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Interweaving Cultural Performances Held on September 28, 2011 to start the 2011/2012 academic year, FU Berlin

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International Colloquium: The Interweaving of Different Theater Traditions

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all I would like to thank you, Christel Weiler, for inviting me here today. I really liked the idea of starting the academic year with a colloquium that provides everyone with fresh input into the interactions and entanglements - or the "interweaving" - of cultures from a variety of perspectives.

When I received your invitation to speak here today, I began thinking about how the interweaving of different cultural performing arts relates to the work of my institution, the Federal Agency for Civic Education, or the "bpb" as it is referred to in German. Although at first glance there might not seem to be many connections between the two areas, there actually are quite a number of interwoven issues between your project and our work within the field of citizenship education, particularly, if you think a little further about the nature of and the challenges faced by citizenship education today. I would therefore like to share with you some of my thoughts on interrelated - or interwoven - cultures, not only within the realm of the applied arts but in – and for – society in general.

To begin with, the "interweavement" – or entanglement – of cultural phenomena and processes is obviously neither a new nor a very special phenomenon. At the beginning of the 2010/2011 academic year, Erika Fischer-Lichte referred for instance to the "truly intercultural" nature of German theater as early as the 17th century. It is true that people have been on the move and cultures have been encountering each other constantly throughout history. But with the dizzying speed at which globalization is taking place and the complexity of the dynamics of it, the issue of cultural interweaving has reached a significantly new level of relevance.

Against this backdrop, the term "interweaving" appeals to me because it gives a positive and constructive connotation to the phenomenon of cultural encounters, without reducing the complexity of such encounters or without speaking of them in tones that are all too cozy. The cohabitation of people from a variety of different cultural backgrounds living in close proximity like here in Berlin is certainly not without its conflicts. But as the ongoing heated debate on migration in Germany shows, it does not help to merely focus on the problems and evoke a "clash of cultures" as predicted by Samuel Huntington in 1991. For me, therefore, the concept of "interwoven" cultures implies the approaching of the issue from a perspective that is interested in how intercultural processes work, and in finding a basis for cooperation and mutual learning and adaptation. Moreover, the concept of "interwoven" cultures is less charged with historical baggage than are the terms "multicultural" or "intercultural", as illustrated by the debate between Erika Fischer-Lichte und Rustom Bharucha one year ago.

Especially when we think of the unification process in East and West Germany, these two terms seem rather odd. The reason why this process has been very relevant to the bpb's work will be explained by taking a short glance at the history of the bpb and by pondering the significance of interwoven cultures for citizenship education.

[We've come a long way]

Many things have changed throughout the last decades with regard to the understanding of citizenship education in Germany. The Federal Agency for Civic Education, or the bpb as it is called in German, was founded by the allies in 1952. Its goal was to help turn Germans into solid democrats after 12 years of Nazi rule, which had succeeded after the first attempt to establish democracy on German ground had failed. The original name of the institution was the "Federal Agency for Homeland Services", and even up until 2001, the bpb was supposed to address "the German people" only. By that time, however, such a notion was a far cry from reality.

Already in the pre-1989 period, when Germany agreed to take responsibility in Europe after World War II, there was an obligation to examine the historical relationships between Germany and its neighbors and to seek reconciliation. Dialogues and mutual exchanges with the citizens of our neighboring countries proved to be the best way to achieve this. Moreover, Germany had already become a multicultural society prior to 1989 due to the fact that hundreds of thousands of so-called guest workers and their families had moved to Germany to help build up its economy. As the term guest worker (Gastarbeiter) implies, however, these workers were not meant to stay and "interweave", but were meant to remain amongst themselves and go back to their home countries as soon as possible. But this did not happen. They stayed in Germany and made a significant impact on changing and redefining what it means to be "German". After 1989, this development was clearly obvious even to those who had long been trying to deny it. The reunification of Germany in 1989 also – and in a special way – added new dimensions to the issue of "cultural encounters".

These new dimensions have naturally had a very direct impact on our work as an educational institution dedicated to cultural-political and civic aspects. Today, we can clearly and fortunately say that our institution has overcome the "to German people only" policy.

I would now like to elaborate on the various ways in which we try to "interweave" different viewpoints and backgrounds and become a culturally diverse institution that represents a wide range of perspectives.

