Reading Group: Collaboration/Documentation

Am 29. September startet mit einem ersten virtuellen Meeting die neue universitätsübergreifende Reading Group „Collaboration/Documentation: Power and Aesthetics – Recent Approaches in Anthropology, Critical Theory, Performance, Queer, and Media Studies“ des DFG-Graduiertenkollegs in Kooperation mit dem Critical Theory Cluster der Northwestern University.

About the Reading Group & Call for Participation

Recent scholarship emerging from the fields of cultural anthropology, post-/decolonial, gender/queer and performance studies has developed a critical approach towards the term “collaboration”, highlighting how it tends to make those unequal power relations invisible that crucially determine collaborative projects in the arts and in documentary film. At the same time, collaboration is mobilized in the context of progressive political or social movements, in the context of artistic production (theater/performance, media or fine arts) as a potentially radical democratic endeavor pointing to possible imaginations of collectivity.

This in mind, this reading group investigates other forms of ‘working together’ which open up a discursive space for embodied knowledges that might allow to negotiate difference instead of effacing it: How can these ‘other ways’ of working together be regarded as critical method in the humanities? What kind of critical approaches can we find to rethink collaboration with and through other ways of thinking and working? What can disciplines like queer, media, film, performance and literature theory learn from recent approaches in the field of critical ethnography or anthropology? And how productive are aesthetic discourses on collaborative practice beyond the field of arts and media? And last but not least: To what extent are ethical questions of production, representation and documentation important in our fields?

We would like to invite interested grad students from various fields to discuss the potentials, problematic implications and (historical) entanglements of “collaboration”. The reading group is open for suggestions (including the discussion of materials) by everyone who wants to join.

A first, informal list of reading suggestions from our side is:

  • Ariella Azoulay: Potential History. Unlearning Imperialism. 2019.
  • Hannah Arendt: Vita Activa. Vom Tätigen Leben. // The Human Condition. 1960/58.
  • Claire Bishop: “The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents.” In: Artificial Hells. Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. 2012.
  • Dominic Boyer, George E. Marcus: Collaborative Anthropology Today: A Collection of Exceptions. 2021.
  • Dwight Conquergood: Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography, Praxis. 2013.
  • Judith Butler: Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly. 2015.
  • Rosalind C. Morris: “Shadow and Impress: Ethnography, Film and the Task of Writing History in the Space of South Africa’s Deindustralization.” In: History and Theory, Theme Issue 56 (December 2018), 102–125.
  • Bojana Cvejic: “Collectivity? You Mean Collaboration.” In: Artists As Producers. 2005.

If you are interested in joining the group, please send an email to so that we can add you to our mailing list. We are planning to have a first meeting on the 29th of September at 11 a.m. Chicago time (6 p.m. Bochum time) via Zoom to get to know each other and discuss our further proceedings. At the moment we are thinking about 5 meetings over the course of the semester (in Germany, October–February), but no dates have been set yet.

The idea for this reading group resulted from the workshop “The Identity Document and the Documentary Gesture: Notes from South Africa” with Rosalind Morris and Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky that brought together grad students from Northwestern University and from the Research Training Group “Documentary Practices” at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum.

Depending on the group’s interest, it would be possible to acquire funding (in Germany) to realize a hybrid or ‚in person‘ follow-up workshop in Bochum in the upcoming semester.

As we are kindly supported by members of faculty at Ruhr-University Bochum and Northwestern University, we could invite guests from these universities for single sessions or inputs. Possible guests are Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky (RUB), Penelope Deutscher (NU), Ryan Dohoney (NU), Peter Fenves (NU), Rosalind Morris (Columbia), Anna Parkinson (NU), Alessia Ricciardi (NU).

ORGANIZERS: Marion Biet, Jana Hecktor, Philipp Hohmann, Vera Mader, Anna Polze, Julia Schade