Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 6. Nr.

September 1998

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Cultural studies, information structures, Europe

Herbert Arlt (Vienna)

The conference "Cultural Studies, Databases, Europe" is part of the work programme of the Research Institute for Austrian and International Literature and Cultural Studies (INST)(1), which aims to shift emphasis from the "humanities"(2) to research into cultural processes from a present day perspective, and to assert the role of cultural studies in answering the current demands on science.

Progress has already been made along these lines during brainstorming sessions at conferences in Riverside (California), St Petersburg and Innsbruck.(3) Die wesentlichen Ergebnisse dieser Konferenzen waren neue wissenschaftsgeschichtliche Erkenntnisse, die die bisheriger Monolithik nationalstaatlicher Konzepte aufbrachen, die Einführung des Begriffes "Prozesse", die Orientierung auf die weltweiten Wechselwirkungen der Kulturen unter unterschiedlichen Aspekten sowie der Übergang von Fachwissenschaften bzw. Interdisziplinarität im Sinne der Summierung von Fachwissen zum transdisziplinären kulturwissenschaftlichen Arbeiten. (Dies drückt sich bereits heute nicht zuletzt in der Gründung einer Vielzahl von Europa-Instituten in allen Weltgegenden aus.)

TRANS, the INST's Internet journal for cultural studies, has played a central role in INST discussions since 1997.(4) des INST. Sie wird 1998 von etwa 1.500 WissenschafterInnen aus rund 70 Ländern pro Monat abgefragt. The journal has been used by around 1500 scientists a month from 70 different countries during 1998.

In TRANS number 5, contributions to the conference in Schlaining on "Internationalisation, Conflicts, Cultural Studies" were published. This conference was financed by the Austrian UNESCO commission and the Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution. In Schlaining, INST defined for the first time the subject matter of our research with greater conceptual precision.

1. Subjects

Until now, most areas viewed as suitable fields of research were stipulated as such by the conditions of their time, though there was always a tendency, to varying degrees, to negate these conditions and stress research for its own sake.

In reality two tendencies developed. The first completely neglected to examine the conditions under which cultural processes occured. The second concentrated on "regional", "national", or "intercultural" (mainly bilateral) conditions, largely because of financial constraints. Various methodologies were employed in this work.

In the course of the conference in Schlaining, we elaborated by comparative analysis at least five essential processes. These can interact to varying degrees: regionality, nationality, multiculturalism, interculturalism, and transculturalism.(5) These five processes are, in essence, defined by the following factors: prior conditions (nature), the development of forms of labour (tools,machines) the development of conceptual formations (speech, information and communication structures) and the development of cooperation.(6)

It is apparent that forms of social organisation such as modernity or feudalism have a major influence on these processes - processes which since the 15th century exhibit characteristics we would categorise as globalisation, to use current terminology. These processes are interwoven with various forms of religion, science and art.

However important differences can also be identified, which are in turn connected to structural aspects of cultural processes in communities. For example, the languages of powerful nations in general take their definitive form (e.g. Japan(7), and France) precisely at that point in their history when they take over knowledge, methods etc. from other countries. Especially during a period of gradual decline in power, (such as that experienced today by England, France and Japan on the international political scene) language as an instrument of exclusion becomes a main factor in further decline. Countries such as India, which spent long periods under colonial rule, show different developments. For example, India has not simply taken over other cultures, but has influenced other cultures worldwide. Without Indian mathematics, brought to Europe via Arab intermediaries, none of the computer software known to us today would function. Numerous Hindi words have made their way into European languages via English, words such as bungalow or shampoo.

English as spoken in the United States is an exception. Although a world power, its language system has remained open to influence, as, in contrast to Germany, Japan, or France, the US has never developed monolithic structures. These were developed in the three examples, Germany, France and Japan, though each with their own distinctive structural elements.

2. Politics, information systems, cultural studies

Major efforts are underway in the European Union at the moment to create a foundation for the information society. There are two factors in this whose significance should not be overlooked: first, generally speaking there is substantially less investment(8) in technology in Europe than in the United States, and second, current efforts are driven by a purely technological concept, without content.

The problem of conceptual content is closely bound with the failure to date to develop a conceptual base for cultural policy. It is true that under the heading "cultural policies"(9) certain endeavours are underway in the EU, including pumping more money into cultural activity in the Union, (which is certainly to be welcomed), but a perspective on political orientation is still missing.

This is apparent, for instance, in the increasing tendency to use the term "job", which primarily suggests a division between profession and leisure. Having a "job" is necessary to earn money, but unpleasant. And the sense of "unpleasantness" is also not least a reflection of the fact that work performance is still often forced on us by fear - fear of economic sanctions extending to the point of losing the job altogether.

