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Research Area B: Public Spheres: First Funding Period

What is our Research Area all about?

Research Area B deals with the production and conceptualization of various types of public spheres (from art exhibition to blog, to rock concerto to satire magazine) as constituted by flows of many different kinds (cultural, economic, political, social, artistic) in the dynamic settings of Asia and Europe in a global context. The Research Area examines shifting asymmetries which inspire, shape or result from these flows (with European FKK-nudism becoming a trend in China in the 1930s or Japanese Manga a popular inspiration in Europe in the 1990s for example). The flows we are studying are emerging through print and (audio)visual media or networks that span and interlink the globe in intensive and accelerated political, economic, religious, social and cultural exchange mediated by communication technologies as diverse as the woodblock print, the telegraph, or the cell phone (e.g. Latour 2007, 1993). Examining the transcultural entanglements of images, sounds, media and concepts, and the actors involved in creating, perpetuating or obstructing them, helps us gain a better understanding of the shifts in quality of public (and private) spheres in different moments of historical and regional significance. We argue that putting public spheres into the plural enables us to examine these “entangled publics” that spill into or compete with each other, generating contested concepts and meanings.

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What is our Goal?

Asymmetries visualized: China's officials in the hands of greedy Westerners who play with them like toys. Source: Minyu ribao, 24.9.1909.

It is our Research Area’s aim to understand how transcultural flows between Asia and Europe are initiated, directed and negotiated in different public spheres and how the asymmetric relations that characterize these flows function. We ask how the asymmetries involved are shaped, received, negotiated, coped with, incorporated and/or resisted by the actors involved. We would like to study the tensions involved in this process and observe how and why asymmetries are shifting within different public spheres at different moments in time. (Shifting) asymmetries become tangible, for example, in literature, music and the visual arts, in changing gender relations and technologies, or the uses of religion, satire and music. It is the ultimate aim of our Research Area to complicate our perceptions of transcultural entanglements and globalization, delineating their multiple meanings both with a view to the historical depths and contemporaneities of cultural practice.

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Who are we?

Group picture of RA B May 2010, picture by Wan Li.

Research Area B counts among its members scholars from a wide array of disciplines and areas of study, such as Anthropology, Art History, British Studies, Communication Sciences, Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies, European Studies, Ethnomusicology, History, Islamic Studies, Linguistics, Musicology, Philosophy, Sinology, Sociology, Urban Studies, and  Visual Studies, as well as scholars whose regional expertise spans South Asia, China, Japan and different parts of Europe from their early beginnings to the present day. Many of our members have been trained across several disciplines themselves. (How Many Research Projects are there and Who does What?)

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What are our materials?

Woman with a lyre, by Nobukata, a Japanese trained at the Jesuit painting school, hanging scroll, colour on paper, Japan, early 17th c, Yamato Bunkakan, Nara. © Melanie Trede.

Research Area B uses a great variety of source materials, from illuminations in medieval Christian manuscripts to erotic prints in early modern Japan, from the musical record (and its cover) to the satire magazine, from the newspaper in Singapur to the Valentine’s greeting card in India, to street signs featuring Chinglish in China, from billboard advertisements to ancient inscriptions, from the telegraphed letter to the Asian music student in Germany,  from the cell phone television commercial to the Mickey Mouse comic, from diasporic internet sites to contemporary art exhibitions, from rituals in South Asia to staged performances for Europeans in Germany, from images in popular lifestyle and women’s magazines (and their websites), to pamphlets, internet blogs and (Youtube) movies.

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What are our conceptual and methodological frameworks?

Flows of Objects: Barbie in India. © Prof. Dr. Christiane Brosius.

Since our Research Area assembles scholars from so many different disciplinary backgrounds, there is no single methodological framework to be used by all projects. Our methodological pluralism ranges from the quantitative analysis of contemporary statistics and their interpretation with modern statistical methods via the visualization of findings with HisGIS methods to content analysis, from postcolonial and gender theories, via queer studies and historical anthropology, to frame and network analyzes and performance theory, from thick description to visual, musical and literary analysis, from multi-sited ethnography to participatory observation and more. The Research Area draws on concepts and methodologies developed in Asia and Europe. Our aim is to build upon and further elaborate these. Our research is “pluri-local”, demanding scholarly expertise in several disciplines and a reworking of “classical” methods and concepts developed for them. The Heidelberg Research Architecture, with its translingual and transvisual databases is a crucial tool in this endeavour which hinges on a new level of scholarly collaboration and involvement hitherto untapped.

Related Readings:

Arjun Appadurai, Bachman-Medic, Roland Barthes, Rajeev Bhargava, David Benford, Walter Benjamin, Judith Butler, Dipesh Chakrabarty.John Clark, James Clifford, Sudeep Dasgupta Steven Epstein, Michel Foucault, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Clifford Geertz, Erving Goffman, Jürgen Habermas, Ulf Hannerz, Suzuki Hiroyuki, Molly Kaushal, Lars Koch, Krims, Jacques Lacan, Bruno Latour, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Meenakshipuram Deivakumar Muthukumaraswamy, Linda Nochlin, Kitazawa Noriaki, Aihwa Ong, Pries, Pütz, Helmut Reifeld, Ferdinand de Saussure, David A. Snow, Robert Snow, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Joseph J. Tobin, Charles Taylor, Michael Warner, Aida Yuen Wong.

What are the Key Terms we use and what do we mean by them?

Where do we come from?

Research Area B started off in 2007 with a set of ideas formulated for the original application. These ideas are set out here.  

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Future Perspectives of research

It was this Research Area’s aim to understand how cultural flows between Asia and Europe, and within Asia, are initiated, directed and negotiated in different public spheres and how the asymmetric relations that characterise these flows function in these particular spheres. We asked how these asymmetries are shaped, received, negotiated and/or resisted by the actors involved. We have studied the tensions in these processes and observed how and why asymmetries of power and perception are shifting within different public spheres at different moments in time.

Three research foci (1) Mediality and Translation, (2) Public Life and Performance and (3) Public Arenas in Urban (e)Environments have been researched. In future, this Reseacrh Area (c)ontinues to explore public and private fields of social practice with a particular focus on the transculturality of media entanglements, gender-specific practices, and social networks.)

It will be the aim of this  Research Area to explore the complexities perceptions of the transcultural entanglements in these spheres between Asia and Europe, delineating their multiple and shifting meanings. Research Area B will focus on the dynamics of transculturality by studying shifting conceptions of music, art and culture, changing media, and floating spaces and intermediary figures such as cultural brokers. This will be done, however, less with a view to the morphologies of cultural entanglement and flows,  but with a view to the transcultural dynamics involved in these entanglements: from studying forms of circulation we now move on to discuss and theorise the circulation of forms.

Disciplines involved: In Research Area B addresses f. e. journals from the perspectives of media anthropology, cultural and literary studies as well as history and linguistics


Research Area Coordinator

Laila Abu-Er-Rub

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Job Offers

  • Student Assistant (undergraduate or B.A., 30h/month)

    The Cluster of Excellence Asia and Europe in a Global Context,Subproject B19 Ageing in a Transcultural Context (Prof. Dr. Christiane Brosius, Prof. Dr. Axel Michaels, Prof. Dr. Andreas Kruse,Annika Mayer, M.A. and Roberta Mandoki, M.A.) offers a position of astudent assistant (undergraduate or...