PhD Courses in Denmark

Technology, subjectivity and affect.

Graduate School, Arts at Aarhus University


How do we make sense of a time in which we are constantly and everywhere surrounded by technology? To be sure, we increasingly relate to the world, to each other, and to ourselves by means of modern technologies. As a consequence, technology should not be viewed simply as 'external' tools that we use to master the world but rather as part and parcel of our subjectivity, since technology is integral to the ways in which we reflect upon and shape ourselves today. Technology often plays an ambiguous role, however. In our technologized life, modern technology both appears to be the problem and the solution to urgent global problems, ranging from combatting cybercrimes to deforestation and global warming. While we recognize that modern technologies have numerous deleterious effects in our collective and private lives, we refuse to give up on them, instead investing our hopes in the promise of technology to solve our problems.

This PhD course centres on three concepts that are central in research on the role of modern technology and our relationship to it: technology, subjectivity, and affectivity. The course will explore how these concepts have been defined in different theories, and it will discuss examples of how to carry out research using these concepts. Our starting point is that questions of how to employ such concepts are often crucial in the evaluation of scholarly work, including Ph.D. dissertations. Questions include: are the selected concepts adequate to the study and material in question? Have they been carefully chosen and defined? Could concepts from alternative theoretical traditions be used with better results? Are the concepts applied and developed in a manner that is sufficiently sensitive to the empirical material, or do they foreclose the complexities of the social and historical realities? Such questions, al concerning the use of concepts, become crucial both in the formulation of research questions, in the development of analyses, and in the synthesis of findings. 

The first part of the course will explore the relationship between subjectivity and technology through the lenses of Martin Heidegger's seminal philosophical critique of modern technology and Michel Foucault's analytical work on technology as instruments of subjectivation and self-formation. Heidegger and Foucault were both pivotal to open up pathways to think critically about the historical trajectory of increasing technologization, which is still carrying us forward. Of key significance in this process is the installation of a particular perspective on the world, a ‘gaze’ that turns our reality into objects of quantification, manipulation and optimization. The 'essence of technology', Heidegger argued, forces us to perceive nature and ourselves as meaningless objects of exploitation, foreclosing other ways of perceiving and relating to our world. One central task will be to consider how far we can go on the basis of Heidegger's groundbreaking work, so influential in later critiques of technology. Another key task we will pursue in this part of the course is to attempt integrating Foucault's notion of technology, the dispositif, with his analysis of self-technology, hence bridging the mid-career Foucault’s analytics of power with the late Foucault’s ethics. We will also scrutinize a recent case study that explores this analytical bridging in an analysis of a management reform that standardized practices of health care. 

The second part of the course explores questions about subjectivity by considering the role of affects in contemporary forms of organising, governing and governmentality. What does it means for our thinking about subjectivity if we also think about extra-linguistic intensities and influences? We will introduce different concepts of affect as well as consider how affect intermingle with different forms of medialisation or datafication in contemporary welfare policies and practices. We will discuss questions such as: How are contemporary management technologies designed to evoke and circulate affects? How do data and new data-ideologies carry and circulate affective atmospheres? How may past values, ideas and habits, which no longer hold a place in contemporary policy languages continue to haunt and make themselves felt in welfare practices and processes? A central purpose is to discuss how these theoretical inspirations may be helpful for exploring different empirical cases and material. We will also discuss the methodological challenges surrounding ambitions of engaging with theories of affect and present different forms of methodological explorations that might be helpful. 

The third part of the course engages scholarly discussions about how to conceptualize emerging digital and computerized technologies such as algorithms and artificial intelligence, including their implications for the human subject. With a starting point in Science and technology studies (STS), and their abandonment of an a-priori separation between ‘technology’ and ‘sociality’ (cf. Callon, 1986), it discusses the possibilities and challenges of using relational and socio-material approaches in analyzing computerized technologies. One challenge is the inscrutability of computerized technologies such as algorithms. To which extent do we need to understand and scrutinize software code and networked infrastructures in order to analyze digital technologies such as algorithms? How to analytically access their organizing capacities, in terms how they enact new social categories, e.g. through algorithms ‘profiling’ subjects into different groupings? How to delimit – analytically, practically and conceptually – digital technologies, often extending into complicated infrastructures and computerized networks? How to conceptualize the ongoing configurations of human-machine agencies (Suchman, 2012). And how to allow for an empirical sensitivity in analyzing the unanticipated and surprising ways in which digital technologies may be appropriated in practical use (Akrich, 1992)? Revisiting old and new conceptual debates in STS about technology – and examining them through concrete case studies - will allow us to scrutinize the analytical purchases of different conceptual designs.


