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Re: <nettime> notes from the DIEM25 launch
Research Unit in Public Cultures on Thu, 25 Feb 2016 05:24:52 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> notes from the DIEM25 launch


Transversal Cultural Spheres and the Future of Europe
-- Nikos Papastergiadis

In the context of growing frustration over the techno-financial 
determinism in the European political landscape that has cast veil upon
veil over executive functions and facilitated the normalization of 
neo-liberal regimes, a new cosmopolitical movement was launched in 
Berlin - DiEM 25. This movement provides us with a platform to rethink 
both the priorities of transnational systems of government and the 
possibilities for widening the frameworks for social emancipation. It is 
also a crucial moment to reflect on the existing cultural landscape and 
propose alternative ways for organizing cultural relations.

The European Union began as an economic project that sought political 
agreement. The idea of shared cultural interests was always in the 
background but too often just left behind as an afterthought. Leaving 
culture to the last is a mistake that Europe cannot afford to repeat. 
At the heart of the democratization of Europe is the recognition of 
both the diversity of cultures and the positive force of cultural 
interaction. The question of culture in Europe is often posed in the 
framework of the preservation of national heritage and the facilitation 
of exchange between discrete cultural entities. The prevailing cultural 
anxieties in Europe are the threats associated with cultural segregation. 
This approach overlooks fundamental contradictions in the dynamics of 
mobility and immobility. Let us consider two kinds of scenarios.

In the suburbs of Paris, the derelict streets in central Athens and the 
camps near Calais, there are people who are trapped. They cannot move. 
To many people from the outside they live in No Go zones, but for those 
on the inside these places are also No Go Out zones. Young people are 
forging baffling identities and producing disturbing images of their 
sense of belonging to this 'no mans land'. Children of immigrants 
declare: "I don't belong here and I have not come from anywhere else." 
Protestors in the heat of fire and accusations pronounce: "I am a dog! I 
bite at anything." A boy is asked about his future and he reveals that: 
"I want to become a migrant." They are stuck and they dream of movement.
They see cages and become animal. They do not feel as if they are 
segregated. Such a fate presumes separation with the possibility of 
passage and interconnection. On the contrary they see themselves as 
merely existing in limbo and the dominant self-image is that of a zombie.
These are people who can see that they in Europe but they are neither 
from nor of Europe.

By contrast there are the images that emphasize the hyper-diversity and 
mobility that is shaping Europe. Artists are increasingly moving from 
festival to biennale. Community groups may establish themselves in local 
neighborhoods but they also have extensive diasporic networks for 
collaboration and transnational distribution systems. In everyday 
settings migrants enjoy the benefits of civic participation and 
cross-cultural interaction. For instance, in the UK, migrants show above 
average rates in out-marriage, charitable donations, neighborly relations 
and upward residential mobility. These are not people who suffer from 
segregation. They are on the move and happy to be in the flow.

What sort of framework can make sense of these contradictions? Does this 
current predicament fit with the prevailing cultural visions of Europe? 
Multiculturalism has been a key heading for administering these 
principles. However, multiculturalism was designed in response to the 
post second world war patterns of migration. During this period 
assimilationist policies were weak and the agency of the migrants was 
more vigorous. It also occurred at the time when diversity was promoted 
as an ideal that could enhance and strengthen society. Multiculturalism 
was proposed as a solution to the question of how different people can 
co-exist in the nation state. In the UK, France and Germany almost every 
political leader in Europe has attacked multiculturalism as if it was the 
cause for social polarization and cultural disengagement. We hear calls 
that hark back towards the idylls of a unified nation: one that has at its
centre either 'muscular liberalism', a 'defiant republicanism', or the 
rebirth of 'lietkultur'. Cultural commentators have also warned of the 
dangers of a looming "civic deficit" and the perils of "sleep walking 
into segregation". With the outburst of terrorist attacks ethnic ghettoes 
were targeted as the hotspots for 'grooming' disaffected youth. The new 
consensus from centre-right is that multiculturalism is no longer a 
practical source of mutual benefit and a pragmatic political compromise 
that secured social cohesion, but is at best, a utopian ideal that was 
gifted to ungrateful minorities who exploited it to gain unfair 
advantages, and at worst, a divisive ideology with which the 'enemies of 
Europe' can abuse the hospitality of their hosts.

