On Gas Exchanges And The Right To Breathe

Daniela Gandorfer
Arts and Society, Cross-Disciplinary Strategies
2021S, scientific seminar (SEW), 2.0 ECTS, 1.0 semester hours, course number S03561




Detection and Sense-Making: Quantum Optics, God Trick, and Matters of Force is a co-taught seminar by Daniela Gandorfer and Tanja Traxler. It is a continuation of the fall 2020 seminars “Gas Exchanges and the Right to Breathe” and “Individualism & Intra-action: Agency and causality in human and nonhuman affairs”.



In this seminar we approach modes and technologies of detection as onto-epistemological aesthetical practices, that is, as modes of sensing and sense-making that participate in determining what matters and what is excluded from mattering.

Detection, per definition, is concerned with uncovering, that is, sensing, registering, exposing, expressing, what is sensible, yet not recognizable. As such, detection plays a crucial role for scientific and philosophical modes of knowledge production. But how to detect what neither makes sense nor is yet sensible? What are the tools, concepts, and experiments that are supposed to make sense of the undetected, un-grasped and unthinkable? And how do objectivity and detection relate?  Who or what has the power to make sense? How can we remain response-able for both what is rendered intelligible and remains nonsensical? Even further: How do sensing and detection become acts of resistance to dominate regimes of sense-making?

These questions are far from abstract. Whether we situate the practices and discourses of detection in science, law, politics, or philosophy, the question of who or what makes sense – who or what is detected, registered, recorded, sensed – is a question of existence and non-existence. Phenomena such as climate change, colonialism, racism, and fascism are entangled with our dominant and canonized modes of detecting and sense-making.

In the course of this seminar we will pay close attention to various modes of detection and the scientific, political and philosophical implications of such modes. Readings and media to be attended to run the gamut from quantum optics and protein modeling, to painting forces, outer-space photography and thermal military cameras, infrasound, gravitational waves observatories, border surveillance, and participatory mapping.


Examination Modalities

The seminar will take place bi-weekly.

Students are expected to come prepared and participate in discussions and small group exercises by contributing to a blog, which will accompany the seminar. Groups’ responses are to be posted as a comment by 6:00pm CET the day prior to class. An on-site experiment is planned and guest lecturers will be invited.



  • Participants are asked to do the readings for each session and contribute actively to group discussions. (30%)
  • Participants are asked to form groups and contribute blog postings for each session. (40%)
  • For the last session, each participant is asked to provide an individual reflection of the seminar of 1-2 pages and have a short presentation of 5min. (30%)


Context of the course within CDC: examinations for the course “Detection and Sense-Making" for CDS students will be held as part of the finals of the CDCLab. Topic, problem definition and approach will be developed within the seminar and must be independently visible in the presentation. CDCLab bundles the multitude of thematic possibilities and contents, systematic approaches and disciplinary requirements. CDCLab is a participatory lecture format in which students contribute, develop and apply topics and strategies largely independently. To this end, several courses from different subject groups of the study program cooperate with CDC in the joint supervision of content, research, problem-solving and practical implementation. Multidisciplinary connections in project work, as well as examinations, are processed and executed within the framework of CDC.


As this is a co-taught seminar by Daniela Gandorfer and Tanja Traxler, students are recommended to register for both courses “Gas Exchanges and the Right to Breathe” as well as “Individualism & Intra-action: Agency and causality in human and nonhuman affairs”.

Attendence of the fall 2020 seminars (“Gas Exchanges and the Right to Breathe” and “Individualism & Intra-action: Agency and causality in human and nonhuman affairs”) is not a prerequisite for attending this seminar.

Key Words

sense-making, detection, aesthetics, justice, science, history of science, legal theory, process philosophy, technology


04 March 2021, 17:00–18:45
18 March 2021, 17:00–18:45
15 April 2021, 17:00–18:45
29 April 2021, 17:00–18:45
20 May 2021, 17:00–18:45
27 May 2021, 17:00–18:45, "Sounding the City - On-Site Session" (guest lecture)
10 June 2021, 17:00–18:45, "Exam/Finals"

Course Enrolment

From 01 February 2021, 08:18 to 31 March 2021, 23:55
Via online registration

co-registration: possible

Individual courses: possible