Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The Theme of Institutional Pathologies at Witten/Herdecke

The Fourth Witten Conference on Institutional Change was organized at Witten/Herdecke University in Germany during 1–2 February 2018. I got an invitation to contribute on contemporary recognition theory from Professor Matthias Kettner, who was also mainly responsible for organizing the event. From a recognition-theoretical perspective, the theme of institutional pathologies is indeed highly relevant, and the discussions during the conference were very interesting, useful, and intellectually stimulating. They also fit perfectly with the idea of recognition theory as “an interdisciplinary social theory with emancipatory intent” as Christopher F. Zurn has put it in his 2015 book on Honneth.

Professor Matthias Kettner

The turn of the month was thus a very busy and highly rewarding experience. Before the main program started, there was a pre-conference get-together at the restaurant Ratskeller on the 31st of January. This was already a great opportunity to meet and talk with many of the participants. Next morning, the conference kicked off with a plenary panel “On the Very Idea of a Socio-Cultural Pathology” chaired by Professor Dirk Sauerland. Matthias Kettner and Kerrin Jacobs opened the session with their talks, after which Nadia von Jacobi, Rasmus Johnsen and myself joined the panel with our own comments and discussion. After the panel and a coffee break, I got to chair one of the parallel sessions. Its topic was “Disorders of Moral Responsibility and Awareness”, and the contributors were Uta Müller, Mica Valdivia, and Jacob Dahl Rendtorff. These speakers gave considered talks on the complex issues of institutional responsibility and moral blindness. In the evening, I presented my invited lecture on “Social Recognition and Institutional Pathologies: The Case of Religious Identities”, and continued with questions and comments. To conclude the day, the participants then gathered for the conference dinner at Restaurant Mondo.

On Friday, I had the opportunity to concentrate on listening to talks by others and participating in discussions. The day was opened by Hartmut Rosa’s invited lecture “Pathological Potentials of Dynamic Societal Stabilization”. The programme continued with parallel sessions, and I attended a round table session on “Institutional Transfers and Social Pathologies”. The discussion by Joachim Zweynert (Chair), Elsje Fourie, Robbert Maseland, and Valentin Seidler resonated strongly with the Honnethian theme of a formal conception of the good life, which tries to abstract from any substantive cultural values. During the lunch break, a meeting chaired by Professor Kettner was held on forming a research network of interested people around the themes of the conference. The third invited lecture of the conference was then given by Rasmus Johnsen, whose topic was “Chronopathic Feelings: Time Pressure and the Pathologies of Contemporary Work-Life”. After the talk, Kettner and Sauerland presented a recapitulation and farewell for the conference.

Registration at the conference
On Saturday, I then proceeded to give an intensive four-hour seminar on contemporary recognition theory. In addition to Professors Kettner and Dirk Tänzler, the audience consisted mainly of students of Witten/Herdecke University’s Master Programme on Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). It was truly a pleasure to lecture on my favourite topic, and to have such enlightening discussions with both faculty and students. On Sunday, it was time to return home with fond memories of the conference as well as of all the persons encountered in Witten.