Biosemiotic Erasmus adventures

CHIARA SCHUMANN AND JULE JANßEN

Jule Janßen, Chiara Schumann and Alin Olteanu (left to right) at Palacký University Olomouc. Photo: Oscar Miyamoto

As the first RWTH Aachen University students benefitting from the new Erasmus Blended Intensive Program (BIP) funding scheme, we wrote this text to convey our personal experiences to academics and university managers but especially to other students, who might be thinking of using Erasmus BIP.

We used this type of funding to participate to the 22nd Gathering in Biosemiotics, in the Czech Republic. We very much enjoyed attending this conference, organized by the International Society for Biosemiotics. Not only did this open new professional horizons for us, but it was also a very fun experience. Attending this event by using Erasmus funds was made possible by Dr. Ľudmila Lacková and her team, who arranged such a funding program at this conference, which was hosted at Palacky University Olomouc from June 25th to July 1st, 2022. We would like to thank Dr. Alin Olteanu, who facilitated our participation to the conference from the RWTH Aachen end. We met Alin through a BA introductory seminar to semiotics that he teaches, part of an interdisciplinary module at our faculty. Through this seminar, we became fascinated with semiotics.

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Chiara Schumann & Jule Janßen

Chiara Schumann and Jule Janßen are both B.A. students in Linguistics and Literary Sciences at RWTH Aachen University.

Chiara Schumann is interested in the interdisciplinary fields Bio- and Zoosemiotics as well as Neuro- and Psycholinguistics. In her B.A. work, she considers animal behaviour data in light of concepts from cognitive linguistics and Charles S. Peirce’s semiotics. In this way, she aims to contribute to the state-of-the-art in animal cognition.

Jule Janßen is interested in semiotic approaches to notions of linguistics, among which, primarily, mental lexicon and language evolution. She aims to explore grounding these concepts in ontological discussions on the relation between mind and body. Given her interest in semiotics, she intends to work further on the interface between linguistics, cognitive science and semiotics. She hopes to contribute to the interdisciplinary study of language development.

The 22nd International Gathering in Biosemiotics (2022) comprised 65 talks, by renowned researchers in the field, some excavating in detail, others orbiting or framing the discipline’s colorful spectrum with multidisciplinary questions on the study of living systems. Hosted by Palacký University Olomouc in Czechia, the conference program was excellently organized by the Department of General Linguistics – Ľudmila Lacková, Claudio J. Rodríguez Higuera, Tyler J. Bennet and their colleagues. The entire conference was live-streamed on YouTube. It is accessible on the channel “Biosemiotics Palacký University in Olomouc”.

Biosemiotics bridges natural sciences and humanities by approaching classical issues of biology (for example, DNA replication or various modes of intra- and interspecific animal communication) from a reflective point of view, in the interrogation of sign exchanges within and between organisms. Expanding the investigations of pioneers like Thomas A. Sebeok, Jesper Hoffmeyer and John Deely, the semiotic study of biological organisms generally draws on basic questions like: How do cells of flora and fauna create meaning? What stimuli are engaged in species specific perception? How does biosemiosis contribute to the understanding of human and non-human cognition and what should the study of life encompass, theoretically and practically?

The Gathering started with two pre-conference workshops that particularly addressed students and early career researchers. Prof. Dr. Elize Bisanz, who holds the Charles Sanders Peirce Interdisciplinary Chair at Texas Tech University hosted the workshop “The Future of the Humachine”, with a digital humanities focus. This covered topics such as the impact of AI and digitalization both on the biopshere as well as on cultures and societies. Discussions led to questions on whether we can implement in machines an ability to experience meaning, in a Peircean semiotic construal. To shed light on the diversity and variation of sign systems in the human world, graduate and undergraduate students were asked to present an artistic object of their choice analyse their subjective experience of it within the semiotic notion of meaning as triadic relation of ‘representamen’, ‘object’ and ‘interpretant’. As BA students, we were excited to speak in front of this impressive audience. Debates emerged based on our inputs and the feedback we received was kind and constructive.

Doc. RNDr. Anton Markoš and Dr. Jana Švorcová (Charles University in Prague) led the second workshop, “Life as a Semiotic Category”, which addressed the work and heritage of John Deely. This started with the consideration of ‘cellular closure’ and ‘mutual communication within cell ensembles’. Participants were led through a reflection on the remarkable fact that the minimal equipment of prokaryotes, say mouth, flagellum, organs, and a protective skin turned out so phylogenetically irreducible and effective that these characteristics still determine the appearance of higher animals and their immanent semiotic processes.

Honoured with the dreamlike location of a baroque chapel, the Gathering started on Monday with warm welcoming words by Donald Favareau and Kalevi Kull, veterans of biosemiotics. Claudio Rodríguez Higuera opened the first panel of talks, followed by other very important scholars in biosemiotics, Morten Tønnessen and Timo Maran. Thanks to the diverse educational backgrounds of the presenters, each day’s panels were filled with the most thought-provoking talks, from sign exchange on the level of the genetic code and cells over embodiment, endo- and exo-semiosis, Uexküll’s notion of Umwelt and Peirce’s sign theory and up to metaphysical approaches to the universe and God concepts. While the speakers of the first day provided general, though highly inspiring and sophisticated overviews of topics like ‘zoosemiotics’, ‘organism intersubjectivity’, ‘iconicity’ and ‘cognitive metaphoric approach to the genetic code’, on the next days presentations zoomed in on more specific and detailed issues.

Here, we briefly overview a few among the many intriguing talks. To begin with, we highlight Josh Bacigalupi’s presentation of his heuristic model of semiogenesis, inspired from Gilbert Simondon’s theory of individuation. This aims to offer a better and updated theoretical support for Peirce’s notion of sign as triadic. Coming from an interdisciplinary background of environmental sciences, chemistry and architecture, his approach is located at the interface between design and the maintenance of vitality in life systems. We found it an inspiring and creative approach.

Anton Markoš and Jana Švorcová discussed symbiogenetic dependency across species, in a talk titled “we, the cyborg”. Their argument starts from a criticism of one-way construals of relationships in the biosphere: species are interdependent as they are suppliers in some relationships and receivers in others. With reference to the notion of a cyborg, they lay focus on a collaborative rather than a competitive model and thus draw attention on collaboration as a principle that is essential not only for evolution, but also, more specifically, for scientific work.

Dr. Jamin Pelkey held a captivating talk on “analogy in evolution: a Peircean biosemiotic perspective”. More than convincing, the talk offered an inspiring and original language view on development. Jamin Pelkey showcased the language development of his own daughter, with examples of her linguistic expressions. By showing how his daughter went from calling her long green building block a ‘/kini/’ based on the similarity to a zucchini to naming her red and blue blocks ‘red’ and ‘blue’ ‘/kinis/’, but not her yellow block (named ‘/nænə/’ for banana), he demonstrated the importance of iconicity and analogy, automation and diagrammatization in language evolution.

We also highly appreciated the presentation of Yogi Hendlin and Matthew Slayton and of Martin Švantner. These presentations on “the musical turn in biosemiotics – an expressivist model of communication” and, respectively, “missing simple musicalities: the incomplete nature of music”, innovatively drew on (zoo)musicological studies to discuss communication, broadly. The co-development and particularly shared interpretable quality of music and language in the biosphere led Hendlin and Slayton to uncover musical qualities in some iconic and aesthetic aspects of meaning-making in general. Švantner explored the consequences of imputing music with expressions of a “simple language”.

Chiara Schumann delivers her talk at the 22nd Gathering in Biosemiotics. Photo: Oscar Miyamoto

As we see it, most talks revolved either around the topic of endosemiosis (semiosis taking place within living beings, i.e. message exchange among cellular organelles, cells, tissues, organs and organ systems) or around ethical and philosophical meta-discussions about general semiotic theories and frameworks. On the fourth day of the Gathering, Alin and Chiara presented their papers on “Umwelt as Embodied Mediatization: a Biosemiotic Approach to Technology” and, respectively, “Image Schemas and Behavioral Deception in American Eastern Grey Squirrels – a Zoosemiotic Approach”. Chiara feels that presenting her work in this setting was a very enriching learning experience. As a study using theories both from semiotics and cognitive linguistics to investigate the rodent’s intraspecific intentional deceptive communication, retrospectively, Chiara thinks of her presentation as part of the few ones that focused on exosemiosis and practical, illustrative applications of the Umwelt-principle, the ‘pluralistic approach’ and, implicitly, non-human intersubjectivity. Hopefully, this contributes to sedimenting a non-anthropocentic perspective on non-human animals’ subjective and embodied construction of environments, which uniquely correspond to bodily- and cognitive apparata. From this perspective, it is misleading to deem some types of perception as qualitatively superior to others. Image schemas and the correlation of object, representamen and interpretant, as defined by Peirce, were used to describe the wild squirrels’ deceptive behavior in a systematic manner. Addressing heteroperception, theory of mind, metasemiosis and possible worlds led to various interesting questions and suggestions from the audience. By receiving positive feedback and constructive criticism, Chiara was enabled to reflect upon her future work. We both learned from well-established scholars, who were always eager to help and discuss any issues we raised. Speaking in front of the great minds of this discipline is a worthwhile challenge. This Erasmus experience will surely stay with us, further guiding our personal and professional development. Not only did this trip determine Chiara to write a BA thesis within the field of biosemiotics, but it also encouraged us both to think beyond our study program, broadening the horizon of feasible possibilities for us in the academic environment.

