Graduate School of the Arts and Humanities Blog

Titelbild TransHumanities 2020

On the topic

Cultural Transfer – Culture as Transfer

In a literal sense, “cultural transfer” refers to the “cultural mobility of objects” (Stephen Greenblatt): the global flow of commodities, concepts, words, images, persons, animals, money, weapons, drugs etc. Such a pragmatic notion may be the starting point for an interdisciplinary debate on alternative theories of “culture” in the humanities and social sciences.  Yet, “cultural transfer” implies not only the flow of things but also the fluidity of those who are engaged in their exchange. Every attempt to map landscapes of cultural transfer has to bear in mind that these landscapes are highly unstable and that places and borders, however imaginary they may be, are constantly ‘on the move’. It has become increasingly difficult to identify origins and ends or even signposts and directions of cultural processes. Thus, culture itself may be read as transfer (Lutz Musner), as an ongoing negotiation. It is eternally be-coming rather than being. Demarcations of borders, however, are very real. Definitions of “cultures” prove highly effective and “imaginary communities” (Benedict Anderson) are potent political agents. This is why we cannot stop short at an ab-stract diagnosis of a rhizomatic game (Gilles Deleuze) of endless différance (Jacques Derrida). The analysis of cultural transfer and culture as transfer has to take into account the dramatic situations of contact zones, the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion as well as the conditions of selection, transla-tion, adaption or mutation within unequal power relations. Furthermore, the analysis of cultural mobility has to acknow-ledge that the anthropocentric notion of the human as prime mover of objects and creator of meaning might be undermined by the agency of nonhuman life, inorganic matter and the various idiosyncrasies of the objects themselves.

The Winter School addresses a twofold question:
• How can we reconstruct and conceptualize concrete examples of cultural transfer?
• And how can we, with such examples in mind, reconsider culture as transfer?

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