among other things, the relationship between data science and the life sciences.

since 2020
Head researcher(s): Rabea Kleymann


Rabea Kleymann


14 Oct 2021 · 2.00 pm

Rabea Kleymann: Mixed Methods als Denkstil? Forschungsdesigns der Stilometrie in den Digital Humanities

online via Zoom

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Please note! The workshop unfortunately has to be postponed.
16 Sep 2021 · 9.00 am

Rabea Kleymann and Jan Horstmann: Hacker*innenangriff auf Goethe? Experimente mit Goethetexten und Annotationsdaten von Entsagung und Ironie

online via Zoom

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23 Mar 2021 · 2.00 pm

Rabea Kleymann: Entangled Methods. Diffractive Approaches for the Digital Humanities

online via ConfTool

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Workshop at the vDHd 2021
23 Mar 2021 · 9.00 am

Glossar der Begriffe: Ein kollaboratives Schreibexperiment der AG Digital Humanities Theorie

online via Zoom

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11 Nov 2020 · 2.00 pm

Von Knoten und Kanten zu Gedanken: Theoretische Reflexionen zu Graphentechnologien

online via Zoom

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08 Oct 2020 · 6.00 pm

Rabea Kleymann: »Theorytellings«. Wissenschaftsnarrative in den Digital Humanities – Eine Einführung

Bibliotheca Albertina, Beethovenstraße 6, 04107 Leipzig

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20 Aug 2020 Audio
RaDiHum20 talks to the AG Digital Humanities Theorie
Podcast with Rabea Kleymann
© RaDiHum20