Muse im Frommannschen Garten

Volkskunde (Cultural Anthropology)

Muse im Frommannschen Garten
Image: JF

What is Volkskunde (Cultural Anthropology)?

The decipline of Volkskunde (also called Cultural Anthropology and Cultural Studies) is a small, modern academic discipline with great scope and concern: it is the systematic study of the comlexity of human life. It sets itself apart by it’s unique definition of "culture". While other academic disciplines restrict their understanding of "culture" to art or high culture, our open concept of culture encompasses all relations in human life - the "whole way of life" as Raymond Williamsput it. It’s broad foucus enables us to look at the whole world of human imaginings that form the foundations upon which people live together and organize their existence. In short, an ethnological concept of culture combines hamburgers and faith, homeland and strangers, youth cultures and traditions. At the center of the subject culture therefore is the multitude of answers that people find to cope with and give meaning to their lives. Cultural Anthropology explores cultural processes - foreign and familiar, global and local, well-known and marginal. The focus of Cultural Anthropology as understood by us, is therefore on an open concept of culture, centered on everyday life itself, human mindsets, experiences, and forms of human life.

Nimm, was Du brauchst! Nimm, was Du brauchst! Image: FSR VKKG

In contrast to the popular and often populist notions of identity and culture as essential and fixed, our aim is to understand that culture as a whole is man-made, thus socially constructed and hereby open to change, process and the dynamics of life. Tzvetan Todorov captured the essence of culture much more appropriately by describing it as an "alluvial plain". Culture is man-made, and thus changeable, but always ambivalent between perseverance and dynamism, freedom and constraint, authority and innovation. Every human being is born into a culture that they cannot choose; but they can deal with it, shape it and change it. As a task of Cultural Anthropology, Clifford Geertz has identified a challenge that is enriching in every way and constantly relativises one’s self, namely "to make us acquainted with the answers other people (...) have found, and to record these answers in the archive of human forms of expression that is accessible to everyone".

Such an understanding of "Volkskunde" as a transdisciplinary discipline endows it with invigorating points of contact and productive proximity to other human sciences such as sociology, history, psychology, art history, philological studies, media sciences, and many others. The fields of our research also reflect this: differing modes and ways of life (homes, clothing, eating, etc.), human-nature relations, everyday life and festivities/rituals, the alien and the familiar, cultural identities in complex societies, genders, generations, kinship, society, faith and superstition, material culture, rural and urban cultures, historical anthropology, etc.

Tauben füttern Tauben füttern Image: FSR VKKG

Thus, the scientific focus here is mostly on specific living environments, experiences and the everyday life of people. Therefore, "Volkskunde" / Cultural Anthropology is predominantly based on qualitative ethnographical methods that allow proximity to the field - participant observation (field research), interviews, historical craftsmanship, as well as hermeneutic methods of image and object analysis.

Friedemann Schmoll, Univ.-Prof. Dr
Prof. Dr. Friedemann Schmoll
Room 312
Zwätzengasse 3
07743 Jena