Report: Societies and Cultures as Polylogues
(Wiener Denk-Werkstatt / Vienna Thinktank)
This is not a summary.
Summaries express different ideas than those that are summarized.
What follows is, therefore, highlighting some aspects and some
Arne Haselbach's introductory paper discussed the notion >thinking
in terms of polylogues<.
- Polylogues are conceived as the interactive processes actually
taking place - whenever human beings are involved in such interactions
- whatever the setting, the kind of processes and their specific
Thinking in terms of polylogues leads to a major shift of
approach in thinking about thinking, about language, society
Thinking in terms of polylogues implies:
- thinking every individual and every process as unique
- thinking in terms of 'populations', which implies that groupings
which we treat as unitary are no longer considered as classes
with identical characteristics but as groups of unique individuals
- thinking in terms of 'ensembles', especially the kind of
ensembles which can be called >real life settings<,
which are where social and cultural processes actually take place
- thinking in terms of processes
- thinking in terms of Norbert Elias' notion of social processes
- thinking in terms of the interactions actually taking place
which implies the notion of >an individual's part of on-going
It is these innumerable processes of the >participating
individual's parts of on-going interactions< by which
individuals, languages, societies, and cultures develop, are
re-created, and change.
By thinking in terms of polylogues we can get rid of a number
- the individual/society and the individual/culture dualisms
- the human/nature dualism and the social/non-social dualisms.
By thinking in terms of the notion of >an individual's
part of an interaction< we can get rid of
- the many vague and misleading uses of the notions >collective<
and >in common<
- the misleading because unreal notion of >intersubjectivity<.
The wider result of thinking in terms of polylogues is a pluralism
- not of clearly demarcated units - but a pluralism of processes
- which are always in the making
- whose overlapping leads to the spreading of - unique but
similar or related - micro social and cultural phenomena within
ensembles of people which - together but separately - are what
we call >the Social< and >the Cultural<.
From Maria Teresa Medeiros de Lichem (Bolivia/Vienna) we learned
- how the project of unifying the elements of the two major
cultural traditions in Peru, the Spanish-criolla and the Amerindian,
was realized in the novels of José Maria Arguedas from
- that the term >tranculturación< / transculturation
- which expresses the "different phases of the transitive
process from one culture to another" to replace the
term >aculturación< which refers to the loss
of one's culture - was coined by Fernando Ortiz from Cuba already
in the 1940s,
- about Latin American >post-occidentalism< -
which critically transcends the categories of Western thought
- and leads to thinking in terms of processes of >inter-fecundation<
and of >hybrid cultures<.
Hanns-Albert Steger (Presidente honorífico, Consejo
Europeo de Investigaciones Sociales de América Latina;
Erlangen) dealt with different ways of >regional thinking in
Europa< concentrating on France, the Elsaß, and Germany
on the basis of historical facts ranging from the Thirty Years
War to the 20th century.
- He contrasted >thinking in terms of fixed boundaries<
and >thinking in terms of horizons<, dominant in
one or the other of the regions discussed.
- To explain >thinking in terms of horizons< he
used the following picture: If a man with a lamp enters a totally
dark room, he can see only the lighted area around him. If that
man starts to move, the lighted area - and his horizon - moves
with him. This way of thinking implies shifting horizons.
- He also insisted that >being different does not imply
being different in value< - "verschiedenartig
ist nicht verschiedenwertig".
France Govaerts' (Bruxelles) contribution - presented by Pierre
Mandl - discussed the social individuation process and its acceleration
in our type of culture and introduced a representation of social
roles as interactive and proactive processes.
- She described how the changing processes of social interaction
in interindividual communications occur in both dialogues and
polylogues and why the latter seem more valuable as a language
instrument for encompassing the dialectic process of uniqueness
vs. multiplicity and to highlight its relation to social integration
into societies and sociocultural multiple bonds.
- She regarded this dialectic as a core phenomenon of what
is meaningful for the representation of social exchanges through
interactive roles, especially in "pluri-actor situations
of polylogues" (Haselbach 2000).
- By representing the ongoing interaction on the basis of the
dialectic uniqueness vs. multiplicity of human communication
experiences, she reached the conclusion that changing representations
of new social roles to value multiple choice opportunities.
- This has an impact on what is called "crisis of values"
and "crisis of meanings". It also pinpoints how difficult
social roles' management has become. At the same time heavy trends
towards symmetric places in family life and in political issues
and asymmetric reinforcement in management can be observed.
- Govaerts suggested that in a situation of civilisational
transition in which we find ourselves, by respecting and accepting
the variety of diverse discourses, polylogues can contribute
to establishing the needed new social bonds in a pluralist, democratic
and participatory fashion.
Marie Eliou (Athens) in dealing with the ambivalences of cultural
junctions and collective identities
- raised the issue of what - among the common points of cultures
- is common to them and what may only be fortuitous resemblances
- introduced the notion >rencontres culturelles<
or >cultural junctions< - grouping contacts, exchanges,
collaboration, influences, and confluences between the social
groups which constitute cultural entities
- discussed the ambivalences in the on-going processes of formation
of individual and collective identities. On the one hand, there
is unanimity among scientists that "there is no identity
without transformation" and that "collective identities
are social constructions". On the other hand, the fictious
notion of homogeneity continues to hold away in the social processes
actually taking place and is, additionally, stimulated by growing
numbers of immigrants.
- Drawing some lessons from the analysis for social action
to follow she recalled Henri Lefebvre's statement that "the
first task is to revive the idea of mouvement", and challenged
us to think about how to intervene in "the titanic combat
between homogenizing forces and differential capacities"
characterizing our present world, insisting that resistance towards
'conformism' is needed most since it is conformity that negates
difference and leads to indifference, to exclusion.
In summary: The presentations were so rich - You should read
them yourself, when they will be available.
Haselbach (Wiener Denk-Werkstatt / Vienna Thinktank, Vienna)
2.5. Societies and Cultures as
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R. Horn last change: 12.11.2004
For quotation purposes:
Arne Haselbach (Wiener Denk-Werkstatt / Vienna Thinktank, Vienna):
Bericht: Societies and Cultures as Polylogues. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift
für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW: http://www.inst.at/trans/15Nr/02_5/haselbach_report15.htm