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The following describtion is to specify the scope of the Graduiertenkolleg (GRK) 2638. Generally, GRKs are established to promote researchers at an early stage of their academic career by providing a context tailored to their scientific qualification. GRKs are usually funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG) for a maximum period of 9 years. A translation of this term into English is Research Training Group. For reasons of coherence, we stick to the German acronym.

In the following, we spell out how we aim to contribute to the purpose of promoting young researchers.

The new GRK 2638 is dedicated to questions concerning the nexus of norms, their critique and how norms relate to social change. It seeks to study the specific structures of normative practices common to the arts, law, religion, language and morality. These normative practices are characterized by the way they are always bound to standards like rules are pertinent to artistic genres, moral habits and linguistic conventions. But at the same time, they are also defined when individuals engage in such practices and simultaneously have to critically reflect upon and distance themselves from these very same normative practices and their guiding standards. The GRK’s research agenda follows the hypothesis that in all these contexts – i. e. in arts, law, religion, language and morality – applying a norm in its full sense implies to also critically reflect upon the norm. Consequently, this also implies, that the realization of standards may lead to transformation. The GRK explores the transformative aspect of normativity in these contexts, analysing the similarities and the differences. The GRK does not oppose normativity and transformation, its main objective is to develop an understanding of how transformation is inherent to normativity.

From the GRK’s perspective on normativity, the debate on gender neutrality in language for example shows that standards of normative practices are no given rules, which practitioners merely execute in action as if they were linguistically trained automats. Norms are, from the GRK’s point of view, tied to controversies and diverging interpretations. Applying a rule is a hermeneutical practice that requires situated knowledge regarding the rules and their justifications. And, applying a rule in its full sense is always improvisational and spontaneous. Thus, the application of a rule may lead to its transformation. Transformation can become a standard itself 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 a hermeneutical standard. The research agenda of the GRK is based on the premise that normativity, understood adequately to the phenomena, needs to be modelled by virtue of the expertise gathered in related but distinct disciplines. This is why the GRK seeks to bring together the knowledge gained in

Philosophy, 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 is the praxis of applying a norm to be accounted for? Are normative standards tied to critique and if they are how are they tied to critique? In which way has normativity by itself to be understood as being transformative?

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

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

(4) How are we to understand the impact of language on the constitution of different normative practices the GRK focuses on? What role do the linguistically mediated practices of reasoning and judging play with respect to the transformation of norms? How are we to understand language, both as a medium and an object of critique at the same time?

These four key topics structure the common working program of the GRK. The GRK encompasses 14 participating professors of 10 different disciplines, bringing together humanities and law studies. It is designed to foster a broad theoretical knowledge exchange in an interdisciplinary research environment. The innovative research design of the GRK 2638 may be summarised 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 using an interdisciplinary approach

GRKs emphasis is on the qualification of doctoral researchers within the framework of a focused research program and a structured training strategy. The course of study is tailored to enable doctoral candidates to complete their dissertations within three years. During the first four semesters, each cohort will discuss the four key topics stated above. The discussion will take place in the GRK’s colloquium, in seminars and workshops. The PhD researchers will participate in shaping the course of study and will be encouraged to invite guests working on their topics of interest. In the third year, the PhD students will mostly be exempted from the group work so that they can focus on composing and finalizing their dissertation. Post-Docs are encouraged to do independent research within the framework of the GRK. With their more entailing research projects, Post-Docs will support doctoral candidates in sharpening the coursework and the guest program. Post-Docs also ensure that the GRK’s focus remains coherent throughout the different cohorts.

