Internationale Kulturwissenschaften
International Cultural Studies
Etudes culturelles internationales

Herbert Arlt (Vienna) [BIO]


Cultural Studies and a "Culture of Peace"


At the conference "Art and International Understanding" which was held from September 18 - 24, 1994, and at which preparatory work for the founding of the INST was undertaken, the following had already been formulated : "Particular note should be taken of the problem of the gross disproportion in financial expenditure on the military, including secret services etc.,.....which have proved to be entirely unsuitable and counterproductive in solving problems which, in Europe and beyond, are profoundly linked to cultural conflict, and expenditures for cultural studies...." (1)

During the symposium "Internationalisation, Conflicts, Cultural Studies" it was noted that nationalism is the primary ideological force motivating wars today.(2)

Particularly in consideration of the current conflicts in Europe, but also keeping in mind the many armed conflicts throughout the world, the potential contribution of cultural studies to a "Culture of Peace" should be especially emphasised - with stress given to the elaboration of such aspects as the power of culture to unite and transnational elements of cultures.

INST conferences have to date (3) concentrated on questions of literary, language and cultural studies, information acquisition and organisation (especially in connection with the Internet) as well as Austrian, European and international cultural processes. It was their task to apply new methods in the areas of subject research, methodologies and scientific organisation.

It is the aim of the "International Cultural Studies" conference, especially in these times of change, to give greater weight to cultural studies in general and within UNESCO, but also to create greater awareness in the scientific community worldwide of the significance of UNESCO itself.

Numerous UNESCO documents which form part of the basis for INST’s work, and UNESCO projects in which INST is involved, can be seen to demonstrate new modes of work and also, most notably, programmatic initiatives for a "Culture of Peace." The humanities, social and cultural studies need to be transformed on the basis of these documents and projects, if cultural studies research is to play the role it could in social processes.


Unifying factors in Culture

The paradigm of "modern science" in Europe since the middle of the 19th century shows the abandonment of research into cultural processes and their cross-border consequences and a tendency to national fictionalisation.(4) Scholarly activity is closely bound to the nation state, even when institutions are financed by private means. This is equally true for information facilities.

This scholarly orientation has had fatal consequences. Not only were the horizons of knowledge limited enormously, but the results of scientific work of this type were exploited for war and conflict. If what is written in a brochure of the European parliament(5) is taken as true, that the organisation of Europe into nation states was a primary aspect of causes of war, then this is also true of the way scholarly activity has been organised, in that it was utilised to create an ideological basis.

In other regions of the world, the emphasis on national identity doesn’t play so profound a role in guarding against ideological provocation to war. Armed conflicts between India and Pakistan have, for example, other causes. However what is common is the construction of an image of the enemy - with the benefit of scholarly expertise.

UNESCO also indicates the problematic aspects of the nation state or national sovereignty, and particularly the connection between internal conflict and outward aggression: "The concept of state sovereignty which still prevails today has increasingly come under scrutiny...The predominant threats to stability are violent conflicts within countries and not between them."(6) Continuing to orient cultural policies in the interests of the nation state, and the coordination of scholarly enterprise to national principles (partially mitigated by lecture and research visits, transnational projects and so on) is thus also a potential basis for the spread of conflict in the Europe of the EU, with its multicultural traditions, its migrants, its multilateral interrelations.(7)

Thus those areas of culture which are held in common represent an essential field of research. These have different requirements in the various countries, as interrelations between regional, "national" etc. processes vary.

The aim then, in the sense of the UNESCO document "Our Creative Diversity"(8) is not the "standardisation" of cultures, but the discovery of those elements which unify, or in the case of countries such as Japan which are still relatively uninfluenced from abroad, elements which could unify.



In the course of "globalisation", transnational structures become increasingly significant in maintaining a democratic balance - and with it a "Culture of Peace". The UNO and UNESCO, and also the EU, represent such transnational structures. An international court is a step in this direction. And the scientific community also begins to seek transnational ways to cooperate.

But it is clear that little influence is presently exerted and the present structuring of transnational institutions is still very much determined by national interests or opposition to them. Modes of thought dominated by the idea of the nation state are the main obstacle to developing and extending transnational structures - and this is as true of small countries as of large countries behaving according to "great power" principles. Little progress can be achieved without changing these modes of thought. Scholarly work can take on a highly significant role in this connection, and open new opportunities for peaceful co-existence.


