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Working Group Future Values


Multiculturality and identity – or “We and the Others”

The terms “multiculturality” and “identity” are so well known from societal debates that everyone believes they understand which values they stand for. In the current crisis – exacerbated by social media, the potential influence of AI, and populism – tension has arisen between the proponents of “multiculturality” (frequently confused with or attacked as “multiculturalism”) and those of “identity” (manifested in extremist forms for example in the “identitarian movement”). The two terms represent attitudes that, at best, compete against each other, but are more often in conflict. In cultural studies, a systematic tension between multiculturality and identity is by no means an established research topic. Nevertheless, it makes sense to more closely analyse the social field mapped out by them – however imprecise and emotionally charged this may be. Regarding both concepts as resulting from societal conflicts, the working group aims to examine their tension as a historical phenomenon, to be studied with the tools of contemporary cultural studies, and not as defining an inevitable, transhistorical opposition.

Our first step will be to illuminate the tension between multiculturality and identity with a historical-critical clarification of key terms, and within the context of more far-reaching conceptual fields. In order to avoid premature definitions, we will consider values for which validity is claimed in relation to broader conceptual fields structuring debates about moral and political orientation, human rights, justifications and legitimations. Mere habitual preferences will also play a role. Such preferences are often critized by opponents who try to rationalize them by taking them out of the emotionally charged contexts in which they are affirmed. In internet media and communication, however, their impact in structuring social psychological and psycho-economic discourses becomes ever more visible. The group will reconstruct the meaning of multiculturality within the framework of concepts such as globalization – frequently based on totalizing ideas of worldwide (financial) alignment and opposed to more differentiated ideas of worldwide networking, “glocalism” and regionalism –, social inequality (partly due to the consequences of modernization) and global imbalances of power as well as postcolonialism and decolonialism. Identity is considered in the context of concepts of subjectivation (between discipline and the development of freedoms) and the mastery of different codes of conduct and role competencies. Positive concepts of multiple identities are mirrored in negative conceptions, defined as intersectionality, a term applied to situations in which people simultaneously belonging to different ethnic, gender or social groups are subject to “othering” for a combination of reasons.

Based on this explanation of terminology, a second step will be to reconstruct some relevant research debates that have taken place in the humanities and social sciences in recent years. Particular attention will be paid to the establishment and questioning of standards, reflecting the challenges facing a world marked by various types of globalization (among them the current COVID-19 pandemic).

From there, the third step will be to present research on significant and particularly symptomatic issues.