The course will provide the participants with:

a) An introduction to key epistemological discussions around the use of concepts related to technology, subjectivity and affect. 

b) The potentials and limits of the concepts relevant to the theme of the phd-course figuring in the participant’s research will be discussed. Hence, a range of analytical concepts will be explored and discussed in relation to the participants’ research

c) Possibilities for supplementing a given conceptual apparatus with other analytical resources will be discussed


Akrich, Madeline. 1992. “The De-Scription of Technical Objects.” In Shaping Technology / Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change, edited by Wiebe Bijker and John Law, 205–24. Boston: MIT Press.

Blackman, Lisa (2019) Haunted data. Affect, transmedia, weird science. Bloomsbury.

Callon, Michel. 1986. “Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay.” In Power, Action and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge?, edited by John Law, 196–223. London: Routledge.

Foucault, Michel (1980b) 'The Confession of the Flesh'. In Power/Knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings, 1972-1977, edited by Colin Gordon, pp. 194-240. New York: Pantheon Books
Heidegger, Martin (1977a[1949]) ‘The Question Concerning Technology’. In The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Translated by W. Lovitt, pp. 3-36. New York: Garland Publishing.
Staunæs, D., Conrad, J.S.B. (2020) The will not to know : Data leadership, necropolitics and ethnic-racialised student subjectivities. In Richard Niesche; Amanda Heffernan (eds). Abingdon: Routledge, 2020. s. 126-140 (Routledge Critical Studies in Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Book Series , 

Suchman, Lucy. 2012. “Configuration.” In Inventive Methods: The Happening of the Social, edited by Celia Lury and Nina Wakeford, 48–60. Abingdon, UK & New York, NY: Routledge.

Villadsen, Kaspar (2019) ‘The Dispositive’: Foucault’s Concept for Organizational Analysis? In: Organization Studies, (early online 4.12). 

Target group:

Only PhD students can participate in the course.

Participation requires submission of a short paper (see more below). Papers must be in English and deadline is May 1st 2021.

It is a precondition for receiving the course diploma that the PhD student attends the whole course.




The goal is to sharpen the conceptual apparatus in the dissertations. To that end we will set aside sufficient time to carefully examine and discuss the papers submitted by the participants.
The course will consist of both lectures/presentations by scholars who are specialist in concepts of technology, subjectivity and affect. The goal of the lectures is, first, to clarify the ways in which the concept in question has been defined and employed and, second, to suggest and demonstrate how to put the concepts at work in specific analysis. In the afternoon, there will be workshops that aim to explore how concepts function in each participant’s research/dissertation – with the aim of strengthening, deepening and nuancing the conceptual dimension of the dissertations/research (articles). 

Each participant is required to submit a paper that deals with the place of concepts in the PhD project in question. Papers that apply concepts (technology, subjectivity and/or affect) to empirical problems in a variety of domains are welcomed, but so are papers that seek to contest, reformulate, or develop one or several concepts. A paper should be of approx. 5 pages. It is expected that the PhD student states the main analytical challenge/concern of the project in the paper, which we will then discuss in the light of conceptual challenges and potentials.
Papers/abstracts must be in English. 




Helene Ratner
Kaspar Villadsen 
Justine Grønbæk Pors 

Dates and time:

May 19: 10.15-17.00
May 20: 9.30-17.00
May 21: 9.30-17.00


Campus Emdrup, Tuborgvej 164, 2400 Copenhagen NV.

Application deadline:

Please apply via this link no later than 1 May 2021.