class="csc-default"Is a knowledge society pure ideology?

Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens

Universität Zürich

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens

Universität Zürich

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich



The Center »History of Knowledge« (ZGW) is a scientific center of excellence of the University of Zurich (Center of Competence) and the ETH Zurich (D-GESS) that aims to promote and coordinate cultural, historical and philosophical research and teaching on modern knowledge systems and knowledge societies. The ZGW is a center for scientific research as well as a platform for public reflection on the role of knowledge in modern societies.

As decreed by the Board of Directors of the University of Zurich, the Center »History of Knowledge« was established as a joint center of the ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich effective January 1, 2005 and once again accredited January 1, 2010.

Currently, ZGW faculty comprises twelve professors from the University of Zurich and seven professors of the ETH Zurich. At the moment the associated faculty consists of 32 members (Post-Doc`s). In this way, we bring together expertise in theoretical and practical philosophy, literary and cultural as well as historical science (history of science, art, medicine, architecture, technology and global history), creating a strong interdisciplinary, internationally-oriented research group.

The ZGW also has a master program and a SUK-doctoral program.

Our Research

To begin with: The ZGW has no unité de doctrine. Our common starting point is rather an assumption: We assume that the historical development of knowledge – with all its epistemic, technological, and cultural premises as well as its consequences – has to be understood as an open-ended process. Therefore, our center sees itself as a place where we reflect on knowledge dynamics from a historical, cultural and philosophical perspective.
In order to avoid premature epistemic demarcations in the analysis of modern knowledge societies, e.g. between scientific and popular knowledge, we put our methodical focus on the circulations of different forms of knowledge through society. This means we ask how scientific, technical and medical forms of knowledge, as well as its practices, semantics and materiality, are generated, sustained and how they decline and turn obsolete. Moreover, we cultivate a certain sensibility concerning non-scientific forms of knowledge and their impact on values and practices in the Lebenswelt.

The key category of our center, i.e. »knowledge«, is distinct from the term used traditionally in science and the history of science:

Forms of Knowledge
Knowledge includes academic, but also various forms of non-academic »public« and »popular« knowledge. This dynamic and complex concept of knowledge differs substantially from the old epistemic privilege of scientific knowledge.

Circulation of Knowledge
Knowledge circulates within and between social spheres. In these exchange processes between academic and non-academic forms of knowledge, new knowledge is generated, disseminated and continually changed.

Practices of Knowledge
Knowledge is not free-floating: On the one hand, knowledge is associated with institutions, thus, it is part of power structures; on the other hand, knowledge is always intertwined with and constituted by physical practices, It depends on media, representation and visualization techniques, as well as forms of speech and discourse.

See our projects.

For further reading:
Pidgin-Knowledge. Wissen und Kolonialismus (Harald Fischer-Tiné 2013)
Was ist Wissensgeschichte? (Philipp Sarasin 2011)
Wissensgeschichte - Eine Standortbestimmung (David Gugerli 2012)
All editorials of our Yearbook for the History of Knowledge (since 2005)

Our Teaching

We live in the age of knowledge. Therefore, we need experts for the epistemic, economic, political, social, ethic and aesthetic premises and consequences of the production and circulation of knowledge. The knowledge society needs academically trained strategists who are able to analyze different bodies of knowledge and their entanglements. We need professionals who are able to translate scientific knowledge into a discourse which is intelligible for all.

Since 2007, our competence center houses a graduate center with, at present, 26 PhD students and a master program with, at present, 44 students. In addition, we offer various courses for PhD students and master students of the ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, e.g. an introduction into the history and philosophy of knowledge.


Program Spring 2018

Like in the past academic year, we alternate between two different types of events: an academic colloquium covering topics related to the history of knowledge (ZGW Kolloquium) is followed by an event at the Cabaret Voltaire focused on current public debates.

