If we are to explore the origins and nature of ‘crises’ such as ‘the refugee crisis’ (let alone solutions to them), we must not forget that viewing certain events as ‘critical’ already constitutes an act of sense-making. In ancient Greece, the term κρίσις described acts of decision-making in court and politics, but also, in medicine, that point in the development of a disease in which a decision was made that would determine the patient’s recovery (with a differentiation being made between ‘perfect crises’, leading to a full recovery, and ‘imperfect ones’, involving the risk of relapse). That ‘critical’ point involved two aspects: first, the patient’s objective state of health, and second, the physician’s diagnosis or decision in favour of a form of treatment (Koselleck 1997, 619). Our contemporary use is not so different: we, also, perceive phenomena we deem ‘critical’ material problems; but crucially, these phenomena will be accompanied by discursive processes styling them as ‘crises’ and calling up certain patterns of behaviour or ‘treatment’. In that sense, the term is applied “by way of self-diagnosis and self-reflexion” (my transl., Meyer et al. 2013, 12), and it carries an – often unrecognized – implied metaphoric concept of the collective-as-body: as the body of a sick patient is ‘in crisis’, so is the ‘body politic’, a metaphor we are more familiar with from early modernity than from present day politics. The conceptual blend behind this metaphor, we are a body, draws a clear line between self and other, naturalizing the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’, while at the same time conveniently obscuring the grounds on which this difference is constructed.
To view phenomena as critical does not only carry metaphorical implications, it also prompts narrative ways of explanation: it configures them in such a way as to produce a certain type of story or model (‘emplotment’). As Ansgar Nünning explains:
[C]rises can be conceptualized as the results of narrative transformations by means of which an occurrence first of all becomes an event, then becomes a story and finally becomes a certain kind of story or a specific plot pattern, namely a crisis narrative. […] [L]abelling an event as a ‘crisis’ not only provides a specific definition of the respective situations, but also evokes certain narrative schemata, development patterns, and plots. On the one hand, these schemata interpret the events lying ahead in a specific way. On the other hand, describing a situation as a ‘crisis’ is also always a diagnosis from which certain therapeutic perspectives and action scenarios for future development can be derived. (Nünning 2009, 240, 243)
In that sense, the idea of a crisis arises from (1) an assessment of certain phenomena in the present, which (2) implies a certain vision for the future based on protocols or schemata of action that, one might add, (3) are derived from past experience (i.e., the present interpretation of past events and responses to them). As Meiner/Veel suggest:
Both the immediate chaotic experience of the catastrophic event and the calm and composed retrospective comprehension thereof draw on our collective reservoir of cultural forms and patterns of understanding. It is in this way that one can talk about catastrophes and crises having a cultural life […]. (Meiner/Veel 2012, 1)
Plainly, literary and cultural studies have much to contribute to the discourse of and on crisis. Literature does not merely represent discourse, it shapes it. Literary forms (including, but not limited to, ‘emplotments’) offer schemata for explaining and solving problems; and the schemata we employ for explaining and solving problems must be viewed in dialogue with those more narrowly ‘literary’ stories we tell. Students of literature then can help spot (and expose) mis-applied schemata as much as they can suggest (alternative, disregarded) schemata that offer better explanations or better visions for the future.
Author: Florian Kläger
Koselleck, Reinhart. “Krise,” Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, vol. 3, ed. id. and Rudolf Walther (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1997): 617–650.
Meiner, Carsten and Kristin Veel. “Introduction,” The Cultural Life of Catastrophes and Crises, ed. iid. (Berlin, Boston: de Gruyter, 2012): 1–12.
Meyer, Carla, Katja Patzel-Mattern, and Gerrit J. Schenk. “Krisengeschichte(n): ‚Krise‘ als Leitbegriff und Erzählmuster in kulturwissenschaftlicher Perspektive. Eine Einführung.” Krisengeschichte(n): ‚Krise‘ als Leitbegriff und Erzählmuster in kulturwissenschaftlicher Perspektive, ed. iid. (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2013): 9-23.
