Cultural diversity in the arts, science, teaching and university structures

The idea of culture as an expression of ethnicity – static, clearly delimited and homogeneous – is now largely obsolete from an academic perspective. The descriptions of national and cultural identities as “imagined communities” (Anderson 1983) and “invented traditions” (Hobsbawm 1983), emphasise the constructional character of culture or refer to its hybridity (Bhabha 1994). The concept of (cultural) translation starts out from a process of interaction, within which different cultural spheres begin to form (Bachmann-Medick 2009).
Everyday political discourses, on the other hand, reveal a different picture. They fall back on essentialising concepts of cultures as totalities which are homogeneous per se, and which consolidate into a paradigm of a “struggle between cultures” (Huntington 1996). The political right in particular makes use of the rhetoric of a ‘cultural conflict’ and deploys cultural clichés as the only possible explanation for political, economic and social issues and for their racist rationale.

In the fields of the arts and science, the globalisation of the education market and cultural reception, worldwide migration and the related new social compositions as well as the increasing mobility of students and teachers pose new challenges for artistic/scientific institutions such as mdw. For an institution such as mdw with a long tradition and 47% of its students from abroad, what does the discourse on "cultural diversity" – which is so often cited and proclaimed nowadays by the EU and UNESCO – actually mean? What does this require from us in terms of everyday interaction, in dealing with different languages and cultural characteristics, with artistic concepts, abilities and teaching methods, curricula or canons? Given the complexity of the subject, common concepts of diversity management seem to be too simple for a differentiated and critical analysis and for decisive action against discrimination and racism.

The concept of transculturality serves as a point of departure for this project, given that the prefix 'trans' means the crossing of borders and passing through a wide range of different spheres of imagination which lie beyond binary structures, such as one’s ‘own' and the ‘other’, while with the second part of the word, 'culturality', the concept of culture itself is questioned.  The concept of transculturality was introduced in the 1990s by the German philosopher Wolfgang Welsch (Welsch 1999) as part of his theory of a transcultural society. It was subsequently frequently taken up because it was suited to “grasping the actual situation of the cultural life forms of a growing number of people and preventing misunderstandings which the established terms of multiculturality and interculturality have led to” (Fischer 2005 [translation from the German]).

The project starts out from this approach and further develops it with regard to the large number of cultural representations and the related patterns of perception and interpretation existing today – not least in the context of a cultural turning point in the past decades and the tendencies towards culturalisation.   In this context, the current popularity of the translation paradigm can be viewed as ambivalent if it supports this tendency to give 'culture' a privileged status as a fundamental sphere of human action and political change (Buden/Nowotny 2008). This not only affects the arts and the cultural field as the place where conflicts take place, but also academic practice, which is “not a neutral place from which cultural phenomena are observed, as it – as a cultural product – forms part of these phenomena and is even a cultural phenomena itself and at the same time plays a role in the recurring shaping of culture” (Gürses 2010, p. 282)  The project Transculturality_mdw thus follows a transversal approach of “eventful affiliations” (Strasser 2009) in terms of methods and contents which goes beyond academic intersectionality by linking the approaches of various academic disciplines which are relevant to mdw with artistic, activist and didactic/pedagogic practice, which can also be interpreted as the specific practice of translation.

In the transculturality approach, ‘culture’ is neither essentialised as an unchanging category of difference nor is its translation declared to be a post–universalist solution principle. The critical questioning of the "borders of the concept of culture" (Nowotny/Staudigl 2008) and the hierarchies, inclusions and exclusions it contains – taking into account the historical, (post-) colonial, migration policy-related and economic conditions of today’s production of the arts and knowledge – creates new spaces for the possibilities of political action and social change.

Project team: Julia Fent (Coordination), Ursula Hemetek, Harald Huber, Therese Kaufmann, Gerda Müller, Hande Sağlam.