Prof. Dr. Alfred Nordmann

Main Questions and Fields of Research

The following research projects contribute to the larger research agenda of History and Philosophy of Technoscience. Its questions include all the ones that are raised by the History and Philosophy of Science – and then some (see Science vs. Technoscience – A Primer). For example, there are questions of

  • epistemology – objectivity of knowledge, characteristic modes of inference and evidentiary warrant, the role of theory, the concepts of explanation and understanding, qualitative and quantitative reasoning
  • ontology – constitution of research objects, dispositions and affordances, structure-property relations, conservation principles
  • representing and intervening – simulation modelling, visualization techniques, media practices, research technologies, design.

The overall aim of these various projects is to philosophically appreciate not only how the sciences forge and ascertain agreement between theory and reality but also how the technosciences produce …

Bookseries History and Philosophy of Technoscience

This series of monographs and collected papers explores research practice by foregrounding its technological setting – when the problems to be investigated are themselves the product of science and technology in the modern world, when researchers rely on instruments, computational methods, or media technologies, when results change the world materially more so than our ideas. From nanotechnology to the environmental sciences, from alchemy to pharmacy, from solid state physics to human factors research, how are problems defined, what counts as an explanation, how are findings validated, how do values enter in? And most importantly for civic observers of contemporary research: How is robustness and reliability achieved even where we lack scientific understanding?

Series-editor: Alfred Nordmann (Darmstadt Technical University), Editorial Board: Hanne Andersen (University of Copenhagen), Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent (University of Paris, Sorbonne), Martin Carrier (University of Bielefeld), Graeme Gooday (University of Leeds), Don Howard (University of Notre Dame), Ann Johnson (Cornell University), Cyrus Mody (Maastricht University), Maureen O’Malley, (University of Sydney), Roger Strand (University of Bergen), Nancy Tuana (Pennsylvania State University).

Heinrich Hertz and Ludwig Wittgenstein

For work on the physics and philosophy of Heinrich Hertz, on the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and on their shared interest in the mechanics of representation see the list of publications.

For an updated searchable bibliography of primary and secondary sources on all aspects of the life and work of Heinrich Hertz see

BiCoDa Alliance

The BiCoDa Alliance primarily of the University of Bielefeld, the University of South Carolina in Columbia, and of Darmstadt Technical University considers how science-technology interactions shape research-practice today and in the past. This “technological” perspective adds a distinctive “t” to the History and Philosophy of Science – in the context of the Alliance, HPS becomes HPtS.

The BiCoDa Alliance organized a variety of workshops including the Dimensions of Measurement conference (Bielefeld, March 2013), The State's Stake in Science (Bielefeld, July 2013), Pictures and Proofs (Columbia, March 2015), and the upcoming Spring School on Models and Modelling in Synthetic Biology (Darmstadt, March 2017).

Working Knowledge and the Grammar of Things – SPT2017

Picking up where earlier collaborations with Davis Baird left off, the notion of working knowledge is juxtaposed to that of thing knowledge – with. Sachlichkeit as the epistemic virtue for the acquisition and demonstration of ways to make things work together. These ways of composing things involve rules or manuals of composition which distinguish genre of technological art – mechanical, electrical, software engineering each have their own grammars of things.

These considerations contribute to the epistemology of technoscience, they inform the December 2016 workshop on a Laocoön for the technological arts (see below), and informs the June 2017 conference of the Society for Philosophy and Technology (SPT 2017) on „The Grammar of Things.“

Laocoön 2016

In 1766 Gotthold Ephraim Lessing began a series of discussions that continue today. His theoretical reflections on Laocoön – or on the Limits of Painting and Poetry pompted a 2014/15 lecture-series that prepared for various activities in the year of their 250th anniversary.

A collaboration with the ZHdK (Zurich University of the Arts) revolves around „The Pain of the Other“ and the limits of its representation through the arts. In April 2016, selected students from game-design, theatre, music,dance, and the arts showcased their work on this subject. – In the days of November 23 to 25, 2016, there will be an art and theory festival that premieres a variety of works on the topic and features, among others, philosophy students from Darmstadt who will enact an encounter between aesthetic theory and artistic practice.

From December 5 to 7, 2016, there will be in Padua an international workshop co-organized with Fabio Grigenti from the University of Padua: Principles of Composition – Towards a Laocoon of Technological Art. There will be five sessons that are dedicated in equal measure to „the technical workings of works of art“ and to the „the artful workings of technical works“ – with special consideration given to Lessing, Francis Bacon and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Contributors include Natascha Adamowsky (Freiburg), Gernot Böhme (Darmstadt), Anne Eusterschulte (Berlin), Steffi Hobuß (Lüneburg), Christoph Jamme (Lüneburg), Katharina Kaiser (Berkeley), Mario Kaiser (Basel), Werner Kogge (Berlin), Wolfgang Krohn (Bielefeld), Dieter Mersch (Zürich), Anne Pollok (South Carolina), Astrid Schwarz (Zürich/Darmstadt), Otto Sibum (Uppsala), Dirk Westerkamp (Kiel).

