Interculture Award 2012: Sociology

Award ceremony in Bochum

The sociologist Cynthia Müller-Idriss (USA) is the2012 Inter-Culture Award winner. The award ceremony was held in Bochum as part of the 36th congress of the German Sociological Association (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie, DGS).

The Goethe-Institut’s Interculture Prize has now been awarded for the second time – this time in the field of sociology. The award, announced annually in alternating disciplines, advances intercultural dialogue, above all in the humanities, social sciences and economics. In 2012, next-generation researchers in sociology from around the world had the opportunity to apply with essays on “The Field of Tension Between Diversity and Cohesion in the Context of Culture and/or Inter-Culture.” The jury selected sociologist Cynthia Miller-Idriss (USA) for her contribution on right-wing radical youth movements in Germany. In his laudation, jury member Ludger Pries stated that “her remarkable and innovative approach to the announced topic” was what convinced the jury. This year’s jury was composed of the social scientists Ludger Pries (Bochum) and Angelika Poferl (Fulda), and Berthold Franke, the Goethe-Institut’s regional director for south-western Europe and EU representative.

At the award ceremony, Prof. Dr. Stephan Lessenich of the German Sociological Association (Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie / DGS) praised the awarding of the Inter-Culture Prize as an opportunity to further strengthen the excellent relationship between the Goethe-Institut and the professional body. Andreas Ströhl, director of the Goethe-Institut’s Division of Culture and Information, underscored the significance of sociology and sociological reflection for cultural exchange abroad. He pointed out that mutual reflection on current research and discourses is an important component of intercultural communication and mediation. In his address to the conference, the Austro-Czech author and this year’s Chamisso Prize award winner Michael Stavarič spoke of boundary crossings and his own personal feelings of being an outsider, foreign. In doing so he highlighted the power of literature to build bridges and enable dialogue between cultures. The author praised Miller-Idriss for her work and called for sensitivity in approaching hidden right-wing symbolism, which can influence children and adolescents in a dangerously easy fashion.

Fabian Kroll,
Division of Science and Current Affairs

Topic of the original call for essays

The tension of diversity and cohesion in the context of culture and/or inter-culture

The diversity of social ways of life finds expression in different languages, dress codes, traditions, beliefs, value orientations, life circumstances and life-styles, political loyalties and countless other characteristics, the range of which is limited only by the activities of social distinction themselves. The understanding and recognition of social diversity of what is proprietary and what is alien is at the same time the justification for social cohesion, based on common grounds, however constituted, on the part of one social group towards one or a number of other social groups. In this way, diversity and cohesion constitute two sides of the same societal process of differentiation and integration.

Culture as something that is not genetically fixed, but rather as social action programming transmitted through the socialisation and learning processes of social groups always entails distinguishing between the proprietary and the alien, i.e. between “us” and “them.” The formation and transmission of culture always involves essentialistic elements (one or the other feature is identified as a differentia specifica, a substantially distinguishing characteristic), and constructivistic elements at the same time, as well (every distinction is socially constructed). Culture can never be solely conceived as substantial (i.e. as a national culture quasi-hermetically sealed off and existing independently), but always as relational as well (for instance as referential of other local, regional, national or transnational cultures).

The concept of ‘inter-culture’ (Interkultur) therefore serves to reference a few of these diverse interrelationships within and between cultures. Nonetheless, it often also leads to additional confusion, for instance when either, in a substantialistic perspective, a new “inter-culture” is to be defined as a totality consisting of significant elements from different cultures, or when in a relational perspective, exclusively a “dialogue of cultures” is meant. By the same token, it is not infrequently the case that with “intercultural competence”, either capabilities are addressed that seemingly lie beyond cultural contexts, or to which a discrete, new (seemingly cosmopolitan) culture is attributed.

It is against this backdrop that the Goethe-Institut is announcing an “inter-culture award”. Academic research works will be distinguished that deal with the complex of tensions between diversity and cohesion described above by means of systematic, theoretical and/or empirical analyses that deepen our understanding of culture, inter-culture and intercultural competence.

Prof. Dr. Ludger Pries,
Ruhr-Universität Bochum,
18 December 2011

Related links

Interculture Award of the Goethe-Institut (in general)
Interculture Award 2014: Historical Sciences
Interculture Award 2011: Philosophy