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Ist das Kultur? An dieser komplexen Frage setzt auch Aleida Assmanns Querschnitt durch die anglofonen Kulturkonzepte an. (Foto:
Introduction to Cultural Studies

Zwischen Kulturbeutel und Spielautomat

ESV-Redaktion Philologie
Angesichts der sich verflechtenden akademischen Disziplinen ist auch der Bereich der Kulturwissenschaften zu einem integralen Bestandteil der anglofonen Wissenschaften geworden. Die zahlreichen Formen, die Kultur hier annimmt, verlangen ein tieferes Verständnis des Kulturbegriffs selbst.
In der mittlerweile zweiten und überarbeiteten Auflage ihrer ins Englische übersetzten Einführung in die Kulturwissenschaft (Introduction to Cultural Studies, übersetzt von David Henry Wilson) leitet uns die Gewinnerin des Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels 2018, Aleida Assmann, durch die verschiedenen Kulturtheorien in den Bereichen der Cultural Studies wie auch der Kulturwissenschaften und verbindet die unterschiedlichen Konzepte mit konkreten Schlagwörtern und Beispielen aus anglofonen Kontexten. Dem zentralen Thema der Definitionen von „Kultur“ widmet sich die Autorin auch in der folgenden Leseprobe:

Concepts of culture

Nowadays the term ‘culture’ is used in many different ways, which we will try to summarize here. […] The word derives from the Latin colere, which means to cultivate. Originally, this was applied to farming – hence the English word ‘agriculture’. However, there is also a German word Kulturbeutel (sponge bag, i. e. for toiletries) which relates culture to the body. In laboratories we talk of culture when we mean the growth of organisms under specially controlled conditions. These basic meanings can be expanded to encompass all kinds of human activities and images: youth culture, drug culture, corporate culture.

The cultural notion of national identity

The meaning is very different, however, when the term is applied to geographical and political entities such as nations, with their different histories and the unity conferred on them by their language, character, art, customs and traditions. […] In this sense we talk about British, American, German or Western culture, implying a more or less clear distinction between these entities. However, while they may appear to be homogeneous from the outside, this impression usually changes considerably if we look at each culture from within. In recent years, the concept of cultural unity has rightly come under attack; the assignment of unified national characteristics has been deconstructed as a piece of fiction and criticized as ‘essentialization’. Nevertheless, this justified criticism does not mean that we can altogether reject the concept of culture as a basic orientation. […]

A larger definition: everything man-made

Besides cultivation and national character, there is another concept which has gained increasing prominence during the last twenty years. This is the view that culture constitutes everything that is related to humans. […] This includes symbolic actions, collective rituals, styles of art, social institutions, and the ever-expanding world of media and technology. […] If everything is culture, the positive methodological outcome is that all areas of human life and experience are open to cultural study – from gambling machines to teddy bears to waste. This all-inclusive concept has given new interest and value to things that had previously been regarded as peripheral and unimportant. An ethnographic approach leads us from the study of exotic foreign cultures back to our own and results in defamiliarizing our own perceptions of the world. However, the extreme expansion of the term ‘culture’ also has its problems. […] If everything is culture, the meaning of the term implodes and is reduced to a hollow tautology.

The Good, the Bad and the Culture

The three uses of culture as cultivation, national distinction and universal concept have one thing in common: they exclude value judgements. As soon as values come into play, culture ceases to embrace everything and becomes something very special that stands in opposition to something else. Concepts of cultural values are generally polemical terms. That does not necessarily mean that culture must always be something good – as we will see, it can also be bad. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are both, of course, expressions of value. The decisive premise that underlies the following concepts is that which makes culture into a social and political showground for the bestowal or withdrawal of value – an arena in which the high, the middling and the low compete with one another, and good does battle with evil.

Die Autorin
Prof. Dr. Aleida Assmann studierte Anglistik und Ägyptologie. Sie hat an Ausgrabungen in Oberägypten mitgearbeitet und zusammen mit Prof. Dr. Jan Assmann 1979 einen kulturwissenschaftlichen Arbeitskreis gegründet, aus dem inzwischen zehn interdisziplinäre Publikationen hervorgegangen sind.
Von 1993–2014 lehrte sie Anglistik und Allgemeine Literaturwissenschaft an der Universität Konstanz. Sie unterrichtete als Gastprofessorin u.a. an den Universitäten Princeton, Yale und Chicago. 2008 erhielt sie einen Ehrendoktor der theologischen Fakultät der Universität Oslo; 2014 wurde sie mit dem Heineken Preis für Geschichte der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften der Niederlande ausgezeichnet.
Mit den Mitteln des Max Planck-Forschungspreises leitete sie von 2009–2015 die Forschungsgruppe ‘Geschichte und Gedächtnis’.
Zusammen mit ihrem Mann Jan Assmann erhielt Aleida Assmann 2018 den Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels.
Ausgewählte Publikationen:  Erinnerungsräume. Formen und Wandlungen des kulturellen Gedächtnisses (3. Aufl. 2006); Das neue Unbehagen an der Erinnerungskultur (2013); Ist die Zeit aus den Fugen? Aufstieg und Niedergang des Zeitregimes der Moderne (2013); Im Dickicht der Zeichen (2015); Formen des Vergessens (2016).

Introduction to Cultural Studies

Divided into seven themed chapters: signs, media, body, time, space, memory and identity, this book aims to provide a fresh approach to complex theoretical and historical questions. Sparking the reader’s interest in literature from different genres and periods, this volume not only provides a useful introduction, it is an important study tool which supports the reader’s own endeavours to get to grips with the relationship between reading and major key questions of culture.

“This book by Aleida Assmann consistently surpasses a narrow definition of ‘English Studies’ and opens up new, fresh perspectives that enable fascinating views on current questions. The theme-centred, coherent and well written Introduction to Cultural Studies can be considered outstanding in every respect: it will take a permanent place among the introductions to English Literature and Cultural Studies.“ (Till Kinzel).


Programmbereich: Anglistik und Amerikanistik