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Flows of Images and Media

organized by Prof. Dr. Christiane Brosius and Dr. Roland Wenzlhuemer  

Concept Notes: “Transculturation – highlights those places where the carefully defined borders of identity become confused and overlapping, a task that requires new histories, new ideas and new means of representation” (Nicholas Mirzoeff 1997) 

Let textiles prosper
Let textiles prosper

Transculturality is certainly one of the recent concepts we must come to terms with, literally. And with all its complexity and many criticisms the relatively young field of inquiry into globalisation has already received. We propose that by studying the flows of images and media in such a light, we sharpen our competence and ‘literacy’ to think, write and speak transculturally. With this annual conference’s topic, the cluster of excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” ventures into new domains of research on the transculturality of images and media. It addresses the felt need to ask new questions on the basis of this challenging approach on the one hand, and to develop new or modify more conventional and often genuinely ethno- and Eurocentric concepts, as they are applied ‘naturally’ in many of the established and even younger disciplines within the Humanities. Such concepts may range from origin, original and originality to authenticity and value, taste and distinction. They also highlight problematic notions such as the dichotomy of indigeneity and hybridity, high and low art, religious and secular domains as categories of distinction.

The ‚right’ and rationale to operate with these notions has, of course, been questioned before and by others, be it within the fields of paradigmatic changes stirred off by ‚turns’ of different kinds, literary, performative, visual or cultural turns. These intellectual and discursive shifts have unsettled disciplines like medieval history, European art history, literature studies, anthropology, generating ruptures of different kinds, and encouraging self-reflexivity and critical distance vis-à-vis one’s ‘given’ academic theoretical tools, methods and data. Without rendering the individual disciplines obsolete, but opening them for new approaches, particularly spurred by discussions around globalisation, colonisation and modernity, the concept of transculturality is thought-provoking, in particular when we look at the incredibly diverse movements of images and media across borders of different kinds, and certainly not only of geographical nature.  

Transculturality as a heuristic tool

The matter is complicated insofar as we must reflect on the role of emic notions, e.g. of beauty, authenticity, or realism without essentialising them. Furthermore, we must be able to consider visual and media ecologies beyond single-sited instances and instead trace the rhizomatic movements of images and media on and under grounds in diachronic and synchronic ways, in and between different public and private spheres. We must alsoacknowledge the aspect of agency and perspective, space and place: seen from one position, by a particular social agent situated at a particular place in time and space, images and media of inquiry may have a drastically different meaning and impact than in another context.
Transculturality is thus a heuristic tool that seems to blur borders into invisibility but yet forces us to recognise the multi-sitedness and multi-perspectivity of cultural production – be it of pre-modern or late capitalist societies.  

Media and visual representations between Asia and Europe

The transcending and transforming power of the prefix ‘trans’ in ‘transculturality’ does not just point towards mono-directional but highly complex movements and changes (and stabilities). To pinpoint and translate these without over-simplifying is a great challenge to all disciplines within the humanities. Such border-crossings do not just happen across languages and cultures but also across media and visual representations – the key focus ofthis conference. Images and media can provide deeper understanding where written texts seem to hesitate, fail or lack altogether. Indeed, in many instances they seem to have replaced the written word in the context of the ways in which the world is rendered visible and ‘real’, including the ‘virtual reality’ of the world wide web, forming a crucial part of the social imaginary (Gaonkar/Appadurai). In that sense, we can even argue that images andmedia do not only enable us to explore histories of kinds but that they make and shape history in a networked, embraided world shaped by asymmetries. It would be the challenge of this cluster to examine the different transcultural routes they take in the space between Asia and Europe and back again in order to do so. For obvious reasons, the asymmetrical relationships that span networks and relations between Asia and Europe pose a special challenge, even more so today, when we must consider the change of ‘balances’ in the lightof Asian economic liberalisation and the economic meltdown.
What is at stake here? Notions that we tackle in the Cluster’s four research areas, on citizenship and governmentality, public spheres, health and environment as well as historicities and heritage. Certainly, we may want to consider how we, in this Cluster of Excellence, deal with what Nicholas Mirzoeff calls “the imbricated histories of visual colonialism and transculture”, and add media cultures as it was a crucial matter to have all kinds of means of representation in one’s hands to shape, disseminate, institutionalise and legitimise colonial and imperial power. 

Questions we will address in the course of the conference:

Day 1: Image Itineraries and Migrations: Reading, Transporting, Producing, Presenting

  • How can we address the speed and quality, the nomadic life of migrating images over the course of histories and across geophysical and media-related territories?

  • Where may we need to change focus and terminologies in terms of transcultural shifts and ruptures when images and media cross borders? This might apply, for instance, in countries where the distinction between secular and religious sphere and practice is not as clear as we may expect from a laizist perspective.

  • Do we have to differentiate a ‘global icon’ from a ‘national’ or ‘regional’ icon, and if so, how? (e.g., Mohandas Gandhi in India or Germany; Virgin Mary in the French Revolution or as Mother India; Mao in China or the West)

  • How can we credit the changes in an image itinerary by means of a change of media technology?

  • How can we explore the variety of social agents participating in image and media flows? Does the quality of participation help us to better understand transculturality?

  • What can the different disciplines in the Humanities contribute to a better understanding of the embraided histories of images and image-making in a networked world?   

Day 2: Media-scapes: agency of technologies between indigenous and transcultural flow

  • Media occupy a double role in transcultural flows: 1) as an enabler or carrier of such flows and 2) as the very content of flows. Which heuristic challenges arise from this double role?

  • How do media shape the nature of flows? Do media technologies have an agency of their own with which the impact on the directions, speed, intensity of flows?

  • Similarly, do media and their particular characteristics shape transcultural contacts and the emergence of transculturality? Or are they merely neutral carriers?

  • How are media perceived in different (trans)cultural contexts and how do such perceptions change when media migrate? What do media mean for different observers in different cultural contexts?

  • What can we say about producers and publics of different media as they migrate between geophysical territories, e.g., the telephone or Satellite Television from Europe to India?

  • In what way can we contextualise media and images in relation to embodiment and presence across cultures (e.g. cinephilia)?

  • How do different media help us to think about the ordering of knowledge and media literacy across cultures? What is the use of thinking about transcultural inter/mediality beyond the realm of audience studies? Does it make sense to think about ‘indigenous’ media and media practices? Can we think differently, and more precise, about the notion of public spheres when considering transcultural media and intermediality?

  • Can we distinguish agents who engage in challenging the ‘exhibitionary order’ of visual and media colonialism, and thus the relationships between alleged ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’?


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