Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Scholarly Plan

The research of the Center of Excellence is situated in the field of tension defined by two terms: culture and integration. The expression “Cultural Foundations” has not only been selected to emphasize the theoretical trajectory of the project. Rather, it should also by its very title designate the working hypothesis that cultural mechanisms and regularities already operate at the level of basal social operations. Yet at the same time, “culture” cannot be reduced to a substrate that maintains similarities.

By contrast, integration is one of the keywords of social and systems theory. Yet even this term is in no way to be understood in a traditional, normative sense. For the Center, integration generally refers to forming patterns of social order of varying quality which have a binding effect. It is by no means self-evident that these will succeed. One may not see integration as the rule from which disintegration deviates. Rather, integration and disintegration represent possibilities of the same origin and are of the same order in providing insight into social processes.

Social order is in many respects a phenomenon that is unlikely; it also presupposes a great deal. It must continually serve as a guarantor of itself and thus depends on cultural resources – resources which create coherence while also permitting variation, i.e., rituals, symbols, narratives, foundation myths and self-images. In them, social order imagines itself to be a unity or a whole.

Yet “culture” is not by itself responsible for granting accepted social relations with meaning and legitimacy. Cultural semantics and social structures do not isomorphically reflect one another, but represent interdependent values that reciprocally propel, condition and unsettle themselves with a high degree of dynamic tension.

The scholarly conception of the Center proceeds from the working hypothesis that in light of the most recent developments, not least with respect to processes of globalization, models have to be found for describing decentered techniques for organizing the social. This represents a substantial challenge for social science, history, cultural theory and epistemology. With the decision to treat integration and disintegration as observer-dependent, multilevel processes, we have to reconceive the concept of culture to be used, instead of privileging a normative concept of integration.

“Culture” should not first and foremost be required to guarantee social consensus. Instead, it should encompass the continuum of all degrees of deviation within practices and discourses, thus rendering a surplus of possibilities, without which – as suspected – society would not be able to react with sufficient flexibility to its internal incoherence and contingency.

The question of the relationship between cultural dynamics and social dispositions is one of the central problems of all cultural theories. It cannot be answered sub specie aeternitatis, but requires instead empirical studies that span broadly across history. In the spectrum of subjects, ranging from groups which rely on face-to-face interaction, all the way to virtual neighbors in the framework of global socialization, cultural factors respectively have differing implications for processes of integration/disintegration. One can assume that particular social and political orders experience a “culturalization” or “de-culturalization” of their foundations for integration. We must find descriptive models which are sufficiently complex in these circumstances. And precisely in order to do this, the Constance Center of Excellence has made its subject “Cultural Foundations of Integration”.