Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster „Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration“

Scholarly Plan

In the opening application for establishing the Center, two decisions were made regarding future orientation: first, to conceive “culture” as a relational, heterogeneous field of forces with diffuse borders rather than as a spatial-holistic phenomenon; and second to place the concept of “disintegration” alongside its antonym, “integration”, as having the same analytical weight.

The Center’s research over the past years appears to have shown the solidity of both decisions: together they have made possible, we believe, a level of analytic incision difficult to achieve with traditional conceptual approaches. This analysis has produced fresh insight in research fields as varied as the origins and dynamic of civil war, theory of conflict management, law governing migration, European legal harmonization, political and religious history, the history of science, and cultural semiotics.

The Center’s research program was located in a tense three-part field:

  • between the pressure of everyday events and relativizing historical comparison;
  • between the perspective of modern Western societies and the experiential horizon of non-modern or non-European, non-Western cultures;
  • and between empirical findings and reflections in cultural theory.

The shared credo motivating research at the Center might be described as follows: the research approached the core concepts informing our program in terms of their innately processive qualities, thus in a sense activating their plasticity, rather than defining these concepts in a framework of holistic and normative claims.

Shifted Attention in the Second Research Period

Above all, the addition during the Center’s first research period of disciplines with a strong non-European component (e.g. comparative religion; ethnology) has repeatedly made it necessary to revise conceptual formations explicitly or tacitly grounded in Western traditions in light of highly different forms of evidence. In the second research period, this has lead to intensified attention being paid non-Western social ontologies and conceptual worlds, and to categories of “similarity” allowing distances between what is familiar and what is alien to be measured in a different way.

The decision to lay stress on processiveness, transformation, mobility, and border-transgressing dynamics—instead of preceding in terms of previously fixed social entities and cultural spaces—is not meant to be understood in terms of a simple shift, within the classical binarism of structure vs. action or situation, to the side of the mobile and situative, and to the corresponding microanalysis. At the Center, structural questions were still treated on the macro-analytic level; but there was now a strong orientation toward developing a descriptive language for the elasticity of structures, and toward the behavioral and interpretive options they contain.