* Cultural Techniques of Mind Reading [ Zurück ]

22.03. - 23.03.2018
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*Cultural Techniques of Mind Reading*

Deadline Oct 1, 2017

Christian Kassung, Simone Natale, Laurens Schlicht

Institute for Cultural Science, Humboldt-University, Berlin, 22th-23th March 2018

A wide range of technologies and techniques have been developed throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century to generate knowledge about what people feel, think, wish, or plan. To give just a few examples, lie detectors employ physiological evidence to establish if a subject is telling the truth or if s/he is lying; interrogation techniques increasingly become the object of scientific discourse, as the establishment of legal facts (Tatbestandsdiagnostik) develops to investigate the objective facts; subfields of psychology such as characterology are designed to identify and recognize certain types; and recently computing technologies employ algorithm and facial recognition software to make inferences about feelings and mental states. Yet, also due to disciplinary boundaries and to the different contexts in which these have emerged and developed, relatively few attempts have been made to address such diverse practices in conjunction and connection with each other. This conference aims to fill this gap. Employing the concept of mind reading in a broad sense as designating any technique that helps to create knowledge about people’s feelings and states of mind, it aims to stimulate a critical debate about mind reading techniques as forms of knowledge and in regard to their political, social, and cultural dimension.

The conference’s objective is to promote a cross-disciplinary debate, taking into account also areas of knowledge that are often excluded from academic discourse, such as the occult practices of parapsychology or the practices of local police officers and marketing operatives. In this regard, speakers are encouraged to engage with a set of questions connected to the historical, epistemic and cultural dimensions of mind reading. Potential topics include but are not limited to:

– A perspective from historical epistemology: how are the objects of research on mind reading produced and shaped? What kinds of epistemic techniques are employed to generate knowledge about people’s state of mind, feelings, or about the veracity of their statements? What kinds of intellectual and material resources are used? What areas of knowledge were mobilized and how did experts from different groups compete or cooperate?

– The design, production and use of technologies of mind reading: in different contexts such as psychiatry and experimental psychology, parapsychology and occultism, or among police officers, technical devices such as the kymograph, the plethysmograph, the sphymograph, the polygraph, and occultist devices like the planchette have been developed to provide mechanical and allegedly objective means to operate mind reading. How were these technologies developed, and how did they inform the development of mind reading practices? Which functions did they have in terms of knowledge production and dissemination, and to what extent were they related to the development of discourses about technology, objectivity, subjectivity, and science?

– The construction of subjectivity based on mind reading techniques: in certain specific contexts, modes of subjectivity such as the “psychopath” or the “neurasthenic” provided an important conceptual framework both for science, the legal system, and for people’s self-conception. How did the practices under consideration help to create, consolidate, or change modes of subjectivity? For instance, the role of psychiatrists and later psychologists as expert witnesses in the court suggests that their disciplines may have had an impact on the legal framework that defined how people are classified as objects and subjects of juridical procedures. This opens up the question of how such modes of subjectivity were shaped, and in which societal fields they proved to be effective.

– The cultural and political dimensions of mind reading: how did such technologies and practices contribute to re-shape political regimes?

Which political and cultural roles did mind reading techniques play? How far and to what extent did mind reading have a transformative impact in the political arena and on broad economic and social phenomena?

We welcome proposals for papers from all disciplines connected to one of the subject areas mentioned above. Those who wish to submit a paper for the conference should send a summary of not more than 300 and a short CV by 1 October 2017 to

Laurens Schlicht >laurens.schlicht[at]hu-berlin.de<


Simone Natale >s.natale[at]lboro.ac.uk< 

We have a limited budget for covering travelling and accomodation costs.