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What is the connection between Asymmetry and Flows?

Transcultural Mediaspheres: International Journal Collection in Khan Market, New Delhi. © Prof. Dr. Christiane Brosius.

Asymmetries drive flows and result in ever new and ever shifting asymmetries: flows and asymmetries condition each other. Both have quantitative as well as qualitative dimensions which are not necessarily proportional to each other. Quantitatively small flows may have qualitatively huge impacts. Asymmetry has a pivotal impact on the amount and “intensity” of flows, and on who has access to them, etc. Following Ulf Hannerz, asymmetries lead to flows that in turn change asymmetrical structures. They may lead to higher degrees of symmetry, but more often than not, they condition ever new asymmetrical structures (Hannerz 1992). Indeed, in many cases the flows (or exchange processes) themselves constitute asymmetries: not everyone partaking in a flow is equally in control of the flow, and to measure agency within a flow is problematic, to say the least.

One could argue that flows come into being only through particular (asymmetrical) processes of gatekeeping and trendsetting. Due to the role gatekeepers and trendsetters play in this process, and depending on their particular “density,” these flows which may or may not stem from asymmetrical relations, again create new asymmetries (B12 "Rethinking Trends", Project "Indian Contemporary Art in a Transnational Context – An Ethnography on Art with Focus on the Travelling Exhibition ‘Indian Highway’"). Cultural flows between Europe and Asia especially in the “colonial” (in the literal as well as metaphorical sense) period resulted in the re-configuration and reconstitution of identities and hierarchies, for example.  

The majority of visual flows that cross cultures, too, come from certain centers, but over time, former centers of power are losing their (hegemonic) influence (B4 "Transcultural Visuality Learning Group") and new centers with their own networks are emerging instead. On the other hand, we also have the attempt to redress and change or cope with asymmetries by redirecting or “channelling” certain flows so that they become available to oneself, for example. The direction of the asymmetry doesn’t decide the direction(s) or the hierarchy of flow(s). People may attempt to recreate public institutions such as clubs, newspapers, websites, even museums or even a new public language (such as Pidgin or Chinglish) which would allow them to participate in a wider “public sphere” from which they had hitherto felt excluded. Yet, these institutions in turn may then lead to a variety of new asymmetries, e.g. between those with access to these new clubs, newspapers, and websites and languages and those without it. (GPTS Projects: "Singapur Press", "The Internet and the Public Sphere in the Era of Convergence: An Ethnographic Case Study of Chinese Diasporic Media in Germany", "Chinglish – Communicating with the World?")

Is a flow the necessary indicator of an asymmetry then? No: asymmetry doesn’t always and necessarily result in flows. It is one of the possible contexts, within which encounters of different cultures can take place. This is certainly the case regarding the political encounters between the Greco-Macedonian elite and their subject communities in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Hellenistic period (B15 "The Elusive Greekness"). But the existence of an asymmetrical relation does not account automatically either for diverse and, at the same time, global cultural processes or the agency behind of them. Equally, ongoing processes or actions, which take place in an “asymmetrical” context, may seemingly support or even promote power relations, but foremost are processes of appropriation, customization or pure recontextualization.

«Asymmetry                                                                                 Transculturality»

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