IANUS and Nuclear Condition(s)

IANUS explores the ways in which science and technology contribute to the creation and resolution of conflict and the advancement of peace. To the core concerns of Responsible Research and Innovation it adds the question how science and technology can be oriented not only to societal values such as sustainability, social justice, or privacy but also to the creation and preservation of condtions for peaceful cooperation.

The IANUS research institute provides a platform for international networks on topics as diverse as nuclear non-proliferation, conflict minerals, cybersecurity, or critical infrastructures.

One current line of research in the IANUS-context takes the perspective of Science and Technology Studies and of the Philosophy of Technoscience to analyze and engage with current discourse on nuclear disarmament – in a time where the notions of deterrence or mutual assured destruction have given way to concerns about the proper management of arsenals and the technical problem of assuring that nuclear arms are in the „right hands.“ A main part of this work is to forge a network of researchers under the heading of Nuclear Condition(s): Politics, Technology, Philosophy. It offers nuclear engineers an opportunity to reflect their expanded responsibilities as security theory meets nuclear materialsmanagement.

GOTO – Genesis and Ontology of Technoscientific Objects

The ontology of the technosciences differs from the ontology of modern science. Aside from its philosophical interest, this difference deserves attention because these objects challenge received ways of thinking about the natural and the artificial, science and engineering, substance and potentiality.

The French-German collaboration of Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent, Sacha Loeve, Astrid Schwarz, and Alfred Nordmann was jointly funded by ANR and DFG. With contributions from 12 international collaborators produced a forthcoming volume of essays that promotes the philosophy of technoscience and a systematic understanding of a type of objects that commands considerable attention in our contemporary world. The project started in August 2010 and ended in January 2014.

The final conference What Affordance Affords was organized by in Darmstadt, November 25 to 27, 2013. Speakers included Rom Harré, Harry Heft, Peter Kroes, Lorenzo Magnani, Hans Jörg Rheinberger, Michael Turvey, Catharine Ward Thompson. – A Winterschool for graduate and doctoral studentsModes of Technoscientific Knowledge was organized by and took place in Manigod from January 19 to 25, 2014. Contributors included Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent, Sacha Loeve, Alfred Nordmann, Astrid Schwarz, Xavier Guchet, Anne-Françoise Schmid, and Jean-Pierre Llored.

The volume of collected papers Research Objects in their Technological Setting will appear 2016 in the History and Philosophy of Technoscience Routledge book-series with contributions from Kevin Elliott, Aant Elzinga, Jennifer Gabrys, Peter Galison, Christopher Kelty, Hugh Lacey, Lucie Laplane, Sacha Loeve/Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent, Colin Milburn, Alfred Nordmann, Sophie Poirot-Delpech, Astrid Schwarz, Jens Soentgen, Pierre Tessier, Simone van der Burg, and Cheryce von Xylander.

Dimensions of Measurement

The conference Dimensions of Measurement took place from March 13 to 16, 2013 in Bielefeld (organizers: Alfred Nordmann, Oliver Schlaudt, and the BiCoDa Alliance). A first collection of papers edited by Lara Huber and Oliver Schlaudt deals with philosophical, historical and sociological issues of Standardization in Measurement. A second collection of papers, edited by Nicola Mößner and Alfred Nordmann, deals with epistemological, representational, and technological issues of Reasoning in Measurement.

CRITIS, CYSEC, and CompuGene – research partnerships and other activities

  • Faculty of the CRITIS Research Training Group „Critical Infrastructures: Construction, Function Failures, and Protection in Cities“ with a focus on working knowledge of complex material systems, their resilience and vulnerability (since Fall of 2016)
  • Co-PI at CYSEC with a focus on reframing and extending the distinction of cybersafety and cybersecurity: To make nuclear technologies or IT-systems safe, one seeks to identify and remediate the likelihood of accidents or other kinds of technology vulnerability. To establish nuclear or IT security one seeks to incorporate values like peace or transparency into a system of use, and one seeks to provide the means of reducing conflict over the use of the technology.
  • Co-PI of the LOEWE project CompuGene with a focus on engineering principles and notions of design in Synthetic Biology, organizing with Tarja Knuuttila (University of South Carolina) a BiCoDa Spring School „Models and Modelling in Synthetic Biology“ (March 5 to 10, 2017).
  • Interdisciplinary discussion forum on responsible research Das Akademische Viertel (since Fall of 2012)
  • Interdisziplinärer Studienschwerpunkt Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung: Normen, Ambivalenzen, Gestaltungsoptionen (NAG)
  • Office for interdisciplinary nanoScience and Technology Studies/Büro für interdisziplinäre Nanotechnikforschung – nanoOffice/nanobüro(2005-2010)

Recent partnerships in EC-funded (FP6 and FP7) and BMBF projects

BMBF-commissioned study on Models for the Regulation of Nanotechnology

The report was produced in 2007/08 by the nanobüro/NanoOffice in close collaboration with Andreas Lösch (lead author) and Stefan Gammel. Along with an extended synopsis in English and various background readings, it was published in Stefan Gammel, Andreas Lösch, Alfred Nordmann (eds.) Jenseits von Regulierung: Zum politischen Umgang mit der Nanotechnologie (Beyond Regulation: On the Governance of Nanotechnologies), Heidelberg: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, 2009.