How to make sense of subjectivity in research?


Members of the Doctoral Schools of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Arts, Humanities and Law, and Life Sciences and Medicine doing PhD research in the fields of (clinical) psychology, educational studies, social work, philosophy, cultural studies, literary studies, special needs education and medicine.

Organising & Scientific Committe

  • Dr. Katrien De Graeve, Centre for Research on Culture and Gender, Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Ghent University, , Tel. 09 264 38 21
  • Dr. Jan De Vos, Department of Philosophy and moral sciences, Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Ghent University,, Tel. 09 264 39 72
  • Drs. Jasper Feyaerts, Department of Psychoanalysis and Clinical Consulting, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Ghent University, , Tel. 09 264 64 88
  • Prof. Dr. Stijn Vanheule, Department of Psychoanalysis and Clinical Consulting, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Ghent University, , Tel. 09 264 91 01
  • Prof. Dr. Ignaas Devisch, Bioethics Institute, Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Ghent University, , Tel. 09 332 55 01
  • Prof. Dr. Griet Roets, Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Ghent University, , Tel. 09 264 91 27
  • Prof. Dr. Kris Rutten, Department of Educational Sciences, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Ghent University, , Tel. 09 264 62 54

Theme and Aim

This specialist course is for researchers who are interested in the topic of subjectivity and would like to have a clear and instructive presentation of the theoretical, epistemological and methodological issues at stake in this notion and how it relates to their own field of research. International speakers from various disciplines (phenomenology, women’s studies, literary studies, anthropology, clinical psychology, psychoanalysis, …) will be invited in order to explore how subjectivity is studied and conceptualized from within these different traditions. During the master classes doctoral students will be invited and stimulated to reflect from their own disciplinary perspectives and research projects on the master class themes. We hope to offer a platform for both new and advanced researchers to discuss how the study of subjectivity can be conducted in a theoretically refined and methodologically adequate way.  The course introduces researchers in psychology, psychotherapy, gender studies, educational sciences, social research, sexology and philosophy into an in-depth reflection upon the topics of subjectivity, consciousness, agency, the first- and third-person perspectives and methodological justification of qualitative research. It aims at elaborating and discussing fundamental topics underlying the study of subjectivity in the social and human sciences.         

Dates and Venue

The course will be organized over 4 days in 2017: 25 April, May (day tba), 29 June and 4 September 2017. For the start-end time for each instruction day, see the program below.
Participants are supposed to have read a selection of articles suggested by the speaker. These will be made available a few weeks before the actual instruction day. During the masterclass following the lecture, students will be invited to discuss their own research in relation to the theme of the lecture.  
Each instruction day will consist of:
-    Theoretical lecture
-    Masterclass
Venue: see programme.

  • Day 1: Subjectivity in Contemporary Phenomenology - Tuesday, 25 April 2017 (13:00 - 17:00)

Location: Auditorium E (PLAROZ), Campus Boekentoren, gebouw18.01 - Plateau-Rozier, Jozef Plateaustraat 22
Speaker: Dan Zahavi, Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Danish National Research Foundation: Center for Subjectivity Research, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Title Lecture: The Minimal Self Revisited
In my talk, I will first briefly outline the main ideas and motivations behind the introduction of a minimalist notion of self. I will contrast and compare it with the notion of a narrative self, and then consider a number of challenges and criticisms that the former notion has recently been subjected to. These criticisms all engage in various ways with what might be called the universality question. If it is the case that our experiences are accompanied by a minimal sense of self such that one might talk of the existence of an experiential self, is it then something that holds with necessity, such that it characterizes all experiences however minimal or disordered they might be? Is it something that only holds for normal, adult, experiences? Or might it be something that only holds under rather special circumstances, say, when we reflectively scrutinize and appropriate our experiences?

Theme Masterclass:
This instruction day will be devoted to the study of subjectivity from a phenomenological perspective. From its inception, phenomenology has focused systematically on topics such as intentionality, imagination, empathy, action, perception, embodiment, naturalism, self-consciousness, self-disorders and schizophrenia. It has also engaged with classical thinkers such as Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Schleiermacher, Brentano, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas and Ricoeur. Throughout, phenomenological research has been driven by the conviction that a variety of different philosophical and empirical perspectives on subjectivity can lead to a mutual enlightenment and that such methodological and conceptual pluralism is what is actually needed in the contemporary debate on subjectivity.

  • Day 2: Subjectivity and Illness - Thursday, 18 May 2017 (10:00-14:00)

Location: Auditorium 1 (K3, 1st floor), Campus Heymans (UZ), De Pintelaan 185 ​

Masterclass: Faculteitsraadzaal (K3, 3rd floor), Campus Heymans (UZ), De Pintelaan 185
Speaker: Frederik Svenaeus, Professor of Philosophy, Centre for Studies in Practical Knowledge, Södertörn University, Sweden

Title Lecture: A Phenomenological Account of Health and Illness
A large slice of contemporary phenomenology of medicine has been devoted to developing an account of health and illness that proceeds from the first-person perspective in attempting to understand the lived bodily experiences of the ill person in contrast and connection to the third-person perspective on his/her diseased body. A proof of this phenomenological account of health and illness, represented by philosophers such as Kay Toombs, Havi Carel, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Kevin Aho and Fredrik Svenaeus, becoming increasingly influential in philosophy of medicine and medical ethics, is the criticism of it that has been voiced in some recent studies. In this presentation two such critical contributions, proceeding from radically different premises and backgrounds, are discussed: Jonathan Sholl’s naturalistic critique and Talia Welsh’s Nietzschean critique. The aim is to defend the phenomenological account and clear up misunderstandings about what it amounts to and what we should be able to expect from it.

