volkskunde vs. völkerkunde?

kulturwissenschaftliche technikforschung and cyberanthropology

Since quite a time [the first entry is dated 25 May 2005] there is a weblog called Kulturwissenschaftliche Technikforschung published by the Institut für Volkskunde of Hamburg University. The blog’s about is quite enlightening, but unfortunately in German only. The about’s main arguments are culled from the startpage of the Forschungskolleg Kulturwissenschaftliche Technikforschung‘s website. There’s an English version, too, and I take the liberty to quote from it extensively, especially as I second every argument given:

[…] “Kulturwissenschaftliche Technikforschung” deals with the question of how—that is, in which ways and with which consequences—, but also in how far, technology has inscribed itself into our society and into human beings.

Doing “Kulturwissenschaftliche Technikforschung” means to depart from two main perspectives: On one hand, it departs from the technological objects and how human beings actually handle so-called technological artefacts. On the other hand, “Kulturwissenschaftliche Technikforschung” always investigates the situatedness of technology in everyday life (“Sitz der Technik im Leben”). The aim of such an approach is the analysis of the various influences technology exerts on the ways we shape our lives. These can be open or hidden and they can be perceived consciously or unconsciously.

The anthropological and ethnographic approach used within the “kulturwissenschaftlichen Technikforschung” (KT) aims at probing the diverse and multiple dimensions of experience in regard to technology. KT departs from the German University Subject “Volkskunde” defined as research looking into our every day lives and into everyday culture from a contemporary but also historical perspective. In order to do so, KT looks into the history and culture of technology from the perspective of the active users and handlers of technology. KT deals with the “emergence” of technological phenomena, as much as with negotiations of user conventions and meanings of technology. KT investigates questions about processes through which technology is made familiar and how it is inscribed into our everyday lives, as much as it looks into how an increasing number of life spheres are gradually immersed by technology. Last but not least, KT explores the ways of how technology submerges and broadens people’s minds in regard to their perceptions, actions, ethics and other points of reference. […]

Now you may ask what is “Volkskunde” and how is it differentiated from sociocultural anthropology? Allow me another quote, this time from Alan Barnard‘s “History and Theory in Anthropology”:

In Germany and parts of Central and Eastern Europe, there is a further distinction, namely between Volkskunde and Völkerkunde. These terms have no precise English equivalents, but the distinction is a very important one. Volkskunde usually refers to the study of folklore and local customs, including handicrafts, of one’s own country. It is a particularly strong field in these parts of Europe and to some extent in Scandinavia. Völkerkunde is the wider, comparative social science also known in Germany as Ethnologie. (↵Barnard 2000: 2)

Doesn’t match the above, huh? Well, in the terms of Henry Kissinger we are living in times of upheaval, meaning that academical disciplines are changing, borders and perspectives are redefined [no surprise, as those are manifestaions of intrinsic aspects of science and every academical endeavour—if you disagree with that go back to Epistemology I ;-]. And indeed since quite some years Munich’s Institut für Volkskunde has added Europäische Ethnologie to its name. This addition lured some outsiders, namely within the university’s higher administration, to the following request: “Fuse those two things, they have converged to indistinguishability already!” The “greater vision” was to have the fusage manifested in one BA-course-of-studies, and pressure towards that end was executed upon us. For roughly the last one and a half years we had intensive talks with our Volkskunde-peers. In terms of envisioned structure the result of the talks indeed is a combined BA, but with two clearly separated MAs on top of it. The really worthwhile results of the talks are the vast clarification of indeed different methods, perspectives and approaches at large. Volkskunde and Völkerkunde of course are kin disciplines which share a lot—but there’s a big heap they don’t share. Herein lies the value of cooperation: mutual influence and benefit. Interdisciplinarity—still one of the biggest buzzwords flying around into every direction within the ivory tower and beyond—needs disciplines as a prerequisite. And it’s not meant as a melting pot. The same is true for the respective sub-genres cyberanthropology and Kulturwissenschaftliche Technikforschung. There’s still the naive, cliché-laden way of how to distinguish disciplines: Them guys are looking at Europe, and them other guys are looking on Africa; those two gangs are both looking at technology … That way of defining and circumscribing academical endeavours is as dated as hat and helmet pictured above. They are a joke at best.
initially via entry at sblog