Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies
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Research Profile

Our research programme is based on the recognition that modern area studies play an important role in understanding the effects of historical and ongoing globalisation. Social and cultural phenomena in the modern world can no longer be understood in isolation and consequently regions must be studied in the context of their links and relationships with other regions. Our Graduate School pursues the concept of integrated area studies, therefore we have incorporated several related fields of study into our programme (American Studies, European Studies, Japanese Studies, Sinology, Turkology).

Our research focuses on the period commencing in approximately 1800: a period of dramatic and continuing change in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. A period which distinguishes the region in a European context and has generated not only a rich field of study but also a great need for research.

Our research is interdisciplinary and focusses on three areas:

Basics and Forms of Social and Political Change

Our Graduate School explores questions about the dynamics, determining factors and consequences of the multiple transformation processes which Eastern and Southeastern Europe has experienced in the last two centuries.

The first field of research investigates system change: the dissolution of imperial rule, the establishment of communist regimes, post-socialist transformation and European integration, as well as the social, cultural and linguistic consequences of these developments.

The second field of research examines historical actors and their backgrounds in terms of their experience and knowledge as well as the focus of their expectations.

Thirdly, this field includes research into institutions which seek to regulate social and geographical space. Institutions are instruments of stability as well as potential locations of change. An institution links structure with practice and social regulation with culture. Where do the cultural roots of institutions and their key figures lie? How do formal institutions relate to informal networks?

Cultural Orders

In this research area our Graduate School examines literary discourse, art, religious culture, linguistic systems and collective memory. Starting point is the recognition that the construction and perception of space is always a cultural process. The idea of regionally defined cultural, linguistic or artistic practices must therefore be called into question.

Culture is an essential symbolic system for the understanding of social reality: it makes it possible for individuals to find meaning and purpose in the world, it includes those structures of knowledge which enable action to be taken and this action to be given a purpose. Culture not only mirrors existing structures but also contributes to the (re)production and modification of these structures. Culture can legitimise a regime or generate subversive discourse, making examples which newly code or undermine dominant meanings of particular interest. By drawing our attention as much to the variable and instable as it does to the established and the traditional, culture helps us to understand major changes and divisions in societies.

How is difference construed and politicised? This topic has been of particular volatility for Eastern and Southeastern Europe since the 19th century: varying political systems have favoured a political course motivated by an ideal of homogeneousness but the outcome has only been the creation of new cultural differences. Eastern and Southeastern Europe is characterised by an intensive process of cultural exchange within as well as between regions, extending the question of difference across borders.

Cultural exchange and amalgamation processes are closely connected to the symbolisation, narration and imagination of region and its inhabitants. This research area therefore investigates spatial concepts of self and other, symbolic geography and mental cartography. Concepts such as hegemony, hybridity, liminality, ambiguity, bricolage, intermediality and linguistic repertoire open up many areas of interdisciplinary overlap.

Infrastructure, Migration and Transfers of Knowledge

This research area examines regional social and cultural practices and the infrastructure required for these. Research topics include how people move within an area, how knowledge is transferred between people and how individuals enter into relationships of mutual exchange. How do they perceive the space and their natural environment? Which patterns do they follow when appropriating physical space for socio-economic use?

How people appropriate a physical space with its specific climatic and topographic characteristics is a key question in this area: only after communication links and infrastructure have been established does action and interaction become possible.

History of the environment and infrastructure from a cultural and socio-historical perspective sheds new light on the importance of imperial, national and regional as well as linguistic borders and the reconfigurations of these borders in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. A central question in view of the multiple changes made up until the very recent past. Research topics therefore involve territorial integration or disintegration, cultural and social dimensions of the use of natural areas and the psychological basis for regional development.

Migration is a further focus point. Major and differing migration processes have marked Eastern and Southeastern Europe over the last two centuries, creating ideal ground for migration research.Intensive migration has given the region significant social momentum as well as many links with other parts of the world, influencing linguistic development and the collective sense of identity. A further important topic is transfer of knowledge, here the content and practice of these processes are themselves as much subject to investigation as the consequences this distribution of knowledge has.

Actors within this web of relations can only operate within existing power structures and according to their own influence. The analysis of possible spheres of action, taking into account limits imposed by inflexible structures, forms a further topic of investigation in this area.