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Research Agenda

The new GRK 2638 is dedicated to questions concerning the nexus of norms, their critique, and how norms relate to practical and social change. It seeks to study a specific structure of normative practices common to different arts, law, religion, language, and morality. These practices are characterized by the way in which they are always bound to standards like rules pertinent to artistic genres, moral habits, and linguistic rules. At the same time, they are also defined by the fact that when individuals engage in such practices, they have to critically reflect upon and distance themselves from these very same standards. The GRK’s research agenda follows the hypothesis that in all these contexts – i.e. in arts, law, religion, language, and morality – to apply a norm in the full sense of application implies to critically reflect upon the guiding norm. The realization of standards can lead to transformation. In this sense, the GRK explores the transformative aspect of normativity in the respective contexts, in its similarities and differences. Thus, the GRK does not oppose transformation and normativity. Furthermore, it will lay out an understanding of normativity as transformative as such.

From the GRK’s perspective on normativity, the debate on gender neutrality in language for example shows that standards of normative practices are not a given, which practitioners merely apply in action as if they were linguistically trained automats. Norms are, from the GRK’s point of view, tied to controversies and interpretation. To follow a rule is a hermeneutical practice that requires situated knowledge concerning rules, and their justification. And following a rule in the full sense of the term is always improvisational and spontaneous. Thus, the application of the standards in question can lead to transformation, but transformation can itself become a standard of, for example, artistic practices. By investigating the transformative aspects of normativity, the GRK tries to render intelligible the difference between, on the one hand, innovation for the sake of innovation as a standard that runs the risk of becoming an empty stereotype and, on the other hand, transformation as hermeneutical standard. The research agenda of the GRK grounds in the conviction that normativity in a rich sense needs to be modelled by virtue of the expertise gathered in related but distinct disciplines. That is why the GRK combines the knowledge gained inPhilosophy, German Literature, Art History, Studies of Religion, Dutch Studies and Linguistics, Musicology,  Theatre Studies, Law Studies, Dance Studies, Film Studies.

The GRK’s research program can be articulated by way of four guiding questions which circumscribe the analytical frame of the GRK’s research agenda.


(1) How are the structures of applying a norm to be accounted for? Whether and how are the normative standards tied to their critique? In which way has normativity itself to be understood as being transformative?


(2) Does the critical reflection of norms form a continuum of the norms in questions or instigate a break within them?  Which role does critique play for the continuity and discontinuity of a practice? Are normative practices capable of learning through crisis and the collisions of norms?


(3) Is there a difference between, on the one hand, traditional conceptions of norm application, and, on the other hand, modern conceptions of norm application? Does the self-understanding of norm-followers play a role in defining how they apply norms?


(4) How are we to understand the relevance of language for the constitution of the different normative practices which are in the focus of the GRK? Which role do the linguistically mediated practices of reasoning and judging play for normative transformation? How do we have to account for language as both a medium and an object of critique?


These four key topics structure the common working program of the GRK. The GRK encompasses 14 PIs of 10 different disciplines, bringing humanities together with law studies, and is designed to foster a broad theoretical exchange in an interdisciplinary research environment. The innovative research design of the GRK 2638 can be summed up as follows:


  •    To conceptualize normativity while having artistic practices in view
  •    To re-address the relevance of critique and think it beyond the limits of subversion
  •    To sharpen novel perspectives on the disciplines involved by the challenge of interdisciplinarity