In recent years, questions have arisen pertaining to the level at which the current lifestyle of humanity, particularly in the West, can be sustained over the long run. Primarily, concerns originating from ecological considerations appear to be describing a narrative of decline and threat, as, for instance, testified by David Attenborough's State of the Planet (2000), E.O. Wilson's call to preserve The Future of Life (2002), Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (2006), and Jared Diamond's chilling narrative of ecological Collapse (2006) and his call to listen to lessons from The World Before Yesterday (2013).
Such perspectives - oftentimes chided as Malthusian - have a long tradition, of course, not just within academia and documentaries, but also within literature, as testified by, for instance, Henry David Thoreau's Walden (1854), Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia (1981), and Geoffrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi (1982), to name only a few examples.
The narrative of sustainability, however, does not merely touch the ecological, but other areas as well. Particularly in a time of ongoing crisis, questions of sustainability touch the economic sphere, which is intimately related to politics. The project of European integration is severely put to the test, challenging once rather optimistic and hopeful conceptions of solidarity and supranational cooperation. In several Western countries, the political framework of democracy itself appears put to the test -- both domestically and internationally --, and new movements from the left and right have been questioning the status quo.
This has raised concerns over cultural matters as well, specifically with regard to reemerging national and nationalist narratives, responses to immigration old and new, to questions of cultural and ethnic identity, as well as the intersections of science and politics as they are manifesting itself in areas of energy, health, environmental and climate policy, for instance.
Such challenges have also affected the nature and functions of education, especially given that education can be said to be related to finding a working and sustainable narrative for the future. With current conceptions and frameworks in flux and under review, it is the area of education that may be one of the deciding factors in whether our current ways of living are sustainable or not.
The 2014 Transatlantic Students Symposium will be dedicated to finding approaches to the challenge posed by such questions of sustainability. Students from North America and Europe will conduct a common field trip to New Mexico and Oregon, prepared academically by classes at the three participating universities, Humboldt-University Berlin, Oregon State University, and the University of Warsaw.
MPP 507 and 11th Transatlantic Students Symposium:
The symposium looks at the political borders of the U.S. and Poland as they shifted over time and examines the spaces and the periods of liminality this shifting has produced, focusing especially on transitions of the political order, the economy, and culture. As the American frontier advanced geo-graphically from the time of the early settlements till the end of the nineteenth century, and as the U.S. continues to redefine its interest in various locations around the globe, the Polish borders also shifted over time to disappear altogether by the end of the eighteenth century, and to be variously redrawn in the course of the nineteenth and the twentieth century. Today, the political, legal, and economic context of the EU points to new questions about national and supranational borders.
The shifting American frontier and the changing Polish borders reflected the political order of the day and the ambitions of various national and international players. They also produced economic effects and modes of cultural exchange specific to the borderland spaces opened up and closed off by the changing shape of the borders, in keeping with the historical flux of conditions that alter-nately allowed and limited access, fostering or constricting development and producing particular geographies of the mind. The similarities and the differences between the American and the Polish contexts afford ample opportunity for comparative study of such border phenomena, and aspects of this comparative perspective will be taken up in the symposium papers and discussions, in the pre-paratory and on-site seminars and workshops, and on the occasion of on-site visits in Poland.
The American Frontier has been a place both of promise and loss; a loss of life and land for the Native population, but a promise to those who have come to colonize these lands. What could be called the European frontier is a possible or recent region of EU expansion into former territories controlled by the Soviet Union.
Today, the American frontier is both "closed" and ubiquitous. Celebrations of frontier life can be seen throughout the United States, manifested in the continued affirmation of the so-called pioneer spirit, of rugged individualism and self-reliance as demonstrated by the Tea Party movement and its political representatives. Consequences of frontier ideology can also be seen in the persistent challenges for Native cultures and economies. In rural, frontier America, however, both Native and non-Native communities ideologically and culturally have become part of the national mythology of Cowboys and Indians: The frontier has always been defined as a "meeting place," however euphemistically phrased by Frederick Jackson Turner.
In the aftermath of the recent economic downturn, but already following an intensive economic globalization, rural, frontier America has felt the consequences of the economic downturn and a change in industrial and labor structures. What has this meant for the cultural legacy of the pioneer spirit and the "winning" of the West?
