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Shifting social imaginaries in the Hellenistic Period: Transforming processes of narrations, performative practices and images

November 10-11, 2011

There is a long tradition in classical scholarship of reducing the Hellenistic period to the spreading of Greek language and culture far beyond the borders of the Mediterranean. More than anything else this perception has hindered an appreciation of the manifold consequences triggered by the creation of new spaces of connectivity linking different cultures and societies in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. Although recent research has addressed this biased approach by emphasizing the regional or local identities and traditions, the broader question of the cultural repercussions of interculturality during the Hellenistic period has still to be evaluated.

The insights gained in the last decades by studies dealing with the global creation of locality or the “third space” phenomenon of cultural hybridity may offer a new outlook on the analysis of transcultural encounters between Greek and non-Greek groups. Particularly the concept of the social imaginary as introduced by Cornelius Castoriadis and expanded by Charles Taylor implies a methodological approach which may bridge the gap between the local and the global as well as between historical accounts and archaeological finds. The social imaginary is a term that describes the cultural milieu, i.e. the set of values, institutions, laws, and symbols common to a particular social group and the corresponding society. Imaginaries are to be understood as historical constructs created and, at the same time, sustained by discourses and practices that are constantly in flux and flow. Modifications, changes or improvisations of previous practices and discourses are inevitably followed by transformations of the social imaginary and thus by shifts in the meaning of social practices and discourses.

This conference seeks to build on the concept of the social imaginary as a theoretical tool and to develop methodological and critical perspectives for future studies. The primary focus is on the mutual cultural entanglement between different communities in the Hellenistic period which had a bearing just as much on the shaping of identities as on social practices. What do transcultural encounters and multicultural societies mean in that historical context? How do continuous adaptations of practices to new contexts of meaning affect the imaginaries of the parties participating in a cultural encounter? Are specific forms of appropriation and perception of new practices and ideologies discernible? Under which conditions and through which processes are exterior material and immaterial forms adopted, transformed, or rejected?  Who are the agents? What is the interrelation between different, even contradictory, imaginaries existing in the same geographical context? If “Hellenism” is not the product of a one-way flow of ideas and practices from the Greek Mainland to the “periphery”, i.e. to groups of differing ethnic background and political forms of organization, what impact may a “reverse-flow” have had on communities of the Greek Mainland?

Organizer: Eftychia Stavrianopoulou