To say nothing of the fact that development and education in conceptual thinking now barely attracts financial support, or support has stagnated, in contrast to the situation this type of work enjoyed in the 70s and 80s. This has brought with it fundamental problems in the interchange between art and science with social processes. Broadly speaking, they are these days consumed or rejected only as "entertainment" (with consequent increase in supplies of designer ware). However new cultural policies are certainly not called on to set new ideological accents. What new cultural policies must newly define is the connections between work and conceptual development, between everyday life and the ability to influence decision making. In the context of social processes this involves the transformation of tourism into cultural exchange or transcultural processes, the transformation of leisure activities into the process of personal development, (without neglecting fun, pleasure and relaxation) and the strengthening of cross-regional inclusive decision-making processes, for example by strengthening the European parliament. Only in this context can one open up new avenues of financing for the arts and sciences. Only in this context can the provision of appropriate financing be an important prerequisite for the arts and cultural studies to develop anew. Only in this context does the motto of the exhibition "Cultural Studies and Europe" - "Cultural Studies as the productive force of the 21st century" make sense.

Because of the vacuum created by the almost complete lack of a European cultural policy, nationalistic movements have pushed themselves forward within individual countries and in the European Union. They have long recognised the deficit. This leads to a dangerous situation, because politics alone and criticism of an opponent does not create integrative elements in which a new perspective can develop. Rather this encourages far more the polarisation of the political process, which can lead to violence.

Developing cultural policies under the conditions imposed by globalisation(10) involves far more than jobs, homes and redistribution of taxes (important and unavoidable as that may be). At heart it involves a cultural confrontation - in this case with the ideological instruments of the 19th century (nationalism, chauvinism, racism, fascism) which, especially in the 20th century, brought war and suffering not only to Europe- and on the other side with a differentiated concept of cooperation, a concept whose theoretical foundation remains marginal in public discourse.

In this context I would like to return to the question of language. All people possess language. It is the basis for cultural development, as preserver of knowledge which can be passed from generation to generation, but which can also express change.(11)

According to UNESCO statistics, worldwide there are around 20,000 languages.(12) Every loss of a language is a loss of knowledge. At the same time, this doesn’t mean languages can’t or shouldn’t continue to develop. Let’s take for example developments in Europe between the 16th and 19th centuries. Extended trade because of new modes of transport, new markets, new forms of production, required new administrative authorities, and most of all, new forms of communication.

Today, in the European Union, there is also the need for a new form of communication. Here economies are strongly linked to one another, which is not the case in India, China or South Africa. And contrary to developments in the USA, where unresolved problems are expressing themselves in linguistic developments which are based on exclusion, Europe can chose another way. We have the chance in Europe to turn away from the nineteenth century and to elaborate the connecting elements between cultures.

The use of a common language provides a basis not only to fulfil economic interests or build up effective administrative structures, but to give the opportunity for people in Europe to get to know one another. Only with the help of a common means of communication can we prevent potential hostile images of others, or dismantle already extant xenophobic projections. But there is a further range of requisite cultural measures, whose basis, particularly in the present political stalemate, should be established through cultural studies. That would also be the prerequisite for a current policy able to initiate a process which would definitely enable a differentiation of regionalism and transculturalism, but would at the same time also promote (rather than replace) necessary transcultural developments. A process which can only bear fruit over the long term. Especially when one considers how long it takes for the transformation of information systems, of the sciences, of education, and that normally it takes 10 to 12 years for new scientific findings to be fully absorbed by the public.

3 European specifics and information

When I speak of Europe, I always mean those countries stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals - which is to say a truly heterogenous past and present, and no monolithic future. If we want to analyse scientifically processes in such a Europe, defending old divisions of labour in the sciences against change is no longer adequate, nor are vague accomodations to new conditions. This can be shown (to the extent subjects can be used as bases for argument) from linguistic processes currently underway but also from the development of cultural industries, especially since the 1960s, artistic processes, communication structures, and so on. A new organisation of the sciences is necessary based above all on the transformation of information structures within the framework of new cultural policies.

I would like to turn now to the specifics of information structures in Europe and indicate some new perspectives.

To turn first to the importance of collections of material. It is a characteristic of Europe that archiving of material is not undeveloped. In comparison for instance with Cameroon or India, quite a few European countries possess first class collections, which contain for example newspapers from Cameroon, which are not archived in Cameroon itself. In fact the problem of actually locating information in the Austrian National Library, purely because of the volume of material, has already been demonstrated in a fragment of Robert Musil’s novel, "Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften" (The Man without Qualities).(13) But in contrast to Indian libraries possessing comparably voluminous collections of material, a system to locate what you need is at least provided (quite apart from the recently introduced electronic aids provided).

