Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology

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Research: Medializations of the Shadow

As ‚artefact’ in the strict sense of the term, the shadow seems to be a rather recent phenomenon. If we take a look at the shadow practices of a vast number of past and contemporary societies, however, it is obvious that over and again shadows have been regarded as meaningful signs and media for interacting with gods and spirits. As such, they don’t just ‚happen’ but are conceptualized as more or less purposeful, intentional acts of communication.

In societies that attach this special meaning to shadows, there is no doubt about their mediality. This becomes obvious when shadows are thought of as either essential parts or as substitutes of humans. Both functions can be of juridical-prescriptive nature, they can lead to economic transactions, and they can be of medical or religious nature.

With regard to Anthropology, it is primarily three aspects of shadows that can be traced and analysed: its functionalizability as sort of a hybrid ‚quasi-object’ (Serres) with a variety of meanings, its refusal to fit into a simple agent/patient dichotomy, and its complex relation to questions of epistemology and time.

Shadows clearly transcend the frontier between ontological fields and allow the creation of meaning beyond an intentional subject. Given the diversity oft he phenomenon, the project follows a multidisciplinary path, combining methods and theories from anthropology, history, and literary studies with issues from semiotics, media theory and cultural studies.