Identity and Educational Possibilities in Humanistic Studies
This paper intends to explain why I find there is an urgent need for
action both in reflecting on the topic of this conference as well as
in the area of pragmatic instructional practice. I wish to clarify why
we organized this conference and asked specialists from different institutes
and working areas, with different approaches to the topic, to contribute
Personally, it was important for me that my own approaches not remain
isolated but to develop or modify them in the framework of interaction
with the concepts of others. Thus the following essay is meant to form
a basis for discussion and refers therefore to cultural forms of expression
in general, of which music is a possible part.
It should first be explained to those readers who are not familiar with
the German school system that reference is made in this article to the
special situation of classroom instruction in the subject of music,
a subject that is not taught in this form in other countries. This involves
compulsory instruction for students ranging between 10 and 18 years
in age. Within the three general-education school forms of Hauptschule,
Realschule and Gymnasium, one to two hours per week of music instruction
are planned, depending on the particular school system. The ministries
of culture and/or education of each Bundesland, or state, issue teaching
plan guidelines that must be fulfilled by the music teachers, who are
usually civil servants. Because these canonized regulations are made
obligatory through a bureaucratic path that often takes several years,
teachers often feel they lack a reference to music as it is currently
played and heard. Through rigid fixation on certain contents, such regulations
do not give the teachers enough flexibility in their approaches to thematically
new developments or ways of thinking. In addition to the subject of
music, which is integrated into the canon of school subjects, there
also exists the possibility of offering elective subjects, whereby each
school is allowed only a certain quota. Such elective subjects are based
on an outdated concept of culture that is only directed toward the classical-romantic-bourgeois
dominant culture. This can be observed already in the official designations
for elective subjects, at least in Bavaria, which include "orchestra,"
"chorus," etc. But in the reality of school life, diverse
contemporary forms of youth culture are actually taken into account,
for example, in the form of rock bands, musical groups, multimedia working
groups, etc. A contradiction exists between the tendency to dismantle
culture-related subjects and the importance in scholarly and analytic
terms of culture-related behavior in reference to the construction of
the mental system of "humankind." In this paper, I propose
the thesis that this discrepancy could be largely offset by a new definition
and valuation of our concept of culture.
1. Theoretical Background
First, three hypotheses act as a starting point:
a. Contemporary conceptions in the area of musical education orientedtoward
rock, pop or the historical canon no longer include (or only to an
insufficient degree) the musical-cultural world of experience of the
pupils in today's schools. Most of these orient themselves to a large
extent toward and within dynamic cultural systems of an autopoietic
1, process-like nature. These the students use functionally
and constructively for the creation of their own everyday world and
feelings of identification.
b. Music is a structural element of a supply of elements that demarcate
identity (Grenzmarkenvorrat)2 of the morphic potential
of a culture, a potential with young persons deal in reference to
identity, that is, which is involved in the continuity of their persons
in the course of irreversible time.
c. Instructional contents and processes must take into account cultural
and relativizing pluralism and deal with the manifold differences
and processual nature of cultural forms of manifestation and expression.
These three core theses describe in condensed form my current reflections,
which have been nurtured by various sources. First I will give a short
overview of these sources before briefly outlining my current thoughts
on the concept of cultural identity,in order to then demonstrate possibilities
of behavior in instructional practice using a practical-in the meantime,
even prize-winning-example. Systematic thinking in reference to culture
emerged as one of my identities-we shall call it here the ethnomusicological
-from musicological analysis, in a narrower sense, of the liturgical
music of a minority culture in Indonesia. This particular case study
presented thefollowing lines of thinking in a highly direct manner,
as I have described in my dissertation:
1) the dynamic character of the rise of a cultural system out of a
situation of marginality, as a distinctive-limitic structure against
a dominant culture claiming complete representation,
2) the functionality of cultural expressive forms for migrants that
are above all significant for the feeling of coherence among its members,
3) the stabilization of the cultural system through cultural techniques
such as circularity of rites, canonization, training of specialists,
setting down through writing, etc., and
4) the phases of opening and transformation of cultural systems when
in contact with heterogeneous systems.
Another of my identities, we'll call it here the pedagogical one, is
found in the classroom with school pupils, whom I began to perceive
from the exotic viewpoint of an ethnomusicological eye. They did not
fit into the rock and pop stereotyped category long marked conceptually
by discourse in music education, a fact confirmed for me both acoustically
and above all verbally. I was forced to realize that the usual music
educational attempt (usual even today) to place everything that could
not be categorized as classical-romantic-bourgeois concert music culture
as rock and pop no longer was justified by the terminology used by my
students. Thus about three years ago we founded out of common interest
an Arbeitsgemeinschaft 'Jugendsubkulturen' (Working Group Youth Subcultures).
