Translating the discipline : on the institutional memory of German Volkskunde, 1945 to present




Randall, Amanda Ziemba

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This study examines how Europeanist ethnologists (Volkskundler / Europäische Ethnologen) in Germany (East, West, and reunified) have reconstructed their discipline’s history from the end of World War II to the present. In this treatment, historiography is understood not simply as a discourse, but as a narrative performance by and for parties invested in the discipline. These performances, it will be shown, have real implications for the field’s organizational and epistemic structuring, and vice versa—a symbiosis referred to here as “institutional memory.” The project’s goal is not to produce another history of the discipline, but rather to trace how institutional memory is rewritten or translated (in André Lefevere’s sense) across historical ruptures and in conversation with other social fields (in Pierre Bourdieu’s sense). By mapping the disciplinary identities performed by the field’s authorized parties in monographs, articles, programmatic statements, and interviews conducted with three generations of Volkskundler / Europäische Ethnologen, the analysis reveals to what extent the field’s institutional memory aligns with postwar Germany’s ongoing struggle to connect its past with its current national and global identities. Part I considers how the trope of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (overcoming the past) came to dominate institutional memory in West German and post-reunification Volkskunde / Europäische Ethnologie. Parts II and III then consider latent and emergent boundary issues that had been eclipsed by the long shadow of the National Socialist past. Part II examines the dynamics of East German Volkskunde’s institutional memory and the challenge of gathering the two national traditions into a unified institutional memory after national reunification in 1989/90. Part III considers patterns of interdisciplinary and international boundary-crossing and -reinforcement shown to be both latent across the field’s postwar institutional memory and emergent as the field continues to translate its identity in confronting new external pressures. By considering narrative performances of boundary problems as sites of institutional memory in their own right, the final analysis reveals how the preoccupation with the effects of the Nazi era is in fact only one of several possible, concurrent translations of a centuries-old anxiety over the field’s legitimacy as an independent and institutionalized scientific discipline.



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