[Becoming a collaborating institution / empowering citizens]

When I became president of the bpb in 2000, the institution established in Bonn was still staffed largely by people from the Rhineland region. The bpb was a very homogenous, very male, very white, and even very West German institution. Needless to say, this homogeneity of the staff was reflected in the projects undertaken by the bpb. To be honest, the bpb was widely considered "altbacken", which means dowdy or outmoded. Consequently, I proceeded to double the number of employees from the so-called new East German states in my first year at the bpb. Today, people with very diverse cultural backgrounds are working for the bpb. These people or their families are from countries such as Poland, Belarus, Spain, Ukraine, Turkey, Iran, Morocco, Finland, Croatia, or Bulgaria. In the last years we have also conducted several diversity coaching programs, which are open to all employees.

Fresh ideas cannot, however, come only from within our own institution. What is needed is collaboration with a variety of diverse partners. We have therefore in recent years been expanding our cooperative activities not only with our partners in the education sector, but increasingly with a vast landscape of other cultural institutions as well. Such cooperations inspire us to change our programs and our methodologies. At the same time, and more importantly, the age of the top-down steered production and distribution of citizenship education is over. What we are experiencing is an increasing individualization of user expectations and a diversification of topics and projects to which we must respond. As a consequence, we are building and relying on our partners and users to share content and contribute to our activities. This goes far beyond offering preconceived services oriented to a target group. We must instead be open to new forms of collaboration and must allow users and partners to access our work, and allow them to shape and re-use it. Our content is put under creative commons licenses, and we are moving away from the traditional sit-and-listen-seminars and are building on peer-group approaches to disseminating our educational products (publications, teaching material, etc.). Such peer groups are of course free to use such material for independent projects as they see fit. As it is our mission to foster civic participation and empowerment, we too must observe the principles of inclusion and activation in our own forms of working and interacting. This implies that we have to risk losing control, which I can assure you is not an easy thing for a federal authority to do. And this journey has only just begun.

Another example I would like to give you of how we plan and organize topics and projects in more interactive – or interwoven – ways is by opening up the process of knowledge production for experts and users. At a very early stage of development, we invite scientists and practitioners to in-house workshops to present their ideas and concepts on how to access, present, and work with a certain topic. The central content of one of our most popular projects - the voting tool "Wahl-O-Mat" - is produced by a loose team of young people. In a series of workshops prior to the run-up to elections, we call on our users and invite them to develop theses for this voting tool. These theses are then sent to the parties that are running in the election. The parties are asked to position themselves with regard to the theses. Eventually, each voter can thus compare her or his own position with that of the parties by answering a range of questions on political topics in order to find out which party´s program is closest to her or his viewpoints.

We have also been (and will continue) experimenting with projects in which we relinquish our control completely: Last year, for example, we hosted a large international congress on gender issues and asked the team of editors of the pop-culture feminist magazine "Missy Magazin" to report and comment on the conference. The result was a very lively web blog containing many impressions of and perspectives taken on the speakers and participants of the conference. This was far more interesting and illustrative than the usual conference documentations, which are usually published months after the conference.

Another exciting project was the blog "Los Superdemokraticos", which was launched to foster intellectual fair trade in the digital society. This was one of the projects selected for financing following a call for projects by us in relation to our focus on Latin America in 2010. Writers from Latin America and Germany started to write a blog about global issues, which in the meantime has developed into a very creative and dynamic project. The inventors of "Los Superdemokraticos" have organized various cultural events, and the publishing house "Verbrecher Verlag" has published "A Literary Political Theory" based on the blog. I think the very reason why this project has been so successful is because we have restricted ourselves to providing the support and have afforded complete freedom to those who came up with the idea.

[Going beyond the boundaries of citizenship education]

The examples discussed above provide some notion of how we try to go beyond the boundaries of traditional citizenship education, which for a long time was restricted to giving seminars, publishing books and manuals, or offering study trips on issues that were political in a rather narrow sense.

Citizenship educators have finally come to understand what it means for their work that we are citizens – i.e. political beings or active participants in socio-political and cultural-political processes - not only on election day but in everything we do. Citizenship education is increasingly transgressing traditional boundaries.