On the other side of the Atlantic, the European Union has developed a mythology of community and progress, of peace and prosperity after World War II, a movement that has been rejuvenated by the end of the Cold War. This "winning" of the East had been interpreted also as an ideological victory for democracy and post-nationalism. However, following initial euphoria, the fall of the Soviet Union has enabled economic globalization to an unprecedented degree. Rural communities in Europe have been hit hard by the ensuing deindustrialization. Furthermore, in some former Communist states, the ideological push towards neo-liberal policies stands in stark contrast to established welfare states and state-mandated solidarity in the former Western Europe. These processes are also questioning national mythologies and borders, for instance in the border regions of Germany and Poland, but also with respect of resurging nationalism in Hungary, Finland, Austria, Belgium and Italy.
Thus in a critical comparison, the Tenth Transatlantic Students Symposium will investigate in how far the impact of both the intensified globalization and the economic crisis has affected rural communities in the United States and the European Union, and how this has translated into a reexamination of national mythologies based on the respective frontiers, in the American case towards the West, in the European case towards the East.
The Transatlantic world has been unsettled by major crises over the last years. The virtual collapse of the financial system, followed by the deepest economic recession since World War II, and then the specter of a debt-driven apocalypse dominated public and policy attention. Although the worst has been averted in most countries, major issues remain. Some countries like Greece and Spain will be plagued by economic problems for years. Stronger economies like the United States and Germany will find it challenging to regain the wealth and economic momentum that they previously enjoyed - especially as power slowly shifts to the East and South.
The immediacy of this financial and economic crisis, however, has masked temporarily more fundamental challenges in the Transatlantic world. Deep policy disagreements over the appropriate responses to the economic challenges have arisen within Europe and between European countries and the United States. Some have advocated Keynesian stimulus, while others have pursued Hayekian neoliberal remedies. Such economic dissensus - following years of disagreement about foreign policy - has resulted in an unprecedented tensions in the western world. Yet, the economic crisis is accompanied by the continued rise of trans-migratory labor, the ongoing restructuring of industry and the labor market, the expansion of transnational corporations, and the inexorable rise of new economic superpowers such as China and India.
Despite decades of rhetoric and efforts to "build Europe" or achieve "unity in diversity," European institutions have been almost invisible in face of the economic crisis. The much vaunted decline of the nation-state has proven illusory, with even a modicum of supranational policy coordination absent. Almost all of the policy responses have occurred within the confines of the "withering" nation-state and any international coordination that happened was a consequence of old fashioned bilateral deals. What does this say about the current and future capacities of "Europe?"
In the wake of these processes, new versions of (old) national identity narratives have regained currency. In both the United States and Europe, this is connected to rising concerns with immigration and on-going challenges in accepting multicultural and multi-religious realities. Many states are mired in ongoing processes of redefining their national narratives, complicated by persistent movements for increased subnational autonomy. The resurgent quest for national solutions puts renewed pressure on national minorities and immigrant groups.
The 9th Transatlantic Students Symposium will address these crises of the early twenty-first century through the lenses of politics, economics and culture. Students and academic representatives from Georgetown University, Oregon State University and Humboldt-Universitšt zu Berlin will come together for a week of joint activities, workshops, discussions, and a concluding conference in Berlin, prepared by a field trip to Madrid, an ideal location to explore policy responses to the financial crisis and the dynamics between national, subnational and supranational policymakers.
The symposium will address two important dimensions of federalism and regionalism in the United States/Canada and Europe/Germany in a transatlantic perspective. Based on a discussion of the historical emergence of the formal power division between national, state and regional governments and its functions in both North America and Europe, we will first explore how the actual balance of power is institutionalized, negotiated, and translated into political practice in various fields. At the backdrop of these questions, the course will then analyze specific forms and functions of constructions of national cultures, as well as the characteristics of subnational, regional and local cultures by looking at "Southern," "Western" and "New England," city cultures or manifestations of minority vs. mainstream cultures in the United States and "the West" and Quebec in Canada on the one hand and national, regional (Berlin vs. Bavaria, Thuringia vs. Hanseatic Cities etc.) and local cultures (village vs. city, for instance) in Germany on the other.
The symposium will take a group of selected German students together with American students to a field trip in the United States/Canada and culminate in an academic style symposium at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. in March 2010.
The division of the world into East and West appears as old as history. Even though the protagonists in occident and orient have changed frequently, the terms still exist, and are supposed to carry meaning. What is meant, however, is often a West that is seen as identical with the "Free World" (Ash 2004) and an East that is simply a drastic case of alterity. Yet, especially India and to a lesser extent China have been working towards "provincializing Europe" (Chakrabarty 2000). The much-hyped "clash of civilizations" (Huntington 1996) is becoming a conflict that happens much more inside of nation states rather than between them (Huntington 2004). Consequently, the question of national identity is increasingly becoming more complex, especially when new immigration poses questions regarding the "rights of others" (Benhabib 2004).
