Institute of Historical and Cultural Anthropology


Knowledge Communication as Aesthetic Practice

October 21 - 22, 2019 – University of Tübingen

Spectacle Program

The spectacle is staging a comeback. Though the concept is hard to assign to a certain discipline and has not yet been defined sufficiently, it has recently been rediscovered by cultural and art studies’ scholars. Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle” (DEBORD 1967) outlined a cultural critical stance and thus made the spectacle a combat term of the new left comparable to Adorno’s Culture Industry (ADORNO 1945). More recent approaches, however, conceive it as a merely descriptive and aesthetic category. They promote its intermediating function and emphasize its hidden theoretical potential (e. g. FRISCH, FRITZ, RIEGER 2018).

Spectacles are collective, multisensual experiences and sensational events, that often, but not always, aim at entertainment and pleasure. Spectacles display and stage a variety of subjects. They are characterized by immersion, sensual overpowering, the key emotions of marvel and wonder, and the spectator’s merging with the here and now. The spectacle describes a specific mode of perception, being evoked in different contexts: from antique sacrificial rites and medieval demonstrations of power, via early modern theaters and cabinets of curiosities, to today’s synaesthetic expositions and virtual-reality-installations – these can all be subsumed under the category of the spectacle. The spectacular is said to contain a particular epistemic potential, which not only becomes visible in the wonder shows and scientific theaters of the 19th century (NADIS 2005, BRUGGMANN 2017), but also in discussions of aura and scenography in museums of the 20th and 21st century (BENJAMIN 1935, BRÜCKNER 2010). These discussions raise questions about the spectacle’s aesthetic and pedagogic value, often drawing on a bourgeois viewpoint from which the spectacle is stigmatized and accused of voyeuristic gimmickry. In contrast to this, more recent approaches such as those mentioned above, speak up against a cultural pessimistic reading à la Debord and strengthen the spectacle’s activating, empowering, eidetic and socializing potential.

Following these re-measurements, we want to use the occasion of this conference to inquire into the spectacle’s epistemic potential: How does it figure into the communication of knowledge? How does it relate to the museum as a site of science and aesthetic pleasure? What are the specific modes of perception it initiates? How do episteme and aesthetic interrelate? We would like to discuss these questions with theorists and practitioners across and beyond the borders of academic disciplines. Thus, we seek to further differentiate the concept of spectacle for the field of museum and science communication. In addition, we would like to review the concept’s critical and political potential – it might serve as a catalyzer to discuss the creation of value and truth, distinction, and participation in the field of knowledge communication and popularization.

Practical Information

Getting there Tübingen is easy to reach by train via Stuttgart, where most of the long-distance lines of Deutsche Bahn stop. From Stuttgart Airport a shuttle bus (Lines 826, 828) will take you to Tübingen in 45 minutes.
Conference Venue Castle „Hohentübingen“, Fürstenzimmer
Participation Registration via e-mail to helen.ahnerspam
Fees 15 € (students 10 €)
Organisation Prof. Dr. Thomas Thiemeyer / Alexander Renz / Helen Ahner

Ludwig-Uhland-Institute of Historical and Cultural Anthropology
Burgsteige 11
72070 Tübingen