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B12 Rethinking Trends

Transcultural Flows in Global Public(s)

Duration: March 2009-June 2012

"Global trends are vast and powerful. Those who follow prosper, those who resist die off." ("世界潮流,浩浩荡荡,顺之则昌,逆之则亡。") — Sun Yat-sen

Picture: "Spot Coca-Cola" From an advertisement provided by McCann Erickson, Shanghai Department (2005).
  • Abstract

The project “Rethinking Trends – Transcultural Flows in Global Public(s)” investigates the formation of transcultural trends. We have been trying to find out how a trend gains momentum, how it succeeds or fails to become popular in a new area. Since trends have traditionally been researched in statistics, market research or other areas related to economics but not so much in the humanities, we have named our project “rethinking trends.” By “rethinking,” we mean that we approach trends from a humanities’ perspective, using case studies and thick descriptions to analyze different trends. Since we, like any other Cluster project, are an interdisciplinary group, we look at trends in different areas, such as literature, history and politics. By taking this qualitative and interdisciplinary approach, we want to go beyond a mere quantitative evaluation of trends, even though statistical data may still serve as a starting point in some cases.

  • More about the project

Talking about trends and more specifically about transcultural trends, it has been an important question to us, what we understand by a transcultural trend. We have therefore tried to elaborate a working definition as common ground for the different case studies, which reads as follows:
“A transcultural trend is a particular type of flow, which leads to the proliferation of certain concepts, objects and lifestyles across national and cultural borders.”
As the organizational structure of our project shows, the concepts, objects and lifestyles we are looking at are divided into three different categories or units: Body&Beauty, Youth Culture and Politics. Our project thus covers a wide range of different trends, such as the proliferation of coffee stores all over the globe, which may imply the flow of a certain type of lifestyle (see subproject Lena Henningsen).
Images of naked bodies, ranging from historical images of nudism in China to contemporary celebrities’ pregnant bodies, show that concepts, such as Freikörperkultur, and lifestyles – here, the motherhood of famous women – travel between different nations and cultures (see subprojects Annika Jöst and Sun Liying).
As mentioned before, statistics, while not being very telling in regard to the nature of a trend, may in some cases be helpful to trace the development of a trend. From China’s statistics on outward foreign direct investment, we may be able to tell how certain political events influence the amount of capital outflows from China. When, for example, the Chinese government officially confirmed the new policy trend of encouraging transnational investment in 2000 (introduction of the so-called Going-Global-Strategy), these surged in the following year (see subproject Cora Jungbluth). 
As one can tell from these examples, the trends we are dealing with are very different from each other and, even more importantly, evidence of their existence and evolution varies to a great degree. Therefore, our project concentrates on the development of an analytical category that may help us to bring our investigations of these different trends closer.
We have termed that concept “public(s).” Public(s) are our attempt to better understand and to dissect the setting within which a trend becomes successful or fails to do so. We regard public(s) as self-created and self-organized groups of agents (Warner) who have an important impact on the formation of a trend within this specific setting. Public(s) – as the term itself reveals – is a derivate of Habermas’ Public Sphere combined with four other key concepts listed on this slide: Bourdieu (field theory), Appadurai (communities of sentiment), Anderson (imagined communities) and Warner (publics and counterpublics).