What keeps cultural studies in motion and, more difficult still, what hold them together? They are continuously animated through so-called ‚turns‘ that in regular intervals open up new perspectives and transform the leading issues and concepts. Such regular innovations are not only due to internal readjustments in terms of methodological changes but are also connected to cultural and social changes. In this way, cultural studies have become an integral part of the transformation of the world as we see and construct it. They are not only a lense through which we observe the transformation of the world, but also a tool with which it is produced. In this active engagement and entanglement with the real world, cultural studies have lost a sense of their professional boundaries. They are constantly extending their realm of research, incorporating avidly new territory. To the extent that cultural studies have embraced the project of cultural self-thematization and self-transformation, they have become as fluid and volatile as culture itself.
The article focuses on the founding narratives of Kulturwissenschaft/en in Germany (studies of culture) that have been addressed in the last decades. According to these narratives, Kulturwissenschaft/en are either described as the result of a fundamental crisis of the humanities or as the result of a radical transformation of the lifeworld since the 19th century. These narratives, however, have not lead to an epistemological foundation of German Kulturwissenschaft/en. Against this background, the article outlines in which ways Kulturwissenschaft as a discipline can be understood as an academic reflexion based on experiences of otherness and difference. Therefore, it will be argued that an epistemology of Kulturwissenschaft may provide a broader framework reflecting the complex and conflictual relation of academic research and culture as well as media as essential conditions of cultural knowledge.
Starting from the conviction that the study of culture(s) is much broader than a philosophizing history of ideas approach (one that often retains implicit Eurocentric assumptions), this article is a plea for a reorientation of the study of culture through the demonstration of a stronger commitment to a sociological, empirical and transcultural approach in the study of culture. Instead of focusing on cultural syntheses (i.e. along the main signatures and „Zeitgeist“ symptoms of epochs), my argument redirects attention to particularities, hidden dimensions, and the formation of differences, to cultural countermovements and contradictions. The article suggests a more complex and action-oriented „translational“ approach. It aims to foster a critical self-reflection of the research process of the study of culture itself with regard to its analytical concepts, its societal and ethical concerns, and its fruitful convergence of disciplines.
After observations on Studies of Culture (Kulturwissenschaften) in relation to their theoretical foundation and their subjects in the last decades, the functioning (style in the sense of Ludwik Fleck) of ‚Kulturwissenschaft‘ will be examined not systematically but exemplarily in four fields: (i) the functions of the so-called liberal and applied arts in the last 250 years, (ii) constellations of subjectivity in industrial society in the nineteenth century, (iii) the relation between security and risk in the present time and (iv) the relation of culture and religion in the polycentric, post-religious, but also post-Enlightenment world. Considerations on the prospects of a historic ‚Kulturwissenschaft‘ in relation to Anglo-American trends follow this course.
In response to Hartmut Böhme’s programmatic sketch of future directions for the study of culture, this contribution wants to sensitize readers to the significance of culturally specific academic traditions, which continue to inform research on cultural phenomena. Because of the great disciplinary and institutional differences between Kulturwissenschaften (in Germany) and the respective traditions of ‚cultural studies‘ in Britain and the US, questions about the future of the study of culture can only meaningfully be posed in the context of the discipline’s internationalization. Since any kind of research is inevitably embedded within specific discursive contexts, exchanges and dialogues between the German and international research traditions of studying culture appear indispensable. Following the lead of Mieke Bal’s idea of ‚travelling concepts‘, there arises a need for scholars in the study of culture to engage with issues of translation and translatability.
Our comment on Hartmut Böhme advocates an approach to aesthetics that is mainly inspired by British cultural studies. In the wake of the foundation of the „Kulturwissenschaftliche Gesellschaft” and its journal we suggest, on the one hand, a relentless reflection on essentialist and colonialist power structures inherent in the concept of culture, particularly in the German speaking world. On the other hand, we plea for the provincialization of European aesthetics as well as for the acknowledgement of the manifold entanglements between European and non-European accounts of aesthetics.
In order for the study of culture to be recognized as an autonomous subject, a profile of the discipline is necessary which clearly defines its purpose and its distinct, preferred goals, fields and topics. The suggestion is to establish the objectives based on three key issues: ‘What does it mean to act culturally?’, ‘What is cultural order?’ and ‘What determines cultural change?’ In the second half, I will present Hartmut Böhmes’ suggestion taking up preferred fields of cultural analytical work and supplement it with cultural sociology fields. The third part concerns a contemporary analytical profile of the study of culture, seen in society and cultural critique, especially in analysis of symbolic power.
My short article is a critical comment on Hartmut Böhme’s position paper „Perspectives of cultural studies in historical and contemporary analytical perspective“. I share Böhme’s conviction that research projects in the broad and blurred interdisciplinary field of culture studies must be grounded in a flexible theoretical plot. However, Böhme’s paper does not meet this challenge. I try therefore to suggest two trajectories of significant importance in a paradigmatic way: On the one hand, the always controversial definitions of culture are scrutinized, thereby relying on a context-sensitive concept of „difference“ that allows grasping culture as a permanent and interference-prone process of translations. On the other hand, I focus on the impact, agency or effectualness of things against the background of a symmetrical anthropology and the actor-network-theory. In both cases, the analysis is orbiting around the notion of „cultural practices“ by demonstrating how tightly the media turn and the ontological turn are theoretically intertwined.