Regarding the "End of History" (Fukuyama 1992), i.e. the teleology of History as a guiding force in a Hegelian and Marxian sense, liberal democracies in the world are increasingly challenged in their normativity. It is not just the confrontation with radical Islamism, but also with radical and ruthless capitalism - especially in China - that poses challenges for the social welfare state that is prevalent (to varying degrees) in the West. A crumbling economy oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with a heightened threat to social peace. Moreover, one of the major on-going challenges is continued immigration from the "Global South" and the "East" into the "West," and the ensuing battles over identity, participation, distribution of riches and traditional value systems. In addition to the "trouble with diversity" (Michaels 2006), a rising disparity between the rich and the poor within the "West" itself questions the promise of everlasting prosperity, especially in the light of the current financial crisis in both America and Europe.
The European Union is a diverse confederation of states with strong national identities - while non-state nations (such as the Scots and Basques) within the EU continue to struggle for a meaningful role within the growing European realm of influence. The United States of America has upheld its self-image of a traditional immigrant nation - while still marginalizing Native Americans and African Americans in a peculiar way.
Both of these "Western" societies are now increasingly challenged in their self-definition by new kinds of immigrants that seeks not assimilation or arrival in a target country, but rather continuing ties to their home and the preservation of their original culture. Such transmigration is a phenomenon of globalization: a subaltern cosmopolitanism that can see a family identifying with several countries without really appearing tied to either one; a border-transcending movement that is increasingly facing a toughening of borders and limits. How global can the local be; and how local can the global be?
With the emergence of new socio-economic and cultural constellations resulting from processes of globalization on the one hand and regionalization and localization on the other, traditional notions of the "West" and "East" are being increasingly rendered problematic if not invalid. Whereas in Europe, religion (most prominently, Islam) has played a significant role in re-thinking the idea of the "West," in the United States the controversies related to recent Latin American immigration has elevated the issue of integration back to the political agenda, as well as spurring a renewed interest in the inquiry of concepts of integration and the cultural premises upon which they are based.
The symposium will delve into questions of inclusion and exclusion, of defining and re-defining cultures, and at how these issues are negotiated at a political and economic as well as on a cultural level. From the backdrop of recent debates about the politics and practice of integrating immigrants and minorities in the United States and Europe, we will address key dimensions of contemporary social and cultural contexts on both sides of the Atlantic that challenge present concepts of (national) integration. Besides discussing relevant theories of integration and their critiques, we will also provide insights into practical aspects of current integration policies in the US and Europe.
The symposium will bring together a group of selected German students with American students for a joint field trip in Europe, and an academic symposium at Humboldt University in March 2009.
Based upon a critical discussion of the major cultural theories on the construction of identity, the symposium will explore current representations of political, social and cultural identity in the media in Europe and the United States both on a national and transnational level. Taking a comparative approach these representations in various media such as print (newspapers, magazines), TV, film, will be analysed in terms of the narratives they suggest to create, affirm and negotiate hegemonic or pretentiously hegemonic discourses of European and American identities.
The communal identity of not just the nation state but also of larger federal structures often assumes an overarching "major" whole under which other, "minor", identities are subsumed. The United States created unity out of the plurality of thirteen original states, and extended its motto of "e pluribus unum" as a common theme towards its politics of integrating newcomers. This unity was questioned during the Civil War, and full participation was delayed even longer until the granting of citizenship and voting rights to indigenous cultures, African-American slaves, and women. The Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century worked to restore and redefine this unity and constituted a profound moment in American history where a long and convoluted history of apartheid was confronted and measures were undertaken to make society truly inclusive. Each new international conflict and each new wave of immigration has posed and continues to pose problems for immigrant and minority populations, as can be seen from , e.g., the internment of Japanese civilians during World War II in the US and Canada, the ongoing politics of marginalization towards American Indian tribes and African Americans, the suspicions regarding citizens of Middle Eastern origin and regarding Islam, as well as the current debate concerning Mexican legal and illegal immigration. Whatever the en vogue concept of the day regarding integration-Melting Pot, Cultural Pluralism, Salad Bowl, Orchestra, Stew, Mosaic, Multiculturalism, Post-Ethnicity-the status of diversity within unity is still an ongoing project.
