Cultural Transfer - Culture as Transfer. IASH Winter School 2014

Schloss Münchenwiler
Institute of Advanced Study In the Humaities and the Social Sciences (IASH)
09.02.2014 - 15.02.2014
Michael Toggweiler

Cultural Transfer – Culture as Transfer

In a literal sense, “cultural transfer” refers to the “cultural mobility of objects” (Stephen Greenblatt): the global flow of commodities, concepts, words, images, persons, animals, money, weapons, drugs etc. Such a pragmatic notion may be the starting point for an interdisciplinary debate on alternative theories of “culture” in the humanities and social sciences.

Yet, “cultural transfer” implies not only the flow of things but also the fluidity of those who are engaged in their exchange. Every attempt to map landscapes of cultural transfer has to bear in mind that these landscapes are highly unstable and that places and borders, however imaginary they may be, are constantly ‘on the move’. It has become increasingly difficult to identify origins and ends or even signposts and directions of cultural processes. Thus, culture itself may be read as transfer (Lutz Musner), as an ongoing negotiation. It is eternally becoming rather than being.
Demarcations of borders, however, are very real. Definitions of “cultures” prove highly effective and “imaginary communities” (Benedict Anderson) are potent political agents. This is why we cannot stop short at an abstract diagnosis of a rhizomatic game (Gilles Deleuze) of endless différance (Jacques Derrida). The analysis of cultural transfer and culture as transfer has to take into account the dramatic situations of contact zones, the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion as well as the conditions of selection, translation, adaption or mutation within unequal power relations. Furthermore, the analysis of cultural mobility has to acknowledge that the anthropocentric notion of the human as prime mover of objects and creator of meaning might be undermined by the agency of nonhuman life, inorganic matter and the various idiosyncrasies of the objects themselves.

The Winter School addresses a twofold question:
- How can we reconstruct and conceptualize concrete examples of cultural transfer?
- And how can we, with such examples in mind, reconsider culture as transfer?

Invited guests and the probable focus of their lecture:

Anil Bhatti (German Studies, School of Language, Literature & Culture Stud., Jawaharlal Nehru Univ. New Delhi) Postcolonial Studies, Cultural Transfer (India-Germany), Polyglotism, Similarity/Diversity

Hans Peter Hahn (Social Anthropology/Ethnology, Goethe University, Frankfurt)
Transforming Objects, Itineraries of the Material, Urban Anthropology, Museology, Migration, Globalization, Africa (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo) and beyond

Helga Mitterbauer (Austrian and German Lit., Dep. of Modern Languages and Cultural Stud., Univ. of Alberta)
Transcultural Studies, Cultural Transfers, Postcolonial Theory and Cultural Transfer, Relations between Austrian und (Central) European Literature, Migration in Literature

Marianne Sommer (History of Science/Cultural Studies, Dep. of Cultural and Science Studies, Univ. of Lucerne)
Biographies of Objects, Museology, Human Population Genetics, Imagined Communities, Evolution


The Winter School offers young doctoral and postdoctoral scholars a unique opportunity to contribute to a broader discussion with their own research and ideas. We particularly encourage applications from researchers from the humanities and the social sciences with a strong interest in theoretical debates in an interdisciplinary setting.

Each morning session begins with a lecture given by one of the four international scholars, followed by responses and plenary discussions. These sessions prepare the ground for the parallel workshops in the afternoon which focus on key concepts and core texts the participants suggested in advance of the Winter School as particularly relevant to their own research. Posters visualize the participants’ projects and foster informal exchange throughout the week.

Please apply electronically (PDF) to Michael Toggweiler who is happy to answer your questions:

For application details check:


Michael Toggweiler

IASH, Falkenplatz 16, 3012 Bern, Schweiz

++41 (0)79 449 39 80

Cultural Transfer - Culture as Transfer. IASH Winter School 2014, 09.02.2014 – 15.02.2014 Murten, in: H-Soz-Kult, 23.08.2013, <>.