Coffee and lunch breaks in-between talks were most enjoyable, allowing for networking and pursuing conversations on specific interests. The conference had a rich social program, involving visiting the nearby Bouzov Castle, a soirée in the university’s gardens and a celebration of the 70th anniversary of biosemiotics professor Kalevi Kull. On top of the interesting academic program, such social events made this Erasmus experience surpass our expectations.

In the friendly atmosphere of the conference, together with other participants, we tried several local restaurants and pubs. We learned that academic conferences have two inseparable parts: listening to hours of academic presentations is made easy and even more interesting by personally getting to know and spending time with the scholars themselves. Meeting the persons behind the literature we studied was a delightful experience. Everyone was respectful, friendly, open-minded, fun and, unlike how students might perceive senior academics at times, down-to-earth. Casually chatting with your favourite scholars about their presentations, their latest research, their points of view on animal ethics or even personal interests seemed hardly possible until attending this conference. We highly enjoyed all of these dialogues. Group talks went from sophisticated discussions about semiotics to everyday matters. Beside other wonderful talks, we had the pleasure to learn from great minds like Timo Maran. Chiara sat two times for a whole hour, next to a beer, talking with Timo Maran about research interests, future plans and even their pets.

From professors to PhD scholars, many scholars kindly offered to help us with literature and subject-specific questions. Having been encouraged to develop and submit her paper to the journal Biosemiotics and being asked to collaborate, Chiara had the confirmation that she found an important topic to focus on. This reassured her desire to further engage with bio- and especially zoo-semiotic research. It was nice to see how a large number of young participants was welcomed at this Gathering. Becoming  part of this community is a beautiful experience. While in class it is difficult to find like-minded colleagues, with whom to debate specific arguments, at a conference all attendees are passionate about the topic. Kalevi Kull emphasized the importance to overcome bad competition in science and advised: “[W]hen we think about what academic life is, what its meaning is, I strongly think that we can formulate – and that will be the most right formulation of academic work – helping each other in understanding”. In him and in many other scholars we met at this conference, we find excellent examples to follow, showing us that academic development needs practicing care and affection. We hope that we will be able to apply and give back what we learned at the Gathering.

Group of participants at the 22nd Gathering in Biosemiotics, Palacký University Olomouc. Photo: Oscar Miyamoto


proposed citation: Schumann, Chiara and Jule Janßen (2022). Biosemiotic Erasmus Adventures. https://khk.rwth-aachen.de/2022/07/25/4290/4290

The Notebook pt. 2: “I liked the idea of carrying my research in just one bag”

Academic writing is a basic practice that does not start in writing up one’s research results for publishing. Right from the start of an idea for a research project, researchers are noting down things: thoughts, questions, observations, ideas. Let’s have a look at the often neglected but very central object that inhabits these very first materializations of research ideas: the notebook. How does the notebook of a researcher look like? How do practices of note taking change in the digital age? I asked some of the fellows at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research (c:o/re) about their habits of note taking.

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Markus Pantsar

Markus Pantsar is a philosopher of mathematics and artificial intelligence at the University of Helsinki, Finland. As a senior grant researcher, he worked on the epistemology of mathematics and will continue to do so with a focus on arithmetic and geometrical cognition with a funding by the Finnish Cultural Foundation that starts in autumn 2022. In the meantime, Markus tackles questions of complexity, human cognition and intelligence with regard to the development of artificial intelligence, simulation and machine learning during his fellowship at c:o/re.

Stefanie Haupt: Markus, what is the most recent thing that you noted down in your notebook?

Markus Pantsar: [thinks for a short moment and checks his notebook] It was something I wrote down from last week’s workshop. I usually take notes only sparingly. They are mostly personal reminders of things that inspire me when listening to talks – for example names or books and papers.

Stefanie: Your notes are handwritten but on a digital devise, how does that work for you?

view of a page in Markus Pantsar's digital notebook
A page from Markus’ digital notebook

Markus: It works fine. I can either convert the pages to images or, and this is what I use mostly, the built-in AI transforms my handwriting to searchable type-written text. It just needs some editing afterwards. The software does not recognize, for example, names so easily. But otherwise, it works well for me.

Stefanie: And what happens after you convert the notes?

Markus: The software turns them into pdf-documents that I keep in different folders, for example, for conferences I attended. I also have a folder for my fellowship here in Aachen. Typically, I remember better where I heard interesting thoughts than when I heard them. Therefore, my folders follow a structure based on places rather than on pure chronology. I save everything in the cloud because I can see myself pouring coffee over my stuff [smiles].

Stefanie: I am looking at your desk right now and I see hardly any paper. When did you switch to the digital? Was it a conscious decision?

Markus: Yes, definitely. For me this is a very recent development. I bought this notebook in preparation for my fellowship in Aachen. I wanted something like this for a long time: a devise to write and to read digital papers and books on. Previously, I used to print articles and write into paper notebooks and they kept piling up in the bookshelf. But as a researcher you often have to move and switch places. I liked the idea of carrying my research in just one bag.

Markus Pantsar sitting at his desk reading in his notebook
Markus at his desk in Aachen

Stefanie: This is close to the ideal of the paperless office, which is also very ecological. Do you also see disadvantages compared to the analogue notebook?

Markus: Well, regarding the ecological factor you need to consider the production of such an electronic devise. Disadvantages – there aren’t many: The notebook won’t transform special symbols that the software does not recognize. For example, I use a kind of flash-symbol to mark points of disagreement with the arguments of others. Also, the notebook does not display colours, so whenever I read a paper and there is a coloured image, for example a graphic depiction of different activation areas in the brain, I am missing some of the information there. One disadvantage is also that for such a simple machine, it is still very expensive. It does not have internet access, aside from the cloud function for the files – but this is something I appreciate, actually: I can sit on the couch reading and not get distracted.

Stefanie: Did switching to digital change your practice of note taking somehow?

Markus: Now that we are talking about it, I would say: Yes, it did! Unlike with analogue notes, I have to go through the digital notes again to edit them after converting the text. This is necessary to find names and other keywords via the search function later. It has already become a kind of routine for me. And it also often prompts me to write down more about what I heard and inspires me to think deeper about it. I would say that now I am working more with my notes than before. But there is also a qualitative difference, in that my notes end up being more polished and easier to apply. I don’t think I will switch back to the analogue.

Stefanie: Thank you very much, Markus, for a short glimpse into your notebook!

The Notebook pt. 1: Taking Notes – “it’s a learned skill”

Producing, sharing, questioning, and contesting knowledge – in academia this is done mostly by writing and publishing papers. To make themselves heard in the academic world and to take part in scholarly debates, researchers have to write down their thoughts, ideas and suggestions to research problems and questions. Writing is an essential research practice. But rather than focussing on the finished product, the well composed text, edited, proof-read multiple times, peer reviewed, and published in a (most desirably high-impact) journal, let’s take a few steps back to the very beginning of a research project. What precedes even the “shitty first draft” of a written piece? I would like to look at the threshold where thoughts “materialize” and are written down for the first time. Let’s do this by shedding light on a particular object that is often overlooked when it comes to academic writing: the notebook. I interviewed some of the fellows at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research (c:o/re) about their note taking.

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Catharina Landström

Catharina is an Associate Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden. Prior to that, she was as senior researcher at the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford, England. Right from the start of her professional carrier, she has conducted a lot of field work, for example on water challenges such as flooding, draughts and water quality. At c:o/re she explores how environmental scientists present and convey results from- and tools of computer simulation modelling for decision making processes

Stefanie Haupt: Catharina, when I saw you with your notebook during the c:o/re Lunch Talks it really fascinated me how neatly you were taking notes. Your notebook has lined pages in an A4 format. Do you prefer a certain type of notebook?

Frontview of Catharina Landström's notebook
Catharina’s c:o/re notebook

Catharina Landström: I do take notes on any sort paper I can get hold of! Normally, I just use what I can find: binders that came as a kind of gift at conferences etc., or I use whatever I can find in the storage of the university. I prefer writing on lined paper. Squared paper does not really work for me. And blank paper – I get paralyzed when the page is empty! Papers with a column on the left side are quite nice for making comments. I like taking notes in wire bound notebooks. Then I can easily take out the page because, depending on the topics I am working on, I collect the pages on different piles. I also have different notebooks for different topics and tasks, for example for the different PhD projects that I supervise. The notebook you saw in the Lunch Talk is my c:o/re notebook.

