Britta Acksel
Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, and Energy, Germany
Jonna Josties
Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Maxime Le Calvé

Beyond fun: Experiments in epistemic dizziness

Britta Acksel, Jonna Josties, and Maxime Le Calvé

Event: Epistemic Dizziness. Science & Technology Studies Movement Workshop
Location: Excellence Cluster: Matters of Activity, Humboldt University of Berlin
27. – 29. September 2023


What if we take dizziness not as a threat to orientation but as a means for epistemic enhancement? In our EASST-supported STS Movement workshop in Berlin, guests and contributors from across Europe dived into this question by sharing knowledge and embodied inquiries that deal with various experiences of dizziness— doctors in intensive stations, sailors on ships, and early career STS researchers in concept whirlwinds. The workshop built on a one-and-a-half-year project that sought to connect STS research to an experimental notion and approach: epistemic dizziness.

1. Encountering Epistemic Dizziness

Figure 1: Balancing exercise to train for dizzying times by Anderwald & Grond. Digital field note, Maxime Le Calvé, 2023.

In a quiet moment of the workshop, participants find themselves standing in a circle, each person balancing on one leg with their eyes closed (Fig. 1). Under the guidance of Ruth Anderwald, the room fills with a sense of focused concentration. This exercise, a balance training technique borrowed from a psychobiologist who trains astronauts to enhance their inner ear functions, metaphorically encapsulates our exploration of dizziness—not merely as a physical sensation but as an epistemic tool. Here, we go beyond negative connotations with disorientation to understand dizziness as the discomfort provoked by an unpredictable motion or contradictory sensory input. Dizziness can also be a source of enjoyment and play: as Caillois (1961) noted, a whole category of games features vertigo-inducing activities, to which he gave the poetic name ‘ilinx’. We were here to explore this phenomenon, and the conditions under which dizziness can become an affirmative experience, not only through its physiological and sensory impacts, but also through its implications for emotions, orientation, and epistemic processes.

We aimed to harness the disorienting yet enlightening potential of dizziness to open up a deeper engagement with our perceptions and understandings of the world around us. Attendees experimented with the sensation of dizziness as part of a broader discussion on the challenging dynamics between body, mind, and environment in knowledge producing activities. This embodied exploration gave participants a richer grasp of the various ways we navigate and conceptualize our continuously shifting reality.

In particular, we wanted to underscore how disorienting spaces can reshape our practices as STS researchers, foster relational networks, and influence public participation in technoscience. We invited a group of colleagues who had already joined us on this adventure at a previous panel to explore the potential of experimental transdisciplinary practices alongside the artist researcher duo Anderwald+Grond, the biologist and social anthropologist César Giraldo Herrera, and the anthropologist and performance studies scholar Joe Dumit.

This article elaborates on the notion of epistemic dizziness, and shares insights drawn from the various positions presented during the panel and the workshop, as well as the exercises that we engaged with.

2. Exploring Epistemic Dizziness

In 2022, Latour and Schultz presented a sociological diagnosis of “our times” in their book “On the Emergence of an Ecological Class.” In a nutshell, they conclude that our position is especially challenging because we find ourselves uncertain about what to engage with, especially when we attempt to define our place in the world (Latour & Schultz 2022). As anthropologist Anna Tsing (2018) reflected in an earlier paper — academics working in science and technology studies learn, research and teach in “terrifying times.” Our questions are difficult and ambivalent, and can seem even more complicated due to the competitive proliferation of metaphors and concepts among STS scholars. In short, becoming an STS scholar often means experiencing epistemic dizziness.

The notion of epistemic dizziness applies to those moments when research causes feelings of conceptual vertigo in researchers. Feminist STS literature was early to emphasize optimistic assessments and the necessity of “staying with the trouble” (Haraway 2016), or of sticking with “disconcertment” (Verran 2001). A related concept is “epistemic dissonance,” which holds that combinations of distinct epistemic positions are only productive if they generate disruptive, “dissonant” moments (Farías 2015, 273). Similarly, we propose epistemic dizziness as a reassessment of challenging moments in the production of knowledge. We want to emphasize that instances of uncertainty can be affirmative moments, if approached and supported in the right way. As ethnographers, historians, and philosophers rolled into one, STS scholars are aware that the means to turn epistemic dizziness into a generative space for thought (Bachelard 2021) are present in many other knowledge worlds.

