Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Planned Peripheries: The Problem of Controlling Marginalization and Chaotization Effects

Guiding theme of the Institute for Advanced Study Konstanz, academic year 2009/2010

A group of fellows will be invited to the Institute for Advanced Study in Konstanz for the academic year 2009/2010. They will be interesting in addressing the problem of planning peripheries and will be experts in their fields.

In examining the problem of integration and disintegration, spatial structures—both in the empirical and in the symbolic sense—play a special role. If, however, we integrate them into our inquiry, the debate on integration is released from a one-sided fixation on norms and values. To the extent that hierarchy (with its vertical superstructures) is interrogated as a mode of creating order, scholarly attention is re-directed to plural and heterarchic types of organization. These are in turn folded into the surface and coordinated across horizontal space samples. In this way, the questions posed by the Center of Excellence touch upon the topographical turn in the Cultural Studies as well as in the Kulturwissenschaften, along with the recent rehabilitation of culture geography and research on spatial infrastructures both in the micro- and macrorealms.

In this connection, the conceptual binary of center and periphery is particularly significant. It has proven to be heuristically fertile in various facets and areas of application. It is usually linked to a conception of planning and control density that are distributed unevenly in space: the center is considered to be a realm under intensive control while the respective models of structure begin to dissolve to the periphery. Yet aside from effects of dialectic reversal and interferences between center and periphery (that do not fit into such a schema), the general problem of controlling peripheral developments also recedes from view. How do political, social and cultural systems deal with the fact that their structural defaults have only a limited range? How do these react to the chaoticizing effects at their margins—caused in part by their own norms? Which means are at their disposal in order to defuse—if not control—the attendant processes of barbarization, dissolution, admixture and hybridization, the construction of sub- and counter-cultures, ‘contamination’ with foreign influences, and the formation of ambivalent or multiple identities? Which models of governance can be found and practiced in order to make the chaos at the margins (if at all possible) into a functional “pressure cooker” for productive innovations? By contrast: what strategies of segregation, inclusion and exclusion are put into operation in order to make the corridor to the periphery once again impermeable?

The question is thus directed at the paradox of controlling a system that is beyond the zone of controllability. The cultural-scientific character of the enterprise is accounted for by the thesis that (in this instance) special cultural skills are developed and mechanisms are set in motion. These deviate from the repertoire of ‘official' social controls and therefore may not have been studied sufficiently.

Exemplary Areas of Research

Periphery control is a topic with significant historical penetration particularly inasmuch as pre-modern social formations were constantly confronted with the problem of spatial distance due to their undeveloped technologies and infrastructure. In macro-social terms, this issue becomes particularly evident in the internal organization of empires, which are regularly afflicted by undesirable tendencies at their periphery. Here links can be made both to findings of empire theory (M. Mann, M. Doyle, H. Münkler) and the typology of empire borders (J. Osterhammel). However, the problematic control of a power center across ‘internal peripheries’ (genealogical branch lines, secondary centers of power, the people in the residence etc.) should also be explored in its historical dimensions.

In modernity, if we can trust the periodizations made by systems theory, the problem of controlling the periphery gains in importance when modifying stratificatory with functional differentiation. If functional systems only overlap partially, yet partially move in opposing directions, then there is a pluralization of peripheries that cannot be negotiated by conventional methods of rule. Accordingly, modern societies must alter their modes of integration and arrive at more elastic modes of regulation. On the other hand, this relative ‘weakness’ offers cause for opposing movements—such as fundamentalism—that wish to re-introduce a clear divorce between inside and outside.

But precisely in modern societies, there are typically sites at which such distinctions collapse. One such site is the city that (in the respects outlined here) offers itself up as a preferential object of study. There, spatial orders can be analyzed particularly well, as if in a laboratory situation. On the one hand, these orders are directed to the material production of spatial order by planning measures as well as by concrete architectonic and aesthetic shapings. On the other, they are directed to being appropriated and re-formed into cultural symbols, i.e. in an appropriate symbolic economy (Zukin).

One relevant emphasis within the area of the suggested topic should thus be the social function of urban areas in times of “glocalization” (Swyngedouw 3 1997). Here as well, attention should be paid to the periphery in its different manifestations - as suburbia, sprawl or banlieue. These are the very basis for asking how to plan and control the economic, political and architectonic aspects of urbanization processes. Among the characteristics of a metropolis, there is the allocation of the urban space into socially segregated elements as well as those that are functionally and structurally heterogeneous. The term ‘metropolis’ thus evokes the image of a defined and arranged human residential area that nonetheless keeps extending beyond its planned administrative boundaries. The largely uncontrolled demographic growth particularly shaping the development of Third World megacities can be directly linked to the dissolution of rural economies often under the pressure of global dynamics. At the same time, newer research demonstrates that urban affiliations frequently regulate themselves according to relations deriving from the abandoned rural regions. The relationship of city and country including its cultural implications is therefore in need of renewed scholarly interest.

Complex interrelations, however, also develop within metropolises, together with their different stages of construction from their ancient centers up to their teeming slums. Against this background, we will examine (both in synchronic and diachronic perspective) the conditions by which centers have integrative effects and by which peripheries develop according to centrifugal forces. At the same time, we should ask in which social constellations peripheries take on integrative functions while the centers are themselves disintegrating. In any event, we can count on counterintuitive effects—according to the insights of Luhmann that modern societies in their polycontextural structure are only highly integrated at their margins and areas of exclusion (Luhmann 1996). In the end, in lieu of forming something like the dominant culture (Leitkultur) of the society, the political rhetoric of integration could prove to be a hegemonic elite semantics: “The margins are what still produce the appearance of being homogenous. There, the city is defined according to social differences. In its center, everything has collapsed upon itself” (Kermani 2008).

Connection to the Themes and Research Fields of the Center of Excellence

Symbolic and material practices in the management of uncontrollable spaces form a research area in which essential questions posed by the social and cultural studies as well as by the Kulturwissenschaften can be developed.

Hence, these transformation processes, as they occur at present on the peripheries of global cities in Asia or South America (Sassen 1995, 2001), represent a productive object for studying “Transcultural Hierarchies,” especially since that research area is characterized by an emphasis on migration research. In historical perspective, we would inquire into the role of cities as a point for attracting and collecting migration movements in earlier societies.

Studies of ‘planned peripheries’ could also make an important contribution to  to the research area ‘Identity Cultures.’ On the one hand, in focusing on marginal zones, we can consider the effects of those identity figures offered up or compelled by the center as well as which approving, rejecting or subversive reactions they bring about. On the other hand, it is precisely hybridizing or demarcation processes that take place at the periphery and that produce or oppose new forms of collective identity. In addition, we should include here religious processes, since it is to be assumed that special conflict dynamics emerge in the very contact zones between religious communities.

Finally, the topic is productive for the research area ‘Narrative Theory as Cultural Theory'’ with respect to the narrative modelling of thresholds, borders, frameworks and margins as well as the violation or transgression of the same. Here the apparatus of culture semiotics can be applied inasmuch as it contains a complete theory (particularly in the work of Yuri Lotman) of center-periphery exchange.