An empty page of Catharina Landström's notebook

Stefanie: When did you start taking notes and in which situations do you use your notebook? You did a lot of field work. Did you also bring a notebook when you were out in the field?

Catharina: Right from the beginning of my studies I took notes. But the way I do changed much over the time: I remember in my PhD project while working in the field, I took so many notes, I sometimes could not make sense out of them afterwards. The field is a difficult place for taking notes. It is a really stressful work. Everything that happens “passes” through you. In the field you are the tool. And notes are more than notes. So, I tried to capture everything. Today, I take less notes but they are more precise. It is really a learned skill.

Stefanie: So, what is it that you note down?

Catharina: Thoughts. Thoughts of others, my own thoughts while listening to a talk for example. My notes help me to remember better. For example, I note down what I discuss with my PhD students. I also write down ideas for project proposals. By going through them, my notes help me to further develop ideas.

Stefanie: Did you develop a kind of private system? Like a colour code? And how do you further process your notes?

Catharina: A colour code would require having a fixed set of colour pens with me all the time – so, no. But when I listen to talks and note down what I hear, I distinguish the thoughts of others from my own by putting mine in squared brackets. Questions that arise come in round brackets. The notes I take are only for myself. I switch to the digital when I want to further develop ideas for myself or when I want to share them with somebody else.

Catharina Landström sitting at a table writing in her notebook
Catharina taking notes in the c:o/re lecture hall

Stefanie: Do you keep your notebooks?

Catharina: I keep them for a while. Everything is time limited, you know. Then comes the time when you can either store your notebooks in a box in the attic or throw them away. Once I suggested to a friend to throw away the notes she took during an interview project in the 90s. She was really irritated by this suggestion.

Stefanie: You told me that you were wondering at some point if you might also switch to the digital for note-taking, too.

Catharina: Oh, I did. Everybody brings their (laptop)notebook to academic discussions today. I tried that for a while, too. But I noticed that I never go back to look at digital notes again [Catharina laughs]. I don’t know what it is, maybe it is the paper, the feel, the way you can browse through the pages. It has a different quality somehow.

Stefanie: Thank you, Catharina, for your time!

Introduction to the concepts of Open Science, Responsible Research and Innovation and Anticipatory Governance

Workshop on Responsible Research and Innovation, Anticipatory Governance

RENÉ VON SCHOMBERG AND ANDONI IBARRA

Responsible Research and lnnovation (RRI) has become increasingly important since it was introduced as a cross cutting issue under the European Union (EU) Framework Programme for Research and Innovation “Horizon Europe” (2014-2020). Subsequently, it became an operational objective of the strategic plan for “Horizon Europe (2021-2027)”, the new EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. ln EU member states, there are also various initiatives supporting RRI, notably under schemes of national research councils (the United Kingdom, Norway, and the Netherlands, among others). The concept also resonated outside the EU, notably in the United States, and in China it became part of the national five-year plan for Science, Technology and Innovation.

However, there are a variety of approaches as for how it should be implemented. Scholars provide a variety of perspectives and assessments of what RRI need to address. However, all scholars generally share the notion that RRI requires a form of governance that will direct or re-direct innovation towards socially desirable outcomes. This initial definition that Von Schomberg provided in 2011 captures the commonalities of the field:

Responsible Research and Innovation is a transparent, interactive process by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other with a view to the (ethical) acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products (in order to allow a proper embedding of scientific and technological advances in our society).

This definition was not proposed as an end-result but as a starting point for an ever-growing field of research and innovation actions. The definition was put forward, first, to highlight that dominant public policies only negatively select science and technology-related options, notably by the management of their risks. According to the still dominant ideology, all innovation will contribute to common prosperity regardless of its nature. The notion of responsible research and innovation makes a radical break with such an ideology. Furthermore, this ideology tells us that innovations cannot be managed or be given a particular direction. Also on this front, the notion of responsible innovation breaks with this ideology and puts the power for a socially desirable change through innovations into the hands of stakeholders and engaged citizens. However, these stakeholders have to become, or be incentivized or even enforced to become, mutually responsive to each other in terms of social commitments to such change.

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René von Schomberg

René is Guest Professor at the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany. He was a European Union Fellow and Guest-Professor at George Mason University, USA, from 2007 to 2008 and has been with the European Commission from 1998 to January 2022. In his research project as a senior fellow at c:o/re, he focusses on the values of “openness” and “responsibility” in science policy.

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Andoni Ibarra

Andoni is Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). He is also the Principal Investigator of PRAXIS Research Group, the founder of the Miguel Sánchez-Mazas Chair. As a senior researcher at c:o/re, he is developing an anticipatory governance framework aimed at assessing and guiding the implementation of responsible anticipatory practices in research and innovation in the field of nanotechnologies.

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) imposes normative requirements on research and innovation processes resembling three successive steps of an incremental higher ambition with distinct features. The distinct features reflect the normative requirements of firstly, credible research (through among others ‘codes of conduct’ and standards for scientific integrity), secondly responsive research (by opening up science to societal demands), and finally responsible research (which includes the anticipation on socially desirable outcomes) for the research dimension. Equally distinct features reflect the requirements of credible innovation, responsive innovation, and responsible innovation (Von Schomberg, 2019).

For each of these steps, a framework for good practice is needed. The contributions to the workshopOpen Scholarship, Responsible Innovation and Anticipatory Governance” that took place on June 29-30, 2022, at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research, can be seen as attempts to contribute to these good practices for a single step or for multiple steps. First, the creation of knowledge in science underlies distinct universalizable codes for ‘good’ research conduct, enabling a global research practice that is virtually independent of cultural and national constraints. As the previous director of the US National Science Foundation Subra Suresh put it: ‘Good science anywhere is good for science everywhere’. The issue of ‘what is good science?’ can be seen as purely internal matter of the scientific community. Indeed, it has always been scholarly societies or academies of science who have tackled this issue of credible research, which arguably also constitutes the most basic requirement of RRI.

However, we should not forget these scholarly societies and other scientific institutions only engaged with the internal issue of good scientific conduct and scientific integrity because of external societal pressure and clear ethical challenges. That this is an issue which is far from settled.

Yet, Responsible Research and Innovation with within its dimension of ‘open scholarship’ has put additional pressure on revising or extending the normative requirements of this first step for RRI governance, namely credible research and thereby calling for revision of existing codes of conduct for good science particular with a view on achieving credible, reproduceable and re-usable data, all necessary to enhance science as such.

Open research and scholarship can be defined as ‘sharing knowledge and data as early as possible with all relevant knowledge actors‘ (Von Schomberg, 2019). Open research and scholarship (in  the research policy-making context often simply referred to as ‘open science’) is operationalised by researchers who use, re-use and produce open research outputs such publications, software and data and who engage in open collaboration with other scientists, as well as seek, whenever appropriate for the subject matter of study, open collaboration with knowledge actors external to science such as industrial organisations, civil society organisations or public authorities.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have witnessed a change in the modus operandi of doing science as public authorities started to incentivize open science globally. This made it possible to deliver swiftly on vaccines. Without open science, the market introduction of these vaccines would have taken, under the usual circumstances of competitive and too closed forms of science, minimally a decade.

The research value ‘openness’ can be seen as a constitutional value for the scientific community as such. Open scientific discourse, the exchange of ideas and competing approaches is fundamental for the progress of modern science. ‘Openness’ is presupposed by the Mertonian norm ‘Communism’ (common ownership of scientific discoveries) and thus part of the ethos of science (Merton, 1942). However, the meaning of ‘openness’ is manifold and is dependent on the scientific discipline or the scientific mission in which it is embedded. With the emergence of Open Science, equally ethical issues concerning the limits to ‘openness’ in particular contexts become evident, such as the employment of sensitive data in security or biomedical fields.

Open research and scholarship manifest itself notably in the case of interdisciplinary scientific cooperation with a view on developing a socially desirable output as the case of Covid-19 demonstrated. Open research and scholarship have been incentivized with a view of making science more efficient (better sharing of resources), more reliable (better verification of research data) and making it more productive with a view on a socially desirable output (in this case a vaccine). Research virtues or norms have been phrased historically as a subset of general human virtues. From the Mertonian CUDOS norms (Merton,1942) to the codified principles of research integrity incorporated in the All European Academies’ European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, norms or principles have been described as a fundament of a ‘good’ research practice. The ‘responsibility’ of the scientific community is then often described as an overarching duty to promote, manage, and monitor a research culture that is based on the scientific integrity of its members (ALLEA, 2017). Furthermore, research integrity does include a particular form of responsibility, namely the accountability for the whole internal process of science from idea to publication. The ‘implementation’ of scientific integrity is managed by self-regulation of the scientific community.

