CFP: Laboratory, Archive, Committee. Carl Stumpf's Berlin-Based Knowledge Practices and their Epistemic Background

International Carl Stumpf Conference 2016

Organized by the Department of Musicology and Media Studies of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Carl Stumpf Gesellschaft

Berlin, September 23 to 25, 2016

Deadline for proposal and abstract submission: May 15, 2016

News from Apr 04, 2016

On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the death of Carl Stumpf, the renowned philo- sopher, psychologist, founder of the Berlin Phonogram Archiv (listed among the UNSECO Memory of the World since 1999) and eminent research organizer, the Department of Musicology and Media Studies and Carl Stumpf Gesellschaft will co-host a conference.


The reception of Carl Stumpf in the various disciplines that he sought to synthesize is being highly diverse: In philosophy, i.e. the field with which he identified himself as a scientist, he is conceived as an academic who argued phenomenologically, but not in line with the wider notion of phenomenology. Through is interest in the Tonlehre, he had opened a complex field of research. In addition, the verdict of psychologism, which is being applied to Stumpf unjustly, makes itself felt. In the field of psychology, the tradition from Herbart to Franz Brentano was unable to stabilize itself, let alone the Stumpfian line of thought, who was anxious to develop an integral position against the background of strong differentiations within the field that unfolded between 1900 and 1930. In the field of musicology, Stumpf is given credit as a protagonist in connection with comparative musicology and Gestalt psychology; rarely, though, it is acknowledged which role Stumpf’s turn toward auditory perception played in his career.

Recent studies in the history of science that cover the impact and relevance of Stumpf, among them the commented biographies and the edition of key texts by Stumpf, as well as the series of conferences held by Carl Stumpf Gesellschaft, have partially mended this one-sided reception. These initiatives suggest how productive an in-depth engagement with of Stumpf’s position and well-reasoned, philosophically consistent arguments is, not only in retrospect, but also for future research. Non-reductionist positions in current empirical research, especially within studies of music cognition, could be better anchored and argue in more detail, yet the Critical Neurosciences have not yet discovered Stumpf as their advocate.

The conference highlights a working hypothesis that the present empirical cognition studies operate with complex constructs (reception, sensation, emotion), yet hardly spell out their philosophical and epistemic foundations. We therefore suggest to discuss, to which extent Stumpf’s phenomenology may contribute to the qualia debate which receives much attention in philosophy and neurology in order to enhance existing approaches (an essay by Margret Kaiser-el-Safti covering the qualia-problem will be made available on the organizers’ websites before long).

The conference would like to expose the interplay of Stumpf’s epistemic convictions with his various professional settings and data practices. Ever since the advent of experimental research, the psychological laboratory has been the main hub of hypothesis building and data acquisition. It generates discoursive systems (Aufschreibesysteme) and procedures of knowledge. During World War I, these procedures were extended in Stumpf’s lab to embrace military research on directional hearing detection and submarine sound ranging.

The archive – here pertaining to the Phonogram Archive – has been laying the ground for corpus-based systematic and comparative ethnomusicological surveys. In contrast to other phonogram archives, Stumpf established a peculiar research agenda here, too. To Stumpf, phonogram archives allowed genuine insights into the cultural genesis of Western Tonkunst.

As director of the interdisciplinary Phonographic Commission (1914 to 1920) which was recording language and music among prisoners held in German prison camps, further research ambitions become tangible, i.e. the synchronization of distinct media-based and documentary-style recording practices (questionnaires, sound recordings, session protocols, photographies, foreign language lyrics and their transcription, commentaries, archiving). They relate to basic tenets of the organization and politics of research, to the proximity of the sciences and the State and to its respective faith in objective sciences, but also to the vision of a potentially exhaustive documentation of the linguistic and musical diversity of the World. This commission oversaw the production of some 2600 recordings.


The following key questions may stimulate the debate: In what way did the institutionalized knowledge practices, as configured in the lab, archive, commission, affect the cultivation of Stumpf’s epistemology? Does his epistemology gain more applied aspects? Do activities in the lab, archive and commission render the empirico-phenomenological aspects more visible? How does the media caesura towards phonographic sources impact the notion of perception and sensation, and perhaps of philosophy in general? Has Stumpf actively integrated the results from lab, archive, commission in elaborating his theoretical psychology? Or do results emerging from the three research arenas embody differentiations that underline a specific logic of these institutions that stands only in a mediating relation to his philosophical arguments? Do the reviewed practices alter the relation of diagrammatic, data-based argumentation and philosophical discourse? Which impulse can be gained from here for current theory building and the foundation of empirical and experimental research?

Putting it the other way: to what extent have the epistemic convictions pursued by Stumpf influenced his work in the lab, archive and commission? Exposing these Berlin- based practices points at potential local conditions: Did Berlin offer peculiar motivations and resources? Who accelerated the centralization of research? Which institution and political interests interfered with the spheres of the lab, archive, and commission?


The organisers invite contributions to the topics and questions as sketched above, in particular on the relation of the epistemic, empiric and organizational dimensions. They further encourage contributions that couple history-of-science-approaches to Stumpf with present research agendas, e.g. along the lines of the qualia problem. We explicitly invite contributions on current academic projects relevant to the conference topic and suggestions for focused panels.

Would you please send your proposals and abstracts (of up to one and a half page length) by May 15, 2016 to the organizers via email (please see below).

The organizers will review all proposals by June 15, 2016. We plan to publish the proceedings either within the Schriftenreihe der Carl Stumpf Gesellschaft (Peter Lang Verlag) or online.

PD Dr. Martin Ebeling

First President Carl Stumpf Gesellschaft


Prof. Dr. Sebastian Klotz

Dept. of Musicology and Media Studies


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