Nünning, Ansgar. “Steps Towards a Metaphorology (and Narratology) of Crises: On the Functions of Metaphors as Figurative Knowledge and Mininarrations,” REAL 25 (2009): 229–262.
There are several hundred different definitions of culture. A concept of culture that tends to result in racialization was for example introduced by Geert Hofstede and Samuel P. Huntington. Annita Kalpaka and Paul Mecheril have, in turned, rethought and resituated the term critically. The way various disciplines deal with culture, such as the theories and the (non) consideration of poststructuralist and especially postcolonial perspectives, vary widely. If culture (such as in the German word “Leitkultur” or in current integration debates) is widely understood to be a static, homogenous quantity, affirming the myth that the members of a culture are determined in their thinking, acting and feeling – as if they were bereft of agency and hence marionettes in the threads of their culture. Thus, culture is essentialized and constructed as “given by nature”. Contoured like this, it serves as conceptual pillar for racism and its constructions of ‘race’: Members of different cultural collectives are narrated as belonging to this culturally different collective, while members of the own group are somewhat antothetically accredited individuality (see Leiprecht, 2004). The underlying mechanism works analogously to that of racism: groups are defined on the basis of criteria, which reinforce the ideological construction. Based on this, a culture is attributed to them, and the cultures are subsequently hierarchized and valued (see Rommelsbacher, 2009). This is accompanied by the reproduction of a we-non-we-dichotomy1, which is the central discriminatory practice of the racist system. A distinction scheme is frequently relied on that is, in turn, rooted in the myth of cultural differences. It is significant in this context that this difference is not self-evidently existential, but a (re-) produced constructed difference, which is closely related to social power: Only the powerful social group succeeds in implementing the construct of the others and thus, also its own versus “their culture”. Edward Said calls it "othering". What is emphasized here is that the process that makes people become the others is needed to construct a we as the supposedly superior self. While the we is constructed unambivalently (reassuring), the construction of the others represents the binary opposition: we are rational, the others are emotional, we are civilized, the others are wild, etc. (see Said, 1991). This construction is based on the binarism, which poses culture as being manichaeistically superior to nature. Once set up by humanism, enlightenment, and modernity, this very binarism serves as the main elixir of all discrimination narratives: for example man versus woman, heterosexual versus homosexual, but also the West versus the rest, whiteness versus People of Color. Constructed in this way, the emergence of a Western identity is the result of its excluding the rest (see Hall, 1994). The deconstruction of static cultural understanding is often followed by a hybrid culture model, which does not understand culture as a static, unchangeable, unified structure, but rather emphasizes the (potential) incompleteness and processability of culture. However, even in contexts where a hybrid understanding of culture is prevalent, two aspects are rarely observed: on the one hand, the role that power plays in this context, and on the other hand, the fact that culture is again (also) a central criterion of distinction. A reflection on why it is (still) culture at the center is rare, although it could lead to the recognition that a large part of the negotiations that focus on culture are about exclusion and inclusion. As a result, the discursive offer (e.g. integration debates), as well as the scientific orientation (transcultural, diversity, etc.), must be regarded as a central component of this problem. It is, therefore, necessary to provide analytical tools for resituating the categorization process, within the framework of knowledge production in and through the “ivory tower of science”, too. Consequently, according to Michel Foucault, criticism is all about questioning the truth about effects of power just as much as subverting the power that controls discourses of truth (see Foucault, 1992). This must be followed by a (continuous) reflection about the (non) possibility of holding no position in science and the declamation of the nonpolitical as an indication of scientific knowledge, as the nonpolitical is in fact the political, because it is not marked (s. among others Dirim et al., 2016).
Author: Nina Simon
I would like to thank Aysel Sultan for her feedback and her corrections.
Dirim, İnci et al. (2016): Nothing but ideology? A replica of the devaluation of racism-critical work. In: Mecheril, P. and Castro-Varela do Mar, M. (Ed.): The Demonization of the Others. Racism Criticism of the Present, Bielefeld, 85-96.
Foucault, Michel (1992): What is criticism? Berlin.
Hall, Stuart (1992): The West and the rest: dicourse and power, in: Hall, Stuart / Gieben, Bram: Formations of Modernity. An Introduction. Book 1, Cambridge, 275-331.
