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SIEF2013 keynotes

Tine Damsholt (University of Copenhagen), 30th June, 18:00-19:00, Assembly Hall

Circulating bodies – or how matter comes to matter

Short abstract:

Culture circulates, changes, and destabilizes. But what about materialities – do they also circulate on their own? The materiality of the body is often seen as a threshold for social constructions, but we need to employ a broad range of material–discursive practises to investigate how bodies are configured in ongoing processes and circulations.

Long abstract:

Culture flows, circulates, changes, stabilizes, and destabilizes. Culture is processes, relations, and performances, it is argued. But what about materialities – do they also flow and circulate on their own? In the paradigm of diffusion material forms crossed national borders and 'traveled alone' according to cultural geographies. Later things got their own biographies and social livesof changing meanings (Appadurai 1986) or even became actors with agency (Latour 1993). However, the materiality of the biological and gendered body is often seen as a kind of threshold for social and discursive constructions and inscriptions of meaning 'on a material surface'. The performative strategy, as led by Butler (1993), reintroduced the sexed body in its materiality, but the question remains as to whether this understanding is limited to discourses about the body or whether a much broader range of material–discursive practises must be employed if we are to investigate and understand how the body is enacted in all its concrete complexity. Taking the point of departure in a auto-ethnographic case where 'academic bodies' met in a Turkish hamam, it is argued, that bodies as material–discursive phenomena come to matter, and are (de)stabilized and reconfigured in ongoing processes and circulations.


Greg Urban (University of Pennsylvania), 1st July, 09:00-10:00, Assembly Hall

Four forces affecting cultural motion

Short abstract:

If we think of culture as moving through time and space, inertia is the tendency of that culture to continue moving at the same rate unless other forces act upon it. Counting inertia in this way as a kind of inherent tendency or “force,” I offer illustrative evidence in this paper for three additional classes of force: entropy, interest, and metaculture.

Long abstract:

Properly speaking, “inertia” is resistance to change. At the same time, if we think of culture as moving through time and space between individuals, inertia is the tendency of that culture to continue moving at the same rate unless other forces act upon it. Counting inertia in this way as a kind of inherent tendency or “force,” I offer illustrative evidence in this paper for three additional classes of force: entropy, interest, and metaculture. I show that these forces operate at the level of micro-processes of discourse replication, as well as in larger-scale phenomena. The force of interest is the foundation for economic theory and its law of supply and demand, but it can be glimpsed as well at the micro-level in narrative replication. However, taken alone it provides an incomplete and distorted account of cultural motion, which takes place not only at the behest of inertia, but also in response to reflexive cultural processes grouped here under the heading of “metaculture.” The latter can be glimpsed at the micro-plane in self-correction within narration or in instructional correctives, but it operates as well on a large scale in ideological formations such as modernity and the emphasis on newness.

 

Robert G. Howard (University of Wisconsin, Madison), 1st July, 13:30-14:30, Assembly Hall

Back to the newly-digital networked normal: digital circulation and the return of everyday authority

Short abstract:

If the age of commercial media created an awkward silence amongst us, a digital roar is now breaking it. As we post videos of ourselves playing guitar on YouTube and trade health advice in online forums, digital circulation is now returning authority to vernacular expression—for better and worse.

Long abstract:

We humans have been busy devising ever more complex ways to interact with each other. From physical mimicry, to oral narration and singing, to books, movies, TV, and now—as so many have been quick to point out—to so-called “new” media. Termed “new folk culture” by Harvard law professor YochaiBenkler and “participatory culture” by media scholar Henry Jenkins, digital circulation of everyday expression is being celebrated by analysts as the new normal of a networked society. But is it really new? Or has the age of durable media and commercial broadcasts only been an awkward silence in the long chatter of human history? If so, that silence is now being broken by a digital roar. We can hear it in everything from homemade YouTube videos of ourselves playing guitar licks to advice in online forums about how to treat sick kids. But this raucous condition is really only a return to our normal state of being: humans connecting by informally circulating their communication to create webs of signification. And with this happy return, old questions re-emerge. How do we judge “expert” and “amateur” expression in this network free-for-all? Who is disempowered and empowered by such judgments?  Today, we can again place the highest value on our own individual expression--but with that power, comes significant responsibility. Through individual choices to trust one another, we can knit a global community from the threads of a network already far too vast for any one of us to comprehend by ourselves.

 

Kristin Kuutma (University of Tartu), 2nd July, 09:00-10:00, Assembly Hall

Cultural heritage: from restrained circulation to incited transformation

Short abstract:

This talk proposes a reflection on the notion of stasis and motion of cultural forms and articulations in the heritagization framework or pertaining curative processes. My analysis of pertinent concepts, technologies and policies inquires into heritage discourses, heritage regimes, and agency incentives.