Since then, this group has enjoyed a good reception (in 1998, 25 students
participated), and it has been able to win two major supraregional prizes
in the field of multimedia. A permanent discourse has developed in this
working group, conducted through talks, discussions, later by narrative
interviews and gathering of data-thus in principle ethnomethodological
working techniques. The result was an emically substantiated systematization
of cultural systems in which teenagers between twelve and eighteen years
of age prefer to move and whose expressive forms they call upon for
the creation of their own worlds and their own identity.
In addition to coordinating the analyzing, and later also creative,
activities of the youths, my role in this team has been above all to
check our results with already existing literature and concepts. In
this way I have been able to establish a research project at the University
of Bamberg on the school context.
The results to date have supported the systematic conception of cultures.
It can also be said about youth subcultures that they are dynamic systems
whose point of origin lies in a marginal situation, e.g., in the ghetto
experience of the underprivileged in large cities or as a puberty experience,
in contrast to the cultural system experienced as dominant (the parents;
bourgeois, middle-class culture). There is an originating phase with
the buildup of a limitic structure. This concept derives from the ethnologist
Wilhelm E. Mühlmann and refers to the distinctively heightened
form of culture.3 Mühlmann defines this concept through
delimiting signs that people construct and use as delimiting markers
of cultural identity, such as tattoos, body paintings and deformations,
jewelry, clothing, texts, myths, songs and dances, etc. (Mühlmann
1985:19). First involved in the genesis of culture is a demarcation
with all senses: acoustic, optic, mental, emotional, etc. As Jan Assmann
has observed, anti-identities are thereby formed and maintained, not
against a cultureless chaos but rather against a dominating culture
(J. Assmann 1992:154).
Jan and Aleida Assmann have presented in great detail within a series
of works the fragile and dynamic structural balance of cultural systems,
as these appear after the phase of origin has been completed in a continuum
of self-maintaining continuity. Here, proven cultural techniques and
strategies of duration are applied which are necessary for the stabilization
of cultural systems and which can be recognized among all youth subcultures.
To name just a few examples, there is cyclical repetition, establishment
of circularity recurring rituals, formation of specializations for repetition
and preservation of rites, cyclical and medial presence, formation of
a canon, fixation of that canon through multimedial means, etc.
When, for various reasons, strategies of identity and continuity become
irrelevant over time, a transformation phase begins with signs of opening
up of the system4 and a readiness for syncretism resulting in transcultural
forms of manifestation. This means as well the disarming of limitic
structures and the readiness, through fusion with another, to reach
a new quality, which itself can then develop long-term strategies 4.
This chart sums up the dynamics of cultural systems (see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Three phases of cultural system dynamics as visualized by the
This point of view is confirmed for example by the theory of dynamic
systems as developed by Niklas Luhmann, as well as by the general discourse
on constructivistic ideas of autopoiese, self-reference and the dynamic
of systems. This way of thinking is also applicable to humans. Cognitive
science has long ago suggested the point of departure that man represents
such an operationally closed system that maintains itself dynamically
and behaves with reference to itself. Here the concept of identity enters
as something which, seen purely functionally, the system of humans needs
in order to push forward its autopoiese continually in reference to
itself. While the creative latitude of the biological identity of the
human system hits certain material boundaries, the morphic potential
of culture offers to its mental structural needs elements of construction
that are relevant to identity. Here we have reached a point at which
it is necessary to summarize what is understood in this context under
the concept of identity. To this end, I wish to endorse three previously
formulated definitions that in theirsoundness hardly require improvement:
1) the definition of Aleida Assmann of identity as a quality of constructive
consistence and coherence (A. Assmann 1994:14);
2) Shaftesbury's definition of identity as continuation or preservation
of the person through time (cited in A. Assmann 1994:14) and
3) Heiner Keupp's definition of identity as a project that has the
goal of creating an individually wished for, or necessary, 'sense
of identity' (Keupp 1996:402).
Summarizing all three statements together, this involves at first the
selective feeling of with-one-another-being-one that is extended over
as long a stretch of time as possible, to begin an escape from the transitoriness
of existence, to attempt to overcome fear of being swallowed up by meaninglessness.
The individual human as system, who rediscovers within the gestalt potential
of a culture acceptable constructive means for his identity, has an
autopoietic relationship to this system. This is explained by Jan Assmann
as follows: The part depends on the whole and gains his identity first
through the role that he plays in the whole, the whole however emerges
first out of the connection of the parts (J. Assmann 1992:131). If the
identity of the human system can be actively construed with help of
cultural creative means, which is suggested by my observations and experiences
with teenagers and by the statements quoted above by various other authors,
the following pedagogically relevant reflections result. The constructivistic
interpretation of culture in general and of music cultures in particular
is in essence an ethnomusicological and anthropological way of thinking.