Our work and activities need to span disciplines, media, institutions, policies, methods, cultures, and generations. Only last week we hosted a very interesting symposium here in Berlin entitled "Rethinking Humboldt". Together with international artists, scientists, authors, and architects, we discussed the prospects of the proposed "Humboldt-Forum" as a space for discourse and reflection from multiple perspectives. The term "Humboldt-Forum" refers to the usage of the castle that the authorities decided to rebuild on Berlin´s most central square, the Schlossplatz. Until then, however, there had been very few concrete ideas about the actual content and function of this forum, other than being a collection of books and ethnographic artifacts. What must obviously be avoided here is the mere re-presentation of the "non-European collection" (currently in the museum in Dahlem) in a new, imperial setting, which would presenting it in an outdated, somewhat colonial fashion of merely putting cultures on display. In contrast, our idea of the Humboldt-Forum envisions the forum not so much as a space for exchanging information about the differences between cultures and histories, but rather as a forum in the sense of a discursive and reflective laboratory of perspectives for the world of tomorrow: where and how do we want to live together?

Right now I am looking forward to our theater festival entitled "strange" (subtitled: Politics in Free Theater) we are planning in Dresden for the end of October. The productions we invited to this festival are concerned with "strangeness" as the sum of differences, as an unlimited territory outside the known, and as an anonymous plurality.

[New practical approaches to contemporary issues of citizenship education]

Because applied arts and cultures are the driving forces behind societies, they play a central role in the work of the bpb. From the perspective of citizenship education, the connection to contemporary theater (or other cultural performing arts) offers unconventional approaches to addressing political issues, which is not a surprising finding. The arts have always been political and have always functioned as a mirror of society, shedding light on issues that lie in the dark. For us, however, the central question is how to firmly interweave these spheres into daily educational practices. In other words, how to get a schoolteacher to use theater to demonstrate issues of representation in a politics class? This challenge has been one of our central concerns over the last years. We have produced manuals and a dossier called "cultural education" to give educators a basic idea of the options available and to help them get started. Furthermore, the bpb became involved in projects that connect "classical forms of education" to the sphere of culture. In the project known as "7 fields", school children of 14 or 15 years of age have been "searching for traces" to find out how items, characters, and objects in their environment provide information about seven central anthropological categories of "being-so": about collecting and possessing, sharing and exchanging, creating and designing, inheriting and preserving, loving and desiring, believing and hoping, and celebrating and relaxing. The students assessed the items they found together with artists and scientists and prepared an exhibition.

Another example is the initiative "school@museum". This project brings schools together with local museums to practice and develop models for an ongoing cooperation between educational and cultural institutions that will eventually lead to common projects. Getting involved in such creative processes helps young people develop their personalities and fosters individual empowerment.

With respect to empowerment, it seems superfluous to say that new media technologies have a great deal to offer. New communication technologies and new media inspire people to fundamentally rethink the idea of democracy. Web 2.0 applications provide a wide variety of ways for citizens to participate and get involved in decision-making processes. Arguments against using such technologies increasingly appear incomprehensible and seem to be mere excuses for not wanting to use it. Discussions are already going on as to whether the network community as a whole has established itself as a new controlling power alongside the executive, the judicial, the legislative, and the media spheres. But keeping in mind what this colloquium is about, the most interesting issue is to look at just how the activities of parliamentarians, web-activists, and professional journalists are interdependently entangled and interwoven – if one can tell them apart at all.

But as we all know, nothing is ever that clear cut. Not everyone who presses the "like" button is an activist. And we are well aware of the fact that the internet is far from being an egalitarian space open and accessible to everyone in the same way. We need to deal with questions of ownership, data management, selection, security and access to information technology in order to determine related questions of hierarchies, cultural diversity, and social exclusion and inclusion. We therefore have to confront and deal with such issues.

[Getting back to terminology]

I could go on giving you many more examples of how citizenship education is currently being modified in response to new developments and influencing factors. But before I conclude, I would like to come back to the concept of "interwoven cultures", which this colloquium is dedicated to. I would like to ask just how far this concept can be used to challenge such well-established terms as "multicultural", "intercultural", or "intracultural". In her discussion with Erika Fischer-Lichte, Rustom Bharucha rightly stressed that the invention of new terminology does not solve the problems that were connected to the old terms. The word "multicultural" was replaced by "multikulti", which is a term that has been somewhat spoiled, and has even become a synonym for failed integration in Germany. We found the term "intercultural" to be unsuitable since German society itself is full of different cultures. Thus we came up with the term "intracultural". There are also good arguments in favor of using the term "cross-cultural" or "transcultural", because this concept does away altogether with the differentiation between "intra" and "inter". But I do not want to go into any more detail here on the debate regarding these terms.

