Negative Anthropology. History and Potential of a Discursive Formation

In the contemporary humanities, nothing is more contested than the status of the human itself. On the one hand, the post-structuralist leitmotif of anti-essentialism has spawned the research paradigm of posthumanism. On the other hand, scholarship on the anthropocene, the geological era substantially defined by human intervention, has given new significance to the question of what the “anthropos” actually is. Together, these two currents shape a central paradox within the humanities: defining the human is at once prohibited and obligatory.
The German tradition of cultural philosophy has been aware of this ambivalence since Nietzsche. It has constantly struggled with its own anthropocentrism and often strived to minimize its implications. This self-reflexivity produced a stance in the early to mid-twentieth century that I call negative anthropology. At its formal core, it eschews any definition of an “essence of man,” but still insists on making the human the main focus of its attention.
This research project aimed at a normative reconstruction of negative anthropology as a discursive formation in German thought of the twentieth century. It traced the entanglement of the often conflicting traditions of Philosophical Anthropology, Critical Theory, and Existentialism, and formally reconstructed negative anthropology’s systematic argumentative core. The subsequent conclusions can be applied to a variety of fields, like political theory and literary studies, and are able to negotiate the contradicting claims of posthumanism and theories of the anthropocene.

Ill. above: “Non vitruvian man”. Collage by Hannes Bajohr/Timo Schröder based on Leonardo da Vinci: L'Uomo Vitruviano, Source: Wikimedia

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2017–2019
Head researcher(s): Hannes Bajohr


Edited, translated, and with an introduction by Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll

History, Metaphors, Fables
A Hans Blumenberg Reader

signale|TRANSFER: German Thought in Translation
Cornell University Press and Cornell University Library, Ithaca (NY) 2020, 624 pages
ISBN 978-1-5017-3282-9 (Hardcover); 978-1-5017-4798-4 (Paperback); 978-1-5017-4799-1 (E-Book)
Hannes Bajohr (ed./eds.)

Der Anthropos im Anthropozän
Die Wiederkehr des Menschen im Moment seiner vermeintlich endgültigen Verabschiedung

de Gruyter, Berlin 2020, 244 pages
ISBN 978-3-11-066525-3 (Print), 978-3-11-066855-1 (E-Book PDF), 978-3-11-066547-5 (E-Book EPUB)
Hannes Bajohr (ed./eds.)

Judith N. Shklar: Verpflichtung, Loyalität, Exil

Fröhliche Wissenschaft Vol. 130
Verlag Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2019, 88 pages
ISBN 978-3-95757-570-8
Hannes Bajohr, Rieke Trimҫev (ed./eds.)

Themenheft zur politischen Theorie von Judith N. Shklar

ZPTh – Zeitschrift für Politische Theorie, Jahrgang 9, Heft 2/2018
Verlag Barbara Budrich, Leverkusen-Opladen 2018

More Publications by Hannes Bajohr

  • “Carl Schmitt” and “Hans Jonas,” in: Oliver Müller, Rüdiger Zill (eds.): Hans-Blumenberg-Handbuch. Stuttgart: Metzler (forthcoming 2022)
  • Ed.: Hans Blumenberg at 101, special issue of the New German Critique 2021 (forthcoming)
  • Ed.: Negative Anthropologie. Ideengeschichte und Systematik einer unausgeschöpften Denkfigur. Berlin: de Gruyter 2021 (with Sebastian Edinger) (forthcoming), therein: “Spielarten negativer Anthropologie”
  • Ed.: Judith N. Shklar: Über Hannah Arendt. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz 2020, therein: “Arendt-Korrekturen. Judith Shklars Kritik an Hannah Arendt”
  • “Keine Quallen. Anthropozän und negative Anthropologie. Einleitung zu ‘Der Anthropos im Anthropozän,’” in: Hannes Bajohr (ed.): Der Anthropos im Anthropozän. Die Wiederkehr des Menschen im Moment seiner vermeintlich endgültigen Verabschiedung. Berlin: de Gruyter 2020, 7–30
  • “Hans Blumenberg's Early Theory of Technology and History,” in: Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 40.1 (2019), 3–15
  • “Anthropocene and Negative Anthropology,” in: Public Seminar, 29 Jul 2019
  • “World-Estrangement as Negative Anthropology. Günther Anders’s Early Essays,” in: Thesis Eleven 153.1 (2019), 141–153
  • Hans Blumenberg’s History of Possibilities, in: Blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas, 8 Jul 2019
  • “Judith N. Shklar über die Quellen liberaler Normativität,” in: Karsten Fischer, Sebastian Huhnholz (eds.): Liberalismus. Traditionsbestände und Gegenwartskontroversen. Baden-Baden: Nomos 2019, 71–97
  • “The Sources of Liberal Normativity,” in: Samantha Ashenden, Andreas Hess (eds.): Between Utopia and Realism. The Political Thought of Judith N. Shklar. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 2019, 158–178
  • “Keine Quallen. Anthropozän und Negative Anthropologie,” in: Merkur 5 (2019)
  • “In der Asche des Digitalen. Postdigitales Publizieren heute,” in: Kunstforum International 5 (2019), 150–159
  • “Infrathin Platforms: Print on Demand as Auto-Factography,” in: Kiene Brillenburg Wurth, Kári Driscoll, Jessica Pressman (eds.): Book Presence in a Digital Age. New York: Bloomsbury 2018, 71–89
  • “Harmonie und Widerspruch: Mit Judith N. Shklar gegen die ‘Ideologie der Einigkeit,’” in: Hendrikje Schauer, Marcel Lepper (eds.): Distanzierung und Engagement. Wie politisch sind die Geisteswissenschaften? Stuttgart, Weimar: Works & Nights 2018, 75–83
  • “Ein Anfang mit der Sprache. Hans Blumenbergs erste philosophische Veröffentlichung,” in: ZfL Blog, 13 Aug 2018


24 Jan 2019 – 26 Jan 2019

Der Anthropos im Anthropozän. Die Wiederkehr des Menschen im Moment seiner vermeintlich endgültigen Verabschiedung

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum

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14 Jun 2018 · 2.30 pm

Hannes Bajohr: Grundverschieden. Hans Blumenbergs immanente und transzendente Theorien von Sprache, Ästhetik und Geschichte

Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Geschwister-Scholl-Straße 2, 55131 Mainz

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