However accessibility to European collections still doesn’t meet the needs of modern day cultural studies. Their structures originated for the most in the nineteenth century, though there are significant differences from country to country, and even within countries. I’ll mention just a few examples here, for example the national libraries. In France, the Bibliothèque Nationale was organised as a national collection in the second half of the 19th century, and, for example, documented exchanges of letters between scientists only when they were written in French. In contrast, the Austrian Nationalbibliothek was not a "national" library. It was not only for historical reasons that the collections, from many countries, included a variety of objects, such as papyrus rolls, embroideries, globes, photos, books and more recently electronic publications. For a long time the Austrian Nationalbibliothek also had no "national bibliography." Austria, like France, Germany, and so on, always laid great value on collections of the most varied aspects. In Switzerland, for example, this is not necessarily the case. I’m thinking here of the literary archive in Bern. Even getting the archive set up required a long struggle.

New factors have emerged in the 1990s. The importance of archiving of new media was not recognised for a long time in many countries. However archives of television material are now being created, and these promise access to entirely new materials for research. Admittedly much has already been destroyed, but the volume of material produced each day almost defeats archiving. There are already electronic bibliographies of radio plays and so on which contain around 55,000 plays, and that’s only for the the German speaking world. This coincides with the reorientation of politics in the interests of protecting power, a process which was already described by Josef Haslinger in the 1980s.(14)

Others modes of communication - for example, printed literature - have lost ground as a result. This is not a linear process, but is very much connected to modes of work in the scientific disciplines which concentrate on language and literature. As we saw and heard at the general meeting of INST on the 29th of September, the INST deliberately places language at the centre and foregoes forms of design which simplify processes, thereby creating misunderstandings and misinterpretation. The point is not to use the latest fashions cooked up by designers, but to clearly connect the expressive intention with its appropriate form. And science is based on language, which is why a text exhibition represents the most logical form in which to present the results of our work to the public.

However this doesn’t mean that we want to exclude a large portion of the public. In fact there is no "public" in the sense of a fixed audience. And the design trends are certainly not the result of some iron laws of mass communication - but are ideas for mass communication which have developed under certain concrete conditions.

Developing alternatives to these doesn’t mean relying instead on fabrications, but rather to rethink the current context in which this is occuring and the potential for change. Not an easy path, but possible.

4. Information structures

Taking a closer look at current information structures, one soon realises that the canonical forms are not adequate to promoting an open scientific process. Current information structures are far more likely to set a bias on scientific processes, to hamper.

In this connection, I would like to refer first to accessibility of archives. This is far from satisfactory in Europe. The obstacles are different from country to country. They extend from closure to destruction. This means, looking only at the period since 1945, that there are more than a few "blank spots" in the public memory, which are beyond repair.

From this extreme example I would like to turn to the aspect of methodology. What, for example, is actually being collected in literature or scientific correspondence? Who is attending to the estates of computer pioneers? In what style and way is interaction occuring between the public and collections? The context these questions exemplify is the appropriate point to introduce the term "canonical selection." Up until now, the structures of collections were primarily defined by the wishes of their private patrons, a selection process in which politics by no means acted as a counterbalance, but did often impose "order". When new research areas developed, - and this is especially so since the 60s - the material was often no longer available. I would mention here the key-words social history, women’s history, the history of peace, scientific correspondence and oral history.

Assuming there are also archives in Europe which were seldom subject to closure, destruction or canonical selection, another problem does however arise, and this springs from the demands of synthetical research: the degree to which limited time and finances affect access to data. It is true that much has improved in this respect. If one examines the expenses a scholar had to meet if he was to publish medieval texts in the nineteenth century, it’s certainly clear that possibilities for travel and textual reproduction have significantly improved in the second half of the twentieth century. Furthermore, it’s not always strictly necessary to travel. If you care to take a look at the "Suchhilfe " or "Search Aid" designed by Andrea Rosenauer, which is to be found on the Homepage of the INST, you’ll see that someone sitting in Lemberg/Lviv, or Rustschuk/Rousse, in Cracow/Krakcw can still study bibliographic material from the Austrian National Library, Austrian newspapers, and so on, but also tap information in databases in the USA or Japan. Since recently, the INST search engine can also provide information on conferences, journals, books, lectures and so on of its partners.

