Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research

The Importance of Science Communication Research and of Science Studies for the Region – Opening of the RRC in Dortmund


How can science communication be practiced under post-truth conditions? And what role do the humanities and social sciences play in this context? The Rhine Ruhr Center for Science Communication Research (RRC) is devoted to answering these and other pressing questions. The center is funded by a generous grant from the Volkswagen Foundation and headed by Julika Griem of the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI), David Kaldewey of the Forum Internationale Wissenschaft (FIW) at the University of Bonn, Holger Wormer of the TU Dortmund, Oliver Ruf of the University of Applied Sciences Bonn-Rhine-Sieg as well as Volker Stollorz of the Science Media Center in Cologne and Franco Zotta of the German Science Journalists’ Association.

The RRC is devoted to science communication with a special focus on the humanities and social sciences. As such, it addresses highly important questions about how insights from the reflexive social and cultural research on science might be communicated. Natural scientists usually attract attention via stimulating images of ground-breaking discoveries. Not so the reflexive sciences on science. Thus, there are elementary questions that need to be answered about the communicability of insights from social and cultural research on science. Next to this, RRC aims to, over the course of its initial five-year funding, bring its findings closer to practicing journalists as well as to students in interdisciplinary workshops and conferences. On June 2, 2022, the RRC officially opened with a celebratory inauguration at the Erich-Brost-Institute at TU Dortmund. Together with our director Stefan Böschen I ventured to Dortmund to attend the event, at which we met with many familiar faces from science studies and journalism.


Phillip H. Roth

Phillip is postdoc and the events coordinator at c:o/re. Among other topics, his research is dedicated to questions of identity work in biomedical disciplines, to the meaning of medicine and the role of patient advocacy on the internet as well as to social and cultural conditions of scientific modeling. In a current project, he is trying to develop a sociology of pandemics for the digital age that draws on communication theories of virality and contagion.

After welcoming words by Holger Wormer, the inauguration consisted of a brief overview of the RRC’s three main research projects, given by Julika Griem, as well as three panel discussions, each moderated by one of the RRC’s heads. The panels were devoted to core problem areas of the RRC, making up most the of the formal part of the evening. In the first, moderated by Oliver Ruf, Julia Schubert (University of Speyer) discussed with local students about “Science Communication in Times of Multiple Facts”. One of the core take-aways of this insightful discussion was that the students desired the humanities and social sciences to be more present in public science communication. They stressed particularly that they promised themselves that these fields would be better equipped than natural or engineering sciences to deal with the problems of post-truth in current debates. The second panel, moderated by David Kaldewey, consisted of a dialogue between science journalist Birgit Herden (Die Welt) and the sociologist of science and technology Cornelius Schubert (TU Dortmund) about “Images and Imaginations of Science”. They reflected on how journalism and sociology address different audiences. Variety of audiences necessarily also leads to conflicts between the trajectories of the two professions. While journalism needs to “close” scientific debates to make the topic appealing to its readership, [1]Peter Conrad (1999). Use of Expertise: Sources, Quotes, and Voice in the Reporting of Genetic News. Public Understanding of Science 8 (4): 285–302. https://doi.org/10.1088/0963-6625/8/4/302 a key ambition of science studies, sociology of science or STS is to “open up” the infamous black box of science.[2]Trevor J. Pinch and Wiebe E. Bijker (1984). The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might benefit each other. In Social Studies … Continue reading This is aligned with our effort to “unbox science” here at c:o/re. This ultimately also thwarts any settlement on “the facts”, making science a volatile and (politically) malleable business in sociologists’ eyes, something that is particularly critical under post-truth conditions. However, Schubert also recalls the common heritage of journalism and sociology in the reportages that founded the early-twentieth century Chicago School,[3]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_school_(sociology) offering hope that each in their own way can contribute to successfully communicating the complexities of scientific research and its findings to the public. In a third session, panellists Eva Weber-Guskar (University of Bochum) and Samir Sellami asked about “A Quality Circle for the Humanities and Social Sciences?” Both are initiators of online platforms – PhilPublica and Soziopolis, respectively – that are devoted to bringing scholarly content to a wide readership. Together with the journalist Volker Stollorz, who moderated the panel, they reminisced whether and how these open formats might provide criteria for the successful communication of scientific content in the digital world. During the informal part of the event – drinks and snacks in the courtyard of the Erich-Brost-Institue while the sun was shining, and the temperatures were warm – we were able to catch up with friends and colleagues after an almost two-year hiatus from in-person events.

