TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr.
Februar 2010

Sektion 8.14. Gemeinschaft in Differenz: Kollektive Agenten im interkulturellen Kontext / Community in Difference: Collective Agents in Intercultural Contexts
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair: Bertold Bernreuter (Universidad Intercontinental, Mexico City)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Section Report 8.14.

Community in Difference
Collective Agents in Intercultural Contexts

Bertold Bernreuter (Universidad Intercontinental, Mexico City) [BIO]



Human beings are ‘social animals’; they organise themselves in groups, communities and societies, and are human through their sociality. Thus in political debates, and particularly in the intercultural arena, we are consistently confronted with two kinds of agents: individuals and collectives, collectives of different sizes operating on different levels. For a collective agent to act, there needs to be (possible) recourse to an existent consensus. Without this, the collective agent would collapse (or relapse) into an expression of authoritarianism, paternalism, or chaos. Just like the concept of identity already always implies difference, the idea of a collective agent implies questions about internal structures of democracy.

When reflecting upon the concept of community and its practical relevance, two general questions have to be raised: firstly, who constitutes themselves as a community? – the question of identity and autonomy. Secondly, how does the community articulate their interests? – the question of representation and democracy.

One can explore further the basic dimensions of community and go on to ask: when and where does the community construct and reproduce itself? – the question of historicity and locality. What does community generate and articulate? – the question of authenticity and normativity. What does community aspire to move towards? – the question of finality. How does community articulate itself? – the question of mediality. And finally, why does it articulate itself at all, on which grounds? – the question of legitimacy.

In many non-Western philosophies, the community has a special status as a collective subject. There, the fixation of Western rationalism on the individual as unique and exclusive subject seems somewhat incomprehensible and deficient. But also in the West itself this one-sided fixation has been criticised, for instance in communitarianism, and the reality of collective agents has been acknowledged, as the discussions about a third generation of human rights show (the collective and solidarity rights). This section aimed to engage critically with discussion about the concept of community, in order to arrive at a better understanding of the role of collective agents, specifically in intercultural contexts.

Krasimira Marholeva (Prague) started the discussion with an historical case study, entitled Between the Old and the New Homeland: The National Identity of the Czech Community in the USA in Early XX Century, based on the descriptions in two American periodicals, “Charities” and “Outlook” in 1904 and 1906, respectively. She argued that in this case, family and school were involved unintentionally into an unconscious struggle for the “souls” of the “youths”, turning themselves into “cultural enemies”. In this sense, the school assumed the role of a disintegrating factor – separating the first and the second generation. Although the American Czechs were integrated to their new homeland, the assimilation was not full, because their language proved to be quite strong to be swept; it helped the Czechs keep alive their national consciousness. Thus, the Czech community in the USA formed they own world, a “state within the state”. They kept their national consciousness through their language and numerous Czech periodicals, published in the USA.

Niels Weidtmann (Tübingen) focused in his contribution Dimensions of Community – a View on African Traditions on social experiences in the context of Sub-Saharan societies. He stressed that personal identity in these societies is intensely based on community; but the underlying social experience cannot be limited to two dimensions only, that is, person and community. It rather constitutes a plurality of collective dimensions of different scope and diverse interweaving. The particular dimension is always shaped in the interaction of these different dimensions, such as age group, clan or ethnicity. Where a particular dimension is intended to be rendered in terms of absolutes, other dimensions would not only be pushed aside, but the specific dimension of community would also loose its sense. By absolutising ethnicity, colonial politics in Africa exactly implicated this: they destroyed the social cohesiveness of ethnic groups and destabilised the traditional equilibrium of the plural dimensions of community.

The following paper on Community in Difference? Reflections on Coastal Muslims in Postcolonial Kenya by Kai Kresse (Berlin) deepened the view on the African context; he discussed selected examples of internal ideological tensions and social dynamics among Muslims on the Swahili coast, following Talal Asad’s paradigm of ‘Islam as discursive practice’. He argued that coastal Muslims in Kenya can surely be seen as a ‘community in difference’ that is constantly shaped and re-negotiated by a diversity of individual and collective agents. While it makes sense to talk about them as a kind of wider community loosely defined by religious affiliation, their internal diversity is significant and marked from within, with reference to ethnicity and cultural background but most importantly by different interpretations of Islam (and, in consequence, the practice of it) among and within Muslim groups. Thereby, reference to ‘knowledge’ plays a major role within the various respective attempts at transforming society.