Long abstract:

While heritage studies presents a prolific field of transdisciplinary scope, it is often characterized by contradictory significance or interpretation. Cultural heritage is a value-laden concept that eludes a neutral ground of connotation, whereas its evaluation may fluctuate between positive and negative over time and space.If circulation assumes flow, exchange and mobility, then what kind of movement is implicated by the claim of cultural forms, objects or expressions as heritage? To what extent is the heritagization framework and pertaining curative processes invigorating or petrifying? Does it elicit or suppress agency? These questions require a more detailed reflection on the stasis and motion of cultural forms thus doctored with an inquisitive look into pertinent policies. A designation of cultural heritage, at once uplifting and contested, is a social construct caught in time but indicating ambiguous temporal and political entanglements. It simultaneously envisions demise and revitalisation, disappearance and transmission. Being a project of ideology, heritage urges the preservation and celebration of elements of a reified past that are intended to manifest rootedness and rights for possession. Yet the intervening cultural political inclusions and exclusions address the concerns of the present. This talk will explore heritage discourses and heritage regimes which attempt to stabilise the incessantly altering - the dynamics of modes of expression and lifestyles. Heritage indicates a mode of cultural production with reformative significance, while giving rise to technologies of power that employ political and international tools for cultural valorisation. As a guiding principle in cultural management it instigates safeguarding programs with transformative power.

 

Joep Leerssen (University of Amsterdam), 2nd July, 13:30-14:30, Assembly Hall

Sleeping Beauty gets around: popular-elite, cross-national, and inter-medial circulation

Short abstract:

Using the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty and the legend of Barbarossa as related by the Grimms and used by Romantics, I investigate the spread of this motif and how it fed into the discourse of "revival", "renaissance" and "awakening" in the national movements of 19th-century Europe.

Long abstract:

Culture, as a set of self-perpetuating instances of communicative praxis, has an inherent power of dissemination [a] over time, [b] across social strata and societies and [c] between media of expression. A folktale like Hansel and Gretel can become an internationally renowned opera, a Celtic cross can become the logo of neo-fascism. This "pro-creativity" (Rigney 2012) makes the dissemination of culture, describable though it is in a limited number of structural parameters, a "complex system" – like a Rubik's cube. By the same token, the procreative mobility of culture means that it ties together widely different periods in history, different social strata or societies, and different media of expression. It is only recently that we are beginning to realize the full importance of culture's power to establish "wormholes" and tunnelling links between different social and historical dimensions. I want to explore the complex systemics and procreative power of culture by addressing a case linking folklorism, elite literature, historicist architecture and painting: the combined impact of the Sleeping Beauty tale and the Barbarossa myth in German nationalism, as manifested in the late-19th-century restoration of the Imperial Manor of Goslar. I shall follow the historical evidence from Goerres's "Die teutschenVolksbücher" of 1808 to the allegorical murals painted by Hermann Wislicenus in Goslar in the 1880s. 

 

Michael Herzfeld (Harvard University), 3rd July, 09:00-10:00, Assembly Hall

Circulation and Circumvention: reciprocity and Intimacy in the neoliberal world

Short abstract:

Arguing from Marcel Mauss’s dire predictions about the collapse of reciprocity under conditions of modern capitalism, the speaker argues that technological innovation and a new commercial ethic have subverted older forms of reciprocity. Instead, we now see distinctive modalities of exchange that buttress the new economic and administrative order.

Long abstract:

The speaker will address Marcel Mauss’s dire predictions about the collapse of reciprocity under conditions of modern capitalism. He argues that a combination of technological innovation (especially the internet) and a new commercial ethic (“neoliberalism”) have subverted older forms of hospitality, exchange, and other systems of reciprocity. While practices ranging from the Melanesian kula to European quêtes and South Asian matrimonial exchanges have had analogues in political practices of patronage and favor-trading, the neoliberal pervasion of these older structures – a process in which claims to have abolished them actually reinvigorates their logic at a more comprehensive but less visible level – amplifies Mauss’s pessimism. At the same time, new circulation systems, especially of information and the secrecy rules that purport to protect it, provide new loopholes corresponding to some older modalities, and suggest that human beings will always try to circulate goods (material or otherwise) as a way of remaining connected, but will also always seek to subvert this connectedness (or “connectivity”) as a way of resisting the structures of power. Illustrative examples will be drawn from the speaker’s own fieldwork, from older folklore compilations, and from everyday experience in global cyberspace and in academic and other forms of worldwide exchange. The speaker will also argue that it is in situ fieldwork, albeit not always in static locations, that allows scholars to gauge these sometimes enormous changes and their effects on daily life.

 

Alessandro Portelli (Sapienza University of Rome), 3rd July, 13:30-14:30, Assembly Hall

'Roma Forestiera': migrant music and social change in Rome

Short abstract:

Roma Forestiera is a project to collect and archive the music that the new immigrants have brought back into the streets of Rome, to observe the cultural changes brought by the migration experience, to try to understand its meaning as the "new" urban folk music of our time and its reception by and contamination with Italian musical culture.

Long abstract:

A hit song of the 1940s, "Roma Forestiera" (Rome the foreigner, Rome, the stranger, Rome the estranged) complained that music had disappeared from the streets and neighborhoods of Rome, replaced by the newfangled American music promoted by the radio. Over the last twenty years or so, music has come back to the urban space of Rome, brought back precisely by the "foreigners" and the "foreigners" that are turning Italy, historically a country of emigrants, into a country of immigrants as well. A project by the Circolo Gianni Bosio has been collecting, archiving and promoting this "new urban folk music", focusing on specific spaces: the street (and the subway and the buses); the home (family traditions, lullabies, etc.); the school (where migrant music has often been adopted as part of the educational project); the community (including celebrations and churches). The paper will discuss several examples of changes in the traditional music that migrants brought with them; composition of new music by migrants; adoption of Italian traditions; lived experiences of non-professional musicians and traditional singers. In conclusion, I will suggest that music is a useful point of view for an understanding of the new multicultural reality of the contemporary metropolis as well as of the meanings and forms of the migration experience.