Call for Papers: Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin (ZfL)

Deadline: January 15, 2024

Images of the Ideal. Evald Ilyenkov at 100.

International conference, May 16–17, 2024, Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin (ZfL)

Organisation: Zaal Andronikashvili (ZfL Berlin), Isabel Jacobs (Queen Mary U of London), Martin Küpper (Kiel University), and Matthias Schwartz (ZfL Berlin)

Evald Ilyenkov (1924–1979) was one of the most important philosophers of the Soviet era. His philosophical interests included, among others, dialectics and logic, political economy, psychology, cosmology, cybernetics, aesthetics, pedagogy, subjectivity, and personhood. He is particularly known as the philosophical representative of cultural-historical activity theory in Soviet psychology. As a teacher, Ilyenkov aimed to teach his students how (and not what) to think, arguing for a holistic approach that resisted automatization and unquestioned tenets. Long after the demise of the Soviet Union, his radical approach keeps on shaping educational and psychological orientations worldwide.

On the occasion of his centenary we plan an international conference in Berlin that critically reassesses and reflects on Ilyenkov’s legacy. We believe that Ilyenkov’s ideas are prescient to contemporary debates on culture, society, education, and science; for example the dangers posed by quantification, artificial intelligence, and unrestrained capital accumulation. At the conference, we want to focus on a central concern in his work: the concept of the ideal. What are ideals? What is the relation of the ideal to images and imagination? What are the radical and utopian potentialities of the ideal today? And what place does the ideal hold in materialist dialectics?

Ilyenkov developed images of the ideal not only in his works on the history of dialectics (Spinoza, Hegel and Marx/Engels) but also in the context of different fields of knowledge. One of the best-known texts by Ilyenkov during his lifetime was “Ideal’noe” (1962) in the Soviet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. In this influential article, Ilyenkov revised the problem of “ideality” along the lines of a dialectics which integrated the heritage of Hegel and Spinoza into Marxism-Leninism. Ilyenkov did not understand ideals in terms of mere abstractions, but as concrete relations. Emphasizing the concept of the ideal amounted to a scandalous attempt of revising not only the task of philosophy in Marxism-Leninism but of cognition as such. For Ilyenkov, philosophy was a critical inquiry into thinking and its development. The conceptual turn he suggested could be described as the groundwork of a functional materialism of processes, interactions, and social interrelations.

Ilyenkov’s work amounted to a defense of the place of philosophy in a communist society and cosmos. His conception of thinking was linked to the enactive engagement between the individual and its environment, especially in social terms. Ilyenkov tried to develop images of the ideal in different realms, such as psychology, education, and science. His work on Marx’s dialectical method received wide-spread attention in the 1960s, when Ilyenkov also engaged with so-called Western Marxism. Dialectics for Ilyenkov was a way to grasp processes of idealization, from perception and imagination to scientific modelling and cybernetics. In his book Idols and Ideals (1968), Ilyenkov engaged with the general public in a more popular way; he questioned one-sided hopes in Soviet society to build up a communist society by way of merely technological progress.

Our centenary workshop invites participants to analyze Ilyenkov’s philosophical work from a global and transdisciplinary perspective, situating his legacy within contemporary debates. We also welcome creative interventions, including film and performance. Our focus lies on images of the ideal in Ilyenkov’s work with regards to cognition in different fields.

We aim to structure our conference along four main clusters:

  1. Cognition and Psychology
  2. Epistemology and Technology
  3. The Social and the Aesthetic
  4. Materialism and Cosmology

Possible topics include:

  • Ideality between reduction and visualization
  • Ideals in philosophy, science, and society
  • Relations between knowledge and activity
  • Ilyenkov and recent epistemology and philosophy of science
  • Ilyenkov and recent interpretations of Spinoza, Hegel, Marx, et al.
  • Aesthetics and the philosophy of culture
  • Universalism, emancipation, and radical politics
  • Socialist culture and communist ideals
  • Dialectical critiques of modernism, positivism, and capitalism
  • Ilyenkov and new materialisms
  • Cybernetics, technology, and AI
  • Dialectics and relational logic, systems and network theory
  • Learning, care, disability studies, and pedagogy
  • Ilyenkov’s theory of personhood and individuality
  • Enactivism and embodied cognition
  • Ecosocialism and the Anthropocene
  • Ilyenkov and Science Fiction
  • Global reception of Soviet Marxism, East-West relations, and the Cold War
  • Marxism-Leninism and the Global South in the 20th and 21st century
  • Ilyenkov in dialogue with other thinkers (e.g. Vygotsky, Lukács, Lifshitz, Mamardashvili, Kojève, Kosík, Žižek, Deleuze)


15 January 2024: Deadline for Proposals (abstract and short bio; max. 400 words in total)

15 February 2024: Notification of all applicants

Contact Info

For any questions or suggestions, please feel free to get in touch with us.

Isabel Jacobs,
Martin Küpper,