Images: Knowledge, History, Politics

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Remote students
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Description: 

“It is a commonplace of modern cultural criticism“ – states W. J. T. Mitchell – “that images have a power in our world undreamed of by the ancient idolaters. And it seems equally evident that the question of the nature of imagery has been second only to the problem of language“. Although that nature is far from being clearly understood, the sheer force and multitude of contemporary images (as well as their controversial relation to the linguistic sign) pervade current notions of the visual, its theoretical basis, strategic use, social & political impact, or potential of knowledge ...
Against this background, the first part of the course will address several fundamental issues of the image: we will explore it as a specific type of sign which can both represent and replace physical/mental “reality,” but also as a form of expression or visual event in its own right. Following this, the seminar focuses on the functioning of images in selected cultural fields. It analyses their epistemological capacity for the production of (scientific) knowledge; their ability – e.g. as historical source material – to display, translate or reconstruct the past; and finally their entanglement with political representations of power and equality.
While the first section covers a comprehensive spectrum of theoretical reflections from Plato to the present, the subsequent examples will concentrate on photography, film and electronic media. Dealing with modern “technoimages” and their role in a limited set of discourses, the concrete case studies will, however, constantly return to essential questions of pictorial signification (including the differences and varying intersections between image and writing, between the iconic and the graphic) and of visual experience as “informational excess”.
Beyond illuminating the subject from these two angles and thereby delineating the many historical shifts and (inter-) media transformations of images, the course aims at deepening the participants’ critical awareness of their own reception and production of imagery. Since the “increasing impact of images on our culture” has become a veritable catchword, and since their dissemination goes hand in hand with the development of technical media, it is essential to re-examine our current idea of the image, the text, and their academic use – for instance by providing an opportunity for the students to create their own image-complexes.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students will be introduced to central APPROACHES IN IMAGE THEORY. They will gain insight into the operation of images in SCIENTIFIC, HISTORICAL, AND POLITICAL CONTEXTS from the 19th century to the present, especially with respect to photographic, cinematographic and digital media, and establish connections between VISUAL TECHNOLOGIES AND THEORETICAL CONCEPTS. The discussion of texts and images will contribute to their abilities to STRUCTURE AND CRITICALLY EVALUATE arguments. The participants will train their SKILLS OF
SYNTHESIS AND COMMUNICATION through in-class presentations and written papers. They will have the opportunity to APPLY PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE in the form of video works.


Attendance and ACTIVE PARTICIPATION (incl. GROUP WORK to give an impulse for discussion)  20%
In-class presentation [incl. 1 page handout | handed in via email 3 days before the respective session] 30%
Final paper [~12 pages | handed in via email | due 1 month after end of term] alternative: Final research video [audiovisual thesis | self-produced material and/or found footage]
The subject of the final paper/video is chosen by the student; it must not adopt a subject from the course sessions. Final video works will NOT be graded according to technical criteria, but based on the originality of the approach and the potential to visualize the main thesis. 50%