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Aitiologies in the reality narratives of the natural sciences: On the epistemic function of origin (re)constructions

Subproject 7

PD Dr. Georg Toepfer
Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin, Geisteswissenschaftliche Zentren Berlin e.V.

Liola Mattheis M.A.
Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin, Geisteswissenschaftliche Zentren Berlin e.V.

The project investigates the widespread aitiological procedures of the historical natural sciences ­ on the one hand in their significance for the natural sciences themselves, and on the other hand in their reception within the framework of critical social theories. The guiding question is how the present is understood, explained and criticized in the context of aitiological argumentation through the representation of historical processes, including the construction and reconstruction of significant starting points of developments.

Subproject 7.1: Concepts, images and procedures of aitiological narratives in the historical natural sciences (PD Dr. Georg Toepfer)

The aim of the subproject is to analyze the explanatory evolutionary narratives in the life sciences with regard to their concepts, images, procedures and instrumentalizations as well as the epistemic functions and the fictional status of the supposed original structures. The analysis focuses particularly on the empirical accessibility of the postulated origins, their controlled fictional content, narrative integration, and explanatory scope. In doing so, the specific nature of scientific aitiologies and their difference to cultural myths and ideologies will be determined. Finally, one aim of the subproject is to use the example of aitiologies to investigate the interplay and interdependence of fictionality and factuality, construction and reconstruction, as well as narration and explanation in the historical life sciences. The underlying hypothesis of the project is that the construction of an origin in the argumentations of the historical natural sciences has a similar function of ordering and unifying the diversity of phenomena as the laws in the nomological natural sciences.

Subproject 7.2: Critical Recapitulations: Repeated origins between evolutionary biology and Marxist theory (Liola Mattheis)

While the recapitulation paradigm has become a popular object of critical analysis, its work within critical theories of society remains little studied. The assumption that individual development repeats (“recapitulates”) the evolution of the species has also had a lasting influence on Marxist positions in particular, from Friedrich Engels’ classical Marxism to Herbert Marcuse’s Frankfurt School Critical Theory and beyond. Using philosophical, literary and historical methods, the doctoral project thus sheds light on the changing transfers between evolutionary biology, psychoanalysis and Marxism. In the sense of a self-reflexive examination of ambivalent theoretical legacies, the project revolves around the following questions: How does the reception of recapitulation theory (dis)continuously shape socio-critical analyses and programs? How do the narrative and rhetorical operations of recapitulation (such as repetition, condensation, acceleration, parallelization and synecdoche) dynamize the aitiologies of social and psychic-subjective forms in capitalist systems? What significance does the recapitulative relationalization of different levels of development have for post-Marxist diagnoses of the present, especially in the so-called Capitalocene?