Since qualification through (post-)doctoral research and supervision is inevitably entwined with thematic questions, the GRK 2638 aims to pursue an interdisciplinary and progressive micro-space for the doctoral and post-doctoral to conduct their study. These aims include:

Conviviality and team play

In an academic environment that is ever more dominated by competitiveness and elbow mentality, we try to create a space that is productive for collaborative work. We conceive of ourselves as a learning community. This entails recognition of the intersubjective nature of knowledge production and committing to a continuous reflection of hierarchies among scholars in different positions. The participation in the GRK will require a sense of community as an epistemic value. The set-up of 10 different disciplines taken together to create one forum is as demanding as ambitious. To render this set-up fruitful, we will have to make sure that unproductive forms of self-promotion by any member of the GRK can be addressed.

Interdisciplinarity and the role of theory

Despite all differences in method and phenomena, what all disciplines involved in the GRK have in common is their origin in the field of humanities. We understand our GRK as a space in which the 10 disciplines involved shall enrich one another and thereby challenge the researchers to think beyond small scale understandings of disciplinary cohesion. Within the GRK, PhD as well as Post-Doc researchers, will convene a forum that fosters group discussion on fundamental structures of normative practices, enabling them to take a theoretical perspective on their respective topics of research. This dialogue should enable the members of the group to better grasp the specific differences of their objects of research in regard to the structure in question and should help them improve their ability to articulate these differences. In this way, the group aims at fostering the development of new theoretical approaches in the disciplines involved. That is the reason why the GRK seeks to attract PhD students interested in taking a more theoretical approach within their disciplines.


Since knowledge is always situated knowledge, academic collaboration implies taking into account different positionalities with respect to ethnics, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship, and other social categories. Our understanding of discrimination is intersectional and refuses to establish hierarchies between different forms of oppression. We recognize that access to academic practices such as a GRK is dependent on cultural, economic, and social capital. We commit to the idea of making implicit knowledge explicit - To clarify expectations and administrative procedures, to welcome researchers from a different academic system or different class origins. We encourage applications from the Global South. We offer workshops on Diversity and Critical Practice in Academia. Finally, we have installed a conflict counsellor (Ombudsperson) deliberately positioned outside of the structures of the GRK who can be approached with all matters of structural discrimination and unproductive forms of disagreement.


As stated above, we seek to attract international researchers who are interested in taking a more theoretical approach. Given that theory is essentially tied to language we aim to establish a bilingual space. English and German will be equal means for contribution to the discussion. The GRK will demand at least a passive understanding of rather sophisticated German (DSH 1/TestDaF 3; B1+). We will offer support for those who will need to catch up. 

Social commitment and academic intervention

We understand research as a contribution to the critique, reflection, and transformation of social injustices. This means that we see academic work itself as an important intervention in dominant discourses. The GRK will take an interdisciplinary approach to grasp the ways in which critical reflection might be understood as a constitutive component of social practices and their dynamics. The GRK wants to train young researchers by equipping them with novel perspectives on their disciplines and the requisite skills to present their work within the academy and also for a transdisciplinary outreach.

In contrast to taught PhD programs, there is a low amount of coursework, and doctoral researchers are expected to actively take part in shaping the ideas and activities of the GRK. The research profile defined by the GRK provides a framework for the independent research projects undertaken by the doctoral researchers. GKRs also differ from individual PhD projects by creating a space for a group of doctoral researchers to work together and to profit from discussions and exchange with each other. While doctoral researchers are taken seriously as producers of knowledge, the GRK will ensure excellent supervision in order to enable each doctoral researcher to complete their degree within the three years of their funding. Each PhD student will be advised by two supervisors (either 2 professors of the GRK, or 1 of the GRK's and 1 external professor). In addition, a range of qualification measures ensures the acquisition of academic and professional skills tailored to the specific profile of each doctoral researcher.

Within the GKR 2638, doctoral researchers are offered staff positions (instead of scholarships) at one of the participating universities for a period of three years, post-doctoral researchers will be hired for a period of four and half years. The quality of the staff positions accords with the respective rates of German Public Service Fare (TV-L E13; Docs are at 65%, Post-Docs at 100% of the entire fares), thus ensuring health care and social security coverage.

As the activities of the GRK take place in Berlin, permanent residency during the semester is demanded.