Strangulation of humanism: departmentalisation and specialisation versus openness and complexity

Dietro il modo, in cui noi tedeschi conduciamo le nostre scienze, so nasconde una a noi purtroppo innata o inculcata chiusura disciplinare, una passione per lo specialissimo, un fanatismo nel rinserrarsi in sé stessi, tutte cose che senz’altro producono risultati eccellenti e tecnicamente perfetti, ma che determinano al contempo una limitata scientifica e anche umana, dalla quale le nazioni di più antica cultura hanno saputo difendere, e che non capiscono neppure.
The manner we as Germans approach scientific work is unfortunately very much coined by the innate or or instilled resortism, a passion vor specialisation, a fanatism of closure surely leading to excellent technical results, but leading at the same time to scientific and also human ignorance which ancient nations knew to avoid, and which they could not understand.

(Paul Fridolin Kehr, 1914)

complexity of historical and social research

I ogni caso non è possibile, dal punto di vista scientifico, limitarsi alle fonti della storia tedesca. Non si può separare la storia di altri paesi, e specialmente la storia della chiesa, da quella tedesca. Non si può estrapolare dalle tradizioni storiche solo quello che rispettivamente si ritiene essere nazionale, ma scientificamente si può comprenderle solo nel loro complesso. Con ciò questo compito di un istituto storico non s’ingrandisce certo a dismisura, ma assume tutt’altre dimensioni.
The limitation on sources of German history is for scientific reasons not possible. The history of other countries, then especially the history of the church cannot be operated from the German history, It is not possible to extrapolate from historical records what is then seen as national; it can scientifically only be understood in its entirety. But with this the task of a historical institute is not reaching unmeasured, but it surely gains completely new dimensions.

(Paul Fridolin Kehr, 1907)

… measuring success …

… ogni giorno godo dello spettacolo offerto dal disgraziato Schulte, che per punizione della sua ambizione deve controllare fatture, stendere rapporti e commettere sciocchezze dalla mattina alla sera., mentre io le la spasso con i miei papi morti. Questi vecchi signori sono davvero affabili nelle loro antiche bolle.

… every day I am gloating over looking at the unhappy Schulte who has to double-check the entire day invoices, write reports and perform in other mindless activities whereas I can amuse myself with the dead popes. The elderly masters are really amiable with their old bulls.

Dyl Ulenspegel clould not beat it

You know, I can gain some pleasure from some foolish acts – and I also think that much of what we are teaching, be it on rights, politics and policies etc. can be literally found in any day-to-day situation within institutions like for instance any university. Finally I still think there is some meaning in making such follies of public services public (you think it is a play with words? – Not really!) [well, all this shows there had been something I learned from one of my teachers, Rudolph Bauer – and I am still grateful for his teaching many years back and his ongoing friendship over the years].

So, here another little story.


I sent a mail to “buildings office” – after suffering in a lecture room and after seeing the students suffering even more (at least I could move a bit around while lecturing). So here is the text of the mail sent on the 24th:

Dear …, I had been teaching today from 11 to 1 in the Distillery, room G01. The students complained about the lack of heating – and I only made the session myself as I had been able to stand and move at least a little bit – not keeping warm but at least maintaining a temperature that allowed me teaching. However, students said as well that they had been over long phases not in a position to concentrate.

Be it as matter of citizens rights to education provided by the Irish state or by way of customers of UCC as service provider, this is an unbearable and unacceptable condition. I am writing not least as this is not the first time it happened, though it had been previously in different venue.

I hope that this issue will be investigated in a sincere way and the issue will be corrected.

Thank you very much,


I then received on the 28th of January an answer by the Buildings Office Helpdesk – yes, I received one.

Just an attachment – a form


NO: 62025

Requested by: Herrmann, Peter

Dept.: … Location: ….

Description of work request:            turn on heating in G.01

One page (A4) with different sections:

To be completed by Supervisor

To be completed by Assignee

For Office Use

Mind, especially the stuff noted under Safety Notice:

All works is to be undertaken by suitably qualified and competent persons, and in compliance with the Buildings and Estates Office Safety Statement and College Safety Procedures.

Work should be supervised as appropriate by the relevant foreman.

What is said in respect of qualification and competence may be questioned when it comes to the folks that is engaged with defining the admin side of a simple act: switch the heating on before teaching commences.


May be … – if Kafka would be still around, he surely would write another of his famous stories based on this. And this story could surely be sufficient for Erving Goffman, Norbert Elias and the like to get them an hour and more exploring phenomenology of institutions and the Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations of the Process of Civilisation … .

One point may be added: Norbert had been strong believer in the process of civilisation – and although he had been (as Jew) forced by fascism to leave Germany, he had been until the end of his life convinced of such civilisational progress, rejecting any proposals to talk about de-civilisation and even remerging barbarism. Later, such discussions emerged by people who based their arguments on his work. Though I assume he would not have agreed. He had been just too gentle to think that we can step back. And with all conviction I still try to maintain such gentleness that I have had the honour to experience during our meetings, not possibly getting seriously damaged by being forced into such an iron cage (as Weber would have had it).

You see? Such a little story, and so much in it … – Occasionally I feel myself being seen as a very abstract thinker – but there is something I learned from somebody else who had been teacher and somewhat mentor: Niklas Luhmann, showing me that these apparently very abstract terms, categories and relationalities are just in front of us in tiny pieces – and it is up to us to leave it there on the ground: scattered and dangerous with the sharp edges of the heap of shards; or if we draw attention: allowing us to detect the essence of what all this is actually about: simplicity of oppressive hegemonic of which we are all part.

There could be an endless chain of examples we may add:

  • Grants for conference participation given to full time staff – maintaining establishment – rather than promoting with the meager means colleagues who may be in precarious situations, just starting careers … – sorry, didn’t older colleagues have enough time to establish themselves to be invited and get the conference fees covered by the organizers?
  • Issues of teaching and learning decided by administrative rules (or administrators as rulers?) rather being assessed in the light of needs of students – and staff that are preparing relevant material, sessions and excursions
  • publications rated on grounds of quantity and of ‘reviewed’ quality instead of quality and quality emerging from collective disputes

Well, we may leave it with the trinity – sure, in this light we come to the conclusion – taken from Marx’ ‘Grundrisse‘ – that

[t]he concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the diverse. It appears in the process of thinking, therefore, as a process of concentration, as a result, not as a point of departure, even though it is the point of departure in reality and hence also the point of departure for observation [Anschauung] and conception.

PS: in this context perhaps of interest my publication

More recent and relevant:

And finally:

  • Research on demand. Academics between self-consciousness and self-chastisement; forthcoming in the documentation of the ÖFEB-annual meeting)