Holger Wormer speaking to guests at the opening of the RRC (photo credits: RRC/Andreas Siess)

A crucial feature of the RRC is that it considers science communication not only from a communication research perspective, but also from a cultural studies (KWI Essen) as well science studies & STS perspective (FIW Bonn). For this reason, we at c:o/re look forward to partnering with the RRC on questions at the intersection of science studies and science communication research. We hope that this partnership will help to unravel what science communication entails in the current mediascape and, also, what we can learn from it practically for communication at c:o/re and elsewhere. Given the grand challenges we face today,[4]David Kaldewey (2018). The Grand Challenges Discourse: Transforming Identiy Wlrk in Science and Science Policy. In Minerva 56: 161-182. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11024-017-9332-2. such as climate change, the digitalization of research practices, energy and mobility transformations, resource scarcity, war and poverty, we also wish that it will strengthen the role of science studies scholarship in the Aachen-Rhine-Ruhr region and in Germany more generally, providing a clearer picture of the role that science can play in facing these challenges.

A first joint conference between the RRC and c:o/re is already in the making and is set to take place in 2023. We will keep you posted as things develop and also about further collaborations between the partners at the RRC and c:o/re. Please also see our events section for infos on further upcoming workshops, lectures and conferences. For now, all that remains is for us to wish our friends at the RRC all the best for their projects. We look forward to the friendly and frequent exchanges about science studies and communication research – cheers!

Proposed citation: Phillip Roth. 2022. The Importance of Science Communication Research and of Science Studies for the Region – Opening of the RRC in Dortmund. https://khk.rwth-aachen.de/2022/06/17/3613/3613/.


1Peter Conrad (1999). Use of Expertise: Sources, Quotes, and Voice in the Reporting of Genetic News. Public Understanding of Science 8 (4): 285–302. https://doi.org/10.1088/0963-6625/8/4/302
2Trevor J. Pinch and Wiebe E. Bijker (1984). The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might benefit each other. In Social Studies of Science 14 (3): 399-441. You can read the paper here.
4David Kaldewey (2018). The Grand Challenges Discourse: Transforming Identiy Wlrk in Science and Science Policy. In Minerva 56: 161-182. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11024-017-9332-2.

Call for Papers: Summer School on “The transformation challenge: Re-Thinking cultures of research” 

The Miguel Sánchez‐Mazas Chair (University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU), the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS, KIT Karlsruhe) and the The Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research at RWTH Aachen University will be hosting an International Summer School for PhD students, titled “The transformation challenge: Re-Thinking cultures of research” (Organizers: Stefan Böschen, RWTH/Käte Hamburger Kolleg Cultures of Research; Andoni Ibarra, UPV/EHU; Bettina‐Johanna Krings, ITAS/KIT; Andreas Lösch, ITAS/KIT; and Hannot Rodríguez, UPV/EHU).

The Summer School offers PhD students the opportunity to develop their projects in a stimulating working atmosphere and in an international context. We aim to provide an inspirational environment for learning and discussion that ensures excellent feedback on everyone’s work, in formats such as “Lecture”, “Individual Presentation”, “Workshop” and “Poster Presentation” (Keynote lecturers: Guido Caniglia, Helen Longino, Clark Miller and Harald Rohracher).

The Summer School is open to PhD students at any stage of the progress in their dissertation project. Please apply by January 15th 2024 at the latest by sending your proposals to 

For the requirements of your application and further information concerning the content and research questions of the Summer School, see the flyer.

Objects of Research: Andoni Ibarra

Today we proceed with our “Objects of Research” series and a picture by c:o/re alumni fellow Andoni Ibarra, whose research focuses on the performative character of scientific representations in the constitution of the world.

“Spending a few weeks in Argentina, in front of my desk, a Post Office building. A nice futuristic architectural concept, degraded by its construction materials, support of a communication antenna, appropriated by pigeons as a dovecote: a hybrid object.”