Leiprecht, Rudolf: Culture -What is that actually ?. Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg. Working Papers IBHM No. 7, Oldenburg 2004, ISSN 1438-7794, available online at: https: //www.uni- oldenburg.de/fileadmin/user_upload/paedagogik/personen/rudolf.leiprecht/Kulturtextveroeffentl..pdf (last access on 08.02.2017)
Rommelsbacher, Birgit (2009): What is actually racism: http: //www.birgit- rommelspacher.de/pdfs/Was_ist_Rassismus.pdf (last access: 08.02.2017).
Said, Edward (1991): Orientalism: Western Concepts of the Orient (New edition). London.
 The cursive spelling of certain terms and concepts in this text has two functions: firstly, to highlight the constructive character, and secondly, to visualize the problems frequently associated with the use of these concepts.
The word diaspora is gaining its momentum as a “… marketable millennial cultural currency… which recasts our recurrent homelessness as an asset rather than a deficit” (Ifekwunigwe 58). In contrast to “refugee”, or “asylum seeker”, the word diaspora has fewer negative connotations or associations; instead, nowadays it is more taken as a phenomenon of globalization and refers to the history and cultural traditions carried by the migration community since it is first used to the dispersal of Jews and Africans.
However, with the drastic changes in political, social and cultural spheres, new patterns and processes have emerged from the migrant communities from different origins and in different destinations, for different aims and maintaining different underlying rationales. In this sense, diaspora is not “a way of going from here to there – but rather a way of being here or there and all the points in between” (Carter x), which means that diaspora is not static, but more of a passage that “encompasses the possibility of never arriving” (Ibid). It is transformative, ambiguous and fluid; and “rather than seeking ‘assimilation’ as a goal, diaspora is a way of being ‘other’ among the established, of keeping alive the drama of the voyage of ‘otherness’ in worlds that seek sameness and homogeneity” (Ibid). This ambiguity and heterogeneity of diasporas poses challenges not only to the migrating individual or migrant community of their own identity, sense of belonging and becoming, as well as the host country, but also questions the conventional essential markings of nation, place, religion, and race within the discursive structures and historical and temporary narratives.
Just like the “paradox of belonging”, diasporas “belong without belonging” (Derrida 65). “Cutting across diverse ethnic, cultural, racial and gendered boundaries” (Carter xi), diasporas mark the era of dissolving boundaries, not only boundaries of nation-state, but also boundaries on a historical continuum of classificatory practices and identity markers, which retains the differences between and among diasporas and forthcoming both positive and negative implications. Thus, diasporas are “conceived as a new social form characterized by special social relationships, political orientations and economic strategies; as a type of consciousness that demonstrates an awareness of multi-locality, and as a novel mode of cultural production that interacts with globalization” (Koser 9). The current era is marked by the vision of people in motion, and the futures lie in it.
Author: Mingqing Yuan
Carter, Donald. “Preface”. New African Diasporas, edited by Khalid Koser. London: Routledge, ix-xix.
Ifekwunigwe, Jayne. “Scattered Belongings: Reconfiguring the ‘African’ in the English-African Diasporas”. New African Diasporas, edited by Khalid Koser. London: Routledge, 56-70.
Koser, Khalid. “New African Diasporas: An Introduction”. New African Diasporas, edited by Khalid Koser. London: Routledge, 1-16.
After a decade of research on time, the anthropologist Barbara Adam suggests that future is performed as fact, fiction, fortune and fate (Adam 2007). These connotations might be able to approach the everyday usage of future and hence are to be understood best as featuring ‘future’ as a category of practice. Critical categories of practice are, according to Rogers Brubaker (2012), used in daily language, being coded and coding political, religious, and socio-cultural discourses. Yet, the discursive structures of such categories cannot be unravelled and deconstructed without transgressing the realm of practice and entering into a meta level being called “categories of analysis” by Brubaker. Thus framed, the question how future is conceived and used in daily is to be complemented by asking how this everyday usage of “future” can best be analysed and grasped.
