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Circulations of Theory: Topics, Processes, and Histories of a Globalised Form of Writing (2023-)

Since the 1960s, the term 'theory' has been used to refer to "an unbounded group of writings about everything under the sun" (Jonathan Culler) that employ the perspective and methodological toolkit of the humanities and cultural studies to engage with a broad range of fundamental issues.A list of prominent authors in the field includes, among many others, Roland Barthes, Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Achille Mbembe, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, whose oeuvres tend to be characterised by an interdisciplinary approach and/or transdisciplinary appeal, explanatory potential with regard to the 'problem areas' of various academic disciplines and/or the wider intellectual and artistic public, as well as more or less idiosyncratic forms of writing. Even if some of the works in question are not directly concerned with language, writing,and texts, they have nonetheless exerted a profound influence on literary studies to the point where they have become part of the canon of literary theory.

The project picks up on the dynamics and mobility of 'theory' and investigates its transfers, transmissions and circulations. At the heart of inquiry lie processes of intercontinental exchange and the global dimension of interactions in the theoretical field. The project’s main hypothesis is that the success of 'theory' since the 1960s is due in large part to the transcontinental circulation of texts, persons and ideas (an issue that has received only marginal scholarly attention), as well as to the emergence of dynamic and constantly evolving epistemological communities on a planetary level.

Five areas of research appear to be particularly promising in this regard: (1) the spatial dislocation of persons and texts through travel, migration, exile and long-distance reception; (2) the politics of translation, in the course of which individual gatekeepers, cultural institutions and publishing houses are crucial actors; (3) global/planetary topics such as (post-)colonialism and climate change that cause shifts in the theoretical fabric; (4) (g)local constellations that exemplify global dynamics in condensed form; and (5) the way in which the multilateral circulation of ideas and concepts (as opposed to the simplistic notion of unilateral transmission) is inextricably linked to certain styles and forms of writing.


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