Objects of Research: Benjamin Peters

For the first post in our „Objects of Research“ series, we interviewed c:o/re alumni fellow Benjamin Peters, who works on artful intelligence, broadly taken across the long Soviet century.

“By saying that I study ‘artful intelligence’, which I mean only as a half joke, I take seriously the propositions to my career as a media scholar that…

1. As the first image suggests, human artfulness can be found all around, such as this snapshot of a wall on a side street not far from the Cultures of Research at the RWTH.

2. Sometimes architectural masterpieces that represent more than the sharp angles of twentieth-century modernism are all about us, such as this bus stop on the way to Cultures of Research in Aachen. Any study of science and technology has to ask, what does it mean? Sources do not speak for themselves.

3. Sometimes artificial intelligence is best found in letting people be people, such as a doodle here in a sketchbook. Straight lines do not always precipitate straightness.

4. I study how science, technology, and artificial intelligence has been understood in different times and places, such as this remote-controlled robot that failed in the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 in Soviet Ukraine, which helps unstiffen, enliven, and sober our imagination of what may already be the case today and could be the case tomorrow.”

Walter Benjamin Fellowships for Anna Laktionova and Svitlana Shcherbak

c:o/re fellows Anna Laktionova and Svitlana Shcherbak have both received a fellowship from the Walter Benjamin Programme, funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), which enables them to continue working independently on their research projects at c:o/re even after the end of their c:o/re fellowship.

We would like to congratulate both of them and are delighted to be able to continue working together under one roof.

Here is what Anna Laktionova wants to do during the scholarship and what it means to her:

Anna Laktionova, photo by Jana Hambitzer

My project “Towards the agency based philosophy of (advanced) technology” is for me a very inspiring possibility to continue elaborating the maintained approach of Philosophy of Action and Agency within such nowadays fields as Philosophy of Technology, Philosophy of Engineering, STS etc. It involves theoretical and practical philosophical methodological platforms; allows me to continue professional grows and integrating into western Philosophical and Scientific circles including inter-, cross-, trans- disciplinary levels, for example, visit and participate in events of RWTH’s Institute of Industrial Engineering, Center for Construction Robotics, The RWTH Chair Individual and Technology, other labs. I plan to concentrate on such problematic plots as: agency-based philosophy of (advanced) technologies and ongoing technological transformations towards advanced technologies; varieties of types, levels, scales of machinic actions and human-robot interactions; machine learning methods and adaptive robots; problematic machinic actions and ethical regulations for trustworthy adaptive robotics; changing of the conceptual angle of view from technology descriptions to philosophy of action and agency; aligning man-machine interactivity.
From the personal side, the fellowship gives me possibility to continue to save my (now almost 3-years old daughter) from the awful war taking place in Ukraine. I enormously appreciate understanding, support, help from colleagues, staff and people in Aachen.

Svitlana Shcherbak will work on her research project entitled “Modernization Theory: Between Science and Politics. Case of Russia”:

Svitlana Shcherbak, photo by Jana Hambitzer

The Conception of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, adopted in March 2023, for the first time defines Russia as a “civilization-state”. Russia is seen there as a conservative and technologically oriented sovereign state opposed to the “West”. Russia’s official ideology combines a conservative political agenda with the idea of technological modernization. It is a paradigm shift that has not come out of nowhere. This two-year research project investigates the academic (i.e., social science) and political discourse gradually introducing this shift in the post-Soviet space in relation to Western modernization theory. It examines the main shifts in the meaning of the “core concepts” of modernization theory, such as “democracy”, “development”, “freedom”, etc., in the Russian cultural and political context since 1990, compared to their original formulation in the Western social science, and how social theory has become an important ideological concept in Russian politics. To achieve this goal, the research is based on a qualitative discourse analysis. The theory of modernization was chosen because it is a grand theory that offers a broad vision of history and social development and is an important part of the social imagination. Modernization theory reflects not only the deep assumptions of the societies in which it emerges, but also those of the recipient societies. The case of Russia is particularly interesting, because the concept of modernization retains a central place in Russian political discourse, even though the basic assumptions of modernization theory contradict Russia’s self-description.

Objects of Research

Being in the third year of our Fellowship Program, c:o/re is accumulating a remarkable variety of perspectives revolving around its main focus, research on research.