Roundtable Discussion in the Workshop

Traditionally the scientific community has stopped short of taking any form of responsibility for consequences and side-consequences of the societal use of scientific insights and technologies and its unpredictable societal impacts. The responsibility for those consequences has been ‘allocated’ to the political system. This division of responsibilities has become subject of intense debate, virtually since the whole period after Word War II. Intense debate on the risks of emerging technologies have led to the adoption of national laws and European directives on the risks, the quality and efficacy of products arising from the use of new technologies. Western societies have gained the capacity to indirectly govern emerging technologies, notably through its risk management and to outlaw specific undesirable outcomes, such as cloning human beings. Our institutions have thus governance structures in place to manage the risks of technologies such as nuclear technology, genetic or nanoengineering. However, we do not have established capacities to anticipate or direct science and innovation towards socially desirable outcomes such as vaccines or outcomes that underpin or make the transition towards sustainability possible. Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) has emerged as response to this deficit in the governance of science and technology. RRI requires a form of governance that will either direct science towards socially desirable outcomes or manage innovation processes in such a way that those socially desirable outcomes are more likely to emerge (Von Schomberg 2019).

It is therefore desirable to develop further a governance framework which institutionalizes the organization of co-responsibility across the spheres of science, policy and society on a subject matter which require open science missions such as Covid-19. The institutionalization of co-responsibility requires a governance which goes beyond self-regulating mechanisms within science itself. There is a ‘responsibility’ for ‘organizing co-responsibility,’ shared by scientific, policy and societal actors. The institutionalization of this responsibility will have consequences for the way science is funded and organized, for example through policy and financial incentives to embark on socially relevant open research missions. For example, by means of co-creation and co-design of research agendas with scientific, policy and societal actors which are currently foreseen in the “Horizon Europe (2021-2027)” program. An important aspect is the governance of the research missions themselves. When open research missions are conducted to achieve a socially desirable objective, its governance and organization will significantly have to differ from research missions with a primary technological objective (for example: ‘putting a man on the moon’). In fact, the ultimate step to complete RRI with anticipatory governance is inherent for this type of mission-oriented research.

The governance of research of innovation based on a Framework of RRI thus requires credible research, open and responsive research and responsible research that anticipates socially desirable outcomes. This anticipation also presupposes that such research and innovation is inevitably value-driven as those values mark the desirability or undesirability of research and innovation outcomes.

The desirability of open scholarship is often motivated by the wish to achieve better scientific practices. However, RRI is more ambitious and represents an effort to drive research and innovation towards socially desirable outcomes. We, therefore, must address the question how we can define these outcomes, for example by the way we anticipate them. The employment of foresight is one of the few tools we have at our disposal, and possibly the most robust one. Broadly speaking, anticipation can be defined as an activity characterized by the use of the future (or futures) to guide and orient decision making in the present. Anticipation must therefore be distinguished from forecasting.

The question of socio-technical futures is critical in this context because the ways in which scientific and technological practices are articulated derive from the anticipatory capacity, that is to say, from the capacity to promote certain research and innovation trajectories in the present on the basis of visions and expectations regarding future promises. Therefore, anticipatory responsibility goes beyond the traditional tendency to approach responsibility as a mere regulatory exercise; an exercise in which the socio-economic justification of scientific or technological innovations is not problematized, on the basis of future promises linked to them. This activity of futures building opens the door to publics. Anticipatory governance is an instrument for the engagement of publics in the exercise of opening science and innovation that should contribute to a more robust articulation of the relations between societal actors.

Anticipatory innovation processes are understood as open and deliberative processes, in which the values, motivations and expected benefits of innovations appear to be subject to public scrutiny. As such, the understanding of those anticipatory innovation processes emphasizes the need to critically and openly analyze the ways in which socio-economic and environmental challenges and their potential solutions are established. This implies recognizing anticipation as a fundamental component of responsible governance;  a component that enables the construction of “socio-technical futures” as a guide for decision-making in the present. It is fundamental because anticipation becomes the component that modulates the degree of responsibility of responsible open scientific-technological practices. However, despite its central relevance, the meanings of anticipation and anticipatory governance are divers, often disparate, if not contradictory, as Mario Pansera showed in his presentation.

Mario Pansera giving a talk about Interpretive multiplicity in Anticipatory Governance

In this context of plurality of meanings, the risks of the very concept of anticipatory governance for the achievement of more responsible science and innovation should not be forgotten, as Alfred Nordman and others have shown. Not only because some anticipatory governance understandings close down the field of possible alternatives and courses of action. (We can call them closed anticipatory governance patterns.) The risks arise above all, however, because anticipatory governance is permanently connected to the risk of instrumentalisation by an innovation system highly committed to techno-industrial developmentalism and economic competitiveness. Therefore, its contribution to responsible science and innovation and its transformative potential should not be taken for granted. Attention needs to be paid to the way in which power relations and instrumentalisation dynamics characteristic of innovation systems tend to exclude, or to close down, the emergence of alternative ways of approaching scientific-technical co-creation. That’s why, among other things, the transformative potential of anticipation towards more responsible forms of scientific practice has to remain analyzed and explored.

Reference

All European Academies (2017), The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity:              https://allea.org/code-of-conduct/

Burgelman J-C, Pascu C, Szkuta K, Von Schomberg R, Karalopoulos A, Repanas K and Schouppe M (2019), Open Science, Open Data, and Open Scholarship: European Policies to Make Science Fit for the Twenty-First Century. Front. Big Data 2:43.

Merton, Robert K. 1979 [1942]. “The Normative Structure of Science.” In The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Von Schomberg, R (2019), Why responsible innovation in: R. Von Schomberg and J. Hankins (eds) International Handbook on Responsible Innovation: A Global Resource. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 12–32.

Rene runs a blog with free downloadable resources on RRI: https://Renevonschomberg.wordpress.com


proposed citation: René von Schomberg and Andoni Ibarra (2022). Introduction to the concepts of Open Science, Responsible Research and Innovation and Anticipatory Governance. https://khk.rwth-aachen.de/2022/07/25/3892/3892/

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

PHILLIP H. ROTH

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.

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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/.

References

References
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.
3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_school_(sociology)
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.

Digital technology and gender discourse: Cut, paste, repeat…

Matreshka-Russian-doll

ZOE HURLEY

Kim Kardashian: reality television personality; social media influencer; author of “Selfish” (2015) (featuring 445 pages of selfies) rose to fame after her “leaked” sex tape in 2007 entered the public imagination. Kim is now arguably the most famous woman alive. A hyper-object: rendered, filtered, photoshopped and surgically enhanced for the social media age. In 2022, she wore a crystal-embellished gown, last worn by Marilyn Monroe six decades ago at the Met Gala. This dress was an apt costume for the gala’s theme of “gilded glamor”, which many have called “out of touch” (Yang, 2022). But in a social media war of eyeballs, Kim attracts attention as a replay of the feminine icon: a collage of contracted and inflated body parts.

The digital (re-)mediatization of gender, particularly womanhood, changes not only social representations of but also academic discourses on gender. This technological recontextualization presents both dangers and opportunities. An important opportunity that the digitalization of society brings is that by enabling a plurality of voices to participate to public discourses, it may challenge popular stereotypes. Something as important as gender becoming differently construed publicly also affects academic discourses.

Last year’s gala also spurred controversy, as the Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a white gown that said “Tax the Rich”. The dress sparked backlash across the political spectrum, with critics condemning the move as both hypocritical and performative (Villarreal, 2021). Ocasio-Cortez defended her actions on Instagram, via a caption stating: “The medium is the message” which is a phrase coined by Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan (1964). But this is one of the most misused phrases in media history. The repetition of gender – as a disabling discourse – endures throughout the centuries, no matter the medium. This brings us to the central question of this blog entry, and my research agenda more generally, confronting the issue of how digital technology may enable (or not) certain gender discourses?

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Zoe Hurley

Zoe Hurley is an assistant professor at Zayed University, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Originally from the United Kingdom, she earned her PhD from Lancaster University, United Kingdom. She has spent her adult professional life working in Malaysia, Brunei, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Zoe currently teaches undergraduate courses in social media and her research develops feminist theorising of the postdigital condition. She has published articles in leading academic journals including Feminist Media Studies; Social Media + Society; Information Communication & Society; Postdigital Science and Education; Visual Communication and New Media + Society, in addition to several chapters, commentaries and blogs.

