Beyond the politicisation of the concept of culture: New, integrated histories of politics and culture

The works of heavily influential authors such as Michel Foucault and Edward Said radically challenged the traditional demarcation lines between the spheres of politics and culture, and largely undermined the previously (naïvely or in ill-faith) held assumptions of cultural life’s and production's independence, as well as its claimed “objectivity.” This amounted not only to a general politicization of the concept of culture in the social sciences and the humanities, but also to a plethora of interesting reflection on the interconnection of the two spheres in historical studies. The questions to provide the backbone for the multiple panels of this section are the following: what has this recent politicization of the concept of culture amounted to in the works of professional historians investigating phenomena of various (political and cultural) kinds? What models of the “political-cultural dimension” have historians recently presented (of conflict, compliance, manipulation, crossfertilization, etc.), and which of these have yielded interesting results (and which older ones ought to be discarded)? Which are the (traditionally underrated) sources that, when used by historians, have modified or even challenged our former understanding of phenomena? Providing answers to these questions on theories, models, methods and sources ought to enable us to form an overview of developments in historical studies regarding politics since the politicization of the concept of culture, and to explore some of the impacts of other disciplines as well as the effects of the new ambitions for interdisciplinary European scholarship.

Next to these primarily epistemological questions, ideas are welcome on the broad historiographical themes of, firstly, the influence on or abuse of culture by political forces. These include the study of propaganda, the ways regime and elites have presented themselves (in modern and pre-modern times, in democracies and dictatorships), the "politics of memory and commemorations" (e.g. of fallen soldiers), the problem of artistic styles "invented by political regimes" (for example the totalitarian style of architecture), studies on artistic patronage and artistic works’ primarily politically influenced reception. Issues of persecution, censorship and self-censorship deserve special attention as well, and the second historiographical theme to be addressed is politics as an impediment of cultural life. Moreover, the picture should be explored also from the perspective of art and the point of view of artists: artists’ relation to, and implicit or explicit reflection on their political situatedness, affiliations and the political connotation (or down-right political nature) of their works and the political role of the artists themselves. With reference to the latter point, artists’ means of questioning existing political realities, and their contribution to these realities’ legitimization – or the construction of artistic identities based on apolitical (higher, “eternal”) values – should also be engaged with. It is worth exploring, as a separate theme, the paradoxical depiction of cultural life under dictatorships and various authoritarian arrangements: culture is often seen as a simple servant of political interests and at the same time as the indirect (and the most direct possible) way to oppose political practices.

Possible panels within this area

Keynote speaker

Etienne François (Technische Universität, Berlin)