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Claudia Ulbrich




- Abschlusstagung der DFG-Forschergruppe Selbstzeugnisse in transkultureller Perspektive -

„Selbstzeugnis und Person – transkulturelle Perspektiven“

Berlin 24. – 26. März 2010, Harnack-Haus in Berlin Dahlem



Research Group 530 of the German Research Foundation (DFG)

"Self-Narratives in Transcultural Perspective"

Department of History and Cultural Studies at the Free University in Berlin

The common focus of this DFG Research Group is written "self-narratives," i. e., writings about the author's own life that hold to specific narrative conventions. Scholars have long held “autobiography” to be a specifically western genre, and have long associated it with specifically western conceptualizations of "individuality" or of a "universal" abstract self. Such formulations tend to cast the process of modernization as the emergence of the autonomous individual on the one hand and of market capitalism on the other. Contemporary scholarship, which interprets autobiographies as self-narratives and evaluates them in the light of new questions and new methodologies, has exposed the inadequacy of these specifically western notions. As a result, the historical study of self-narratives has developed a series of new approaches to these source materials that take as their analytical focus the writing subject as active agent in the context of her or his own social and cultural relations. In specific reference to non-European cultures, the study of self-narratives remains in an early phase but is rapidly gaining significance. This research group combines the efforts of scholars from a variety of disciplines, whose studies move beyond Europe to include the Middle East and Far East, among others, not only to further the current study of self-narratives but also to develop new approaches to them.

The objective of this research group is the thematization of the "self-narrated life" in a variety of cultures, a variety of periods, a variety of regions, and a variety of contexts. By setting the autobiographical writings in the context of the writers’ social relations, it is possible to understand them as social and cultural praxis. Such research should dissolve the established notion-particularly celebrated in the West but applied frequently to other cultures-that the developments of individuality and of autobiography are closely connected and mutually dependent. This misconception should yield to an open engagement with the specific concept of the "person" as formulated in each self-narrative.

In its encounter with western concepts of individuality, the research group will contribute to the larger debates concerning the leitmotivs of classical modernization theory. From an analysis of self-narratives and the "persons" they portray in terms of social and cultural praxis will emerge important contributions to the contemporary discussion of "multiple modernities."

For information about our projects and the individual members of the research group please visit our website