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Illustrated Report of the Trends Conference

06. Dez. 2011

The exchange of trends between Asia and Europe was the topic of the final conference of research project B12 "Rethinking Trends". At the conference, the project members discussed the transcultural, historical, and socio-political dimensions of popular global trends with senior scholars from various fields of study. The Conference was held on the 28th and 29th of October at the Karl Jaspers Centre. In the following report, Xuelei Huang reviews the two-day programme.

Transcultural Dimensions of Popular Flows

The two-day conference, “Trends on the Move: Transcultural Dimensions of Popular Flows”, was the final event of research project B12 “Rethinking Trends.” At the conference, eleven project members and junior scholars from the Cluster discussed transcultural, historical, and socio-political dimensions of popular global trends with eight senior scholars from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds from the UK, the US, Canada and Germany. The central theme of the conference was to examine trends in consumer culture and popular culture. Papers and talks addressed trends’ popular flows via print and digital media, migration, political and ideological movement, as well as marketing and branding.
In her welcome speech, Prof. Barbara Mittler (Heidelberg) introduced the project as completely run by PhD students and post-docs. Sinologists and researchers on India, Japan and Europe looked at issues from a comparative perspective. Project member Jennifer Altehenger introduced the history and conceptual structure of the project, as well as the focal concerns and central questions the project has addressed.

Keynote Lecture on "Prosumers as Trendsetters"

Prof. Jing Wang
Prof. Jing Wang

The keynote speech was given by Prof. Jing Wang (MIT). In her talk “Prosumers as Trendsetters: Change Agents on the Social Web,” she examined the impact new media has on branding and trending with a discussion of what she called “prosumers”- network and proactive consumers that emerged accompanying the new technology of web 2.0. She showed a wide array of new media products created by “prosumers” to the audience. This included political satire, web advertisements, and particular writing styles and phrases which are popular on the internet. In doing so, Jing Wang argued that prosumers were becoming significant trendsetters, not only on commercial markets but also in the world of civic actions. Her case study addressed many of the key concepts of the conference, which relate to local/trans-local flows, trendsetters, agents, networks and the public.

Flash ist Pflicht!
Film of the keynote lecture by Jing Wang

Session about Gender, Body and Beauty in Consumer Culture

Liying Sun talking about “Freikörperkultur” in China
Liying Sun talking about “Freikörperkultur” in China

The first panel of the conference focused on transcultural images. More specific, the discussion topics focused on visual representations of Freikörperkultur (Nudism) in the Chinese print media in the 1920s and 1930s that originated from Germany (Liying Sun), South Indian women’s adoption of a traditional Arabic female attire since the 1970s that were largely due to labour migration (Julten Abdelhalim), the ways in which foreign women are “othered” in contemporary Chinese versions of international women’s magazines (Annika Jöst), and the “international look” of fashion models that appear in contemporary Indian fashion magazines and ads (Laila Abu-Er-Rub). Furthermore, the panel examined the ways in which gender, body and beauty were represented and constructed through transcultural flows of images and people. The panel discussants Susan Ingram (York University) and Raminder Kaur Kahlon (Sussex University) provided thought-provoking comments on how to rethink the globe and take psychological, anthropological and philosophical aspects into account to further contextualize the case studies examined.

Lectures about Pan-Socialist Cultural Consumption

The second panel explored cultural representations of socialism/communism and the flow of socialist cultural products, themes and symbols between the USSR, China, GDR and USA. The panel papers focused on commercial and political mechanisms of showing Soviet movies in pre-socialist China (Xuelei Huang), socialist cartoon magazines published in the PRC, the GDR, and the Soviet Union, and their artistic production during the early years of the Cold War (Jennifer Altehenger), and on the uses of Maoist themes in Western cinema as part of the cultural Cold War (Sebastian Gehrig). To summarize, this panel demonstrated the power of pan-socialist trends in popular spheres. In their insightful comments and questions on the three papers, Rana Mitter (Oxford) and Matthew Johnson (Grinnell College) lead the presenters to rethink “trends” as a critical category and to reconsider trends’ move in non-linear routes.

Barbara Mittler and project members during the conference
Barbara Mittler and project members during the conference

Session about Growing Markets in China and Japan

The subject of the third panel was trends in consumer culture. Issues explored included the trend of ecologically sensitive consumption and production in contemporary China (Cora Jungbluth), barriers and gatekeepers that emerge in the global flow of Japanese popular culture (Björn-Ole Kamm), coffee consumption and the Chinese Starbucks trend as part of consumer culture in contemporary China (Lena Henningsen), and Chinese youth culture and its representations in literature and art examined through the lens of consumerism (Petra Thiel). The focal concern of the panel was to examine transcultural trends and their relationship with consumerism, youth culture and urban culture. Discussants Karl Gerth (Oxford) and Harald Fuess (Heidelberg) raised issues concerning green language, ecological protection, as well as Japan’s role in popular consumption, and the latter concluded with a thought-provoking question: “Trends are on the move - but do they ever arrive?”

Björn-Ole Kamm talking about Japanese Pop Culture
Björn-Ole Kamm talking about Japanese Pop Culture

Round Table Discussion

Participants during Discussion
Participants during Discussion

Finally, in a round table discussion, all conference participants and invited discussants posed further questions on the problem of national boundaries and on concepts of urbanity (or “glurbanity”), imaginary, network, and materialism and how this may lead to a better understanding of trends’ popular flows.

Liying Sun and Barbara Mittler during discussion
Liying Sun and Barbara Mittler during discussion

Additional Information

About the Conference:

The Conference "Trends on the Move - Transcultural Dimensions of Popular Flows" was held from 28 to 29 October 2011 at the Karl Jaspers Centre for Advanced Transcultural Studies in Heidelberg. It was organised by members of Research Project B12 "Rethinking Trends". The project consists of a three-year fully funded research network comprising 13 junior scholars from different academic backgrounds under the auspices of Prof. Barbara Mittler, who is Speaker of Research Area B "Public Spheres" and Professor of Chinese Studies at Heidelberg University.

About the author:

Xuelei Huang completed her dissertation on "Commercializing Ideologies: Intellectuals and Cultural Production at the Mingxing (Star) Motion Picture Company, 1922-1938" at Heidelberg University in 2009. For her dissertation, she was awarded with the Ruprecht Karls Prize in 2011.

The pictures have been taken by Andreas Margara and Inci Bosnak.

Videos of selected conference talks:

•    Julten Abdelhalim: “ISO-Certified Pardahs and the Dislocation of Agency among Muslim Women in Kerala”
view video

•    Jing Wang: “Prosumers as Trendsetters: Change Agents on the Social Web”
view video

•    Xuelei Huang: “The Banality of the Sublime: Consuming Soviet Movies in Pre-socialist China”
view video

•    Björn-Ole Kamm: “Gates and their Keys – Language Barriers, Flows and “Cosmopolitan” Gatekeepers of Japanese Pop Culture”
view video


More information:

Conference "Trends on the Move" - Oct 28, 2011  


  • Group of Participants

    Group of Participants (click to enlarge)