Cultures of Debate

What does it mean for a society when expertise and academic analysis no longer automatically hold a position of authority, but find themselves confronted with accusations of elitism similar to those that are currently being directed at journalism and politics?

Foto von zwei Personen, die in ihren Fechtanzügen gegeneinander fechten
Foto: Micaela Parente

Academia means debate. This was long considered to be a given, with debate being regarded as an essential element of academia, praised in speeches at awards ceremonies and university yearbooks, but without ever being put to the test. Until now, that is. Or at least, the function of debate within academia needs to be reinterpreted because the transformations within the cultures of debate that are currently shaping the political system also affect academia.

Against this backdrop, the research group ‘Cultures of Debate’ focuses on the role of academia in social discourse. What does it mean for a society when expertise and academic analysis no longer automatically hold a position of authority, but find themselves confronted with accusations of elitism similar to those that are currently being directed at journalism and politics? Does the public realm lack important intellectual figures with the power to influence political debates? And what would it take to change this?

The research group also deals with the question of how debates are conducted within academia itself. After all, cultures of debate differ greatly between academic disciplines. Furthermore, academic debates today also take place in social media, which faciliate much faster, sharper, and more exaggerated communication. How one participates in debates for a more productive discussion under such conditions and avoid causing lasting insult or injury? And is there such a thing as ‘aesthetics of debate’?

It is clear that many discursive forms are currently undergoing a process of transformation- both in the world of academia and in society as a whole. The research group ‘Cultures of Debate’ seeks to understand these transformations and to develop ways to shape them.


Workshop „Rezension, Peer-Review, Tweet. Alte Und Neue Qualitätsurteile In Der Wissenschaft“

What merits being published? And what from the flood of publications should be read? Scientific selection processes are essentially based on quality judgements about research. These quality judgements can be anonymous, as in peer review, or public, as in the case of the review. In any case, they are gatekeepers that determine which research contributions get visibility and which do not. And: they are themselves places of scientific dispute: those who disagree scientifically often do not write an article or even a book to express their criticism, but first resort to the instrument of the review.

During their workshop, members of the RG Cultures of Debate want to discuss which norms shape this form of debate and how they change. How do they differ from subject to subject? Who is allowed to criticise whom and how is the criticism formulated? They are planning three parts of the workshop with different guests.

Firstly, the members of the research group want to look at the history and framework conditions of peer review, for which they have been able to win over the historian Caspar Hirschi, who has dealt with the public role of experts as well as peer review in his work. Secondly, they want to devote themselves to the topic of "reviews", for which Jens Bisky will be a guest, who wrote for the feature section of the Süddeutsche Zeitung for a long time and now works in the editorial department of the review portal Soziopolis. While these two topics are strongly concerned with institutions, in the third part they finally want to deal with communication and the concrete formulation of criticism. For this, they were able to enlist the services of Lisa Rhein, a German studies specialist who works on science communication as well as on language and discourse culture.

In all three aspects, we are interested in how new forums and formats are changing the discourse on scientific quality: what exactly is happening on Twitter?


10:00 am

Welcome and introduction of participants

10:15 am

1st impulse (approx. 20 min) Caspar Hirschi followed by discussion

11:15 am

Coffee break

11:45 am

2nd impulse Jens Bisky (approx. 20 min) followed by discussion

12:45 pm

Lunch break

01:30 pm

3rd impulse Lisa Rhein (approx. 20 min) followed by discussion

02:30 pm

Final discussion

03:15 pm

Wrap-up and end of the event


Cha(lle)nging perspectives with Chantal Mouffe

What role does arguing play in politics? By which rules and to what end are arguments carried out there? And what about debate in academia?

The members of the research group “Cultures of Debate”, Eva Buddeberg (Philosophy, Goethe University Frankfurt), Lukas Haffert (Political Science, University of Zurich), Valeska Huber (History, Freie Universität Berlin) and Christoph Lundgreen (Ancient History, Bielefeld University) discussed these and other questions with Chantal Mouffe on 24.03.2021 in the event series Challenging Perspectives.

Chantal Mouffe is a political scientist and professor of political theory at the University of Westminster in London. A co-founder of “radical democracy,” she is a proponent of an agonal theory of democracy. Her understanding of politics is that it is a space of conflicts. In her work, she deals, among other things, with the tense relationship that characterises democracies: Between ideas of individual freedom and human rights on the one hand and equality and popular sovereignty on the other. Her recent publications are “Agonistics: Thinking The World Politically” (2013) and “For a Left Populism” (2018).

Simon W. Fuchs (Islamic Studies, University of Freiburg), also a member of the “Cultures of Debate” research group, guided through the evening. Chantal Mouffe opened the evening with an impulse lecture. Afterwards, the members of the Junge Akademie discussed the topics of the evening with their guest. The audience was also invited to participate in the discussion with their questions.


participating Members

participating Alumnae / Alumni