The very fact that this debate has focused almost exclusively on terminology alone indicates the unease and uncertainty associated with all of the efforts made to deal with cultural diversity and cultural encounters. We are even sometimes in danger of creating new barriers and restrictions, although our actual intention is to remove them. What do I mean by that? Let me quote an example presented by Paul Goodwin at the symposium on the Humboldt-Forum last week. Goodwin, researcher and curator at Tate Britain, referred to an experience that one of his art students, who apparently had an African background, had in a class in Britain. The teacher asked the student to produce a work of traditional African art, and the student had to go to a museum to find out what the teacher had in mind, whereas none of the white English students were asked to produce a work of traditional English art. This is a good example of wrongly understood intercultural efforts. By encouraging the student to bring in something from what the teacher assumed was her cultural background, the teacher ascribed and reduced her to this assumed background. As this example demonstrates, our discussions should not be restricted to the question of how to cross or interweave cultures, but they must also examine the underlying intellectual structure of such discussions. It is this underlying structure that determines the way we look at our own culture and at cultures perceived as being "other" cultures. We need to rethink established modes of conceptualizing cross-cultural projects, and we must overcome the very idea that we have to bring in "other" cultures as a sort of supplement to what is considered to be the "real" culture, the so-called "Leitkultur" or leading culture implicitly considered to be identifiable and superior. Consequently, the concept of interwoven cultures encourages us to try to overcome the idea of separate cultures that can supplement each other without interacting and without influencing each other.

[finding new ways to cross the lines of cultural division]

Furthermore, in my opinion the use of an "interweaving" perspective requires one to focus not only on aesthetic or mere cultural aspects, but involves an inherently political dimension as well. Firstly, the notion of "interweaving" draws on concepts of transcultural interdependencies, which have long been put on the political agenda by anti-colonial and postcolonial activists and which are now slowly being included in wider public debates. In history and in the social sciences, this aspect has been discussed in recognition of the fact that people, histories, and cultures have never existed independently of each other. Instead, cultures have historically been marked by mutual interactions and influences. This idea is expressed for example in concepts such as "entangled modernities", rather than "multiple modernities" or "other modernities" (coined by Shalina Randeria in German Social Sciences). The power aspect is also a dimension that we should not ignore. What is often rather romantically referred to as "cultural differences" or "cultural diversity" often veils the underlying conflicts, power asymmetries, and inequalities related to the scenarios described above. (It is interesting to note that there is, for instance, another FU research project dedicated to "Interdependent Inequalities in Latin America", which is working on the entanglements of different regimes of inequality).

Secondly, the "interweaving" of cultures calls to mind a form of art that can be found especially in the African, African American, and Latin American contexts. This is the image of the "quilt", or the South American "Huipil". The structure of a quilt metaphorically represents the "weaving together" or "interweaving" of different threads, different histories and narrations, without imposing a hierarchy amongst them. As the same time as Samuel Huntington published his "Clash of Civilizations", the Guatemalan Human Rights activist Rigoberta Menchú gave her acceptance lecture for the Nobel Peace Prize in which she highlighted the need for "unity in diversity". In her acceptance speech, Menchú visualizes "guatemality" as a checkered quilt composed of "a number of colors without introducing contradictions, without becoming grotesque nor antagonistic [...] just the way our weavers weave a typical Huipil blouse, brilliantly composed, a gift to humanity". I would like to propose this image as a starting point for a new way of thinking.

The current debate on the European crisis clearly demonstrates just how stuck we Europeans still are in thinking within national borders, within different cultures, and on focusing on what is different about them. As the processes I have described and recent figures demonstrate, German society has long become much more mobilized, complex, and diverse than that which is contemplated by such established concepts as "Leitkultur" or "multikulti". For this reason, I think it is clear that we need new ways of dealing with past, present, and future issues. When designing our projects, we need to first pay more attention to the issues being addressed or the questions being asked. Only once this is clear can we decide what approaches, methods, instruments, people, etc. are suitable for such a project. Such new ways necessitate the crossing of cultural division lines and working towards a subject-orientated approach that addresses, represents, and integrates a manifold of so-called "ethnic", social, or cultural groups and milieus. There is still a long way ahead of us on unknown terrain, but we very much need to begin the journey. In the famous words of Walter Benjamin: "Strength lies in improvisation. All the decisive blows are struck with the left hand."

- Es gilt das gesprochene Wort -