The Thematic Network Principles of Cultural Dynamics, based at Freie Universitaet Berlin is funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). It aims at strengthening transnational cooperation in humanities research between Freie Universitaet Berlin and the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, the Humanities Center at The Johns Hopkins University, the Research Institute for the Humanities at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris.
The choice of the network’s thematic focus, “Principles of Cultural Dynamics“, is based on the observation that the dynamics of processes of cultural change and innovation have varied considerably across historical time periods and places. The PCD network aims to research factors that may account for what triggers processes of cultural innovation, what respectively accelerates and hinders them, and what may cause them to subside entirely. Regarding the dimension of time, this research agenda potentially includes the entire history of the human species. Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the early modern age and modernity are historical periods of special research interest, as differences regarding the rhythm of innovation are particularly prominent considering the past two/three millennia, while a transition from a phase of high dynamics to a phase of relative stagnation is observable at the same time.
In a topographic and ethnographic perspective, this research frame potentially includes all geographic areas and cultures. The inclusion of a renowned Chinese research institution as part of the network takes especial note of the fact that high civilization was created at least twice, and autonomously: in today’s Middle East – more specifically, in the Eastern Mediterranean region – and in East Asia. These aspects invite investigation of whether cultural dynamics follow universal or culturally specific patterns.
One may plausibly hypothesize that the entire breadth of humanistic disciplines will be able to generate substantial insights regarding the network’s research question at large – which, it may be assumed, addresses an issue humanistic research is centrally concerned with. More specifically, the network’s thematic framework stimulates an investigation of changes: in (economic and geopolitical) power structures; influences on the natural habitat, as well as changes in the latter; the diversity of world views and religions and their authoritativeness; the existence and effect of what the West has been calling art for three millennia; the impact of institutional structures (of political, but also of educational nature), coerced or freely chosen mobility – to name but a few thematic complexes.
On an analytical level, the network’s thematic framework encourages questioning whether a different logic of cultural dynamics exists for different subfields of the realm one may term cultural activity. For instance, do economic dynamics function differently or similarly when compared to innovation in the realm of the arts? If focusing solely on the latter realm, how do dynamics tied to different sign systems (languages) behave – for example, the dynamics of literary texts – when compared to the development of forms of artistic expression whose mediality is less fragmented when globally perceived (fine arts, music)? How might dynamics in the field of popular culture be compared to those in the realm of high culture?
The thematic framework is ideally suited for study within a transnational humanistic network; the research question, transcending space and time, virtually calls for being investigated in a manner that incorporates different perspectives—via a transnational cooperation. Moreover, this thematic framework also accommodates microanalyses with a strong local and temporal focus, which are ideally suited for a tight-knit cooperation between scholars from the six partner institutions; it likewise opens up a space for larger, interdisciplinary research projects based on wide-ranging material; finally, it offers the opportunity to integrate results from individual case studies, thereby breaking ground for a theory of cultural dynamics.
The PCD network’s concrete measures include a mobility initiative that allows Freie Universitaet Berlin scholars at various career levels to conduct research at the partner institutions, while scholars from the partner institutions are invited for research stays at Freie Universitaet Berlin. In addition, an annual two-week summer school is organized, allowing graduate students from the six partner institutions to study with leading humanities scholars. Moreover, the PCD network organizes workshops in which distinguished humanities scholars and junior scholars from the six partner institutions will discuss pertinent paradigms in cultural dynamics and develop fruitful research partnerships.