Aims

An International and Interdisciplinary Research Project

1. Description

In the face of some of the most severe national and global challenges that many societies are facing, including accelerated technological change and political uncertainty, the notion of anxiety provides a powerful conceptual framework to understand how individuals and communities are transformed by these challenges and learn to cope with them. The threats – both real and perceived – of terrorism, migration, climate change, health risks, financial crisis, political turmoil, and other disturbances of our social orders are all part of this picture. The contours of our public debates are increasingly determined by deeply felt anxieties and uncertainties about all of these issues. We are witnessing a time during which leaders or thinkers are no longer afforded the cultural and moral authority to offer leadership and acceptable remedies to address such urgent problems, or at least to lay out the goals people might embrace and prepared to strive toward achieving. Rather, national governments today, which are based on majorities, often reveal to be less visionary than populist; others, formally democratic, are the mirror of social dissension and can hardly generate majorities, let alone consensus. Humanists, like philosophers, anthropologists and sociologists, it would appear, are no longer able to frame suitable future-oriented explanations for our world’s crucial changes, which Ulrich Beck, in his latest, posthumously published work, has called a “metamorphosis of the world.” In such a drastically changing world, strong feelings of insecurity and very often fear are becoming characteristic for many individual lives, and as a consequence many people are experiencing (and often suffering) various forms and degrees of anxiety as associated disorders.

The interdisciplinary research project “Discursive (De)Construction of Anxiety Culture” (DCAC) focuses on a broad linguistic and sociological notion of discourse that includes spoken and written words as well as social acting, according to a broadly conceived, integrative definition of discourse. This potentially significant research focus embraces any number of scholarly and scientific disciplines whose representatives commonly agree that a collaborative research effort on the reality and effects of anxiety in our societies could yield important benefits. Rather than providing simplistic answers, the project aims at providing an explanatory framework for a number of relevant topics with the humanities as its core link.

2. The institutional framework

The Anxiety Culture Research Project was being conceived since 2015 in a process of long term collaboration between the School of Humanities (Philosophische Fakultät) of Kiel University, Germany, the German Leibniz-Institute for Science and Mathematics Education, attached to Kiel University, and Teachers College of Columbia University in NYC, under the direction of Professor Ulrich Hoinkes, Kiel University, and Professor John Allegrante, Columbia University. In July 2017, the desire to strengthen the Anxiety Culture Research Project by further collaborative activities was formally documented in a Memorandum of Understanding between the named German and the American Institutions. In fall 2017, the project got important infrastructural support by being hosted as a continuous program line of the Council of European Studies (CES) at Columbia University, in collaboration with The Alliance Program and the newly founded Institute of Ideas and Innovation at Columbia Global Center Paris. Furthermore, it has broadened its European connections by a collaborative agreement with Eucor- The European Campus, which is a partnership organization of five universities in Germany, Switzerland and France, running a Liaison Office in NYC.

3. The research concept

The DCAC Project is essentially built up on a common research interest that focuses on the widely spread social and individual phenomenon of anxiety from different angles in its relevance for personal and public awareness as well as social moods and action schemes related to the great problems facing our world’s civilization. In its first intent to connect to ongoing research in the different fields of scientific expertise, the DCAC project is so far committed to investigative efforts on climate, health, migration, politics and terrorism, but still remains open to more relevant topics. The project’s philosophy in its initial phase is not fostering completely new approaches to research in the relevant fields, but inviting experts to direct their ongoing and planned research work towards the Anxiety Culture perspective, thus opening new ways of interdisciplinary oriented investigation, especially in collaboration with experts in the humanities. The experiences of collaborative interest made in a series of academic events in the first years of the project’s existence have been very encouraging. Colleagues from totally different areas of sciences and research reveal to be highly interested and are willing to give their contribution to the Anxiety Culture project on the basis of their own methodology and collected data- sets. In a number of think tanks on possible joint ventures and component projects, it turned out that besides discourse analysis, some more methodologically relevant issues are arousing common research interest within the project, among them topics related to sustainability, digitalization and its new conditions of communication, free speech and securitization. All these key terms clearly point out that the DCAC concept is not meant to be hermetically sealed to the world of science, but comprehends its research effort as strongly committed to social engagement in order to overcome the negative implications of Anxiety Culture in our days.

