Benjamin Dawson, research fellow at the ICI Berlin from 2010 and 2012, received a PhD from the University of London in 2012. His thesis examines two chapters of Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes (‘Kraft und Verstand’ and ‘Beobachtende Vernunft’) in connection with, respectively, the mechanics and observation-based sciences treated in them. Since Autumn 2012, he is wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter at the Graduiertenkolleg ‘Mediale Historiographien’, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar.

To date, he has published four articles: on the theory of punishment in Hegel’s early theological writings, on the figure of the proletariat in Mary Shelley’s writing, on the self-experiments performed by the Romantic scientist J. W. Ritter, and on the persistence of Romantic agendas in contemporary historical epistemology.

Philosophies of Praxis
between the Wars

The project consists of a series of studies concerned with models of effective action and instrumental causality arising in different discursive fields in the interwar period: specifically, in theories of experimentation that developed in the philosophy of science (‘historical epistemology’) and theories of politics developed in historical materialism (‘the philosophy of praxis’).

My plan is, eventually, to be able to order these studies in light of the detailed historical and philological investigations, concurrently and intensively conducted in the 1920s and ’30s, into the ancient Christian/proto-Christian concepts of actio, effectus, and the causality of the sacraments—i.e., the research of the Liturgical Movement (Anton Baumstark, Odo Casel, and some others).

Two Figures of the Human in the Age
of Experimental Systems

ICI Project 2010-12

This research adopted the multistable figure as a potential model for the complex relationship (more an unmediated exposure than a mediated antagonism) between two co-existing aspects of human subjectivity in modern society. Taking the dawn of bioscience in the 1790s as the crucible of a particular knowledge/power configuration that continues to determine the present, the project attempted critically to reconstruct a bifurcation and ‘instrumentalization’ of the human subject within the mode of epistemic production dominant in capitalist society: experimental systems.

It drew on the work of Latour and Rheinberger, while developing the genealogical analyses of Foucault and Agamben, to elaborate the co-evolution of an experimentalization of knowledge and a governmentalization of power in modern society. Combining empirical investigations of 18th-century laboratory life with theoretical analysis of self-organization (drawing particularly on Hegel), the aim was to expose a split and a tension, especially discernible at this time, between the substance and function of the living human subject.