It is in this inquiry that future transcends its practical domains and ceases to be fact, fortune, and fate. This is to say future is not only about “what will happen”. Well, it might happen in time just as much as in a certain space, but it embarks on a different path than fate and fortune (which are way more about power and privilege than happening by chance) with their self-evident claims. Ultimately, future is very much about agencies and its negotiations with what might and what will happen. Thus, future opens up (as) a space for being made and unmade in an ongoing process of negotiation of conflicting, competing and complementary interests, contingencies, possibilities and options. Throughout global histories, some futures have buttressed each other, some have deflated each other, and others have prevented each other’s existence; the one advances the other, and the other hinders it. There are futures that did never happen, or will never happen, because other futures – as a by-product or intentionally – thwarted them. Future is about what will happen, what might happen, what has happened, what might have happened as much as about what can happen and what could have happened. As such, future does not exist in the simplicity of singular. Rather, future performs reflexively and in relation, intersecting fact and fiction just as much as the past and the present, embracing all the missed and silenced futures in the process. Thus future as a category of analysis opens up a new perspective on and understanding of Future as FutureS – a plural that acknowledges that all futures matter alike .
The reflexivity, relationality and multiplicity of FutureS are informed by power and its structures and discourses along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, religion, health, age and nation. The social positions thus coded decide to a high extent about the very impact a person or collective may have in shaping individual and collective futures. Thus, every struggle about power is about future and every struggle about future is striving for access to power.
Ultimately, though, the struggle over future is not determined by power constellations alone. Just as much as power is un/made by agencies, futures are un/made by agencies, too. Contextualized by power and powerlessness, privileges and deprivation, ethics and unscrupulousness, responsibility and the lack thereof, agencies desire and fear, fight and sustain, experience and forget, built and destroy both futures. In fact, agency is power’s most virulent protagonist and antagonist likewise.
The agencies of FutureS have many guises and modes of performance – and narration is one of the most powerful modes of expressing or implementing agency. We have been what we have narrated and what we have narrated shapes FutureS.
As far as contemporary debates about migration in Germany are concerned, it is all about past, present and future FutureS and their pasts and thus the question, which (German and their global) FutureS have been prevented or favoured, silenced or narrated, and shared evenly or discriminatingly. German colonialism and its genocides have their share in the death of millions of People of Colour in Africa, the Americas and Asia and the respective destruction of societal and economic structures as well as their futures. Simultaneously, the colonial appropriations of foreign resources, goods and labour have accelerated the industrial revolution and built a future of what is often narrated today as the “developed West” were superior to the “underdeveloped Global South” in need of help. The Shoah, in turn, murdered millions of Jewish people and their futures. Many of the conflicts and wars in the MENA-Region are a legacy of this, too. One of the many lessons learnt from National Socialism was the legacy to host refugees, to offer survival to those who have to flee war, genocide and persecution as well as to welcome people by sharing privileges, economic security and aspirations for more evenly distributed FutureS. This, however, asks for visions of Germany and Europe that narrate migration as intrinsic Europe, puts emphasis on the merits (rather than threats of) of migration and re-narrates Germany and Europe as being diverse and therefore beautiful, promising and prosperous rather than dangerous. This includes the awareness that to offer asylum is not a gift but a way of taking responsibility for the still ongoing long-lasting effects of colonialism and National Socialism as well as the global capitalism that keeps building Western privileges at the cost of millions of people of colour all across the globe. This new narration about future Germany, Europe and beyond is the FutureS needed urgently in our entangled worlds.
Author: Susan Arndt
Adam, Barbara & Chris Groves. Future Matters: Action, Knowledge, Ethics. Leiden: Brill, 2007.
Arndt, Susan, Deborah Nyangulu & Peggy Piesche. FutureS. Merits of a Critical Category of Analysis. Bielefeld: transcript, i.V.
Brubaker, Rogers. „Categories of Analysis and categories of practice: a note on the study of Muslims in European countries of immigration”, in: Ethnic and Racial Studies 2012: 1-8.
Ette, Ottmar. TransArea. Berlin: de Gruyter 2012
Gibson, William. „ The Science in Science Fiction", in : Talk of the Nation, NPR (30 November 1999).