We organized a panel and then a workshop to explore practices developed across these domains to care for dizziness, rather than avoid it. Our invited speakers have addressed this topic in their work from various anthropological and artistic research perspectives. Biologist and anthropologist César Giraldo Herrera presented his field research among seafarers. Through his lecture and mirror exercises, we learned about the interplay of different body rhythms. The body rhythms associated with being on a ship coordinate in a way that makes it possible to move through the novel environment (Giraldo Herrera 2024). Bodily rhythms thus interact with the rhythms of other organisms (in the sometimes surprisingly poetic language of biology, these are called processes of polyrhythmic alternation). According to an ecological theory of perception, dizziness or nausea arise from disturbances to body rhythms. These rhythmic disturbances can be coped with through a range of bodily practices, which are often ways to move with the environment. However, even seasoned seafarers experience sea sickness, and this sensation becomes part of the landscape of their familiar sensorial existence.

Ruth Anderwald and Leonhard Grond have been exploring the complex nature of dizziness for a decade. Their lecture, “The Compossible Space of Dizziness: Wonder and Curiosity on Unstable Grounds” presented dizziness as an unpredictable or illusory motion experienced physically by individuals (Fig. 2). This artistic research, developed in and through multidisciplinary confrontations and cooperations (Feyertag, Grond, Anderwald 2020), examines dizziness as a multifaceted phenomenon that encompasses physiological and sensory experiences, as well as emotional responses, orientation challenges, and processes of understanding and knowledge formation. The notion of “compossible space” denotes the space for change and renewal created by dizziness through decomposition of the given. Their work integrates somaesthetics, somatic learning, and contributions from other contemporary artists. Taken together, these approaches illuminate the dynamic and generative possibilities of dizziness, highlighting its role in fostering creativity and exploration.

Figure 2: Ruth Anderwald and Leonard Grond lecturing at the ExC “Matters of Activity” Dizziness –A Resource. Digital field note, Maxime Le Calvé, 2023.

3. Exercising Epistemic Dizziness

In several influential papers and chapters on pedagogies in the STS classroom, Joe Dumit has suggested that knowledge from artistic practices, including Deleuzian takes on experiential cinema and perception (Dumit 2014) and the use of improvisation manuals to develop choreographic scores, engages students in radically stimulating learning environments (Dumit 2017). This approach to knowledge making in STS is also championed by the sociologist John Law, who has suggested that the critical reflexivity gained by science studies should be applied to embodied and theatrical forms of knowledge making – a thread that has found its culmination with his pioneering text on the Baroque as a mode of knowing (Law 2016). Joe’s lecture prompted us to ask two questions: How can scores and mind-body exercises help theoreticians and ethnographers to transform anxieties into livable public spaces? And how can we make room for discomfort as a catalyst for inventiveness in STS practices?

Joe Dumit is, among other things, known for his work on movement and performativity. We had him beamed from California to Berlin to guide us through some of his current research practices. He gave us instructions on how to perceive the world around us from an anti-ableist perspective. We had prepared sticks of willow for participants to use as perceptive devices. Joe asked us to alternate between talking sessions and “touching” sessions using the sticks. After this exhilarating task, we sat and drew our experiences on large sheets of paper (Fig. 3). This playful approach highlighted the performative flow between making and speaking, which can make us more sensitive to the world and to others by displacing the illusion that things are similar for all of us. Joe’s score disrupted the idea that the most important parts of our scholarly interactions rely on words.

Overall, the exercises encouraged reflection and questions, but also provided an open space in which participants became more attentive to their own bodies. A joyful atmosphere took hold of the group and was sustained over the course of two days – one participant told us afterward he had never laughed so much at an academic event (and that the “sticks” exercise had a lot to do with it).

Now that we were attuned to an affirmative perspective on epistemic dizziness, the editorial part of the workshop provided an opportunity to go deeper into each other’s field work and research experience. As we discussed each participant’s written work, we reflected on our unease and took inspiration from others facing analogous vertigoes. These reflections required courage but also prompted humor. We considered technology researchers learning to juggle ecological futures and greenwashing (Matthew Eisler), and the grand claims of startup entrepreneurs (Jonna Josties); neurosurgeons learning to cut into brains while ethnographers learn to sketch their way through highly technical terrains (Maxime Le Calvé); curators delving into topics of life and death who need to dismantle their experiments as their contracts end (Martin Grünfeld); and social scientists confronting their parents’ notions of imperialism on a field trip “back home” (Efe Cengiz).

