Configurations of the Third 1800 to present

University of Cambridge, St. John´s College
University of Cambridge, Department of German; Universität Konstanz, Graduiertenkolleg "Die Figur des Dritten"
29.08.2005 - 31.08.2005
Ulrich Bröckling

Configurations of the Third 1800 to present
Third Agents and Missing Links of Modernity

International Conference at St. John's College, Cambridge
29 - 31 August, 2005

Configurations of the Third is an international, interdisciplinary conference which investigates the importance and relevance of triadic imaginative and theoretical concepts of human life and environments.
Parasites, miasmata and missing links; dialectics, the unconscious and chiliasm; Hermes figures, rivals and tricksters – all these catchphrases refer to third agents or tripartite agencies. The ‘figure of the third’ often takes the form of a privileged entity or space which overcomes binary oppositions and effects transformation. Post-Cartesian intellectual and scientific enquiry has witnessed an explosion in attempts to move beyond the dichotomy of mind vs. matter and develop and criticise triadic structures of thought. This has unleashed modes of thinking which relate the figure of the third to fundamental questions of subjectivity and self-consciousness.

With this conference we want to create an opportunity to engage in an interdisciplinary debate on continuities and discontinuities between tripartite configurations during the last 200 years. Linking the imaginative and theoretical implications of these structures to post-Enlightenment culture’s unease with both ambivalence and binary oppositions has been a central preoccupation of cultural theory (e.g. the Frankfurt School, J. Habermas, N. Elias, Z. Bauman). The conference will pursue this further and ask whether the modern human condition can be adequately captured as an unfinished project of invoking third agents to reconfigure ambivalence and binarity.


1. Philosophy and Theology:
- 1800 and all that? The late 18th century as a paradigm shift
- Idealism and Materialism
- German philosophy - French theory: the migrations of thirdness
- Configurations of the Third in Modern Theology
- Chiliasm, millenarianism and utopia in the 19th and 20th century

2. History & Philosophy of Science:
- Laws of the Third: bodies, relations, things in physics
- Parasites, epidemics, infections: configurations of the Third in the history of medicine
- The dialectics of evolutionary theory
- Body, Mind, Psyche: re-defining the human in anthropology, psychiatry and psychology
- Metareflexivity in modern science

3. Social and Political Sciences:
- Third ways
- Money, circulation, acceleration: reflections on modernity
- Concepts of time and space in postcolonial discourse
- Jürgen Habermas and the public sphere
- Giorgio Agamben’s concept of ‘homo sacer’

4. Literary Studies:
- The Third as a literary theme: demigods and angels, rivals and voyeurs, pícaros and tricksters
- Theories of metaphor
- Reader-response criticism and the author-text-reader triangle
- The sublime, the uncanny, the individual: psychoanalysis and literature

5. Media Studies / Cultural Studies:
- Intertextuality, Intermediality
- Tertiary models in media studies and communication theory
- Configurations of the uncanny in media studies
- The Third in cultural studies (cultural materialism, postcolonial theory, etc.)
- The notion of 'ecology' in cultural theory

Keynote Speakers:
Zygmunt Bauman (Leeds, sociology) on Modernity
Judith Ryan (Harvard, comparative literature) on tba
George Hunsinger (Princeton, theology) on Karl Barth's Concept of the Holy Spirit
Anne Hardy (London, history of medicine) on Parasites and Infections
Andrew Bowie (London, philosophy) on Analytical Theory or Romantic Practice. Music, Philosophy, and Self-Consciousness
Rüdiger Görner (Birmingham, literature) on Falling Angels or The Crisis of Synthesis in Literature (1900/2000)
Hubertus von Amelunxen (Lübeck/Montréal, media studies, Founding Director ISNM International School of New Media at the University of Lübeck, Germany) on Roland Barthes 'Third Meaning' and its spatial implications
Jochen Hörisch (Mannheim, German studies) on 1 + 1 = 3 / Re-entry-problems in the distinction between heaven and earth

Configurations of the Third is organised by the following institutions:
University of Cambridge/UK, Department of German
University of Konstanz/Germany, Graduiertenkolleg ‚Die Figur des Dritten’

Organisation Committee:
Dr Joachim Whaley, Cambridge
Ulrich Bröckling, Konstanz
Ian Cooper, Cambridge
Bernhard Malkmus, Cambridge

Advisory Board:

Professor Albrecht Koschorke, Konstanz
Dr David R Midgley, Cambridge
Andreas Dittrich, Passau/Tübingen

Papers are limited to 30 minutes plus 10 minutes for questions & answers.
Conference languages are English, French or German. Questions & answers, however, will be mainly conducted in English.
Abstracts should not exceed the limit of 500 words and have to be handed in by

31 January 2005.

In case of a French or German papers an English translation of the abstract has to be enclosed.
Please, send three copies of the abstracts to the following addresses:
Ian Cooper:
Bernhard Malkmus:
Dr Ulrich Bröckling:

Abstracts sent via postal service should be addressed to:
Bernhard Malkmus
St. John's College
Cambridge CB2 1TP


Ulrich Bröckling
Universität Konstanz
Graduiertenkolleg „Die Figur des Dritten“

Configurations of the Third 1800 to present, 29.08.2005 – 31.08.2005 Cambridge, in: H-Soz-Kult, 17.12.2004, <>.