These matters precede the digital age. British feminist and anti-establishment polemist, Mary Wollstonecraft (1792), argued that decorative femininity kept middle-class women imprisoned in a “gilt cage.” Marilyn Monroe’s disintegration into misery, prescription drugs and alcohol, indicate the confines of being a celluloid star. In Toni Morrison’s (1987) novel Beloved, it is the monstrous baby-woman ghost – a symbol of racist-misogynist suffering – who restricts the protagonist within hideous memories of her days in slavery. Each of these media convey that when women are objects, they are a pawn in the tussles of power. Muslim women have also been constrained by debates in the west, concerning whether they should wear a veil. However, just as the shayla (head scarf) and niqab (face covering) are versatile but misunderstood garments of identity, women’s uses of digital media are fraught with an ambivalence that underscores the discourses of gender. Girls everywhere continue to be chastised for wearing too little; covering up; being overweight; too skinny; loud or quiet; not enough and too much (Dworkin, 1974). No wonder they are suffering from a self-esteem crisis; body dysmorphia; depression and are more susceptible to the negative effects of social media (Campbell, 2019).

But the #metoo hashtag movement on Twitter, which was started by African American activist, Tarana Burke in 2006, called-out sexual assault and offered hope that social media would fight sexism (Hurley, 2019a). A decade later, in 2017, it raised awareness of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse cases. But with people spending more time online, the Covid-19 pandemic was an epidemic of internet porn; online sexual harassment; digital child abuse and domestic violence (Shearing, 2022). We have shifted to the mainstreaming of women selling nudes via subscription sites like OnlyFans (Garland, 2021). Meanwhile, people are turning away from feminism in its various forms (Gill, 2007).  

On YouTube, Somalian-Canadian stand-up comedian, Hoodo Hersi, tells hijab jokes and makes digs at intersectional feminism (Hersi -YouTube 2020). During her set, she claims not to identify as a feminist due to the fatigue of already “climbing the mountains” of black and Muslim identity. Moreover, she tells audiences, “There’s nothing interesting happening at the top of the female mountain…it is just a bunch of white women skiing!” (Hersi, 2020). This is a swipe at second wave feminism’s Caucasian privilege. White western feminists have become folk devils: others are trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFS). In popular culture, the “Debbie Downer” figure endures and has morphed into a racist, suburban “Karen.” The only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that the Kardashians are overrated. Yet, their popularity prevails, and the billion-dollar brand prospers.

The Kardashians remain nonchalant: “Whatever.”

However, unlicensed recruitment agencies have set up as marketplaces on Instagram and Facebook (both owned by Meta) to prey on women who can be hired as sex workers, domestic servants and trafficked into human slavery (Guetta, 2021). But we must overcome the binary of feminist discourse, which portrays women from the Global South as needing to be empowered by western technology, while reinforcing assumptions that they cannot engage in leisurely use of technologies within everyday contexts (Gajjala, 2014). Apps like TikTok, owned by the Chinese internet company ByteDance, provide affordances to dispense with images of female objectification (Hurley, 2019b; Hurley, 2022). Audio-dubbing features enable users to inhabit the bodies, genders, races and positionalities of the other – at the touch of a screen. This is not gender fishing or cultural appropriation but indicative of the fluid discourses of identity, class, race and sexuality. For instance, @miyhang40, originally from the Philippines and working in the Middle East with 31.9k followers on TikTok, wears a domestic worker’s uniform (overalls) and cleans the toilet with a plastic toilet brush. In her video, the brush then becomes a make-shift microphone as she lip-syncs and dances to an edgy reggae tune in mock defiance. In another skit, she uses a broom to play air-guitar with affected masculinity.  

These vignettes indicate how patriarchy presents varying actors with distinct ‘rules.’ Deniz Kandiyoti (1988, p. 275) refers to this as the “patriarchal bargain.” Digital affordances, for active or passive resistance in the face of oppression, differ according to the intersectional situation of the subject. But the routines of how digital technology may enable (or not) certain gender discourses – a bit like the Kardashians – plays on via an endless algorithmic loop of misogyny: cut, paste, repeat…cut, paste, repeat…cut, paste, repeat…Yet, despite gendered limitations of social media, some women are using it to bring down the fourth wall of fiction and speak directly with their audiences in varying pronouns, vernaculars and multimodalities (Hurley, 2021).

Collectively, these messages against popular misogyny might transcend the media.

References

Campbell, D. (2019). Depression in girls linked to higher use of social media. The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2022, from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/04/depression-in-girls-linked-to-higher-use-of-social-media

Dworkin, A. (1974). Woman hating. London: Penguin.

Gajjala, R. (2014). Woman and other women: Implicit binaries in cyberfeminisms. Communication And Critical/Cultural Studies, 11(3), 288-292. doi: 10.1080/14791420.2014.926241.

Garland, E. (2021). ‘Where else can I make a month’s rent in two days?’: the unlikely stars of OnlyFans. The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2022, from: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2021/jul/10/where-else-can-i-make-a-months-rent-in-two-days-the-unlikely-stars-of-onlyfans

Gill, R. (2007). Postfeminist media culture. European Journal Of Cultural Studies, 10(2), 147-166. doi: 10.1177/1367549407075898.

Guetta, J. (2021). Is Facebook about to become THE marketplace for human trafficking?. Retrieved 29 April 2022, from: https://blog.redcompasslabs.com/is-facebook-about-to-become-the-marketplace-for-human-trafficking

Hersi, H. (2020). Hoodo Hersi – The Reason she’s not a feminist. Retrieved 4 May 2022, from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLhy2FKv6jg

Hurley, Z. (2019a). Why I no longer believe social media is cool . . . Social Media + Society, 5(3). doi: 10.1177/2056305119849495.

Hurley, Z. (2019b). Imagined affordances of Instagram and the fantastical authenticity of Gulf-Arab social media influencers. Social Media + Society, 5 (1).

Hurley, Z. (2021). #reimagining Arab women’s social media empowerment and the postdigital condition. Social Media + Society, 7(2), 205630512110101. doi: 10.1177/20563051211010169.

Hurley, Z. (2022). Middle Eastern women influencers’ interdependent/independent subjectification on Tiktok: feminist postdigital transnational inquiry. Information, Communication &Amp; Society, 1-18. doi: 10.1080/1369118x.2022.2044500.

Kandiyoti, D. (1988). Bargaining with patriarchy. Gender & Society, 2(3), 274-290. doi: 10.1177/089124388002003004.

Kardashian, K. (2015). Selfish. Bloomington: Universe Publishing.

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media. Oxfordshire: Routledge.

Morrison, T. (1987). Beloved. London: Penguin.

Villarreal, A. (2021). ‘Medium is the message’: AOC defends ‘tax the rich’ dress worn to Met Gala. The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2022, from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/sep/14/aoc-defends-tax-the-rich-dress-met-gala

Wollstonecraft, M. (1792). A vindication of the rights of woman. Rutland, Vt.: J.M. Dent.

Yang, M. (2022). Met Gala organizers face criticism for ‘Gilded Glamor’ theme amid inflation. The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2022, from: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2022/may/02/met-gala-theme-gilded-glamor-criticism-inflation

Featured image: Russian doll, CC BY SA 2.0.


Proposed citation: Hurley, Zoe. 2022. Digital technology and gender discourse: Cut, paste, repeat… https://khk.rwth-aachen.de/2022/05/27/3308/3308/.

Getting the Measure of Humanity: or, Taking ‘Life is a Work of Art’ Literally

STEVE FULLER

What it means to be ‘human’ and whether the human must be the measure of all minds inevitably returns us to Kant. Kant himself was drawn to the concept of ‘judgement’, which he interpreted in terms of the then-emerging science of ‘aesthetics’. Aesthetics positioned the human as a being called to integrate diverse and often contradictory sensory inputs into a coherent whole in the name of ‘autonomy’, which is in turn exercised through judgement, which of course is also informed by reason. What modern philosophy calls ‘epistemology’ and ‘ethics’ reflects Kant’s view that human judgement forms two rather different but coexistent wholes as part of its ‘worldview’, another term from the aesthetic lexicon. The trajectory out of Kant to the German idealists, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche was largely about trying to achieve a higher, more synthetic aesthetic vision of the world, which typically involved what Nietzsche called a ‘transvaluation’ of the way we see the world from either a strictly epistemological or ethical standpoint.

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Steve Fuller

Senior Fellow at c:o/re (10/21-09/22)

Steve holds the Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick, England. This article is an opening statement for the 18-19 May workshop on ‘The Human Measure and the Measure of All Minds’.

Nietzsche’s somewhat ironic conclusion, already intimated in Kant, is that such a transvaluation would supplant the human with some other kind of being, which we nowadays might call ‘transhuman’ or ‘posthuman’. In effect, the sense of ‘judgement’ that defines the human for Nietzsche is not focused externally on the ultimate cosmic order but internally on the endless, perhaps even Sisyphean task of managing – if not reconciling – what we know and what we want. In this respect, Nietzsche continues to secularize Kant’s original theologically inspired vision of humans as fallen creatures.  From this standpoint, the act of passing judgement on another’s humanity – as in the Turing Test – poses a challenge. It is outward looking but it treats the larger world – or more precisely, a candidate alien being – as a canvas on which to project the human; yet the human remains itself a bundle of contradictions, not a template that can simply be imposed.