Figure 3: Drawing session on sensing with sticks led from California by Joe Dumit. Screen shot from Zoom.

4. Conclusion

Dizziness is not always fun, but our workshop showed that willingly (and playfully) engaging with it can transform the research practices of STS practitioners. Speaking about epistemic dizziness allowed us to reckon with the overwhelming experience of navigating STS in disorienting times – and prevent feelings of resignation. That does not necessarily mean developing more concepts to add to the pile (and possibly to our sense of vertigo). On the contrary, our approach is an invitation to recognize, reflect, and take in the richness, diversity, and scope of the knowledge that has already been accumulated by STS over the years. This may simply involve slowing down, taking a step back, or even pausing, so as to better dive into the dizzying scenes that constitute our research objects. This dimension of learning is too often undervalued. As STS scholars, it is our job to acknowledge and make visible the troubling fun of being overwhelmed, and the diffracted seeing that emerges from looking our dizziness straight in the face. This is not fun for its own sake, but rather something like the “serious fun” advocated by Donna Haraway, that opens fresh perspectives on familiar problems and whets conceptual creativity.


We were able to experience and test dizzying potentials together back in September 2023 thanks to the support of the EASST fund. We hope that this report inspires readers, and that epistemic vertigo continues to challenge STS research productively and joyfully.

The authors want to thank first and foremost the invited participants and contributors of the workshop: Ruth Anderwald & Leonhard Grond (Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien, Austria), Efe Cengiz (University of Groningen, Netherlands), Joe Dumit (University of California Davis, US), Matthew Eisler (University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK), Martin Grünfeld (University of Copenhagen, Denmark) and César Giraldo Herrera (Ilia State University, Georgia).

Further, the authors acknowledge the support of the Cluster of Excellence »Matters of Activity. Image Space Material« funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) under Germany’s Excellence Strategy – EXC 2025 – 390648296.

The authors also wish to thank Jennifer Clarke, Matthew Eisler, Kathrin Eitel, Ingmar Lippert, and Antti Silvast for commenting on texts and/or supporting various venues to develop the written work, and Roos Hopman for her careful reviewing of this text. The starting point of our encounters with epistemic dizziness was the STS hub 2023 in Aachen, Germany: Circulations ( We thank all the participants from the panel who got dizzy with us, and our panelists for providing fascinating cases of dizziness in their research practice.


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Caillois, R. (2001/1961). Man, Play, and Games. Free Press Glencoe.

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Dumit, J. (2017). Notes Toward Critical Ethnographic Scores: Anthropology and Improvisation Training in a Breached World. In: Between Matter and Method: Encounters in Anthropology and Art, Bakke, G., Peterson, M. (Eds.), London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 51–72.

Farías, I. (2015). Epistemic Dissonance: Reconfiguring Valuation in Architectural Practice. In: Berthoin Antal, Ariane; Hutter, Michael; Stark, Davide (Eds.): Moments of Valuation: Exploring Sites of Dissonance, Oxford Academic, pp. 271–289.

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Author biographies

Britta Acksel (Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, and Energy, Germany; is a cultural anthropologist interested in sustainability. She holds a doctorate from Goethe University Frankfurt and ethnographically explored sustainability governance in/of cities. As a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen, her work focused on Anthropology of Policy, Human-Environment Relations, Energy Transition and Participation. Following an interlude as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Media Studies (RUB), she now works as scientific advisor for methods of transformation research at the Wuppertal Institute.

Jonna Josties (Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany; is a PhD candidate in Anthropology and Science and Technology Studies at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Institute for European Ethnology. She has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in the Bay Area and the Berlin tech world. During her field studies, she was a visiting scholar at the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation focuses on the emergence and adaptation of the concept of the ecosystem in economic reasoning.

Maxime le Calvé (Cluster of Excellence “Matters of Activity”, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany; is an anthropologist of art and science. His latest ethnographic project explores navigation practices in neurosurgery. As a graphic ethnographer, Maxime uses drawing as a fieldwork method. He trained in ethnology in Paris Nanterre and holds a PhD in social anthropology and theater studies, from EHESS Paris and FU Berlin. He has published on art, music, brains, ethnographic training, and the ethnographic study of atmospheres (Exercices d’ambiances, 2018, Golden Pudel-Ethnographie, forthcoming2024).