Actors of a Cultural Globalization, 1860 – 1930

The research group is organized under the title "Actors of a Cultural Globalization, 1860 – 1930.” The core of the research is the history of globalization, which is generally determined by economical and political aspects of global cross-linking, yet rarely considers cultural and social historical dimensions. What is missing, and is analyzed here, is an intense study of the different mechanisms through which transnational processes are acquired and translated in the relevant cultures, and with that, how these forms of acquirement have affected the transnational processes. World entanglement has not resulted in a uniform and homogenous world, but has allowed alternative, cultural characteristics of modern societies to develop. Examining relevant local/ regional modifications, shifts, and hybrid forms within a spectrum of "Entangled Modernities" is one of the most exciting tasks of an empirically based research of the history of globalization.

The research group is focused on exemplary problems, particularly concerning contemporary debates on colonialism, which can be found between regions, cultures, nations, and continents (as well as academic disciplines). Individual research tasks are directed nevertheless at tangible objects and places, and are based on regional study's linguistic and cultural expertise.

The research group's main focus is global knowledge circulation. The growing significance of "knowledge" is not least the result of a diffusion of knowledge and the confrontation of different knowledge orders in the age of globalization. Knowledge migrates, changes, and also changes the societies concerned along the way. Knowledge transfers and structures are of particular significance in constituting dependencies and hierarchies between and within societies. The specific acquirement of knowledge does not occur in a power-free space, but is bound to the inequalities of global order. The ever-tightening cross-linking of different cultural transfer processes shows that it is not possible to assume a specific, central point of reference on the knowledge map; it is also not an unstructured terrain, but is permeated by different asymmetries. This adds unique significance to institutions of knowledge generation and conveyance, as places that balance power claims. One could speak of "entangled knowledge" – of dependencies, of overlaps, and entanglements of modern knowledge orders that cannot be linearly assigned to an origin. Analyzing knowledge circulation is an essential starting point for understanding the dynamic of globalization procedures and the different appropriations of transnational processes. Three points of focus are relevant in this context:

Agency protagonists in cultural globalization are a main concern: these include local teachers, translators, and popularizers of "western" knowledge. Collectively, the members of this heterogeneous group considered their position to be that of intermediary ambivalence. The intermediary position opened new possibilities of exerting influence, which extended far beyond that which a Eurocentric historiography of "westernization" suggests. They were able to play with different cultural registers and repertoires, and develop client networks in an in-terspace full of contradictions and denials in which experts and translators maneuvered. These intermediaries could also create a new authority base, as bearers of knowledge, and profit more from a knowledge order that has been shaped by exchange. They even began competing with other regional and local, often religious-based knowledge orders and their representatives, as well as with European experts who were looking to declare and assert a universal claim to the "right" knowledge. In many societies, this created an extremely complex mesh of competing expert cultures and knowledge orders, which interacted in a variety of ways. Likewise, protagonists need to be considered, who are active beyond European interventions in south-south relations, and who have also presented, transferred, and generated knowledge. How was "western," and supposedly, universal knowledge translated, adopted, and modified? Which terms have been created in order to appropriate other knowledge orders? Which role does knowledge play in the social dynamic of non-western societies or in the legitimization of individuals and groups? How does the new emerge in the course of interaction and reciprocal influence? And reversely, how can non-western knowledge circulate in Europe? This also raises the question of protagonists, of paths of transmission, as well as of the forms of appropriation and modification. Furthermore, transfer between non-western societies was, for a long time in many regions, at least equally as important as exchange with Europe or the United States. How have south-south relations altered the map of knowledge? The perspective should not be aimed only at the form of knowledge and its change, but also at the protagonists and mediators of this knowledge - in both European and non-European societies, as well as at protagonists who move within this context (travellers, missionaries, diplomats, advisors). "Standardization" a central characteristic of the globalization process from the mid 19th century on, evolved out of the attempt to homogenize and unify. At this time, an increasingly standardized order of things began to emerge, where regional and national differences were progressively leveled out. The worldwide diffusion of universal norms occurred within highly asymmetrical power structures. The mechanisms of standardization were initially related to aspects of technological development, but eventually, even spheres of culture were gripped by processes of assimilation. Yet the growing entanglement and cross-linking in the world implied more than assimilation, it also contained similar processes of differentiation and fragmentation – that is, the formation of regional and local contra-standards in the West and other cultures – or caused these to emerge. Attempts to centralize and level out differences met with limitations and for the most part, had the opposite effect.

"Knowledge and Authority" the circulation of knowledge has always had direct political implications. The overlay of knowledge and power has been much discussed in connection with Foucault. But the processes knowledge generation and the circulation of knowledge were also intertwined in very tangible ways with the forms of political exercise of authority. Issues concerning education, knowledge, science, and "local knowledge" should therefore not be considered separately, but rather be systematically integrated into the context of social and political history. This clearly shows how closely the practices of state power corresponded with the technologies of knowledge generation in many societies. Bernhard Cohen described different modalities of investigation, using India as an example, which did not only contribute to the accumulation of knowledge, but were also an expression of a specific concept of authority. The circulation of knowledge, as well as the hybrid forms and various knowledge regimes were core aspects of the legitimization and practice of competing forms of authority.