INPUTS • Institut für postkoloniale und transkulturelle Studien • FB 10 • Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften

Transkulturalität in der Diaspora / transculturality in the diaspora

Räume - Kulturen - Identitäten / spaces - cultures - identities

Donnerstag, 25 November 2004 - Sonntag, 28 November 2004
Ort: Teerhof Bremen


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Transculturality in the Diaspora
Spaces - Cultures - Identities

2nd conference of INPUTS
Institut für postkoloniale und transkulturelle Studien
Bremen - November 25 - 28, 2004

The conference under review, 'Transculturality in the Diaspora, Spaces - Cultures - Identities', was the second conference of INPUTS (Institut für postkoloniale und transkulturelle Studien) in Bremen, and organized by Thomas Rommel (International University Bremen) and Gisela Febel (Bremen University).

The title of the conference already underlines the interdisciplinary nature of the field 'transculturality' which, in discussion, can lead to certain weaknesses (e.g. the difficulty to determine and define the term), but also to numerous strengths, both of which were evident during the conference. However, the defining characteristic is not only that the term is used in myriad forms across different disciplines, but also that it is mentioned within one discipline in different contexts. As a result of the variety of definitions and approaches to this term, the conference showed what occurs when a field is truly interdisciplinary. As concepts and theories travel from one discipline to another they gain new meaning and provide new insights along the way.

After a short welcoming address by both organizers and Sabine Broeck (Vice President for International Relations, Bremen University), the key-note speaker Kachig Tölölyan (Wesleyan) gave an overview of the various discourses. He introduced a variety of approaches to the term 'diaspora' in different disciplines and pointed out the flexibility and quality of the term. From a biological approach (diasporic contagion), he went into the fields of anthropology, history, literature, linguistics, and sociology to explain the diversity of modes and definitions. Tölöyan showed that the term is often mistakenly identified with mobility, whereas it actually represents a type of network system. At the end of his presentation, he focused on 'diaspora' as a term to reflect the individual self (Am I a diaspora?) and stressed the significance of the elements "scale" and "speed" for the development of diasporas in the future.

The opening session on Friday was presented by Frank Schulze-Engler (Frankfurt) who immediately shed light on the mess of manifold misinterpretations of the term 'transculturality'. In his paper, 'Transgression or Transcendence? Transcultural Imperatives in Literary Studies', he explained and emphasized the clear distinction between transculturation (a socio-economical concept developed in the 1940s) and transculturalism. Schulze-Engler then went on to illustrate the necessity of seeing the differences and nuances within the concept of transculturality, providing a variety of recent theoretical approaches and literary texts. The paper demonstrated his idea of transculturality as a mode of making cultural complexity visible in terms of contemporary literature.

Patrick Williams (Nottingham) drew our attention to his presentation "Naturally, I reject the term diaspora". Edward Said and Palestinian Dispossession. Williams showed that Said distinguished between a 'narrative dispossession' (in his famous essay about the absence of a free narrative) and a 'dialogic dispossession', which means that the Palestinians have no one to talk to in their specific cultural / political situation. These ideas are also included in the illustrations and literary works of two other Palestinian intellectuals; Naji Al-Ali and Mahmoud Darwish. The paper brought more insight and understanding to the ongoing process of Palestinian dispossession and examined a range of questions addressing a variety of (trans-)cultural problems and political issues.

The rest of the day was dedicated to African diasporas, which was introduced by sociologist Sérgio Costa (Berlin). He examined the transnational integration of the Brasilian "Movimento Negro" into the so-called "Black Atlantic" and the correlating positions in policies. His contribution, The Black Atlantic and National Public Spheres, referred to Paul Gilroy and Stuart Hall's studies, which he connected to the highest population of African descendants outside of Africa - the Afro-Brazilians. Costa concluded with the importance of an interdisciplinary discourse in this respect and emphasized how essential it is to include the asymmetrical power relations in research.

The fourth paper dealt with Tales of the Africa trade, 17th - 19th century. François Poirier (Paris) compared tales of European (French and English) slave traders to provide insight on the cultural differences shaping the development of democratic politics on both sides of the Channel, in the rest of Europe and on the African continent as well.

In her talk Becoming Black: Creating identity in the African Diaspora Michelle Wright (Macalester) traced the development of a counter-discourse on the black subject in the West through African-American, Caribbean, Black-British, Afro-German and Black-French discourses, looking at how these different theories engage with gender and sexuality, and with the terms 'Nation' and 'Diaspora'.

In the last session of the day, Barbara Korte (Freiburg) invited us to watch White Teeth for a Mixed Audience: Multicultural Primetime Television in Britain, showing parts of the British TV-adaptation of Zadie Smith's novel 'White Teeth'. Korte discussed the play in light of its commitment to a multiethnic society and its strategy to popularise cultural diversity for the average British audience. She showed that the novel offers a post-racial and post-post-colonial position by telling a story of a society in which it has become normal for categorisations to overlap and to blend.