Questions tackled in this lively research environment are highly interesting and exciting and, as such, complex. The meeting of distinct research cultures may stir curiosity but may also leave one wondering what is the other even talking about… What are they studying?

To offer an insightful glimpse into the lively dialogues here, bridging and reflecting on diverse academic cultures, we are launching the blog series “Objects of Research”.

We asked current and alumni c:o/re fellows and academic team to show us an object that is most important for their research in order to understand how they think about their work.

We anticipate that a first insight into a researcher’s academic culture stems already from seeing what does the word object mean for them.

We will publish the answers to their questions every Friday here and on Instagram.
We wish you exciting insights!

Get to know our fellows: Marcus B. Carrier

Get to know our current fellows and gain an impression of their research.
In a new series of short videos, we asked them to introduce themselves, talk about their work at c:o/re, the impact of their research on society and give book recommendations.

You can now watch the first video of the history of science Marcus B. Carrier here:

Robot, a Laboratory “Animal”: Andrei Korbut on how robots produce knowledge in laboratories

On November 8, Dr. Andrei Korbut warned that he will disappoint philosophers, sociologists and roboticists in what he delivered as the second lecture of the c:o/re Lifelikeness series. He disappointed to disappoint any of these. The Lifelikeness c:o/re lecture series addresses a public even broader and more diverse than previous c:o/re lectures, as it now also engages postgraduate students coming from a vast array of disciplines through the Projekt Leonardo.

‘Animacy’ vs. ‘Lifelikeness’: Dr. Korbut discusses Voss (2021). Photographer: Jana Hambitzer

Dr Korbut discussed Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) from a perspective enabled by construing robots as laboratory “animals”. He invited the audience to reflect on this view by watching a famous 2016 video produced by Boston Dynamics which shows a researcher (physically) obstructing a robot to complete its task to pick up an object. Dr. Korbut asked the audience what do they feel when watching this scene, whether they feel sorry for the robot and whether the human is bullying? He explained that the feeling the humans might feel when watching such a scene is purposefully employed in laboratory studies on HRI. This led Dr. Korbut to note that HRI is one of the fastest growing and most dynamic subfields in robotics currently, raising salient questions in fields like communication studies, psychology and design. Particularly given the multidisciplinary branching that it implies, it is important to note that robotics is not exclusively academic. HRI has a strong commercial stake.

Robot Pepper, a semi-humanoid robot manufactured by SoftBank Robotics to identify emotions. Source and copyright: Wikimedia Commons, CC.

Dr. Korbut explicated the conceptual framework to study robots as contemporary laboratory “animals” as inspired by various notions of types of lifelikeness that can be ascribed to humanoid robots. He argued that robots allow for a closer connection between tools and objects in knowledge production than other types of laboratory “living instruments” because robots are not perceived as “natural objects”. In this line of inquiry, Dr. Korbut’s c:o/re fellowship project focuses on the robot Pepper, designed by SoftBank Robotics. Pepper is a 1.2-meter-tall mobile humanoid robot with 20 degrees of freedom and 20 sensors, microphones and actuators. It can process and synthesize speech in natural language, and it is commercially promoted as capable to recognize basic human emotions. Its appearance is deliberately “cute” and genderless because it is designed to be interacting with by humans in offices, cultural institutions, homes and medical settings. It is currently one of the most popular machines in robotics laboratories globally.

As such, Dr. Korbut is now exploring Pepper’s “academic career”, from manufacturer to publication, where the robotics lab is the crucial passage point. In this inquiry and by pondering on the knowledge that Pepper produces, Dr. Korbut is bringing together but also transcending the disciplinary limitations of laboratory studies in general, robotics laboratories studies, and laboratory animal studies. In laboratory sciences, Dr. Korbut takes Karin Knorr-Cetina‘s notion of epistemic cultures as a guiding optics, where “Laboratory sciences subject natural conditions to a “social overhaul” and derive epistemic effects from the new situation” (Knorr-Cetina 1999, p. 28). Further, he draws an insight from, but also argues for expanding Andreas Bischof’s view that when roboticists “laboratize“, they reduce “the complexity and contingency of social situations” (Bischof 2017: 225, 229). This leads him to observe the importance of Voss’ apparently paradoxical remark that “the practice of representing the robot as both an inanimate object and an animate being is an integral and constructive aspect of roboticists’ work”. At this point, Dr. Korbut remarks the relevance of the term lifelikeness. Particularly, via this term, the discussion is construed in terms of the simultaneous attributing and avoiding the attribution of lifelikeness to machines.