Within Europe, the continuing creation of the new union is often preceded by the break-up of former unions (Czech Republic, Yugoslavia, Soviet Union) that create nation states which seek representation as a nation within the EU, rather than as a unit within a federation. Yet there are also nations in Europe that lack a state of their own, and territories that have switched between countries and now carry an ethnic minority (Basques, Sorbs, Jews, Celts on the British Isles, Sinti and Roma; Danes in Germany, German minority in South Tyrol, Italian minority in Slovenia, etc.); or traces of past cultures and empires (e.g. Roman, Byzantine, Habsburg, Napoleonic or Ottoman culture). Immigration, as well, adds to a growing diversity in Europe.
Moreover, intersecting with these ethnic and cultural affiliations are equally challenging questions regarding the role of women in society, issues of sexual orientation, class differences and age discrimination.
Within the backdrop of recent developments on both sides of the Atlantic that are grounded in the conflictual tensions between the quest for a common identity and the longings to preserve one's own cultural roots, the symposium will address, amongst others, the following issues:
The existence of states and state-like groups both necessitates and facilitates the formation of communities. An inherent human "groupishness" (Matt Ridley) may form the foundation of such constructs, but the communities themselves are the result of long evolutionary processes of adaptation, construction and negotiation. In a certain sense, the communities may be "imaginary" (Benedict Anderson), yet their structures and mechanisms are nevertheless concrete phenomena.
Through the construction of communities, internal coherence can be created. Even traditional nation states like France, Italy and Germany underwent a history of "nation-building" and are the temporary outcome of arduous and oftentimes painful processes of harmonization, integration, assimilation and also "ethnic cleansing". The patchwork character of states like the United States and Canada may appear more clearly as their history is largely influenced by immigration, the artificial and "imaginary" character of a "nation of immigrants" being more apparent than e.g. in Germany.
Yet migratory movements are no thing of the past, and at all times there have been refugees, migratory workers, transnational networks, and also ethnic groups with no nation state defending their interests. Globalization, understood as a process by which national boundaries and authorities lose concrete political, economic, cultural and ideological power, facilitates such movements.
Both nation states and supranational constructs like the EU are caught between two alternatives:
accepting the transitional nature of communities faced with increased migration and taking into account a loss of cultural coherence, an uncertain future for the national workforce, and immense investment in integrating immigrants into the society; or
trying to maintain the clear boundaries of the nation state while accepting growing differences with regard to living standards in comparison with other regions, making it more difficult to tighten border control and encouraging growing dissatisfaction and dissent in poorer countries.
In general, these theoretical (and ideological) models often prevent a long-term assessment of benefits and risks concerned with immigration, making it difficult to find adequate solutions to a problem that is not only political and ethical. But could the two maybe be consoled? Could pragmatism and ethics work together, as the call for the tired and poor in Emma Lazarus' poem, which has become the motto of the Statue of Liberty?
The Fourth Transatlantic Students Symposium thus will undertake a comparative approach towards questions of immigration and citizenship in an American and a European context.
Ever since the dissolution of the Roman Empire, Europe has struggled to create an entity that would re-create a realm of universal peace and harmony, offering a wide space for business and prosperity, while respecting the cultural idiosyncrasies of European nations; a non-zero sum game thriving on the abundant promises of a future eu-topia made by political, social, cultural, scientific and religious thinkers throughout history.
Exploited by various false prophets stressing hegemony and dominance over consent, the European Dream experienced its major setback in World War I and its ultimate Armageddon in World War II. Out of the ashes of material and moral devastation, and set against the rising threat of Soviet despotism, the building blocks of what has become the European Union emerged through the cooperation between nation states that just shortly before had been bitter enemies. The consolation between Germany and France constitutes the cornerstone of that alliance, and the United States of America remained the continuing sponsor of European harmonization.
Decades after the initial steps, the legacy of Robert Schuman's plan has experienced a major success: The inclusion of ten new member states, most of them formerly suffering from the yoke of Communism, signifies the final triumph over the legacy of the World Wars and the reversal of a separation that has inhibited and overshadowed the dream of European unity for too long.
But what does the enlargement mean for the process of European unity on the institutional level? How far-reaching can such a unity be? Will the idea of a European Constitution be a step towards a United States of Europe, or do the different cultural and historical facts demand for a different outcome? Is the basis of the union, which has always been economic, threatened by the necessary reconstruction of its new members? Does the protectionist debate against labor migration signal a more pragmatist approach, and a rejection of history-evoking pathos? And, finally, are there limits to enlargement? How shall we deal with future candidates like Turkey and Georgia?
The third symposium composed of American students and students from Humboldt-Universitšt zu Berlin shall tend to questions like these and discuss the future prospects of European Unity in light of its historical legacy.
