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.
The following comment attempts to expand Böhme’s „Perspectives of Kulturwissenschaft“ from a cultural anthropological viewpoint. It argues for the reflection on a Eurocentric bias of Kulturwissenschaft (termed Kulturbrille by Franz Boas), specifically its fundamental narrative of modernity, as well as its prevalent preference for the semiotic sign. Using participant observation as an illustration, the comment suggests to first critically examine the various notions of modernity from the perspective of the ‚other‘ (usually imagined to exist outside modernity); secondly, to complement the preoccupation of Kulturwissenschaft with semiotics and reprensentations of the mind by the phenomenological dimension of human experience and the body (‚Leib‘), in order to increase the discipline’s analytic potential.