Fighting – Knowledge – Bodies. Historical Perspectives on Fighting Practices

International Conference, Trier University, 11-13 September 2019
PD Dr. Eva Bischoff & Dr. Eric Burkart

Wednesday, 11.09.19,  19.00: Public opening keynote, Frankenturm, Dietrichstraße 4, 54290 Trier
Thursday and Friday, 12.-13.09.2019: Conference, Stadtbibliothek Trier, Weberbach 25, 54290 Trier

Confirmed Speakers:

  • PD Dr. Eva Bischoff (Internationale Geschichte, Universität Trier)
  • Dr. Eric Burkart (Mittelalterliche Geschichte, Universität Trier)
  • Prof. Dr. Paul Bowman (Cultural Studies, Cardiff University, UK)
  • Prof. Dr. Greg Downey (Anthropology, Macquarie University Sydney, AUS)
  • Dr. Daniel Jaquet (Mittelalterliche Geschichte, Universität Bern / Militärhistorisches Museum Château de Morges, CH)
  • Dr. Romana Kaske (Germanistik, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)
  • Dr. Ben Spatz (Drama, Theatre and Performance, Huddersfield, UK)
  • Prof. Dr. Dr. Mario Staller (Psychologie/Polizei, Fachhochschule für öffentliche Verwaltung des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen) 
  • Dr. Sixt Wetzler (Deutsches Klingenmuseum Solingen)


Fighting as a social practice and as a mode of interpersonal interaction is omnipresent in historical tradition. In addition to various forms of violent confrontation, normed forms of fighting as well as friendly fighting competitions can be observed throughout the ages. They were (and still are) part of a recreational and sports culture, have contributed to the creation of communities and are part of the articulation of gendered identities and the representation of social status. Nevertheless, fighting has yet to be examined in an overarching, systematic and historical perspective. So far, scholarly discourse has treated fighting practices in a compartmentalized way: as a means to resolve conflicts (political history), as an expression of violence (research in the history of violence and crime, sociology of violence), as an object of military history or sports science, and as a specialized topic examining concrete historical contexts (e.g. medieval judicial duels, tournaments, and fencing schools, early modern duels). This sectoral separation, usually associated with a categorical differentiation between violent and normative / playful forms of fighting, prohibits a systematic reconstruction of the entangled history of the transfer of knowledge and bodily practices.

This conference, by contrast, focuses on the structural similarities, knowledge systems and discourses as well as the material foundations of fighting practices. “Fighting”, in this context, is understood literally, without any metaphorical connotation, as a tangible confrontation between human actors. As such, fighting permeates all strata of society as a historically and culturally variable practice and experience. It is a polysemic phenomenon and takes various forms. The conference’s objective is to explore its dimensions in a historical perspective, to test different methodological approaches across epochs and to define common areas of interest for future research.
To achieve this goal, three analytical perspectives will be linked: Firstly, the praxeological perspective, which aims at reconstructing fighting practices in terms of their framework (persons involved, modalities, contemporary norms and sanctions), investigating how these practices were symbolically charged and reconstructing their significance in processes of social stratification. Secondly, the conference will question the topic from the perspective of the history of knowledge, tracing the resources and reservoirs of knowledges on combat. Thirdly, it will adopt a perspective developed to investigate the history of the body, asking what kind of physicalities were created by fighting practices (embodiment of knowledge).

The human body stands at the nexus of all three perspectives. It represents the conditio sine qua non of combative interaction. Its materiality determines the vulnerability of every body as well as its potential to mete out pain and violence onto others (Sofsky 2005). This materiality of human existence renders struggle and violence into a resource, which in principle is available to every individual. Yet the productivity of fighting (knowledge and practices) can only be understood fully by going beyond a narrow conception of fighting as a phenomenon of violence or violentia. Instead, the productivity of this corporeal practice has to be taken into account as well. To capture this characteristic, we employ a conceptual framework developed in feminist theory, gender and queer studies (Braidotti 2002, Ahmed 2008, Netzwerk Körper in den Kulturwissenschaften 2012) and consider the human body as a cultural artifact, articulated through the complex interaction of physical structure (heredity, abilities), social practices, and corporeal knowledge. In line with current sociological accounts coming from the field of theatre and performance studies, techniques are understood as "transmissible and repeatable
knowledge of relatively reliable possibilities afforded by human embodiment" (Spatz 2015) and thus conceived as a form of knowledge which affects and structures individual bodies, but also spreads from one body to another.

The conference is free of charge and all interested participants are welcome. Please register by sending us a short email: burkarteuni-trierde


Wednesday, 11.09.2018

(Frankenturm, Dietrichstraße 4, 54290 Trier)


19:00 19:30


Petra Schulte (Trierer Kolleg für Mittelalter und Frühe Neuzeit)

Eva Bischoff & Eric Burkart

19:30 – 20:45

Everybody Was Kung Fu Writing: The Age of Self-Defence Books

Paul Bowman (Cultural Studies, Cardiff University)

20:45 – 22:00

Cheese & Wine Reception

Thursday, 12.09.2018

(Stadtbibliothek Trier, Weberbach 25, 54290 Trier)


09:00 – 09:30


09:30 – 10:00


Eva Bischoff & Eric Burkart (International/Medieval History, Trier University)

10:00 – 11:00

KEYNOTE: Making a Laboratory: Embodied Research and the Audiovisual Body

Ben Spatz (Drama, Theatre and Performance, University of Huddersfield)

11:00 – 11:30



11:30 – 12:15

The Emergence and Transmission of Fighting Knowledge: An Ecological Dynamics Perspective

Mario Staller (Psychology, FHöV North Rhine-Westphalia)

12:15 – 13:00

Bodies, Artefacts, Embodied Knowledge: Fighting Practices and Assemblage Theory

Eric Burkart (Medieval History, Trier University)

13:00 – 13:45


13:45 – 14:30

Of Grasshoppers and Other Men: Masculinity, Race, and Mimicry in 1970s Representations of Martial Arts

Eva Bischoff (International History, Trier University)

15:30 – 18:30

Guided Tour Trier



Friday, 13.09.2018

(Stadtbibliothek Trier, Weberbach 25, 54290 Trier)

10:00 – 11:00

KEYNOTE: The Evolutionary Implications of How We Fight, or the Significance of Pugilistic Incompetence

Greg Downey (Anthropology, Macquarie University, Sydney)

11:00 – 11:30



11:30 – 12:15

Fighting Bodies and Fighting Objects in Premodern Literature: Preliminary Considerations for a Systematic Approach

Romana Kaske (German Language and Literature Studies, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich)

12:15 – 13:00

Reconsidering the Riddle of Steel: What Does a Sword Do?

Sixt Wetzler (German Blade Museum, Solingen)

13:00 – 13:45


13:45 – 14:30

Body of Steel: Fighting in Armour According to the Fight Books (15th-16th c.)

Daniel Jaquet (Medieval History, University of Bern/Château de Morges)

14:30 – 15:30



This conference is supported by: