Dr. Benjamin Steininger (he/him)

Postdoctoral Researcher
Department Structural Changes of the Technosphere

Main Focus

Benjamin Steininger's main research fields are the history and theory of industrial catalysis, history and theory of fossil resources, the project of a "chemical cultural theory", and a "critique of fossil reason."  These interests follow a long-standing agenda on the cultural history of acceleration and energy use, on the industrial history and theory of the materials in modernity and in the Anthropocene. Concrete materials interpreted in his work are apart from catalysts the products of chemical industries: fuels, fertilizers, ammunition, refined fossil raw materials, building materials. Crucial are furthermore the respective process landscapes and the transformation of chemical science and industry itsel - into and out of the fossil system.

Despite existing "material turns" in the humanities, the role of materials and of chemical technologies for the process of history in modernity and Anthropocene is still not enough reflected. To investigate the role of chemical catalysis provides some of the most important insights into the technicality of materials and the respective impact on the historical and geohistorical process in the Anthropocene.

The long-standing agenda was and is pursued within a large network of cooperation partners, including partners from industry and technology, scientific institutions (TU-Berlin, HU-Berlin, University of Halle, Petrocultures Network etc.), cultural institutions (such as Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Goethe-Institutes in Baku, Minsk, Novosibirsk, Oslo, Rotterdam, New York, Werkleitz Gesellschaft Halle, etc.). Some of the work in the last years was done in the collective "Beauty of Oil". And together with Dr. Nona Schulte-Römer from HU-Berlin, Benjamin Steininger started to produce the podcast "Syntheziser - Listening to the Future of Chemistry".

"Geoanthropolgy" is understood in this perspective as a philosophical endeavor. It is not less than the "conditio humana", a whole set of epistemological and political conditions that were shifted by the interaction of modern science and technology with geohistory, in particular with fossil resources and the respecive scientific approaches. The complexities of the actual technological and historical system are defined by shifts on both ends of this - so to speak - material/cultural coordinate system of the Anthropocene. It is therefor necessary to keep close focus both on the very material sphere of resources, industrial infrastructures, and the processes involved, and the abstract sphere of concepts, desires, and belief systems. This becomes comparatively obvious in the case of "Petromodernity". Not only technologies or material environments but also subjectivities and cultural expectations depend on the influx of fossil energy into almost all layers of all global cultures in modernity. 

In the specific arena of chemical industries, catalyis, and fossil resources this means to connect and to map specific molecular interventions with specific planetary effects, and in between examplary scopes of  individual and societal agency. "Atlas making", to detect and to discuss agencies and interconnections on many scales and in in many geographical political networks is in that respect an important method for Benjamin Steininger'S curatorial works and publications.

Curriculum Vitae

Dr. Benjamin Steininger is a cultural and media theorist, historian of science and technology, and curator. He is based both at the Cluster of Excellence UniSysCat at TU-Berlin (2019–2025) and at the MPI for Geoanthropology (since 4/2024, until 3/2024 at MPI for the History of Science, Berlin).

Benjamin Steininger studied at the Humboldt University in Berlin cultural sciences, media theory, and philosophy (MA thesis supervisors: Prof. Dr. Friedrich Kittler and Dr. Peter Berz). He published his master thesis in a book on the history of the German motorway system (second edition 2021).

At the University of Vienna, he completed his doctorate in history and philosophy of science (supervisor: Prof. Dr. Claus Pias, PD Dr. Peter Berz). Topic of his dissertation was the industrial history of catalysis in the twentieth century. He held scholarships at the Deutsches Museum Munich (2006), University of Vienna (2007–2009), IFK International Research Center for Cultural Studies (2009/2010), the Center for Literary and Cultural Research Berlin (ZfL) (2010/2011), University of Applied Arts in Vienna (2013/2014). In 2016/2017 he taught at the University of Linz (AT) and at the Leuphana University Lüneburg. From 2012 to 2016, he directed a digital collection and exhibition project on the subject of 100 years of the oil industry in Austria (cooperation partners: the Geological Survey of Austria (GBA), OMV AG, RAG, Vienna Technical Museum, University of Vienna, TU Vienna www.rohstoff-geschichte.at).

Since 2012 he was involved in the Anthropocene Projects at the HKW (Haus der Kulturen der Welt), Berlin. Among other contributions, he curated (together with Alexander Klose) the 'Revue Petro Noir' on “Hydrocarbons” at the festival “1948 Unbound, Entfesselung der Technischen Gegenwart.” In 2019 he contributed to the project “Mississippi – An Anthropocene River” as a River Fellow and at the River Campus New Orleans in 11/2019.

Since 2016 he was involved in the projects of the Anthropocene Group at the MPI for the History of Science, Berlin. He organised workshops and events together with the MPI for Chemical Energy Conversion, Mülheim/Ruhr in order to institutionalize cooperations between the natural sciences and the humanities concerning the energy transition. He also contributed to further initiatives to institutionalize Anthropocene research within the MPS.

In 2016 Benjamin Steininger together with Alexander Klose founded the research collective "Beauty of Oil" to investigate "the complexities and contradictions of petromodernity". Most prominent products so far are the exhibition "Oil. Beauty and Horror in the Petrol Age" at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg (together with the eponymous book), the follow-up exhibition "Petromelancholia" at Brutus Rotterdam (NL), the ZDF/Arte production "Petromelancholia" (dir. Mathias Frick) on their project, and the book "Atlas of Petromodernity" (German original in 2020, translation into Russian 2021, expanded English version introduced by Stephanie LeMenager in 2024).

In 2024 he contributed to the exhibiton "Tank oder Teller" at Werkleitz-Festival 2024 at Halle (Saale).

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