Innovation and Critique – Joining Perspectives among the Sciences and Humanities


Dr. Dorothe Poggel (HWK)


Prof. Dr. Anton Kirchhofer, Department of English Literature, University of Oldenburg


  • Dr. Anna Auguscik, University of Oldenburg
  • Dr. Karsten Levihn-Kutzler, University of Oldenburg

(further members to be named after exploratory phase)


1 July 2021 - 30 June 2024

Statement of Problem

Innovation and Critique figure as core concepts in conventional conceptions of the sciences and the humanities, and of their respective functions in modern societies. The sciences are widely perceived as producers of innovations: of scientific innovation, of technological innovation and in consequence also of social innovation. The role of the humanities is widely held to be that of critical evaluation: to observe, discuss and critically assess, to diagnose the deficits and draw attention to the costs of these innovations and their social consequences. This complementary distribution of roles is not only a public narrative about the respective roles of the sciences and humanities. It has been accepted and even promoted both by very prominent voices in the academic community (Odo Marquard, Axel Honneth).

This view undoubtedly has had its attractions. It provides a comfortable role distribution for all involved: for the representatives of the sciences and the humanities, who can claim to perform their important and established functions in this scenario, as well as for the representatives of the public, and particularly policy makers, who can turn for innovation to the sciences and (if there is time) for criticism to the humanities. But there are inaccuracies and costs associated with this view as well, and there are indications that these are beginning to be perceived more clearly.

To begin with, a closer look will surely demonstrate that a specific interplay of critique and innovation is fundamental to research in all disciplines, whether in the humanities, the sciences or the social sciences. If research in any discipline is to produce new and significant results, and to test and assess their validity and significance, the interplay of innovation and critique is always at work. It is likely, however, that this interplay works somewhat differently in different disciplines, and that these differences are not sufficiently conceptualised or not widely understood.

Moreover, there has been growing concern that there are different disciplinary contexts in which the interplay between innovation and critique is no longer working productively and effectively. In the sciences, this concern is manifested for instance in the ‘replication crisis’ or ‘reproducibility crisis’ which has been under discussion for nearly one and a half decades now. The growing range of efforts associated with the key terms of ‘research improvement’, ‘research integrity’ and ‘meta-research’, is another instance. In the humanities, the need for new and constructive engagements with the sciences has been gaining more and more recognition, but this has not yet led to the established account outlined in the opening section above being consistent challenged in research. Concern with conceptions of innovation in the humanities is still largely side-lined.

Within the context of this focus group, one particular consequence of this general problematic will be considered as particularly significant: This established view of a complementary distribution of innovation and critique among the sciences and the humanities can be harmful to potential interdisciplinary collaboration between the sciences and the humanities, as well as to the work done in each individual discipline. It is problematic because it creates obstacles to the mutual transparency of disciplines ('how specifically does the interplay between innovation and critique work in this discipline?') and therefore stands in the way of productive interdisciplinarity. At the same time, it also directs attention away from the specific question of how well the interplay between innovation and critique functions within each discipline, leaving little space for the monitoring and critical evaluation of how well this interplay works in a given context, obscuring issues and problems that may hamper it, preventing the development of improvement.

It is therefore in the interest of all disciplines, whether in the sciences or the humanities, to remedy this situation and to devise better, more accurate and more effective accounts of the interplay of innovation and critique. By finding specific ways of joining disciplinary perspectives from among the sciences and the humanities we can produce a better (mutual) understanding of the different and specific forms which the interplay of these two functions takes in particular disciplines and scientific fields. Our specific instances of collaboration across disciplinary boundaries, taking a meta-disciplinary perspective and focusing on specific issues and cases of common concern, are designed to promote this goal.


Against this background, the Focus Group pursues the general goal to foster and initiate projects and investigations

  1. which contribute to the objective of gaining a better (mutual) understanding of the ways in which the interplay of innovation and critique functions within particular disciplines and fields – mutual and public insights into the specific forms which the fundamental interplay between innovation and critique takes in each context, and
  2. which contribute to the objective of locating and identifying points and settings where this interplay appears to have run into difficulties, and to monitor the ways it works or does not work in particular settings, and
  3. which will, by adopting a meta-perspective on the current roles assigned to the sciences and the humanities and contrasting it with the evidence of how the interplay between the sciences and humanities currently works, can point to possible solutions both with respect to discourses on and within academic disciplines and also with respect to knowledge generated and communicated by them to the general public.

Work Plan

With these goals in mind, the focus group will seek to create platforms and interfaces of intra- and interdisciplinary visibility and insight, specifically on the forms of representing the interplay of innovation and critique, and to use the emerging meta-perspectives in order to devise and test possible solutions for improving the interplay of innovation and critique both in the sciences and the humanities.

The focus group will build on the experiences gained in the Fiction Meets Science network. It will work closely with this network and complement it in important ways (placing greater emphasis on the development of matching research perspectives involving the sciences as well as the humanities, and complementing the FMS focus on science and narrative by taking a meta-disciplinary disciplinary perspective on science and on the research cultures in the sciences and the humanities).

Its first year of its activity will be dedicated to exploratory work in smaller groups with different thematic focus points and different disciplinary composition, each crystallising around a specific angle or aspect of the problem. This procedure is suggested by the need to build relationships and dialogues within which to explore the particular angles, before joining them together (and it also seems advisable in the current situation, with the lingering effects of the corona crisis and the uncertainty of planning). Continuity and internal networking will be provided by the core group (Kirchhofer, Auguscik, Levihn-Kutzler) who will as a rule all be part of all smaller groups.

During the second year, it is hoped that circumstances will allow for a kick-off workshop for the larger group, bringing the smaller working groups together and into a dialogue that can produce more overriding perspectives and lead to the definition of projects and the formation of groups working on them. The range of projects is left open for development; it is expected that they will include the following points:

  • strengthening local, regional, national and international research collaborations
  • joint research projects and funding applications,
  • potential outreach components, engaging public media and their representation and reporting of innovation and critique in the sciences and the humanities
  • collaborations with other initiatives at the HWK (FMS group, project platform Quality of Science at the HWK)

At the conclusion of the focus group during the first half of 2024, we aim to host a final workshop for the overall group, presenting and discussing a common statement to be published in academic venues with high cross-disciplinary visibility.