Illustration from Edouard Cuyer/ Dr. Fau: Anatomie Artistique du Corps Humain,  Paris: Baillière 1891.

Recent aesthetic theory offers an interesting angle on this dilemma. Nelson Goodman famously proposed that art may be divided into those works that can be forged (because they constitute a unique completed object) and those that cannot be forged (because they can be completed in many ways). He had in mind the distinction between a painting or sculpture, on the one hand, and a musical score or dramatic script, on the other. Against this intuition, Arthur Danto proposed imagining that two artists generate paintings that appear the same to the observer but one used Rembrandt’s method and the other Jackson Pollock’s. Goodman might claim that subtle differences between the two paintings could always be found, based on which one painting might be judged superior and the other perhaps a forgery. However, Danto argues that Goodman’s judgement would probably be based on suspecting that the two paintings had been produced at different times and by different means. For Danto, if you like one, you should like the other. If anything, knowing that they were produced differently should enhance not detract from your aesthetic experience. The Pollock might even be valued more, given the prior improbability of its result.

Danto’s point was designed to undermine the idea of forgery. For him, unlike Goodman, an aesthetic judgement involves treating not only the future but also the past of a candidate work ‘performatively’.  Just as we potentially learn something new about music or drama with each new performance, the same applies to our unlearning ideas about the ‘unique craftsmanship’ of a painting or sculpture upon realizing that it can be (and could have been) brought about differently. This sense of temporal symmetry dissolves Goodman’s original distinction. Of course, aesthetic judgement then gets more squarely placed on the shoulders of the judge – and in that sense, becomes more ‘subjective’. Indeed, Danto’s championing of Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box as art led many critics to claim that Danto dissolves the concept of art altogether.

Now applying Danto to Turing, does entertaining a comparably free — ‘morphologically free’, if you will — conception of the human undermine the very concept of humanity? Nietzsche believed that it might but remained agnostic about the consequences – and he was thinking only about how Homo sapiens might be transformed in the future. But why could we not also, á la Danto, discover ‘humans’ who never were Homo sapiens? Moreover, a practical question is attached to the idea of a morphologically free ‘human’. Is a more open conception of what passes as human sustainable in a world with finite resources in many different senses? Kant’s ideal of ‘cosmopolitanism’ suggested an indefinitely expanding circle of humanity, which he associated with collective self-improvement through sustained interaction with ‘alien’ others. Without denying the attractiveness of this ideal, its realizability remains an empirically open question, as non-stereotypically candidate ‘humans’ come forward for recognition.

Reference

Danto, A. (1974). ‘The Transfiguration of the Commonplace’. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 33(2): 139-148.

Featured Image: Le Penseur by Rodin, CC BY SA.


Proposed citation: Fuller, Steve. 2022. Getting the Measure of Humanity: Or, Taking ‘Life is a Work of Art’ Literally, https://khk.rwth-aachen.de/2022/05/10/3243/3243/

Drôles d’Objets: A New Art of Making

JOFFREY BECKER

Robots, autonomous artifacts, connected objects: how can we design and understand these strange objects that renew our interactions with others and the world around us? We are more and more often invited to enter into a relationship with robots or machines, whether for practical (therapeutic, professional, scientific) or playful purposes. This type of relationship is rapidly developing beyond simple functional use, automatic or mechanical action, towards a type of interaction that involves our effort to interpret the behavior of these objects. Why and how are we tempted to interact with unusual objects that ‘come to life’, move and evolve? The study of these objects interests a wide range of fields in science, art and design. I can mention, among others, robotics, AI, art and design, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, language sciences: each field develops its own notions, methods and tools, often in multidisciplinary contexts. What answers can the philosopher bring to the roboticist’s questions? How can psychology feed on the work of anthropology? Can artists contribute to the sociolinguistics of human-machine interactions?

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Joffrey Becker

Junior Fellow at c:o/re (10/2021-09/2022)

Joffrey is a Social Anthropologist and Research Associate of the the Laboratoire d‘Anthropologie Sociale at the Collège de France, Paris. He co-organized the conference “Drôles d’Objets” in autumn 2021.

Conference Poster “Drôles d’Objets”

In order to interface views in art, design and scientific practices on both these objects and the interactions they cause, the Psyphine research group joined forces with partners from the University of Lorraine, La Rochelle University and the Zero1 Festival for an interdisciplinary conference called “Drôles d’Objets” held during October 27th – 29th, 2021 in the harbour of La Rochelle.[1]The proceedings of the conference can be found here. In French, the adjective “drôle” covers a wide range of meanings and can be translated as amusing, entertaining, silly, creepy, surprising, funny, interesting, unusual, thought provoking, etc. The term refers to a complexity of issues which characterizes these curious objects as well as the various ways researchers, artists and designers address them.

The conference gathered more than 35 participants coming from various fields of research, such as computer sciences, robotics, art, design, psychology, management, philosophy, anthropology, linguistics. Organized around four main panels, the conference also devoted an afternoon to showcases, workshops and posters with Antoine Desjardin, Giancarlo Rizza, Dominique Deuff, Marion Voillot, Arnaud Blanchard, Romina Romay, Yann Boniface or Xavier Hinaut. The work of artists in residence Agustín Ramos Anzorena and Fabien Zocco (with his project Spider and I) were also presented during an evening session.

Presentation of Fabien Zocco’s project “Spider and I”. Photo: V. André.

Starting with a session dedicated to conception practices, the conference first addressed questions related to the methods, tools and know-how associated with the design of interactive objects. How do we design an interactive animated object? What are the parameters, characteristics and properties we can play with so that an animated object becomes a “partner”? What are the tools, knowledge and technologies that can be mobilized? The first panel, coordinated by Nicolas Rougier, offered inputs on the diversity of approaches regarding not only the design of objects but also the tools and the methods employed to address conceptualizing from various disciplines. The session featured contributions from Jeanne Lallement and Juliette Passebois on service robots in commercial types of interaction, Mariela Yeregui on her research and creation project “États d’alerte” (State of alert), which illustrates the otherness of machines as a potential threat, Ghiles Mostafaoui on natural and intuitive interaction design in robotics and computer science, and Sylvain Raynal on the autonomy of the subject in his relation to industrial machinism and freedom.

The conference also addressed questions on the observation and the interpretation of results. How can we design an experiment? How can we understand what is happening during an interaction with an animated object? What can we measure, evaluate, and observe? What do we learn from these experiences? How to interpret data from experiments with animated objects? Can we trust the testimony of the subjects? Coordinated by Valeria Giardino, this second panel gathered contributions from Guillaume Nassau, who asked whether a robot is perceived as an interactant or as an object for discussion, and Manuel Rebuschi, who explored questions associated to mental projections and animism using Kendall Walton’s theory of fiction.

La Course 12–4–90: INRIA researcher Xavier Hinaut presented his Ozobot based project during the workshop / demo / installations and posters session. Photo: V. André.

I had the pleasure to coordinate the third session, focused on health- and care-related issues. Robotics and computer sciences have entered this field in various ways. A number of projects are, for instance, concerned with the cohabitation of humans and robots. Some aim at replacing humans in work situations. Robots are also used as a new sort of mediation tool for caregivers. However, their therapeutic contribution remains difficult to establish. With contributions from Jean-Pierre Merlet on the conception and the experimentation of assistive robotic objects, Gloria Michiels on the ethnography of humanoid robots in care spaces, Olivier Duris and Charlotte Labossière on the use of robots regarding children suffering from autistic spectrum disorders, and Quentin Dumoulin on the role that fabrication laboratories could play in pedopsychiatry, the panel addressed questions raised by robots and artificial intelligent-based objects. Are they useful tools or rather gadgets? What is their role? Is their aesthetic appearance important? Do they replace the work of caregivers or are they rather a new tool in the therapeutic process?

Finally, the last session coordinated by Virgine André addressed experiences conducted on telepresence, interactive systems and virtual reality. Gathering researchers mainly working in the field of language and education sciences, the panel explored the effects of telepresence oriented technologies on social interaction. Maud Ciekanski and Virginie Privas-Breauté presented the results of a comparative study of immersive technologies for language learning. Jean-François Grassin showed how telepresence robots modify attention processes during a meeting. Joséphine Rémon, Christelle Combe and Amélie Bouquain, presented an experimentation on telepresence robots conducted within the project “présence numérique” (digital presence). Caroline Vincent, Christine Develotte, Mabrouka El Hachani and Justine Lascar addressed the methodology for studying interactions in mixed groups using telepresence robots.

