What is an Experiment?

Joint Doctoral Seminar
Paris, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme
28-30 November 2013

We are presently experiencing a major shift within the Humanities at large, away from a research paradigm based on disciplines towards a research paradigm based on problems. Scholarship is increasingly focused on societal and historical challenges, and on composite phenomena and events that defy the sharp delimitations between scholarly disciplines. The rapid propagation of cross-disciplinary ventures, and increasing numbers of collective research platforms have attenuated the need to question academic traditions and conventions as a (sole) means to produce legitimate and accountable knowledge.

This new research landscape has reinvigorated the ‘question of method’. Methodological discussions have long been held in check by the reassuring reproduction of unsaid conventions and protocols of research in the disciplinary communities. As new lines of inquiry cut across intellectual and disciplinary fields, however, we are encouraged to pick and put together new and transversal research objects. In this more experimental approach to subjects and solutions there is a rich and elaborated horizon of theoretical reflection at our disposal. Yet stirring up scholarly tradition also leads to a pressing need of a more outspoken consciousness and deliberation about how we produce results.

With this seminar, we invite to a common reflection on our contemporary methodological practices. As a point of departure, we have chosen to mirror a new approach to scholarly practice via a reflection on the idea of ‘the experiment’ and its corollary challenges, equally successful in the sciences and in the arts.

Are we able to translate the way we set up, develop and eventually answer our research questions with the protocols of experimentation known from the sciences? Which institutional or disciplinary constraints hinder such translation? And, conversely, which venues and platforms might facilitate research of an experimental mold? How can the very idea of a scientific experiment be adapted to the Humanities? Are there differences that distinguish knowledge production in the Humanities from the research results produced by the sciences, or, for that matter, from the formation and transformation of knowledge through artistic practice? If we compare our academic practices to the role of experimentation in the arts, how then could the poetics of knowledge production be described? How would the very idea of experimental art be relevant for a concomitant idea of experimental scholarship in the Humanities? Are there fundamental differences between scientific and artistic experimentation? Do certain kinds of objects lend themselves better to an experimental approach than others? And where lie the limits of cross-disciplinary approaches?

The seminar will combine lectures, reading sessions and presentations by participants. We welcome proposals of two kinds (or a combination thereof). First, participants may choose to prepare a short account of how they conceive of their use of experimental method(s) in their own work, and how it relates to academic conventions. Focus on a case study here is mandatory. Second, we also welcome proposals that focus on relevant secondary readings, academic texts that directly engage with, reflect on, and productively challenge some of the questions addressed above. Briefly explain why you think this text may be of interest to our discussion, and what you find productive about its approach. During the seminar you may be asked to prepare a session on this or these readings, highlighting their potentials and pitfalls, selecting fragments for close-reading, and preparing discussion questions. All participants are encouraged to experiment with other presentation formats than reading out their papers. Presentations should last no longer than 15 minutes.

Registration deadline is Oktober 15, 2013

For further information, please contact:

In France: Catherine Perret (perret333@orange.fr)
In Norway: Knut Ove Eliassen (knut.eliassen@ntnu.no)
In Denmark: Frederik Tygstrup (frederik@hum.ku.dk)
In Leiden: Pepita Hesselberth (p.hesselberth@leidenuniv.nl)

For registration, please go to the joint PhD course database and fill in the form.