Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Kulturwissenschaft


PI: Robert Stock, Doc: Rahel Kesselring

This project is part of Material Form Function at the Cluster “Matters of Activity“ and will contribute to their research by developing an interdisciplinary and humanities-based perspective on wood, forests and bark.
It will draw on new materialism, STS, history of knowledge; decolonial thought and posthuman approaches to map tree-related knowledges, technologies and futures by drawing on scientific works, material cultures and cultural production (film, arts, literature, exhibitions). The project is heuristically structured in the three thematic areas that will explore relevant examples and case studies:

  • Over a time-span of several centuries, large areas populated by trees and its heterogeneous companion species (Haraway) have become the target of systematic human and state interventions as well as analytical science. Tree collectives were subjected to extractive practices and scientifically described to create profound knowledge about the manageability, functionality and processability of forests and woods (Grober; Radkau). Such passivization of wood as a material for architectures, infrastructures etc., may be contrasted with situated local knowledges embracing the co-existence of human and non-human living beings. To explore the various material legacies as well as the often-conflicting knowledges entangled with trees and forests as active or passive matter, the project will go beyond a history of science perspective and focus on crucial examples of natural-cultural techniques (Schäffner) and syntopic architectures (Dierichs) as well as decolonial thought to raise questions about the position and significance of trees and wood for the Anthropocene.
  • Recently, forests are increasingly intersecting with digital media environments. Trees along with sensor media (Gabrys) and global monitoring projects co-produce data on a large scale and aim to contribute to policies and measures to mitigate effects of climate crisis. Such techno-forests have a critical position in rethinking the futures of a damaged planet. Against this backdrop, the project sets out to critically describe the frictions (Tsing) created between decreasing or unhealthy forests, citizen science projects, media arts and platform capitalism. Thereby, it strives to investigate novel forms of data dissemination and communicative strategies with regards to trees, their activities, artistic interventions and digital consumer practices (i.e. search engines like and reforestation campaigns).
  • While the future of trees and forests is at great risk, novel forms of more-than-human co-existence are emerging. City forest, tiny forests, wood as so-called renewable material and other variations articulate the uncertainty of these future scenarios. Yet they also do incorporate expectations of building a common way out of the current crisis by tackling issues like sustainability (Alaimo). Hence the urgency to map wood, for instance, in its waste dimension and rethink residues like bark for scrutinizing their potentials for building novel concepts in urbanism, architecture or fashion. In this research area, the project will particularly collaborate with design research and material science (MPI, Eder and Wenig)

Alaimo, Stacy. 2012. “Sustainable This, Sustainable That: New Materialisms, Posthumanism, and Unknown Futures.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 127 (3): 558–64. Link

Gabrys, Jennifer. 2020. “Smart Forests and Data Practices: From the Internet of Trees to Planetary Governance.” Big Data & Society 7 (1): 205395172090487. Link

Grober, Ulrich. 2012. Sustainability: A Cultural History. Devon: Green Books.

Radkau, Joachim. 2007. Holz: Wie ein Naturstoff Geschichte schreibt. Stoffgeschichten 3. München: Oekom Verlag.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2005. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton paperbacks. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wenig, Charlett, John W. C. Dunlop, Johanna Hehemeyer-Cürten, Friedrich J. Reppe, Nils Horbelt, Karin Krauthausen, Peter Fratzl, and Michaela Eder. 2021. “Advanced Materials Design Based on Waste Wood and Bark.” Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences 379 (2206): 1–17. Link

Yusoff, Kathryn, ed. 2018. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. Forerunners ideas first from the University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.


  • Collaboration in activities together with the research strands “Fibrous Materials” and “Syntopic Architectures” at Material Form Function
  • Thematic international workshop with a subsequent publication
  • 1-2 publications per annum (book chapter or peer reviewed journal article)
  • 1-2 presentations at international conferences per annum
  • 1 PhD dissertation (monograph)