The conference concluded with an intervention by anthropologist Denis Vidal and neuroscientist Frédéric Alexandre who aimed to put into perspective the work conducted during the week for a larger audience. The recording of their intervention, which is in French, can be viewed on the website of the University of Lorraine:

This interdisciplinary conference showed the necessity of crossing the viewpoints of different disciplines when it comes to the design of interactive robotic systems. It showed that despite the differences, only a transversal approach involving engineering sciences, humanities and social sciences, artists and users can address the major issues that these “drôles d’objets” pose to our societies.


proposed citation: Joffrey Becker. 2022. Drôles d’Objets: A New Art of Making. https://khk.rwth-aachen.de/2022/03/11/2415/2415/.

References

References
1The proceedings of the conference can be found here.

Steal this Blog Post!

ALEXANDRE HOCQUET

Together with ALIN OLTEANU, STEFANIE HAUPT

This text is a collage, licensed under a CC0 license. It was taken from another author, without mentioning or citing them. We changed the original, as this license allows doing so. The original arguments have been copied and pasted, passages have been deleted, their order has been changed and we added more text.[1]We have even let the originally French text run through an open source translation program. A new text emerged, which can suffer the same fate: you can steal this blog post.[2]The title is a reference to the 1970s counterculture textbook titled “Steal this book”. We are not the first to make use of this pun. See, for example, “Steal this review” by … Continue reading Indeed, this text is already a modified version of a first collage and a part of the ambition of this project is for the text to be reused and modified it several times. In this way, its possibilities to evolve increase!

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Alexandre Hocquet

Senior Fellow at c:o/re (10/2021-03/2022)

Alexandre is Professor of History of Science at the Université de Lorraine, France, and Member of the Laboratory Archives Henri-Poincaré. He has published extensively on the topic of open science. This blog post is in fact an updated shorter version of a book chapter, and it is at the same time an experiment. So, please go ahead: Steal this post!

One of our research topics is the complexity of what does it mean to be open in science and what does this imply. This complexity includes the constellation of phrasings that are using  “open” as a prefix  (open knowledge, open science, open acess, open data, open source…). We are particularly interested in scientific software. In this context, the licenses of scientific software have a meaning that is often misunderstood. Beyond software, the creative commons licenses applied to scientific texts within the open access framework involve changes in the notion of plagiarism or auctoriality, notions that are often misunderstood as well.

In science, “Open” is a fuzzy word, a “floating signifier” to borrow from Ernesto Laclau. It contains several visions of the world that can be different or even incompatible. An operational way of removing this ambiguity is to actively learn about and engage with user licenses, an operating mode linked to the world of software.

The concept of Open Science tends to gain momentum, gradually becoming the new reference paradigm for the dissemination of research results. In particular, it was pushed by the European Union as part of the “Horizon 2020” program. In April 2016, a solemn appeal was launched from Amsterdam to encourage member states to initiate actions for Open Science. Considering that it improves the quality, efficiency, and responsiveness of research, the European Commission kept Open Science as a policy priority and, supposedly, a standard method of working in its newer “Horizon Europe” program. If the definition of the Open Science concept is fluctuating and difficult to grasp, it is generally agreed that its potential goes beyond Open Access. Inspired by the same general philosophy, it is applied to other objects than scientific publications. Open science also concerns software used by researchers to conduct their research (open source), as well as the data on which they rely (open data), all of which are often associated with a discourse on reproducibility in science.

Open Access without open licenses is nonsense and a regression in regard to the original spirit that inspired the editors of the Budapest Initiative. Being free to read is only a small part of the possibilities that open licenses entail. The freedom offered by open licenses is only valid, however, if they are actually used. This is what we try to do modestly contribute to by writing this text. Creative  commons licenses applied to texts, or data, or even works in general are powerful tools that originate historically in the influence of the free software movement (and its sometimes antagonistic versions, i.e. the open source initiative). This comes down to a certain way of thinking about how to share. The free software movement, imagines “open” as a philosophy that allows individuals to be autonomous and adds an element of proselytism. It is a vision that strives to make the world compatible with its ideal. It corresponds (roughly speaking) to the CC-BY-SA license. Wikipedia is the most well-known project that operates under this licensing policy. For the open source movement, “open” is regarded as a business opportunity based on diffusion and collaboration, and it corresponds to CC-BY. It is agnostic towards further reuse being open or enclosed. The difference between these two visions of the world lies in a “share alike” clause that obliges the one who reuses to do so under the same license. This  “free software” version (whose heroic figure is Richard Stallman) of what is open is inspired by a certain idea of the science related to the communalism/communism described by Robert K. Merton,[3]Robert K. Merton. 1973 [1942]. The Normative Structure of Science. In idem (ed.): The Sociology of Science. Theoretical and Empirical Investigations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 267–278. and is also a political movement. The “open source” version (championed by Eric Raymond) is about pragmatism and business opportunities.

It is not a coincidence that the licensing of choice for open access publications is CC-BY. It is sometimes advised that open data are also released under a CC-BY or even CC0 licence. The opportunities for reuse are arguably broader in scope. The caveat is in the form of possibilities to eventually enclose what was supposed to be open in the first place. For example, this is what happened to the Android operating system or the Github platform. You can also do the same with this blog post now.


proposed citation: Alexandre Hocquet. 2022. Steal this Blog Post! https://khk.rwth-aachen.de/2022/03/03/2415/2415

References

References
1We have even let the originally French text run through an open source translation program.
2The title is a reference to the 1970s counterculture textbook titled “Steal this book”. We are not the first to make use of this pun. See, for example, “Steal this review” by Chris Kelty.
3Robert K. Merton. 1973 [1942]. The Normative Structure of Science. In idem (ed.): The Sociology of Science. Theoretical and Empirical Investigations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 267–278.

The Long Summer of Anarchy on the Old Mountain

Map of the municipality Moresnet

FREDERIK STJERNFELT

The midget state of “The Neutral Moresnet” on the outskirts of Aachen: a historical footnote or a political utopia?

Did you ever hear about “The Neutral Moresnet”? Neither had I, before I recently moved to Aachen close to the German border with Belgium and the Netherlands. But from my position in the North-Western edge of the city, it is less than five kilometers to this strange area. Here was located, for more than a hundred years, a midget state governed by both Germany and the Netherlands – or rather: by neither of the two.

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Frederik Stjernfelt

Senior Fellow at c:o/re (10/2021-09/2022)

Frederik Stjernfelt is Professor at the Department of Communication, Aalborg University Copenhagen, Denmark. He is an author for the Danish weekly newspaper Weekendavisen, for which he wrote a longer version of this text.

The prehistory lies with the Vienna Congress after the final defeat of Napoleon in 1814. At that time, the political borders of Europe were to be redrawn in a conservative balance of powers. One of the results was the construction of the United Netherlands as an autonomous kingdom – whose borderline to Prussia now had to be drawn. Here was a problem. In the borderland, in the small village of Kelmis, rested one of the world’s largest deposits of zinc – the village is named after the mineral calamine, zinc oxide. The interest in this metal, well fitted for many purposes such as covering the roofs of modern 19th century Paris, was increasing, and none of the two countries was willing to let the neighbor get away with the riches. The result of the negotiations was a compromise: a structure in international law known as a “condominate” – an area with shared sovereignty. Revenues from mining were shared between the Netherlands and Prussia. The Neutral Moresnet was a tiny zone, an oblong, roughly triangular pie slice; its basis rested on a couple of kilometers of the Aachen-Liège main highway, and a pointed end of 4-5 kilometers up to the the low mountains where Holland, Belgium and Germany now meet. As its legal basis the Code Napoléon applied.

postcard of the four-country-point
postcard of the four-country-point, 1905; Wikipedia: public domain

An enclave based on zinc and governed by (almost) none

The administrator of the area became a mayor assigned by the two countries, and security in the small village with 256 inhabitants should be granted by one single gendarme, who, in emergency cases, would have the authority to call upon police forces from the neighboring states. In the area, “platdiets” was spoken, a dialect somewhere between Flemish and Low German. With the independence of Belgium in 1830, the new Belgian state took over responsibilities of the United Netherlands, and in the steadily growing population of the area, you could find both Germans, Belgians, Dutchmen – and “Neutrals” without any citizenship at all.

Zinc was the motor of this strange construction. The colorful entrepreneur François-Dominique Mosselman took over the business of the French engineer Jean-Jacques Dony who had secured himself a concession from Napoleon himself in 1806 to mine zinc in Kelmis . Mosselman founded the company, Vielle Montagne, in German Altenberg – that is, The Old Mountain, and invested in a comprehensive improvement of the efficiency of production. He saw to the construction of a railroad line and began importing zinc ore from all of Europe to his top modern plant in Kelmis. With the economic upswing, the population of the enclave then numbered several thousands. In reality, the “Neutral Moresnet” was a mini-state governed by a joint-stock company.

