Research perspective and aims
In the current public discourse about politics, as well as in the social and cultural sciences, the perception of a "transformation of the political" is being consolidated, in which different areas and institutions, topics and styles of communication, agents and legitimizations of the political are changing. One particular characteristic of the present is that the separation between the political and other important areas of reality is increasingly being questioned (Ulrich K. Preuß) - quite different examples range from the media ("mediocratism") to forms of civic culture and commitments ("subpolitics") and to the relatively new political issue of overweight people.
This observation supports the SFB's hypothesis that different areas of reality can be transformed into parts of the political space and that the definition of boundaries, i.e. of what belongs to the political, and what does not, is itself a genuine part of the political. Therefore the research group does not work with a preconceived definition of politics that refers to particular areas or issues. Even power and violence, which used to be seen by political science as core elements of the political, become part of communicative (re-) definitions of the political.
The SFB is based on a constructivist understanding of questions posed by cultural and communications history. With this perspective it aims at developing a new approach to political history, which neither concentrates on the processes of political decision-making nor on those agents that are traditionally examined (governments, parties, groups of lobbyists, federations). Rather it also includes less prominent forms of political agency and seeks to overcome the separation between theories of structure and theories of agency.
The research proposition of the SFB does not allow for a singular, general and 'timeless' term of the political. Instead, it looks at the historically changeable boundaries, mechanisms and media of a discursive and symbolically constituted space of the political. For the analysis of this the agents and their constellations, modalities of communication and institutional conditions are equally significant.
The SFB focuses on two kinds of investigation: First, it is necessary to historicize concepts of the "political." What did the different agents make of "the political" or, "the non-political" at different times? Theses questions are aimed at the discursive and semantic definitions of boundaries created by agents and at the communicative strategies they used. Moreover, practical research leans toward a heuristic understanding of "the political", in which the practices, discourses and the definitions of boundaries are regarded as political if they:
Political communication and the establishment of boundaries work through the appropriation by agents of semantic and symbolic pools within social and cultural groups. Communication depends on the choice of certain means such as language, images, rituals or symbols. The media in which topics, circumstances or persons are presented as political shape the political space with its principles and possibilities of expression. Thus the SFB explores a dynamic development which has characterized the possibilities of participation and organization since the revolution of communication in early modern times.
These characteristic effects that the media have on political communication is examined along the following lines:
With regard to its theoretical and methodological point of view, the SFB follows historical semantics as well as elements of political Culture-Studies, which are concerned with patterns of interpretations, political rhetoric and discourses. Other important impulses for the SFB's comprehension of communication come from Michel Foucault's depiction of discourses as practices for the setting of boundaries, as well as Niklas Luhmann's exploration of attempts and failed attempts at communication. This portrayal of communication as an unclearly defined process emphasizes the importance of Luhmann's so called "Thematisierungsschwellen", i.e. his work on barriers within discourses which contribute to the realization that some contents and contributions cannot be communicated. In the terminology of the SFB the "codes" by which these incommunicable ideas are structured do not belong to the area of the "speakable" and so limit the political space. Aside from discourses the SFB looks at rituals, images and symbols and asks for the generic-specific, medial and aesthetic possibilities of grasping political contexts and of expressing ambivalence.
Use of the term "space" to characterize the political makes it possible to identify the boundaries of the political within and without. Using "space," boundaries are examined in their dynamics and adjustments. Both concepts of "space" employed by the SFB are procedural, relational, and communicative, and are thus compatible with the SFB's definition of the political:
The access to the space of political communication, which was and still is limited by barriers of age, gender, social status and education as well as ethnic and religious association, becomes just important from this perspective as the definition of and the perception of the political. Its inner structure composed of discursive strategies, semantics and an arrangement of symbols, is central to the work of the SFB. The research center is furthermore concerned with the agents that establish the space of the political including and excluding groups of people. The borders of the political may shift according to the different contexts, different legal, social and cultural conditions that the agents participate in.
zur SFB-Abschlusstagung "Writing Political History Today" (01.-03.12.2011)
PublikationenNeu erschienen in der Reihe "Historische Politikforschung":
Susanne Schregel, Der Atomkrieg vor der Wohnungstür
Reihe "Das Politische als Kommunikation"
Reihe "Historische Politikforschung"
Flyer 2. Phase (PDF)
Flyer 1. Phase (PDF)