For within the knowledge of modular, patchwork-like forms (Keupp 1996:385;
Gross 1985) of a (music-) cultural system lies the idea of the self-determined
feasibility of the own world and the own identity system (see Fig. 2).
Indeed, a particular supply of culturally given identity boundary markers
are available to the individual from the time he enters his dynamic
existence. But with the growth of the curious exploration of the levels
of reality (Keupp 1966:389), of the possibility for change of focus
... from the familiar perspective of the 'church spire' or from the
rough perspective of a 'space shuttle' lies the creative potential (M.P.
Baumann 1999:2) for an own connection and combination of multiple realities
to viable5 identity patterns (Keupp1996:389).
Fig. 2. Some cultural systems that are important in contemporary German
The ability and possibility of distinctive distance toward monocultural
centralness and the perspective of pluralcultural orientation are the
basis and result of ethnological observation and methodology. In the
individual ethnomethodological process of development, there exists
a tolerance for ambiguity anchored in empathy emerges, an ability to
open oneself up to people and situations and to develop out of the resulting
experiences a new inventory of acceptable identity patterns (Keupp 1966:402)
that again is available for the creation of the own identity process.
The changing process-like dynamic of identity, the continual scrutinizing,
the reflection on and making flexible of the own mental constructs as
a dissolving of monocultural centralness seems a possibility of orientation
in a pluralized society, whose structure consists of the interwovenness
of cultural systems with different claims to dominance. Aside from the
claim to dominance or from dominance structures founded historically,
materially or institutionally, an emancipatory claim to equality can
be seen in the functionality of cultural expressive forms as apotential
working model for the individual human being. After all, the identity-related
relevancy for the individual person always remains the same, whether
involving participation in, or constructive cooperation with, a dominant,
minority or subcultural system. The individual uses the relevant boundary
markings for his own construction of identity. The question of dominance
or marginality only emerges to the foreground when one falls back into
a monocentric position of hiding and the limitic structures are built
up to become injurious, threatening, frightening and, in the extreme
case, aggressive and destructive.
Pedagogic goals must therefore be:
1) the encouragement of individual creative abilities for the own
construction of identity, founded in the understanding of mental constructs
of identity for the autopoietic system of man.
2) The encouragement of respect for the construction of identity by
the Other, founded in the knowledge of the functioning of cultural
techniques, of the structural balance of cultural system dynamics
and of their autopoietic relationship to, and functionality for humans.
3) The encouragement of consciousness for a necessity of peaceful
coexistence of cultural systems beyond demands for dominance and feelings
of marginality, based in a global-relativized comparability of cultural
functionality, in the end as educational preparation for, and efforts
towards, the securing of world peace.
2. Multimedia Projects as Educational Possibilities in Humanistic
Studies: Project 'Identity'
a) A Report from Practical Experience
A school project based on process, with the goal of attaining a product,
will be introduced here as the pragmatic translation of the conception
established in theoretical terms above and the pedagogically relevant
considerations that result from it. This project won the national multimedia
competition in Germany called Join Multimedia, sponsored by the Siemens
company, receiving the third prize from among 833 school entries.6 Twenty-three
students worked an entire school year on a multimedia-interactive translation
of an identity concept that would be subject to various interpretive
possibilities. The working group Jugendsubkulturen (Youth Subcultures)
was creatively active in this project, a group that had already been
recognized a year before in the competition Freestyle for the design
of a homework notebook7 using modern desktop publishing means.
b) The Show Idea
This time the group designed an interactive show that presented the
search of teenagers for cultural identity, in which two contrasting
youth subcultures are introduced as they encounter the main performer
in her experiential world:
Gothic and hip hop are represented as highly contrasting cultural systems,
graphically, musically and textually.
The concept of culture is thus broken down constructivistically, and
cultural techniques are understood as a means of identity construction
that serves purely functionally to create a recursive mental Human Being
System, to maintain and preserve the autopoietic relationship to cultural
c) Contents of
The teenager Monika sees and experiences the various expressive forms
of body cultural systems gothic and hip hop in order to be able to justify
why she has decided for one or the other.
At the same time the observer and interactively connected user of the
show experiences an introduction to the specific creative potential
of both cultural systems and the generally formative power of culture.
d) Practice in Cultural Techniques as Justification for Interdisciplinary
The project can be understood above all as teamwork between the subjects
of art and music. In addition, work with and on texts comprise an important
share of this project, which would come under the school subject of
German Language. In principle, a multimedia creation of this dimension
presents a challenge to all subjects that deal with cultural technology,
such as movement art and all graphic-creative techniques such as photography,
video production, and fashion design and production. As a cultural technique
and subject matter that is not yet the object of a teaching tradition
(and thus has a still-unformed chaotic potential), computer technology
creates possibilities for teachers and students to learn from one another.
