KWI – Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (Kulturwissenschaftliches Intitut Essen, KWI)

Research areas

Project Social Performances of Cultural Trauma and the Rebuilding of Solid Sovereignties (SPECTRESS)

Principal investigator: Prof. Dr. Volker Heins (KWI)
Cooperation Partner: Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Trinity College Dublin, Yale University et al.
Funded by European Commission (EU Marie Curie Actions, International Research Staff Exchange Scheme)
Duration: 2014 - 2017

The objective of this project is to build upon, solidify, formalize and condense the recently initiated, but as yet informal, relationships between nine leading research institutions representing different regions and historical traditions in order to conduct joint research and participate in knowledge exchange to identify new paradigms for understanding how national identities are disrupted and formed by the traumas of history. By moving this consortium from an informal, ad hoc set of alliances to a structured program of exchanges, the SPECTRESS program, we will generate new research results and new methodologies across the disciplinary spectrum we represent, a rich transfer of knowledge between institutions, research groups and culturally inscribed traditions of scholarship, generating the basis for long term, sustainable cooperation between the partners.

The basis of the research question we share is as follows: In contemporary scholarship, much discussion of national identity is framed in a context of something specific that has come before: post-colonial, post-war, post-apartheid, post-communism, etc. In these discussions, the term nationalism often carries a negative connotation, as if the reclaiming of national feeling must necessarily lead to the development of a conflict-ridden binary in our increasingly globalized world. As such, nationalism comes to be associated with repression, intolerance, exclusion and sectarianism. And, along the way, even the traditionally more positively charged term 'patriotism' becomes implicated in an unfashionable cultural exclusivity, largely in favor of broader terms such as 'cosmopolitanism.'

The guiding aims of the SPECTRESS project are: (1) To build a dialogue among humanistic research centers regarding the positive negotiation of cultural trauma and "new sovereignties" in the 20th Century, (2) To closely document the inscriptions of this status in both official and unofficial forms of discourse and other forms of public ‘performance’, (3) To achieve these aims while remaining ever cognizant of our potential bias as either implicated in or detached from the trauma in question, and threat that we as interpreters might either oversimplify (and perhaps idealize) the evidence of a post-traumatic recovery or take the processes of traumatic integration too far out of their local cultural context to be credibly interpreted.