Michael Bies
ifk Senior Fellow

Duration of fellowship
01. March 2023 bis 30. June 2023

Basteln. Literatur-, Kultur- und Theoriegeschichte einer »kleinen Tätigkeit«


Tinkering is an underrated activity. Although it is often dismissed as a childish or at least not very serious occupation, it is inextricably linked to key concepts of modernity and postmodernity such as ›work‹, ›art‹, and ›individuality‹. In this project, Michael Bies examines tinkering from a historical as well as theoretical perspective. Focusing on the period between 1920 and 1950, Bies examines how tinkering was formed and promoted in the German speaking countries as an occupation for adults and children; in this context, the emergence of media such as radio und genres such as the craft book play a crucial role. Furthermore, he shows how tinkering was at the same time conceived and legitimated as that ›other‹, ›minor‹ activity as which it gained notoriety in the 1960s with Claude Lévi-Strauss theory of bricolage.


Michael Bies is an associate professor (Privatdozent) at the Peter Szondi-Institute of Comparative Literature at Freie Universität Berlin. He received his PhD from ETH Zurich in 2010 with a thesis on questions of representation in literature and the sciences around 1800. In 2021, he completed the Habilitation in Comparative Literature and Modern German Literature at Freie Universität Berlin with a book on literary representations and aesthetics of craft from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. His research interests span the literary, cultural and media history from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century and include questions of literature and/as property, literary representations of work, especially of craft, and the cultural history and theory of tinkering.


Das Handwerk der Literatur. Eine Geschichte der Moderne, 1775–1950, Göttingen 2022; »Archäologie des Arbeiter- und Bastlerstaats. Marc Schweskas Roman Zur letzten Instanz (2011)«, in: Weimarer Beiträge 66/3 (2020), S. 406–420; Im Grunde ein Bild. Die Darstellung der Naturforschung bei Kant, Goethe und Alexander von Humboldt, Göttingen 2012.

15 May 2023
  • Lecture
IFK & IFK@Zoom
Michael Bies

Basteln. Geschichte einer (vermeintlich) »kleinen Tätigkeit«

Wir basteln, wenn wir uns mit Kindern beschäftigen. Wir basteln, wenn wir etwas her- oder fertigstellen wollen. Wir basteln, wenn wir etwas reparieren wollen. Doch was ist das eigentlich – »Basteln«? Warum tun wir das? Und seit wann?