Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Cultural and Intercultural Dimensions of the Biographical Portrait

PD Dr. Peter Braun


I am carrying out my research plans in close cooperation with the Hungarian philosopher and anthropologist Gábor Biczó; the research focuses on the phenomenological, cultural-hermeneutic, narrative, and medial foundations of a basal model for our perception of self and world: the biographical portrait, its cultural and intercultural dimensions very consciously placed at the center of our analysis. Biographical portraits—whether in journalism, the social sciences, or literature, as documentary portraits, biographical studies, or autobiography—are situated and constituted at the interface between personal and cultural identity. They emerge from a cultural context but simultaneous create that context—while rendering it observable ands readable. The innovative dimension of our project involves both the breadth of the material we are researching and our focus on narrated life histories of exile, expulsion, and migration—hence narratives centered around overcoming the breach between one culture and another, and more generally around the confrontation with processes of adaptation, assimilation, and—frequently—cultural hierarchization.

Through an alternation of theoretical discussion with case analyses, we inquire into the ways cultural phenomena are both thematically incorporated into such life histories and—most importantly—initially formed there through interpretive processes. We consider the question of how the resulting formation of a “cultural identity” unfolds within the tense field defined by acceptance and rejection, integration and disintegration. In addition, we ask which specific lines of conflict are revealed in those life histories describing such drastic, sometimes traumatic cultural exchange. We explore the breaches and contradictions, the mechanisms of integration and forms of resistance. And finally, we inquire into the narrative and medial strategies and symbolic condensations at work in the representation of all these cultural and intercultural processes.

The project takes in the following thematic fields:

  • Philosophical and cultural-hermeneutical foundations
  • A look back on the relevant scholarship and discursive history: Vincent Crapanzano
  • Life histories, life writing: On the status of narratological reflection
  • The medial circulation and reception of biographical portraits

Biographical portraits—for us a covering term for the most varied forms of life histories—encapsulate a large number of themes treated within the Cluster. Our project’s focal point is research field B (narrative theory as cultural theory), since the central problem we address is the manner in which “cultures” become narratable and readable within and through life histories. This problem covers both aspects of narrative composition in which the histories turn toward their addressees and aspects of reception. There are also many thematic contact-points with research fields A (cultures of identity) and C (transcultural hierarchies).