Application to VW Foundation

In the interests of sharing failures, here’s the rationale we put together for an ultimately unsuccessful application to the VW Foundation to host a scoping workshop. (German and English)


Academic Work in the Humanities: Forms, Practices, Perspectives


Antragsteller:innen (Titel, name, Institution)

PD Dr. Tim Lanzendörfer, Goethe University, Frankfurt

Prof. Dr. Pierre-Héli Monot, Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich

Prof. Fabio Akcelrud Durão, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil

Dr. Elisabeth Reichel, Osnabrück University

Dr. Rebecca Roach, University of Birmingham, UK


Zusammenfassung dt./engl. (Je 150 Wörter)


Die Geisteswissenschaften der 2020er Jahre stehen vor verschiedenen Herausforderungen, insbesondere in Hinblick auf die Formen ihrer Praxis. Welche Formen nimmt akademische Arbeit konkret an, in Forschung und Lehre, in Schriftform, mündlich und digital, institutionell und in die Öffentlichkeit wirkend? Wie werden sich diese Formen in der Zukunft wandeln (müssen), um die gesellschaftliche Relevanz der Geisteswissenschaften zu bewahren oder neu zu schaffen? Wie können und sollten Geisteswissenschaftler*innen ihre Arbeitsformen begreifen, wie strukturieren diese Formen selbst schon geisteswissenschaftliche Arbeit? Im Angesicht von dringenden Problemen wie dem Wunsch nach größerer Öffentlichkeit und Inklusion, den Herausforderungen durch generative AI, der Wichtigkeit von sozialen Medien und nicht zuletzt offenen Fragen in Hinblick auf das weitere academic publishing besteht die Notwendigkeit einer Bestandsaufnahme und Perspektivenerarbeitung. Der vorgeschlagene Workshop nimmt sich dieser zentralen Fragen interdisziplinär an und soll in intensiver Arbeit Thesen zu den Formen akademischer Arbeitspraxis für die Zukunft entwickeln.



Today the humanities struggle to operate within the binds of old and conventionalized forms. These forms have never been adequately catalogued or historicized, and yet they regulate academic practice. While disciplinary definitions and discussions often focus on methods, we ask, what forms does academic work take concretely today, in teaching and research, in writing, verbally, and digitally, institutionally and publicly, and why? How will these older forms (have to) change to retain or create anew the societal relevance of the humanities? How can and should humanities scholars understand the forms of their work autonomously and in relation to other disciplines, and how do these forms themselves structure humanities work? I The proposed workshop addresses these critical concerns in intensive interdisciplinary collaboration. It aims to develop a taxonomy of current forms of academic work and a set of propositions for future development.


projektbeschreibung (1200 Wörter)

What forms does humanities scholarship take? What appears to be a mundane and possibly innocuous question becomes, on closer inspection, a complex and challenging research directive. What, indeed, counts as academic work? How do forms afford academic work—whether knowledge creation or less lofty forms of bureaucratic business? What will the forms of academic humanities work be in the future? “Forms” here designates discrete things, objects, shapes, and configurations that emerge from academic practices. Perhaps the most obvious are the monograph book and the journal article, which humanities scholars usually take to be standard practice. Yet the forms we work within have far greater import than simply word count, this workshop contends. 

Their historical and contemporary valences, institutional and public reach, and the ways in which new media developments shape and reshape them is part of what the proposed workshop interrogates. Humanities scholarship has recently turned a critical lens to its own practices and their role in shaping the future of the humanities (e.g., Spoerhase/Martus 2022, Guillory 2022). These practices emerge by means of particular forms. We consider forms to be aesthetic and medial, scholarly and institutional: a journal article is an academic form, but so too is the research seminar and the funding proposal, the dissertation review, and perhaps the chat in a conference break. The particular forms which work in the humanities takes in turn shape its practices: consider, for instance, the recent upswing in shorter monograph forms (under 50’000 words) as outlets for condensed research interests, or the new availability of applications of generative AI for mass use, which may fundamentally rearrange what counts as valuable academic work.

This workshop will offer a major contribution to these concerns by, first, offering a taxonomy of current academic forms, from which we will then draw up a set of propositions that can be deployed to advance practicable perspectives for the future of humanities work. A critical inventory of forms, a naming of what actual shapes our work takes, will require us to consider where what we understand as academic work occurs in the first place. It will also lead us to examine how this kind of work is perceived and valued or devalued. As such an instigating force, our taxonomy functions as the grounds on which the workshop seeks to produce a concrete sense of present work in the humanities and its potential futures. The workshop seeks to understand the forms that this work takes as contingent. The staunch persistence of such by-now almost transhistorical academic forms as the monograph, the essay, the anthology, and the review raises questions about how practices and forms interact with one another, and how disciplines are shaped by historically persistent but by no means readily understood forms. The workshop thus sets out to discuss the ways in which academic forms can be used (more) productively, and how humanities scholars may prospectively reshape and repurpose them for these uses. At the same time, in expanding the scope of what practices count as forms of academic work, it seeks to identify spaces for intervention and innovation as the humanities disciplines move toward an uncertain future. 

The workshop’s conception must be read against the backdrop of what is widely seen as an urgent crisis in the humanities that calls for critical introspection and systematic efforts to develop perspectives for the 2020s and beyond. The humanities struggle against expressions of their irrelevance, a potential irrelevance that the proposed workshop considers inextricably linked to the forms which work in the humanities takes. For instance, who but other humanities scholars reads an academic monograph? This workshop contends that an understanding of this relationship between the forms of work and the larger self-understanding of the humanities requires in-depth, rigorous examination. New digital applications from generative large-language models to algorithmic processing and data manipulation ask how we need to rethink the potentialities of existing forms and what new forms might emerge. The desire to have a greater social impact requires public outreach and engagement with the forms of non-academic communities, including social media and other popular forms of communication. The question of how academic forms are concretely produced and circulated—often by international for-profit conglomerates—is ultimately about uneven power relations, inclusivity, global barriers of access, and the appropriation of public value for private gain. Yet academic work, in the context of public education, is often understood as being fundamentally about the production of objects such as books or talks that can and should be distributed. All of these are issues bound up in the shapes and guises of our work. To obtain a comprehensive understanding of them is a crucial step in rethinking what is possible in the humanities in the 21st century. 

The proposed workshop will bring together a wide array of experts in the forms and methods of humanities work to consider fundamental questions often lying unexamined at the bottom of everyday academic practices: what kinds of things count as academic work, and in what contexts? What are the interrelations between academic forms and work—what forms of practices have been understood to be “work,” historically, in the present, and potentially will be so understood in the future? How do the affordances of forms impact academic work? How is active intervention into these forms possible? How do forms of academic work enable or restrict the public usefulness of this work? To what extent are they mere conventions, and to what extent are they in fact necessary for the purposes of our work? These questions are fundamental because they impact how members of the academic community work every day, and in fact structure implicitly every minute of their working lives. Yet, despite their inescapability, they have been both undertheorized and insufficiently understood. The proposed workshop takes a step forward in this regard: it aims to fundamentally assess the nature of humanities work from the angle of its concrete forms.

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