Scientific Dreams of Excellence. Rhetorics and Politics of Appreciation, 1900 | 2000


In today’s academic contexts, multiple ideas of excellence, elitism, brilliance, and outstanding qualities circulate more than ever. The omnipresent speech of “Elite, Prestigious and Excellent Universities,” “Excellence Initiatives, Clusters and Strategies,” “Top and High Level Research” and the “Future Concept” has shaped the status and perception of universities in the Federal Republic. It is time for a self-critical reflection and reassessment of political developments in the higher education system. In doing so, this project explores conditions, criteria and distinguishing features that define excellence in the landscape of German research, as well as rhetorics that suggest excellency, and other formulas for idealized self-description. The focus here will be on their metaphorical implications and precursors for this phenomenon in the history of science.
To help fathom the effects of ‘highlighting’ that which is ‘outstanding,’ and to concentrate on the origin of elitist thought patterns, the essay focuses on case studies for historical comparison between today’s inflated concept of excellence and the cult of the genius and cult of personality in the humanities, as well as psychological and anthropological research and the superlative style of speech that existed around 1900 (including J. Hirsch, O. Lipmann, W. Ostwald, P. Plaut, A. Raibmayr, W. Stern, E. Zilsel).
In addition, the project analyzes current funding application languages, interviews with university researchers, as well as feature articles, static images, and cinematic documentaries. It asks how today’s rhetorics of excellency can be differentiated from advertising purposes/public relations, how they relate to the structural problems of higher education institutions, and in what ways the majesty-invoking label of excellence enhances the institutional imagination and creative intellectuality.

Principal Investigators
Köhne, Julia Barbara PD PD Dr. (Details) (Historic Anthropology and Gender Studies)

Duration of Project
Start date: 04/2020
End date: 03/2021

Research Areas
Educational Research, Education Systems and Educational Institutions, Humanities and Social Sciences

Research Areas
Kulturgeschichte, Kulturwissenschaft

Last updated on 2021-04-01 at 17:50