The following events are scheduled for the upcoming semester:
March, 7: ZGW Colloquium with Prof. Dr. Marieke de Goede
March, 22 (Attention: it's a Thursday): Wissen in Gesellschaft #14: Human Rights with Prof. Dr. Anne Peters
April, 18: ZGW Colloquium with PD Dr. Patrick Eiden-Offe
May, 2: ZGW Colloquium with Dr. Joanna Wawrzyniak
May, 16: ZGW Colloquium with Prof. Dr. Edward Jones-Imhotep

See the complete program here.

Ideology and History of Knowledge

April 20, 2018

Workshop with Dr. Per Leo (Berlin).

Welche Einsichten eröffnet es, politische „Weltanschauungen“ als eine spezifische Form des Wissens – als politische belief systems – zu begreifen? Welche politische Pointe haben Forschungen in der Gegenwart, die Ideologien in ihrer historischen Prägekraft sichtbar machen statt sie in ideologiekritischer Absicht zu dekonstruieren? Im Gespräch mit Per Leo geht der Workshop diesen Fragen am Beispiel des weltanschaulichen Denkens im Nationalsozialismus nach. (Flyer)

Please register in advance here. A short reader with texts will be provided.

Organized by Plattform GESCHICHTE DER GEGENWART.

Place & Time: tba, 9.30 am

Add to Calendar

ZGW Colloquium

May 2, 2018

Lecture by Dr. Joanna Wawrzyniak (University of Warsaw)

Western Africa in Eastern Europe: On the History of Decolonization Discourses and Comparative Knowledge in Polish Sociology

Place & time: ETH Zürich, RZ Gebäude, Clausiusstrasse 59, 8092 Zürich, room F 21, 6.15-8pm

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ZGW Colloquium

May 16, 2018

Lecture with Prof. Dr. Edward Jones-Imhotep (York University, Toronto)

Sporadic Phenomena: The Natural History of Cold-War Technologies (Abstract)

Place & Time: ETH Zürich, RZ building, Clausiusstrasse 59, 8092 Zurich, Room F 21, 6.15-8pm

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New Perspectives on the History of the Technological Self and Science in the Cold War

May 17, 2018

Workshop with Prof. Dr. Edward Jones-Imhotep (York University, Toronto).

Place & Time: tba

Add to Calendar


New ZGW Board

March 2018

We want to thank Svenja Goltermann and Lutz Wingert for the good cooperation during their time as the director of the ZGW and vice director!

We are very much looking forward to the cooperation with Roy Wagner and Monika Dommann, who are going to be the new co-directors of the ZGW.

New associated member at ZGW

March 2018

We warmly welcome our new associated member Dr. Janosch Steuwer at the ZGW and are looking forward to stimulating exchange and productive collaborations!

A New Exchange Program

February 2018

Our Center has started the new academic exchange program »Knowledge in Society« together with the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at the Tel Aviv University. Until the end of 2019, PhD students, PostDocs and professors of both institutions, the Cohn Institute and the ZGW, will have the opportunity to visit the partner institution and present their research. The goal of the program is to promote international academic exchange in the field of knowledge history.

We are grateful for the support of the Daniel Gablinger-Stiftung which funds the exchange program on the part of the ZGW.

Job offer

February 2018

The Chair for Modern History (Prof. Dr. Monika Dommann) at University of Zurich invites applications for 1 Postdoc position. See the job offer for further information.

The application has to be submitted by May 15th, 2018.

Further information on the research group: Website of the Chair

Academic Guest in March/ April 2018

We warmly welcome Prof. Dr. Anne Peters from the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law Heidelberg at the ZGW. Anne Peters stay is organized by Prof. Dr. Monika Dommann and Prof. Dr. Svenja Goltermann.

Events with Anne Peters:
Workshop: April 11
Human rights violations and transnational cooperations

Wissen in Gesellschaft #14: March 22

Human Rights

More information will follow shortly.


Opfer. Die Wahrnehmung von Krieg und Gewalt in der Moderne

Svenja Goltermann, S. Fischer Verlage: 2017

New Coordinator Doctoral Program

December 2017

We welcome Dr. Monika Wulz as the new coordinator of the Doctoral Program at ZGW from January 1, 2018.
We would also like to thank Saša Vukadinovic for supporting the ZGW during the last two years and wish him all the best!