Theme Masterclass:
This instruction day will focus on the philosophical role of illness and the importance of subjectivity, starting from examples of the philosophical role according to illness in the history of philosophy and an explanation why subjectivity merits a substantial role in our reflection on illness. Illness modifies and sheds a light on, normal experience, revealing its ordinary and therefore overlooked structure. Illness also provides an opportunity for reflecting upon how subjectivity can or should be integrated into research on the impact of illness on our everyday life and human identity.

  • Day 3: Subjectivity and the Politics of Science - Thursday, 29 June 2017 (10:00 - 14:00)

Location: Jozef Plateauzaal , Campus Boekentoren, gebouw18.01 - Plateau-Rozier, Jozef Plateaustraat 22
Speaker: Angela Willey, Assistant Professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Hampshire College, Amherst (MA), USA
Title Lecture: Undoing Monogamy: The Politics of Science and the Possibilities of Biology
In this talk, Willey both frames and traces the broad contours of Undoing Monogamy, a radically interdisciplinary exploration of the concept of monogamy in science and culture, propelled by queer feminist desires for new modes of conceptualization and new forms of belonging. She approaches the politics and materiality of monogamy as intertwined with one another such that disciplinary ways of knowing themselves become the object of critical inquiry. Refusing to answer the naturalization of monogamy with a naturalization of non-monogamy, the talk suggests the need for a critical reorientation toward the monogamy question in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The talk traverses the books' treatments of colonial sexual science, monogamous voles, polyamory, and the works of Alison Bechdel and Audre Lorde to show how challenging the lens through which human nature is seen as monogamous or nonmonogamous forces us to reconsider our investments in coupling and in disciplinary notions of biological bodies.

Theme Masterclass:
This instruction day explores the question of subjectivity in epistemological interventions of feminist science studies. These critical studies of science have sought to theorize new ways of imagining “objectivity” and taking into account the politics of location and embodied conditions of knowledge production. This has led to a variety of epistemological approaches, often categorized as either feminist empiricism, feminist standpoint theory or feminist postmodernism, and more recent attempts to incorporate new materialist engagements with matter and embodiment within feminist critiques of science and philosophies of subjectivity.

  • Day 4: Subjectivity and Representation - Monday, 4 September 2017 (10:00 - 14:00)

Location: De Krook - Miriam Makebaplein 1, 9000 Gent
Lecture: 10-12u (Zaal De Laatkomer)
Master class: 13-15u (Zaal De Muide)

Speaker: Leora Farber, Director Visual Identities Art and Design (VIAD), FADA Research Centre, University of Johannesburg, South Africa  
Title Lecture: Approaches towards the reframing of engagements with selfhood and otherness in visual representation

In this talk, I focus on the relationships between subjectivity and representation, how selfhood and otherness might be expressed in visual forms, and what forms these might take. In the first part of the talk, I look at how conceptualisations and representations of self and other as fixed, defined categories prevalent in the 1990s to early 2000s have shifted in current artmaking practices. I contend that the shift is related towards a reframing of these subject positions in terms of various forms of ‘mixedness’ such as hybridity, creolisation, entanglement and other heterogeneous identity formations emerging from processes of cross-cultural contact and exchange. I explore this premise with reference to the work of South African artists Mary Sibande, Penny Siopis and Zanele Muholi, who engage with processes of visually remaking South African identities in ways that destabilise fixed positionings within racial and gendered dichotomies.
In the second part of the talk, I further my exploration by looking modes of representing selfhood and otherness that go beyond categorisations such as hybridity, creolisation and entanglement, which, although they refer to various forms of cultural mixing, still retain the fundamental binaries of sameness and difference at their core. I examine certain relational, reciprocal formations of subjectivity such as Julia Kristeva’s conception of the ‘stranger/other/foreigner/alien within’, and the possibilities that these forms of subjectivity raise for modes of engagement with selfhood and otherness that lie outside of a dualistic framework in visual representation. Such an exploration necessitates psychological processes of coming to terms with an alienness or strangeness within, which in turn, is linked to experiencing a sense of estrangement from the self. In their potential to unsettle the known and familiar, these processes hold rich possibilities for the production of new, emergent, and relatively unchartered identity formations.

Theme Masterclass:
This instruction day will focus on the relation between subjectivity and representation, how selfhood and otherness might be expressed in visual forms, what forms these might take, and what methodological approaches might be employed in their realization. Furthermore, starting from contemporary art practices, we will question how the dichotomy Self/Other can be shifted to the framing of subject positions in terms of heterogeneous identity formations, emerging from processes of cross-cultural contact and exchange.

Registration fee

Free of charge for members of the Ghent University Doctoral Schools

Registration and Information

By e-mail to Jasper Feyaerts, Department of Psychoanalysis and Clinical Consulting, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Ghent University,

Number of participants

Maximum 20

Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

100% active participation in all sessions