Jörg Feuchter (Hg.), Friedhelm Hoffmann (Hg.), Bee Yun (Hg.)
Cultural Transfers in Dispute
Representations in Asia, Europe and the Arab World since the Middle Ages
Kulturen sind keine voneinander isolierten Gebilde, sie durchdringen und beeinflussen sich gegenseitig. Beschreibungen solchen Kulturtransfers sind dabei immer wertend, geschehen sie doch stets selbst von einem kulturellen Standpunkt aus. Anhand konkreter Beispiele untersucht der Band kontroverse Wahrnehmungen und Darstellungen von Kulturtransfer in und zwischen Asien, Europa und der arabischen Welt. In allen drei Weltregionen spielen die behandelten Repräsentationen eine bedeutende Rolle bei der Bestimmung von »eigener« und »fremder« Kultur.
Jörg Feuchter, Dr. phil., ist wiss. Mitarbeiter am SFB 640 der Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.
mehr zum Autor
Friedhelm Hoffmann, M.A., ist als Islamwissenschaftler am Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin tätig.
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Bee Yun, Prof., am Institut für Politikwissenschaft und Diplomatie der Sungkyunkwan-Universität Seoul.
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Cultural Transfers in Dispute: An Introduction
[. . . ] there is no vantage outside the actuality of relationships among
cultures, among unequal imperial and nonimperial powers, among us
and others; no one has the epistemological privilege of somehow
judging, evaluating, and interpreting the world free from the
encumbering interests and engagements of the ongoing
relationships themselves. We are, so to speak, of the
connections, not outside and beyond them.
Cultural Transfers in Dispute explores the role which representations of transfers
play in the construction of cultural identities. Our conception of cultures
and cultural change has altered dramatically in recent decades. In an era that
describes itself as the »global« or »globalised« age, no longer do we understand
cultures as isolated units, but rather as hybrid formations constantly engaged in a
multidirectional process of exchange and influence with other cultures. Edward
W. Said sums this up in his 1993 classic Culture and Imperialism: »[. . . ] the history
of all cultures is the history of cultural borrowing.« This view is not only applied to formerly colonised or otherwise dominated civilisations, but to all, including Europe/the »West«. Eurocentric views constructing a European singularity
going back to antiquity and neglecting influences on Europe have long
come under severe criticism, culminating in the allegation of a Theft of History
(Jack Goody) from the rest of the world.
As a result, research on transfers between cultures has become established
as a comprehensive paradigm in the social sciences and humanities. Many recent
trends in historiography like »world system theory«, »(new) global history«,
»postcolonial studies«, »entangled history«, »connected histories«, »shared history
«, »histoire croisée«, and »transcultural history« are marked by their primary
concern with phenomena of cultural exchange. They define themselves by the
place they grant to cultural interconnectedness as a factor of history. This perspective
marks a strong difference to older »indigenist« views that privileged internal
societal development and in which »external factors have generally been seen as contingent«. Those focussing on transfer claim the opposite: That without
taking into account cultural contacts one is not able to understand history.
A milestone on the road from the indigenist to the externalist view was the
publication in 1963 of William Hardy McNeill’s The Rise of the West: A History
of the Human Community which very much focussed on cultural exchanges and
their effects on societies and was to become a standard textbook in academic
history teaching on World Civilisation. Almost fifty years on, transfers between
cultures past and present have come to be regarded as the rule rather than the
exception, to the extent that the idea of clearly separable cultures is dissolving.
As Peter Burke poignantly stated in 2009, today »many of us are prepared to
find hybridization almost everywhere in history« and accusations of cultural essentialism
Transfer is thus at the centre of current academic and intellectual discussions
about culture(s). Yet the present volume does not seek to simply add more
case studies to the plethora of publications on cultural transfer. Nor does it
set out to argue against the study of transfer. Its raison d’être is situated on a
different level. Our aim is to contribute to transfer studies by suggesting a critical
reflection on how cultural transfer is represented. For transfer phenomena,
of all things, are not something that is simply »revealed« or »found«. Instead the production of knowledge about cultural transfer is, like all knowledge production,
always itself subject to cultural, political and ideological conditions.
These affect whether particular transfer phenomena are noticed at all, regarded
positively or negatively, held to be more or less probable, completely denied or
even invented from scratch. Nor are the consequences neutral: findings can be
used to glorify or debase cultures, to accuse or exonerate, to mediate between
different cultures or to divide them. Statements about cultural transfer figure
prominently in discourses about »us« and »them« in many if not all cultures.
They influence notions of cultural identity and are in turn informed by such
notions. This is why the present volume proposes a critical enquiry into these
statements as »representations of transfers«, referring to the concept of »representation
« as suggested for historiographical use notably by the French protagonist
of the »New Cultural History«, Roger Chartier, as a »base [. . . ] for identifying
and articulating the many relations that individuals or groups cultivate with the
social world«. By introducing »representations«, Chartier explicitly rejected
two older concepts: 1) »ideology« which (in a materialist view of history) views
ideas as the direct expression of social conditions, thus implying the priority
of social over cultural factors, and the direct dependency of culture from social
facts, 2) »mentality« which (in a structuralist view of history) implies that in a
given society or group (or individual) there is only one, unified, allencompassing
guiding mental framework. Against these concepts he put forward an understanding
of human ideas as »representations« which 1) at the same time describe
and shape the cultural and social world humans live in, and 2) exist always in
plurality, contradiction and interdependency in a given society and even in a single
individual’s mind. This plurality leads to »conflicts (or negotations) among
groups as struggles among representations in which the stakes are always the capacity of the groups or the individuals to ensure recognition of their identity«.
In the present volume we understand disputes about transfers as such »struggles
of representations« in which cultural identities are at stake.16 Analysing concrete
examples of controversial representations of cultural transfers from Asia, Europe,
and the Arab world, we aim for a critical selfreflection on the intellectual practices
that underpin our attempts to study and describe the relationships between our own and other cultures.