4. Impacts

One of the main challenges of anxiety culture is to promote learning processes that allow the public to appropriately respond to threats and dangers, perceived or real. This requires a thorough reflection of the individual on the discursive patterns and the engagement with them. Higher education institutions are—by definition—socially engaged entities, tasked with shaping the minds and future careers of its students. Nevertheless, classic models of pedagogy entail that classrooms are often quite cut off from the very social issues they purport to address. This is certainly the case with regard to sociology and issues of international security, where “hands-on” access is decidedly difficult, thus often insulating the classroom from outside engagement. The Anxiety Culture Project is committed to developing a new pedagogical approach by building on the collaborative, interdisciplinary, socially-engaged model of pedagogy. The close cooperation with research partners from Teachers College, one of the worldwide leading institutions in educational research, will serve as ideal basis for this approach.

5. Dissemination

The Project will explore more fully the opportunities made possible by the digital humanities and, here specifically, EuropeNow, a global publication platform. EuropeNow is the first and only online journal to give equal weight to research, criticism, and journalism alongside literary nonfiction, fiction, poetry, translations, and visual art from or concerning Europe via a comparative lens. Several special issues of EuropeNow will provide utterly unique, kaleidoscopic understandings of the many aspects of the Anxiety Culture Project by furnishing artistic critique with academic rigor. With more than 100,000 readers per month, the platform will also provide global visibility to the various topics. Research would be ongoing as part of EuropeNow’s funded research section. Further, socially-engaged models of pedagogy would be disseminated via EuropeNow Campus, which is designed to highlight innovative campus projects and would serve as a knowledge tool for the digital classroom. Going forward, EuropeNow could become the overarching publication umbrella for the Anxiety Culture Project to immediately inform an interdisciplinary educated and global readership. It would also connect the global classroom, thereby enhancing teaching and pedagogy, as well as collaborative interdisciplinary research within the institution and beyond by linking symmetrical and asymmetrical research partners.
Apart from the digital realm, the project would also gain further visibility via workshops and conferences on the social implications of Anxiety Culture. The Project would start out with a workshop at Columbia University, convened by CES and Alliance, in collaboration with Teachers College and Eucor, followed by a lecture series at Kiel University in summer semester 2018 and a larger conference at the Columbia Global Center|Paris in autumn 2018. Some basic contributions to these events shall be summed up in 2019 in a programmatic print publication on the project. A number of smaller seminars could also unfold at the various Alliance Program institutional partner campuses over the next two years. The Project would also take advantage of CES’ annual International Conference of Europeanists.

Apart from the digital realm, the project would also gain further visibility via workshops and conferences on the social implications of Anxiety Culture. The Project would start out with a workshop at Columbia University, convened by CES and Alliance, in collaboration with Teachers College and Eucor, followed by a lecture series at Kiel University in summer semester 2018 and a larger conference at the Columbia Global Center|Paris in autumn 2018. Some basic contributions to these events shall be summed up in 2019 in a programmatic print publication on the project. A number of smaller seminars could also unfold at the various Alliance Program institutional partner campuses over the next two years. The Project would also take advantage of CES’ annual International Conference of Europeanists.

Ulrich Hoinkes, Center on Humanities in Education, Kiel University, Germany
John Allegrante, Teachers College, Columbia University
Nicole Shea, Council of European Studies (CES), Columbia University
Emmanuel Kattan, Alliance-Program, Columbia University
Markus Lemmens, “eucor-The European Campus” Liaison Office North America

New York, January 2018