Fields of Work
The Research Training Group’s contribution to academic study lies in its long-term and in-depth examination of the ways in which networks, data storage, standardisation and translation operationally interact in practices of connecting and excluding. The Research Group actively pursues an open and resolutely exploratory approach in its close transdisciplinary work, the results of which cannot and should not be deductively anticipated in advance. In this light, the following texts sketch out four fields of activity which outline directions of travel and lines of enquiry which serve starting points in the process, but which do not imply its conclusion.
Our focus is on the dual processes of connecting and excluding; our primary interest therefore lies in the thinking inherent in network theory and network research, both of which we are also seeking to critically enhance. To this end, we proceed primarily from qualitative, sociological and cultural studies network research whilst at the same time challenging classical ontologies in actor-network theory and actor-media theory, which are also charged with adopting and interpreting findings from mathematical and formally modelled network analysis. Going beyond descriptions of societies, communities and social systems as networks, more recent analysis faces the additional challenge of examining digitally manifested, so-called online “social networks”. In such cases it becomes conceivable to speak of a network society as the “next” society, as a newly emergent organisational form.
In respect to all of these concepts, previous research has based its understanding of the dynamics within networks primarily on the primacy of connectivity as its key selection criterion. However, interrelated processes of exclusion have not been considered worthy of any greater attention. It is precisely at this point that the RTG’s research begins. Exclusion is evident in the digital global network, inviting parallels between telecommunication communities and increasingly prevalent “gated communities” worldwide; it is evident in networks in exile, through transport infrastructures, through processes for the circulation of images, signs and goods – disruptions, shutdowns and diversions in networks are omnipresent. The RTG is also interested in studying how digital networks create new opportunities for the creation of public spaces online and for example in urban spaces as ‘hybrid spaces’. In the global context of art, for example, criticism of distribution mechanisms, the logic of competition and ethical standards has given rise to practices which stand in an asymmetrical relation to the prevailing corporate strategies of the global network.
Matters relating to the storage and storability of data have become key issues in a wide range of contexts, giving rise to ambivalent outcomes. Operational mechanisms which result in connection or exclusion frequently transpire to be intertwined rather than contrasting opposites. It is this ambivalence that constitutes the basis for our field of study, which seeks to examine the gaps, surpluses and effects inherent within data storage operations.
Digital media have resulted in dramatic changes to the data storage landscape. This can be viewed in two ways: first, as the exclusion of everything that does not accord with the imperative of digitalisation; second, as the opening up of new potential connectivity for ephemeral practices. Digitalisation has entailed the restructuring of culture-specific differentiations between what should be retained and what should be discarded, of remembering and forgetting, of cultural memory and information overload. It has become increasingly difficult to form canons; it has become easier to engage in the practices of the digital humanities, of big data and data mining and sampling. Playing an underlying role in all such cases is the material ephemerality of digital data storage.
Globalisation has seen the various forms of material data storage entering a hybrid stage. Repositories for material artefacts (libraries, museums, object archives, art collections etc.) have become nodal points in digital networks. This has had both structural and political consequences. Nowhere is the politics of material archives more evident than in so-called “ethnological collections” in Europe and North America. Deep controversies have arisen around how and what was taken from one given context and transferred to another, under what circumstances and with what justification, or none. The Research Training Group 2661 exists at a time in which all of these issues are undergoing a process of renegotiation.
This research area focuses on processes of standardisation in a multidimensionally networked global community with a view not only to cultural, institutional or technical standardisation, but also with respect to divergent operational processes of connecting and excluding. Only by adopting this approach is it possible to analyse the literary or artistic history of the evolution of genres as a process of negotiation of aesthetic forms, or media history as a set of outdated, obsolete or incompatible standards in communication technology, computer technology and data storage technology. It is the stated aim of the RTG to use this approach to map the precise contours of any operations which adopt global standards, subvert them, translate them into different procedures, and to understand them as generative and transformative processes.
This is why the main focus of the RTG is on the transdisciplinary and comparative cultural analysis of the emergence and heterogeneity of knowledge systems in society. Our approach also seeks to include extramural fora and forms of epistemic practice in order to deconstruct Eurocentric, patriarchal, colonial, capitalist, and ecologically unsustainable practices and codes which are imprinted by the global north and its science and scholarship. With an eye to epistemology, this raises questions about the divergent conceptual constitutions of “world” in each of these categories, each with its own alternative implicit processes of classification and standardisation. This in turn reveals those forms of practice, communication, media and art that come into being in the shadow of organised processes of standardisation and which open up spaces of social interpretation in their own right at the local, regional and global levels.
Herein lies the interest of our RTG in the “counterside” of operations of connecting and excluding. We enquire after the interruptions, frictions and conflicts that go hand in hand with the standard practices of connecting and excluding, we seek to identify the consequences for those affected by them, but also to establish their potential for shaping new lifeworlds of the future. Our experimentally orientated approach allows us to “unlearn” customary methods of understanding and describing the world in order to re-evaluate dialogical processes of construction and criticism in our digitally reconfigured present, and to develop counter-hegemonic practices and utopias.
As long as our increasingly globalised world is marked by cultural and linguistic diversity, translation will continue to remain an indispensible – albeit double-edged – activity. It forges connections by taking exophone texts or the products of different cultures and incorporating them into a third culture, but at the same time it is a source of exclusion because it frequently suppresses or is forced to suppress the intimate connection between the text’s primary environment and the translated text itself. The RTG seeks to shed light on the two sides of translation from the perspective of literary, media, and cultural studies. Here, literary translation is viewed less as a philological endeavour and more as cultural practice, together with its various side-effects. In this light, we seek to identify the extent to which the translation of a text results in the loss of contexts such as the language-specific connotations of key words, or an author’s connection to particular aesthetic programmes and artistic movements.
Regarding “world literature“ from the global south, a further question arises, namely who assesses the translatability of a particular work and how as a consequence its circulation on the international book market is determined. Translation should also be understood in another sense, as the ‘transcoding’ of critical signification (Hall), or as ‘traduction’ in networks containing non-human and human agents (Latour). In this light, the question also arises regarding how to achieve the felicitous transfer of terms from different knowledge cultures and philosophical traditions, and how to study the difficulties posed by the juxtaposition of artworks from different regions of the world in exhibitions or the cultural translation of models of urban spatial design.