The United Nations have been founded to facilitate multilateral solutions to global problems, to promote a new world order of international cooperation and peace. Yet somehow it might seem that such an order is becoming more and more of an illusion. It appears that crises of global reach are taken on by only a handful of players on their own; the attempt to achieve a unison reaction is being made on fewer and fewer occasions. It is issues like the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto agreement, the SARS crisis, and the War on Iraq which have contributed to the appearance of an ever-growing rift within the International community.
From the perspective of the United Nations, the global and the local are seen in unison. The basis of such a union is neither artificial nor arbitrary: Human rights, amongst which are life, liberty and security of person, have been found and contested throughout all history and all cultures. Furthermore, they have been universally agreed upon in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition, there is constant debate about the role of arts and culture as either unifying or dispersing factors in the concept of global governance and unity.
The ideas that have formed the United Nations have been shaped by the immediate experience of global destruction and the complete disregard of such values. However, just as its predecessor, the League of Nations, suffered from a particularity of interests, the UN grew out of the power structures of both the past war and the incipient Cold War. Had the UN been paralyzed by the polarization between East and West, the disintegration of the Soviet Union has left the world with a strange imbalance, and a resurgence of atomized interests that lay dormant under the agony of the post-war period.
Can the United Nations be effective as an international organization, or do they need to have more supranational authority? Can such a perspective be realistic at all? What would be the basis for such a supranational, sovereign institution, a kind of world government?
Even within the culturally more homogeneous European Union, the struggle between the individual states and the Union remains a constant state of negotiation. Those who tend to favor supranational structures, like Germany and smaller nations, stand in constant conflict between those who believe in the strength of the nation state; both rooting their behavior in the lessons of the same past. What hardly works in the European context is repeating itself in other non-national structures and organizations like the Arabian League, NAFTA and the UN.
The new and old fragmentation manifests itself in times of crisis, ad hoc coalitions of the willing (and unwilling) determining the politics of the day. Do such developments arise out of a systematic disregard not only of the UN but also of the idea behind them? Or do they constitute legitimate answers to a failure of the organization as such, to the systemic weakness due to historical circumstances at the time of its conception, a birth defect that needs correction? Are they the preemptive response to a still unanswered question of universally accepted global authority?
Amongst the different factions, Germany counts as one of the most avid proponents of inter- and supranational solutions. This is Germany's answer to its historical responsibility, a conviction that enduring peace, security and freedom can result only from the integration of the nation state into the global sphere. On the other hand, the only true global player left, America, feels increasingly frustrated with the status quo of the United Nations, with the composition of its institutions and grave failures to form decisions in the past, like in the cases of Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
Both are relevant questions that need to be considered. How do you console those basic opposing concepts? Can an answer be found in the free interplay of strong and weak players, or is non-national guidance needed to not only increase the legitimacy of ad-hoc measures but also to create an atmosphere of trust and acceptance? The second symposium held by students from Bard College, Annandale on Hudson, and Humboldt-Universitšt zu Berlin will tend to such questions. Together we will approach the topic from a German and an American point of view, contributing to the continuing transatlantic dialog.
There are consequences to any event. The more drastic and traumatic the event, the more determined the reaction may be, especially if there remains the perception of an ongoing threat. A state's subsequent reaction will be felt within the state legislature, the nation's culture and media, and its foreign policy. Throughout World War II and the Cold War, the threat was visible, the opposing sides have been nation states and their respective allies. But how does a state react, how does the rhetoric change when the opponent eludes easy definition and cannot be dealt with on the political and/or diplomatic level?
Could the aim of terrorism be construed as providing terror, using the political framework as an incitement for catering to the disenfranchised, making them believe in a fight constructed as legitimate? The infrastructure of terror is elusive, so are its perpetrators, the threat is difficult to localize, its origin can be anywhere. As a consequence, a political reaction will be confronted with the task of dealing with already existing feelings of unease and paranoia. If the threat is believed to be real, there must ensue visible efforts to counter it, to prevent further acts of terrorism from happening. We will take a look at the aftermath of the terrorist acts of September 11th, 2001, examining the strategies employed in internal and foreign policy, in the media and the general cultural discourse, on both the domestic and the international level. As a possible comparison, we will review the methods employed in dealing with RAF terrorism in Germany.
The symposium will be part of the growing cooperation between Bard College and Humboldt-Universitšt, fostering dialog and intellectual exchange between the students. The aim is to build a lasting connection, thus aiding cultural understanding.
We invite all interested students to come and join us. For a list of participants, more information on the symposium, background material and topics already covered, please consult the web site.
If you're interested in preparing a ten-minute presentation, please contact us as soon as possible. We'll also need an abstract of your ideas and a short biography.