Productive Force: Cultural Studies

The great significance of culture and cultural studies in social processes has been acknowledged again and again. An example of this is the enormous increase in expenditures on education and science after the so-called "Sputnik-Shock."(9) But this is a perfect example of the degree to which competition for power decisively influences perspectives. A change in paradigm after 1989, which had begun to be apparent already in the 1970s, also meant a departue from policies interested in culture. The economy now occupies the central position, which is not difficult to understand in the context of the whole society, to the extent one proceeds in traditional ways of thinking and fails to see the germ of new developments.(10)

Precisely through new forms of production, the new media and ever closer interaction cultural studies assumes more and more importance, whether in product development and application, the mobility of the masses (keyword "tourism") or communication and understanding.(11)


New roles for scholarly activity

A new orientation in scholarly activity certainly does not mean the elimination of any subject (not coincidentally, the Arts are the central theme of INST’s next conference). The point is to place them in a new context.

The essential deficit in the various fields of scholarly work is that they still place too much emphasis on formal criteria: academic titles, professorships, lectures, number of publications, etc.(12)

But once the interests of the state no longer appear to be served and scholars can no longer convey the necessity of their activities, financing will also be reduced (which is in general the case.) This isn’t true for all scholarly endeavour, but applies particularly to the humanities, social and cultural studies. It is imperative to act "autonomously", in contrast to simply defending current structures. This online cooperative research is an attempt in this direction.


However if scholars proceed to act "autonomously", (as does occur frequently in departments, inter- and intra-discplinary research groups etc.) they will soon encounter very restrictive limits on their activities. A new orientation should proceed according to subject. That is the pivotal pint of transdisciplinarity. And if, for example, a "Culture of Peace" is identified as an essential subject, much could flow from it.


Cultures are the losers in every war. The idea of a "Culture of Peace" is thus an essential precondition for cultural studies in general. To ensure their future and development (especially the transnational elements) change is necessary in scholarly work and its context. It is to be hoped that this project is a significant contribution to that goal.



(1) Herbert Arlt (Editor): Kunst und internationale Verständigung. Universitätsverlag Röhrig: St Ingbert 1995, Pg 8. Cf. also "Our Creative Diversity". Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development (1995), Pg 45ff.
(2) Published in the Internet Journal for Cultural Studies of INST, TRANS, WWW:
(3) Cf. also, at the same Internet address, the focal point in "European Literary and Linguistic Studies" and also "Cultural Studies, Databases, Europe."
(4) Cf. also e.g. Jürgen Fohrmann/Wilhelm Voßkamp (Eds): Wissenschaftsgeschichte der Germanistik im 19. Jahrhundert. Stuttgart 1994.
(5) Europa 2000. Köln, Pg 6.
(6) "Our Creative Diversity". Report of the Worlsd Commission on Culture and Development (1995), Pg 11/12
(7) The significance of minorities in current and in future social processes is very convincing demonstrated in Joseph Yacoub: Les minorités das le monde. Faits et Analyses. Paris 1998.
(8) "Our Creative Diversity". Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development (1995).
(9) Cf. Leslie Bodi on "hard facts" and "soft facts" in: Leslie Bodi: International Understanding and National Identity. In Herbert Arlt (Editor): Kunst und internationale Verständigung. Universitätsverlag Röhrig: St Ingbert 1995, Pg 21.
(10) A counter trend which can be seen to be very weak simply by the level of its financing, which has still not been guaranteed, is the new EU framework programme for cultural support, "Europe 2000."
(11) Not coincidentally the chosen motto for the exhibition "Cultural Studies and Europe" is: "Cultural Studies as the Productive Force of the 21st century." See WWW:
(12) Historians of scholarly activity in recent years have engaged particularly with this. Cf. e.g. Jost Hermand: History of German Literary Studies. Reinbek bei Hamburg 1994 (on lecture times: pg 229).

Internationale Kulturwissenschaften
International Cultural Studies
Etudes culturelles internationales

© INST 1999

Institut zur Erforschung und Förderung österreichischer und internationaler Literaturprozesse

 Research Institute for Austrian and International Literature and Cultural Studies

 Institut de recherche de littérature et civilisation autrichiennes et internationales