The Wild West outside of Aachen

But neutrality also gave rise to odd and surprising possibilities. None of the two constitutive countries had the right to levy duties and taxes in the area, and the prices of many goods soon sank considerably under the level of the neighboring countries. This applied to alcohol especially, and soon distilleries began to emerge in Neutral Moresnet. The population largely consisted of mine workers – men, women, and children alike – and after a hard day’s toil they cut loose and caroused in one of the 80 public houses in the minuscule area. As time went by, many of the hosts began to extend business with cabarets, and the population of a few thousand seemed to have had access to a rich cultural life of comedians, singers, dancers. Other, more shady occupations joined them: prostitution, gambling, smuggling. The gendarme, patrolling the area armed with his baton, hardly had much control over what really went on there. The smuggling of alcohol, particularly, became a strong enterprise, and myths circulate about how inhabitants might take their bicycle to work outside of the zone, every day filling up the tubes of the bicycle frame with moonshine which could now be drained and sold at expensive prices in Aachen or Liège. Neutral Moresnet also attracted draft dodgers, and girls with a higher social background who had become pregnant outside of marriage, gradually learned that you could refer to Neutral Moresnet where wet nurses were willing to take over unwanted kids for a suitable payment.

Newspaper clipping of “Echo der Gegenwart”, August 18th, 1903 announcing the opening of a casino in Altenberg, from a record of the local government in Aachen; LAV NRW R, BR0001 Nr. 972

Anarchical conditions, in short, developed. Neutral Moresnet grew to a strange piece of Wild West, a tiny lawless spot outside of political control where very different types of persons might pursue happiness beyond the laws and regulations of the surrounding countries. When the exploding casinos of Europe were gradually prohibited around 1900, statelets like Monaco were quick to grasp the opportunity. This also was the case in Neutral Moresnet, and a casino was established in the hotel in Kelmis. Suddenly, the rare, new, shiny automobiles from Aachen, Liège and Maastricht could be seen flocking there. There was no law against gambling in the Code Napoléon, but in a rare display of unity, German and Belgium intervened to stop it.

Moresnet – the Seat of Friendship

The most touching events of Moresnet, however, are the utopian vistas that began to develop. The first one began as a sort of joke. In 1867 in Bruxelles, Jean-Baptiste Moens, publisher of the journal Le timbre-poste for stamp collectors, got the ingenious idea of catching his business opponent Pierre Mahé red-handed by publishing a piece of fake news in his own journal. What would be more obvious than spreading the news that the ministate of Neutral Moresnet had now begun to publish its own stamps? Mahé fell right into the trap and passed on the false news story in his journal Le timbrophile. But in a strange reversal, the joke became reality.

Already in 1883, Moresnetians began to use a flag – a tricolor with three horizontal strips of black, white, and blue. Why not publish stamps as well? Moresnet’s house doctor Wilhelm Molly founded the company of Verkehrs-Anstalt Moresnet, which published a series of eight stamps referring to Poste intérieure de Neutre Moresnet the interior mail of the Neutral Moresnet. It might appear strange. No two houses of the area were more than two kilometers apart, and most of the inhabitants would be able to deliver their messages themselves. The stamps had no validity beyond the borders of Moresnet, in the lack of membership of international postal organizations. Was the initiative intended as a sort of political signal? In that case, Molly certainly succeeded. The Moresnet stamps gave rise to immediate anger in Bruxelles and Berlin alike. The idea, however, may also have been a personal investment for Molly. Even if Le timbre-poste scornfully made it clear that the Moresnet publications could in no sense be said to be real stamps, collectors would not be scared, and Molly’s stamps soon became valuable rarities.

Photo of the boundary stones of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Neutral Moresnet from a newspaper article of “Österreichs Illustrierte Zeitung”, November 22nd, 1908; digitized by the Austrian National Library

But stamps were also a symptom that the Neutral Moresnet was in the process of developing a sort of political identity, a patriotism which might focus on exactly the anarchic character of the zone.  In 1906, Molly met Gustave Roy who was a glowing esperantist. The period around the turn of the century was bubbling with ideas about a simple, artificial language able to transgress linguistic and cultural borders and grant world peace. Among those, Esperanto was clearly the most successful. Why not turn Neutral Moresnet into the world’s first Esperanto-speaking state? This would have made it more difficult for Belgium and Germany to cancel the autonomy of the area, such as circulating rumors were warning. Esperantist feasts, celebrations, and parades were organized, the mining company was involved, shops began to market their goods in Esperanto, even the waiters at the hotel felt obliged to learn a couple of idioms. The Esperantist World Congress in Dresden applauded and even declared that the headquarters of the movement should be transferred from Geneva to Moresnet.  The Esparantist song “La Espero” was adopted as a new national anthem of Moresnet, praising internationalism and the beautiful altar of friendship to the tune of “O Tannenbaum”, and the green star of Esperantism was added to the Moresnet tricolor. The name of the new state would be “Amikejo” – The Seat of Friendship – and The Old Mountain itself bore the name of “Kvarstonoj”. Newspapers across the world reported about the project. Moresnet was increasingly referred to as a state in its own right in international media. But Bruxelles was not enthused, Berlin even less. Moresnetians organized delegations to King and Emperor in the two cities in a vain hope to protect their autonomy.

In the end, the Germans turned off the electricity. The new director of the Vieille Montagne, Charles Timmerhans, in 1913 had to go begging at the German government representative in Aachen – residing in Schinkel’s palace on Theaterstrasse 14, now the RWTH’s seat of the Human Technology Center (HumTec). Timmerhans did not succeed, however, to persuade the Germans to turn on the light switch so that zinc production could be resumed. The Germans wanted to cut the area into two, once and for all. But all these negotiations were swiftly overtaken by the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. As of 1920, the now 5.000 inhabitants of Moresnet became Belgians. The bloody repetition of military events across the area in the Second World War did not change this outcome, even if the post-war period made coffee a new lucrative item for smuggling in Moresnet. One hundred years of anarchy had ended.

Shining example Moresnet?

Is there anything to be learnt from the curious example of Moresnet? The American investor and anarcho-libertarian Peter C. Earle thinks: yes. In his booklet A Century of Anarchy, Earle declares himself a revisionist and presents the argument that the example of Moresnet goes to show that peace and prosperity is possible without force, without state, without government. In the absence of high taxation and export-import control, the enclave of Moresnet became prosperous, and the inhabitants managed to solve disputes in a flexible way with the mayor and gendarme, Earle claims. One would like, however, to have access to a credible criminal statistics of the area. Earle refers to the traditional urge for liberty among mountain people – even if the rugged and mountainous character of the area, truth be told, is rather limited and rather amounts to sweet rolling hills. Not only must it be said that Eales does not testify to any more close knowledge of the history of the enclave – he also overlooks the special boundary conditions of the area. Its prosperity basically had its roots in the presence of a rich zinc vein and related international investments, plus smuggling and other shady businesses – while railroads, electricity, mail, telephone, security were taken care of by the two conflicting protecting powers. The Dutch author Philip Dröge’s small bestseller Moresnet (German: Niemands Land) is a more thorough source of information about the area – from which the present small article has benefited.

If you take a trip to Moresnet today, you must sharpen your gaze to catch a glimpse of the traces of the glorious days of neutrality. There is a fine small museum in the former railway station, but the old industrial architecture is long gone, and the large open mine has been filled up. There are no longer 80 pubs, but there is no lack of serving establishments, and the delicious and hearty Belgian cuisine cannot be denied, e.g. at the Auberge de Moresnet to which I can offer my best recommendations. In 2020, the last “neutral” died, the 105-years old Catharina Meessen. Might Moresnet, in a parallel world, have survived like San Marino, Andorra, Athos, or other strange bunions on the map of Europe? With its 3½ square kilometers, Moresnet boasts almost the double area of Monaco. An economy of philatelists, history buffs, casinos, tourism, alcohol, plus a Michelin restaurant or two, might it have attracted sufficiently many – here, only one hour of driving form Bruxelles or Cologne, ten minutes from Aachen, maybe also attracting speculators and tax fraudsters like the Channel Islands?

This would hardly, however, have realized the more ambitious political visions of the Neutral Moresnet.

References

Peter C. Earle. 2014. A Century of Anarchy:  Neutral Moresnet through the Revisionist Lens, Intangible Goods.

https://www.mindat.org/loc-304.html

https://www.trois-frontieres.be/D/moresnet_neutre.php

Philip Dröge. 2017. Niemands Land: Die unglaubliche Geschichte von Moresnet, einem Ort, den es eigentlich gar nicht geben durfte. München: Piper Verlag.

Featured image: Map of the municipality Moresnet, 1868; LAV NRW R, RW-Karten 6317.


proposed citation: Stjernfelt, Frederik. 2022. The Long Summer of Anarchy on the Old Mountain. https://khk.rwth-aachen.de/2022/02/02/2311/2311/