Subproject 1

Principal Investigators:
Prof. Dr. Erich Hörl (Leuphana University Lüneburg)
Prof. Dr. Roberto Nigro (Leuphana University Lüneburg)

Research associates: Milan Stürmer, Michel Schreiber
Student assistant: Eduardo Delfin Alcaraz Bracho



This project undertakes a fundamental historical and systematic re-contextualization of participation rooted in media philosophy and anthropology. It aims at developing key elements of a theory of medial participation, based on which an urgent critique of relationality can be advanced. Medial participation comes into view as a specific mode of participation, as a name for the specific historical formation of participation under today’s technoecological condition.

The main thrust of this project is that in an age of medial participation, the question of participation emerges at the intersection of four lines of problematization: the relational transformation of power, capital, subjectivity and of the common. The emergence of relationality as such, which designates this transformation, is based on the far-reaching implementation of relational technologies, which not only put into relation and produce relations, but also operationalize and exploit them, thereby reconstituting the dominant forms of power, capital, subjectivity and of the common as relational. With the radical emergence of relationality under the medial condition, a previously unthought historical development within the problematic of participation becomes significant, a development which can be conceptualized as a transition from Teilnahme (‘taking part’) to Teilhabe (‘having part’).

The project’s division into two research areas (RA), each foregrounding two aspects of the relational turn, is structured along the four lines of problematization. RA1: “Economic Elements of Participation” outlines the relational form of power and capital. Based on the anthropological revaluation of relation, which is central to the genesis of the new relationalism in contemporary theory and as such becomes paradigmatic in Marilyn Strathern’s oeuvre, the role of the paradigm of exchange and its displacement by the contemporary capital-form will be reconstructed. RA2: “Political Elements of Participation” focuses on the relational form of the subject and the common. Chiefly, the difference between Teilhabe and Teilnahme, which organizes the question of participation, will be elaborated. This challenges the previous, political core of participation, which, as the relationship between individuality, property and appropriation was central to modernity. In its place a non-appropriative participation as well as a form of individuality not defined by property and appropriation will be outlined as central moments of medial participation.

The intended critique of medial participation does not aim at rejecting relationality, but at recovering it. Therefore, the concept of partiality, which expanded from relational anthropology into contemporary critical theory, will be advanced. Relationality, in a time of medial participation, can only ever be partial if it wants to escape the dominant relational forms of power, capital, subjectivity, and of the common.

Postdoc: Yuk Hui


The project opens up two discursive lines of development that are of great importance to the genesis and proliferation of the concept of participation in the 20th and early 21st centuries, yet which have until now been neglected. The focus is on philosophical and anthropological reevaluations of the concept, which affect to a great extent the re-description of our present that is currently taking place. The theoretical currents to be re-contextualized range from Lévy-Bruhl’s speculations regarding pre-modern participatory modes of being, via Simondon’s amodern philosophy of the participation-based, physic-biological and psycho-collective processes of individuation, to the participatory cosmologies and human and nonhuman powers of action characterising the combinatorial collectives of New Animism, Perspectivalism and Multinaturalism, which are at the forefront of the contemporary search for nonmodern forms of thinking. Together, these undertakings dramatically alter the theoretical-political stakes of the question of participation. Here participation approaches another scene of the present era. Here the concept as such is revalued, as participation in its full radicality is thought as originary and irreducible relation, which always already co-constitutes the terms of relation and this way comes into play as the central moment of a new, now unreservedly relational attitude. The relation of participation is being inaugurated, at least implicitly, as the relation of relations, and emerges as the centrepiece of a new paradigm. A participative ontology, epistemology, even, ultimately, a participative image of thought, are the far-reaching consequences of this transformation.

At the same time, in these same fields, a new historical semantics is crystallising, which, side by side with participation, is beginning to embody the relational attitude, and which is acquiring an ever-greater significance for the re-examination of today’s media-technological condition: that is, the historical semantics of ecology. The spreading and establishing of this semantics advances the conceptual content in the direction of non-natural ecologies. If today, at the culmination of the processes of cyberneticisation, an environmental media culture of ubiquitous computing, sensory and algorithmic surroundings, multiscalar network technologies and locative and mobile media, have led to an explosion of environmental agency – then so, in parallel, is ecology mutating into a concept that encompasses a corresponding transformation of the modes of existence and forms of life, of subjectivity, affectivity, collectivity, cognition and experience. And also this conceptual innovation occurs largely in the contexts mentioned here. The relation of participation thus appears as an integral component of, and even the key to a generalised ecology. In exploring the central philosophical and anthropological ecologies of participation of the 20th and 21st centuries in their media-, knowledge- and discourse-historical details, this project engages in the archaeology of the present.

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