After a long day listening to a number of very interesting approaches and ideas, stimulating discussions and debates were carried on over dinner until late at night.

The last day of the conference began by taking a look at transculturality from an anthropological perspective, starting with Patricia Alleyne-Dettmers' (Hamburg) examination of "Ritual dancers": Recreating Transcultural Power Spaces in Carnival as a transcultural motif. Her investigation demonstrates how the Trinidadian Carnival at Notting Hill (London) is evolving into a major symbol of Afro-Carribbean and Asian peoples reconstructing their fragmented histories. The migrants use the celebration to explore and challenge personal, political and other identities by creating characters who represent parts of the migration progress. As Alleyne-Dettmers showed, Carnival and its accompanying dances, spread messages about how these groups use the global city as a heterogenous political space for working out multiple oppressive conflicts caused by colonization and re-facilitated by global processes.

The second paper turned our attention towards Mexico-City as a forum where a new quest for identity is being undertaken through the revival of "pure" Aztec religion. Jacques Galinier (Paris) focused on commercialization and ritualization of this culture and described the rejection of Western influences as an urban phenomenon within the local native community. The 'New Indian Movement' creates a new spiritual space and spreads the spirit of a new Indian ideology. Galinier's theories in his paper The Indian community at stake in Mexican New Age are based on the ambivalent ways in which these new manifestations are reconciled in Mexican every-day-culture.

Dirk Klopper (Stellenbosch) took us on a journey to the Southern hemisphere, examining Afrikaner identity in a piece of contemporary South African literature written by Antje Krog. His presentation, 'Difference, Displacement and Translation: Afrikaner Identity in Post-Apartheid South Africa', focused on the constitution of the subject in 'A Change of Tongue' (2003) and the anomalous position of the Afrikaners, a community of European descent, in South African society. Kloppers statements made clear that recent theories (postcolonial and other related theories) are not adequate to provide us with sufficient positions concerning an Afrikaner identity. This is based on the fact that Afrikaners in South Africa today are not in a secure social standing of cultural domination - neither in a colonial nor in a postcolonial context.

The focus of the closing session moved to the field of geography. In her paper, Destabilizing Geographies / Destabilizing Geography, Sue Ruddick (Toronto) explored the productive destabilizations that the term "diaspora" has had on thought in geography, as well as some of the problematic attempts to reconstitute it in politics based on the nomadology and the "fluid-fixity of the multitude". She emphasized the absence of diaspora in the geographical discourse but encouraged the development of new ways of approaching the term in a geographical context.

The discussion of this last paper and the beginning of the final discussion was marked by fireworks which, in fact, were organized for the opening of the Christmas market right opposite the conference building on the other side of the river banks, and which were a beautiful occasion to relax and rest a little before plunging into Gisela Febel's compilation of key-statements that had crystallized from papers and discussions during the conference.

Febel pointed out that we had mostly been talking about strategies and tactics to attain a certain position on the term "transculturality". The question remained whether it was possible to talk about transcultural indentities at all or think about a specific form of individual performances in respect to permanent processes of identification. Furthermore, the discussion about a possible transcultural policy brought up the question of political empowerment and policies of exclusion and inclusion. It was emphasized that migration, the process of modernity, and an imaginary economy of transculturalism are correlated and that rethinking concepts of transculturality and diaspora are essential, despite the fact that the sense of memory and history is very important in this respect. To sum it up, two levels of transculturality were worked out: transculturality related to an approach in a postcolonial context and the transculturality of a new migration leading into new form of diaspora. The evening drifted into lively discussions continued over coffee and dinner.

Many speakers who were on their first visit to a (Northern) German conference said that the weekend was a particularly memorable experience, taking place at a beautiful venue with a scenic view over the heart of the city of Bremen and luckily in perfect sunny winter weather most of the time. Besides the high standard of the papers presented and the quality of the discussions they inspired, this conference was notable for its sociability and for its friendly atmosphere. The comparatively small number of participants gave the conference a seminar-style feel which enabled discussion and debate. Students, graduate students, and professors were given the chance to meet and present their research.

The hosts and organizers of the conference were delighted that the interdisciplinary approach was a success. First, the different topics were thoroughly discussed, analyzed, and reflected from various angles; from the individual to the social and back again. Secondly, it was successful in terms of increasing knowledge of the many and varied ways in which anthropology, cultural studies, natural sciences, sociology, geography, and literature affect each other. The second conference of INPUTS was indeed an interdisciplinary conference, presenting a multitude of perspectives from which to view these interelations.

Angela Hamilton
Frankfurt am Main / Bremen

  Veranstaltet von:
Institut für postkoloniale und transkulturelle Studien
der Universität Bremen, Fachbereich 10
Prof. Dr. Gisela Febel
Tel.: 218-3040
Fax: 218-4283