These simplistic political slogans and crude commentaries will not work 
in a world of complexity. They not only fail to capture the productive 
forces that arise from the mingling of people and the mixing of ideas, 
but ignore the wider stories of harmonious co-existence, cultural 
stimulus and civic participation. In retrospect the challenges that 
multiculturalism was designed to face seem simple. Within a few decades 
the world has changed dramatically. The turbulence of mobilities and the 
speed of communication made the sense of belonging more complex. People 
now claim to have multiple identities, and are affiliated with 
transnational networks. It is now more common to feel connected to, and 
be part of different and disparate communities. In this globalizing world 
the scope of belonging and the forms of attachment have changed 
dramatically. Hence, multiculturalism no longer looks like it is the 
solution to all the questions that come about when we all these different 
people live together. In this context where some people are stuck in 
no-mans land and others are bypassing national boundaries, the brief 
political consensus on multiculturalism has also cracked.

The solution cannot be found in either smearing multiculturalism, or 
defending it. The future of the cultural sphere does not resemble a 
multicultural mosaic that emits vibrancy in its assemblage of diverse 
parts. The multiple cultures that are already here in Europe are not 
simply seeking a place within an existing framework. The cultures that 
are in here are also out there. These cultures of Europe are not 
contained within national boundaries, and often extend beyond the region. 
This cultural sphere is transversal. It is networked across horizontal 
transnational nodes. Hence we should not join in the claims over the 
demise of multiculturalism, and make further assimilatory demands through 
the policy framework of interculturalism, but address the existence of 
transculturalism.

It is clear that the trend towards polarization and conflict, and the 
broader anxiety of disintegration will only exacerbate if there is no 
overarching system for bringing people together, and no system is 
sustainable without common beliefs and shared values. This call for 
solidarity is often expressed as a summons to define explicit symbols 
and codes that will enable the people to enter into dialogue. In the 
past it was assumed that Europe possessed such singular pool of culture. 
The pool was composed of the heritages and influenced by perspectives 
developed in distinct national contexts. By aggregating the treasures 
from each national culture a new European culture was to be forged.

This mechanism of cultural aggregation is fraught with two fundamental 
problems. The presumption of a singular culture constrained and excluded 
many minority viewpoints from the dialogue of what is to be shared, and 
how the sharing would be conducted. Cultural solidarity was also 
underpinned by the worthy political ambition of consensus. However, 
thrives on difference, speculation, query and disagreement. In short, the 
imagination, as opposed to deliberation, does not rest at a shared point 
of convergence, but is restless and forever probing the boundaries of the 
possible and striving to examine the other side.  Creativity and cultural 
innovation does not always come from within, it spread out and across. 
The contemporary cultural spheres are increasingly transversal.

The contradictions of mobility and immobility in culture are not all 
resolved by the concept of transculturalism. Yet, the paradox of movement 
in culture tightens when we consider the sites of cultural production. 
The density of cultural productivity does not concentrate itself within 
the metropolitan centres. Gentrification and corporate culture has 
eviscerated these sites. The focus point has shifted from the central 
part of Paris and London to the peri-urban rings and satellite cities. 
The pulse of cultural productivity no linger rings louder in the centre, 
but is dispersed around the peripheries, and paradoxically this location 
is often adjacent to those who feel stuck. 

To keep pace with these changes we need to shift our orientation towards 
culture. The push towards closer cultural integration through the 
superimposition of a singular cultural system is counter-productive. The 
future of European culture is neither an aggregation of multiple cultures 
into a hierarchical order, and clearly, the some times celebrated fantasy 
and now much reviled relativist vision of all cultures simply having 
their day in the sun is never going to happen. Something else is 
happening and a new discourse is necessary. Cultural vitality is not 
measured by the volume of aesthetic objects on display in museum, it is 
best seen through the habits of thought, the manner in which connections 
are made, the organization of signs to make a comprehensible worldview. 
This method of conducting dialogue and organizing ideas is now occurring 
in specific locales and across a wide field. If there is a future for 
European culture, then it may exist in the way Europeans coordinate these 
regional and trans-national dialogues in meaningful ways.

Migrants have been at the forefront of re-invigorating everything from 
street culture to charity giving. The youth are adopting and adapting 
globalizing mechanisms that increasingly bypass the state institutions, 
producing new transnational networks, stimulating cultural hybridity and 
creating forms of belonging that confound the politicians. Thus the next 
step is not an inward retreat, but requires an outward vision that can 
embrace the robust forms of cultural interplay that are happening in a 
myriad of local settings. The multiculturalism from below, and in 
particular, the vitality of cross-cultural exchanges that are occurring 
in the peripheries of metropolitan spaces, is a force that needs to be in 
the centre of European Democracy.

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