Students, together with the entire team, converted the developed ideas
and guidelines to a private computer network installed by themselves
and thereby developed clever programming ideas that caused astonishment
among the team of teachers who themselves were not inexperienced regarding
the multimedia environment.
e) Empathetic Sensitivity to Heterogeneous Cultures with Help from the
The show conveyed
glimpses into the officially perceptible scenery of both subcultural
systems, gothic and hip-hop, particularly taking up creative work of
the students in which the treatment of the representative models were
reflected. The pedagogical value thus lies above all in the extension
and trying out of various latitudes of action that open up computer
technology within the cultural area. Three stages of empathetic approach
can be distinguished:
- the subject-related reconstruction of a cultural system by ethnomethodological
- the imitation of cultural expressive forms of the limitic structure
of a system in student work following representative models and
- constructive participation in the system through the addition of new
creative forms to the supply of identity markers of a culturalsystem,
whereby here modular creations, a collage consisting of a pool of already
available alternatives or newly invented creations, could be important.
f) Glimpse into Structures of Cultural Systems
In its contents, the show encourages tolerance that can emerge when
one has learned to think in a culturally relative way, that is, not
only understanding cultural techniques as anthropologically functional
but alsoreflecting the social interlocking of culturally dominant and
subdominant systems and their power (claiming) structures. The pragmatic
usage for humans remains the same, whether this involves a cultural
system that could represent its power claims already for centuries or
a fragile subcultural system that is threatened with decline for lack
of power-effective structures.
g) The Jury Evaluation
In addition to the convincing thematic and model graphic design of the
show, the evaluation of the jury praised the courage shown that was
necessary to approach such a topic.
Programs as Projection Areas for Cultural Construction
In contrast to the more limited print media, the medium of CD-ROM and
the necessary authoring software necessary for the production of an
interactive show offer an ideal projection area for the presentation
of systems closed in space and time. The show itself is a circularly
closed unit that can convert the morphic potential of a cultural system
optically, acoustically, emotionally, mentally, motorically and-through
the interactive component in certain ways even sensorially-by multimedial
means. The creator of the show experiences in a striking way what it
means to reconstruct a cultural system. He grasps simultaneously the
system structures and relationships in a real way and thus experiences
himself as reflexive, empathetic and creative.
1 Autopoetic/autopoiese comes from the Greek, autos + poiein
= self-preservation. As structure-determined systems, we are not specifically
influenced from outside but rather react always in the sense of the
own structure (Maturana , cited in Siebert 1999:197). Living beings
continually produce themselves as autopoietic organizations (biologicalexample
= cell division) (Maturana, Varela 1996:50).
2 Grenzmarkenvorrat (supply of elements that demarcate identity)
is a supply of all things (signs, symbols, activities, ways of thinking,
patterns, etc.) that humans use to differentiate themselves from others
and to make themselves perceived. In cultural terms, this means particularly
clothing, hairstyles, body painting, jewelry, body deformations (like
piercing), patterns of movement, graphic codes, linguistic expressive
forms, and music-related activities, but also living style, eating habits,
life attitudes and habits, etc.
3 The phrase distinctive heightening here refers to the fact
that new forms of culture are always formed as counterreactions to already
existing cultures that make claims of dominance and that the authentic
participation in a cultural system often means a conscious differentiation
that is self-confident to the point of arrogance. Herein lies the conflict
potential of a cultural creed because that new potential that first
formed out of rejection of claims of dominance often becomes itself
stabilized through distinction. There exists a knife-thin, often explosive
border between the feelings of being different and being better.
4 The phenomenon of opening in the end phase of a cultural
system means particularly the fundamental openness, translucence and
also vulnerability that Max Peter Baumann describes as a chain of reaction
in the process of intercultural encounter (1999:5). From these emerge
the three possibilities of reculturation (isolation, purism, traditionalism),
integration (deculturation with loss of tradition) and transculturation
(fusion). Transculturation offers possibilities of melting and reforming
previous cultural traditions to separated, additive and completely new
5 Viable means here gangbar or working in daily life.
6 The presentation CD of the winners of the 1999 Siemens
competition can be obtained at no cost from the web address: mail: email@example.com
web site also offers information about prizes for student groups and
schools and is updated every year with the new winner-groups.
7 A homework fanzine is a prescribed notebook from schools
in which the homework for individual subjects are to be done. Since
these notebooks are usually rather ugly, the students came up with the
idea of designing them like a cultural fanzine. Four youth subcultures,
shown in surveys to be favorites of students, each received ten pages
in which they were presented. The notebook was produced for about 300
ninth and tenth graders.
8 Because the amount of memory used by the show program was
limited by the competition rules, a selection had to be made on the
amount of introduced possibilities of cultural systems. Gothic and hip
hop were selected particularly because of their aesthetically expressive
and yet opposing potentials.
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