In his considerations on an Indian Social Imaginary Sudarsan Padmanabhan (Chennai) argued that the transition into consensual communities is not possible without the construction of a cultural social imaginary, while Western societies anticipate rapid desacralisation and secularisation of their post-colonial cultures. He examined the cultural and social transformation of India and the problems encountered by the Indians in contesting cultural, social, linguistic and religious identities. He analysed the role played by the Bhagawad Gita and the concept of non-attached action emphasised by it, in order to finally advocate an asymmetric social action. This ‘cooperative action’, according to Padmanabhan, is weakly deontological, weakly utilitarian, evaluator relative, consensual and dialogical, and takes into account the need to encourage intersubjective interaction in all aspects of the life world.

Francesca Ervas’ (Rome) lecture A Naturalistic Explanation of Communication across Cultures tried to answer three questions, on the nature of social norms, on the operation mode of metarepresentations in intercultural communication, and on the reason for the complex linguistic-communicative and metapsychological capacity of human mind. Starting from the assumption that communication plays a central role in explaining social rules, she stated that intercultural communication can be considered an inferential practice that involves the human capacity to construct metarepresentations. In intercultural communication, translation is nothing but a kind of metarepresentation that consequently allows using thoughts themselves interpretively, or as interpretive representations of other thoughts that they resemble. Human capacity for intercultural communication and mind-reading reaches such a refined level as to make complex forms of socialization possible.

Fouad Kalouche (Reading, PA) pursued the themes of (collective) meaning and representation, reflecting on Sensus Communis in Intercultural Contexts and the Need to Reassess Knowledge and Meaning: Contemporary Forms of Subjectivisation and Possibilities for Radical Social Transformation. He argued that sociality always already presupposes a sensus communis that is developed through the delineation of social imaginary significations. In today’s world of “globalization,” tquestion is whether highly heterogeneous and differentiated collectivitiescould still be considered “agents” of social and political transformation . order to problematise this question, he focused on the production of contemporary subjectivities, the modes of domination and of control associated with the production of reality. Social and political transformation, according to Kalouche, has to be built on a anti-reductive intercultural (and anti-capitalist) global basis that reproduce social imaginary significations corresponding to a foundational becoming where difference is immanently creative and transformative, and where indeterminacy, multiplicity, and irreducibility characterize meaning itself and permeate emerging forms of socialisation, acculturation, and subjectivisation.

The following paper on Community and Cultural Difference in the Political Philosophy of Luis Villoro by Bertold Bernreuter (Mexico City) continued with the analysis of the political dimensions of a dynamical notion of community. Bernreuter argued that Villoro’s conception of community is based on the recognition of the concrete Other. This implicates a heterogeneous collective subjectivity, seeking a differentiated identity in the solidary endeavour for justice. The openness for the Other and Otherness shows possibilities how a community, while acting as a collective subject, can meet with internal and external difference, without lapsing into the extremes of authoritarian culturalism on one hand or multicultural arbitrariness on the other hand. Difference is constitutive for both the internal diversity of culture and the external plurality of cultures. The recognition of cultural difference itself is based on four transcultural principles – autonomy, authenticity, finality and effectivity.

Finally, Wolfgang Cernoch (Vienna) made in his analysis of Collective Agents, the Organisation of Forms of Organisation, and Identity the attempt to come to a general understanding of socio-political conditions and processes in the constitution, function and transformation of social groups. He described three dimensions in the organisation of societies: a concept of parallel societies, a concept of the organisation of basic social configurations (group, organisation as an institution, public or market) and a concept of cognitive/affective-founded sociodynamic positions in a social field. He discussed these concepts with respect to the role of collective agents faced with questions of political constitution and multilingual societies, statebuilding and global governance.

8.14. Gemeinschaft in Differenz: Kollektive Agenten im interkulturellen Kontext / Community in Difference: Collective Agents in Intercultural Contexts

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 Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  17 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Bertold Bernreuter: Section Report 8,14. Community in Difference: Collective Agents in Intercultural Contexts - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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