Dr. Korbut advocates employing the term lifelikeness, rather than animacy (in Voss 2021), in this debate because it enables drawing parallels between robotics studies and laboratory animal studies. While lifelikeness may mislead, because it suggests that roboticists may impute “life” to their machines, it opens up the some mitigating possiblities by indicating that “life”, in this discourse, is defined pragmatically, in the context of “laboratory life”, as referring to a property of the object used in the laboratory to produce knowledge. As such, robots are closer to laboratory animals, such as mice and Drosophila than to the wooden idols of animistic practices described by cultural anthropologists.

Dr. Korbut argues for a theory that construes robots as “animals” of very specific kind. Because they are detached from the laboratory environment much more than animals like mice or Drosophila, roboticists can secure a tighter link between tool and object. This link, Dr. Korbut argues, is based on roboticists’ ability to procure and exploit three types of lifelikeness that can be attributed to the robots, all which come down to considering the body as moving, interacting and manipulating.

In this light, Dr. Korbut considers that humans empathise with robots not because we identify with them but because of the particular configuration of robots’ hull – their programming, movements, and the material environment – corresponds to a recognizable type of lifelikeness. In brief, in the laboratory, robots hinder their being perceived as “natural objects”.


Bischof, A. 2017. Sozial Maschinen bauen: Epistemische Praktiken der Sozialrobotik. Transcript.

Knorr-Cetina, K. 1999. Epistemic cultures: How the sciences make knowledge. Harvard University Press.

Voss, L. 2021. More than machines? The Attribution of (In)Animacy to Robot Technology. Transcript.

Dr. Andrei Korbut discusses a 2016 video produced by Boston Dynmanics. Photographer: Jana Hambitzer

Toxic Material(itie)s: Eco-Material Entanglements in Art

Workshop at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research (c:o/re)

6 – 7 December 2023

Organized by

Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research (c:o/re) &

Christian Berger (Universität Siegen), Ruby de Vos (University of Groningen),
Kyveli Mavrokordopoulou (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Our workshop sets out from the obvious, yet underexplored assumption, that much of the very stuff that art is made of is toxic. Whether working in the studio, in the dark room, in the quarry, or at contaminated sites, artists have been, and continue to be, exposed to a wide range of toxic materials. But exposure always goes hand in hand with its inevitable corollary, pollution—from the dumped toxic waste generated by the production of photographic materials to the air and water pollution generated by marble extraction. The toxicity of artistic materials extends far beyond the hazards of the artist’s job—they are part of larger environmental issues. So what can we learn when we explore artworks through the lens of their materiality within an expanded frame that is attentive to their art historical as well as environmental and sociopolitical context?

See the full program here.

To attend, please register with events@khk.rwth-aachen.de

Call for Applications 2024/2025

We are excited to announce that the call for applications for fellowships at c:o/re in 2024/2025 is now open.

The Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research (c:o/re) is offering ten fellowships to junior and senior researchers from the humanities, social sciences or STS as well as from natural, life and technical sciences for the academic year 2024/2025.

The fellowships can start between June and October 2024.

You can find all information about the current call for applications on our website here.

Applications must be submitted via our online application platform. The deadline for applications is December 31, 2023.

If you have questions regarding the application process, please have a look at the FAQs on our website or write us an email at info@khk.rwth-aachen.de.

c:o/re meets “Leonardo”

We are excited that the Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of research (c:o/re) is participating in the “Leonardo” project at RWTH Aachen University this winter semester.

Urania statue in the c:o/re building, photo by Phillip Roth.

Together with some of our fellows, c:o/re is offering the course “Engineering Life. Imaginaries of Lifelikeness”, which will explore the topic of “Lifelikeness” from different disciplinary perspectives, such as the life and technical sciences, the humanities, art history and science journalism.

The “Leonardo” lectures are open to all RWTH students, regardless of which discipline they study and therefore share the same goal as c:o/re in promoting lecturers and students to use their subject-specific knowledge in a broader context to investigate the challenges within society and science.

You can read more about the “Leonardo” project on their website.