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How does Transculturality come into play in our Research Area?

Transvisual Flows: Image of a German Woman practicing Spear Throwing. Source: "'Xi shuo' (Deguo funü jiaowai yundong zhi si) 習矟 (德國婦女郊外運動之四 。), Spear Throwing: Another outdoor Exercise now en vogue among German women", Beiyang huabao 286 (28.2.1929), p. 2.

Generally speaking transculturality can be understood as a concept, a perspective, a research paradigm or even as a disciplinary approach. Our Research Area proposes to take a transcultural perspective in all its research endeavours. The concepts of transculturality (Welsch 1999, 2001) or transculturation (Mirzoeff 1998) may help us look at our material differently than before, it may be useful to develop new research questions and perspectives, even finding new, hitherto neglected material (because some of it used to be considered “just an Asian copy” of a “European original,” for example). This approach may also open the possibility for letting the hitherto silent speak and hitherto unheard voices be heard.

One could argue that if transculturality indicates a certain quality of a cultural product (an idea, an object etc), holding that the described product is “global” and not the product of a single “culture” (which is the case with the objects of analysis in all projects of our Research Area) but rather that it joins a variety of elements indistinguishable as identifiable and separate sources, why use the term transcultural? According to James Peoples and Garrick Bailey culture itself is already precisely that, never fixed or static, it is “the socially transmitted knowledge... shared by some group of people” (Peoples & Bailey 1994:23ff). It is our task to find out in detail whether or not the transcultural approach will make us see differences more clearly, nevertheless and go beyond even the idea of cultures as malleable and flexible units of recognition. It remains to be established through our different projects whether the term transculturality serves best to describe the phenomena at hand which have also been described through multi-sited ethnography, migratory aesthetics, or notions of turbulence, hybridity, transnationalism.

Conventional concepts of homogenization, syncretism or acculturation put an emphasis on actions of a dominant “cultural group” (seen from the etic perspective) and fail to recognize the contribution of local modes of appropriation to the formation of the global world (beginning, in our Research Area, with Alexander’s successors, for example, and ranging all the way to the uses of Asian ritual in a global context today, where “low” casts are able to promote their traditional performances as cultural heritage in Sri Lanka (B 14 „Religion on Stage” ). By contrast, the concept of transculturality allows an examination of that very formation by investigating modes of cultural (ex)change on the level of local protagonists (Hahn 2008).

A transcultural approach would not be interested so much in each one of the sources of a particular cultural phenomenon but in sharpening our awareness for the processuality and the constructedness of the phenomenon at hand. And yet, we find that even or especially the actors involved in processes (and sites) that we might term “transcultural,” are not at all aware of or even willing to transcend the idea of “original” “authentic” and “clearly separate” “cultures” from which the phenomena at hand derive: in the context of global flows of goods, people, and ideologies, of concepts and institutions, the borders of identities/cultures are often more clearly demarcated, fostered or emphasized than not (e.g. in Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinism and nationalism). Following Robert Pütz (Pütz 2004:26), for example, a transcultural focus takes it as its task to examine contact zones, to delineate the creation of such borders, the drawing of lines, the processes of in- and exclusion (as practiced, e.g. in art museums or during biennials where art is often still conceived in national terms).

Cultural Flows: China's "Beethoven": "People's Composer" Xian Xinghai (1905-1945).

In all of our projects, we are dealing with products of global flows of concepts (such as satire, heritage or beauty), institutions (such as the telegraph bureau or the music conservatory) and also aesthetic conventions (such as the frontal portrait or the sculpture). It is a challenge to analyze what constitutes their consciously articulated transcultural reaction towards the “other”, and, not only in colonialism, the mechanims of resistance and admiration, of alienation and affection that come into play accordingly (Of Clowns and Gods 1994).

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