However the information system in Internet is nowhere near as well developed as one would wish. For example, the European Association of National Libraries doesn’t have a search engine which can operate across the different servers. Likewise, there are also still no search engines that can cope with multiligualism as accurately as possible. The spread of hardware and status of software leave a great deal to be desired, as was already extensively dealt with in Innsbruck. So there remains a great deal to do in this area. And it is clearly imperative that for effective design of new structures a dialogue must occur between those developing information systems, science, software and hardware. Questions such as structuring software, the use of signs, security of systems, authors’ rights, use of programmes and so on affect us all, whether we work in informatics, literary studies, provider services or libraries.

5 Scientific structures

We have already in the past on many occasions discussed the advantages and disadvantages of divisions of labour, specialist orientation and interdisciplinarity. The view has been espoused that an adequate terminology, on the basis of subject definitions, can only be transdisciplinarity, (or interdisciplinarity, if it is to be called that, so long as it works principally in a transdisciplinary fashion.)

It is with such a methodology that the complex volume of data could be systematically processed, and thus satisfactorily precise access provided on search engines able to operate across different servers. The bare definition of the methodology is not enough however. Their desired applications call far more for transformation of training, scientific structures, scientific communication and cooperation.

It would be unproductive to deduce from current structures that this methodology could not be used. That would be a bureaucratic rather than a scientific conclusion. It is much more important to develop these new forms, and numerous initiatives in this direction are already underway within the INST. And just as we are attempting to create a new basis for scientific communication in INST through articles, discussions, Internet seminars, and conferences, it would also be necessary to develop new initiatives for the other areas. This cannot be the theme of this conference, but will be discussed at the conference "International Cultural Studies" in Paris in 1999.(15)

Final comments

Until now the humanities have tended primarily to isolate (by separating them from the entire process) cultural processes ( also cross-border processes) or to confront them as divisive elements of other cultures (identification through negation of the Other). Division of labour, financing, political circumstances and other factors accomodated this. In view of actual cultural processes, the humanities, employing such a mode of approach, fail in their objective, and within changed circumstances, lose their credibility as well. A persistent dissociation, (or mere adaptive modifications), bringing with it graduate unemployment, loss of public status, inadequate financing and so on, have led to the decay of these scientific disciplines.

That which brings cultures together should stand at the centre of new endeavours - in the sense of the UNESCO document "Our Creative Diversity". New suggestions should be worked out in this connection at our next conference on the theme of "International Cultural Studies" in Paris from the 15th to the 19th of September 1999.

This conference here should hope to create initiatives for a new relation between science and information systems, which are the basis for new forms of science. However, an interesting series of lectures on search systems, literature, journals, and archives in the Internet is offered at this conference. We’ll have the chance to present our ideas to the cultural committee of the European parliament in November 1998. And we should work together to ensure that this initiative reaches a broad public, so that support is found from many sides for innovations that are so clearly necessary.

© Herbert Arlt (Vienna)
translated by Joanna King

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(1) Zum INST s.:

(2) Zum Begriff vgl.: Roland Benedikter: Geister- oder Geisteswissenschaften? In: Die Presse, 13.7.1998.

(3)  Die Ergebnisse dieser Konferenz erschienen in: Daviau/Arlt: Die Geschichte der österreichischen Literatur. St.Ingbert 1996, Teil I und II sowie in TRANS Nr.1-4 (

(4) S. Anm. 3.

(5) Vgl. dazu den Beitrag von Herbert Arlt zur Konferenz "Mulit-Culturalism and Multi-Ethnicity in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe" mit dem Titel: "Regionalität, Nationalität, Multikulturalität, Interkulturalität, Transkulturalität".

(6) Vgl. dazu den Abschnitt über "Sprache..." in der Ausstellung "Kulturwissenschaften und Europa":

(7) Vgl. dazu Naoji Kimura: Jenseits von Weimar. Goethes Weg zum Fernen Osten. Bern 1997.

(8) 196 Milliarden Dollar in Europa, 320 in den USA. Angaben nach: Jakob Steurer: Was kommt auf den Teller? In: Die Presse, 29.8.1998.

(9) Vgl. zu kulturellen Konzepten: Cultural Policies in Europe. In: http://www.spoe/ri/kulturkonferenz/index.htm

(10) Zur Begriffsbestimmung vgl.: Herbert Arlt: Kulturprozesse, Weltpolitik, Kulturwissenschaften. In: TRANS Nr. 5/1998. WWW:

(11) Our Creative Diversity. Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development (1995), S.180.

(12) Ebd., S.179.

(13) Robert Musil: Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. Hamburg 1952, S.459ff.

(14) Josef Haslinger: Politik der Gefühle. Darmstadt, Neuwied 1987.

(15) Die jeweils neuesten Informationen zur Konferenz in Paris finden Sie unter:

Webmeisterin: Angelika Czipin
last change 12.07.2000