Cultual Studies and Europe
Cultural Studies and Europe

Information Structures, Sciences, Conceptual Development

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Serious efforts are underway in the European Union at the moment to create the foundation for the information society. Two factors should be noted here: generally speaking, in Europe there is considerably less investment in technologies than there is in the United States (1) and technological aspects continue to dominate.

Difficulties in developing concepts dealing with content are closely connected to the widespread failure to date to create transnational cultural policies (2) for the EU. It is true that attempts are currently being made, under the catchword "cultural policies", in the EU to provide more financial support for cultural processes in the Union (which is certainly an important step forward), to create a shared cultural life in the Union and to establish various focal points. However, there is still only very limited scope for cross-border processes. Conceptual development, in the sense of analysis and development of models for cultural processes, has been pushed into the background, in comparison to the 70s and 80s. Thus a new cultural policy is necessary which recognises as central elements the link between work and conceptual development, and between everyday life and opportunities to influence decision-making processes.

Decisions cannot be taken without reliable sources and analyses of them. A special characteristic in Europe is that archiving of material is relatively well advanced. In comparison with India or Cameroon, the majority of European countries possess exceptional collections, which, for example, contain newspapers from Cameroon, which are not available in Cameroon itself. In fact, the problem, as has already been demonstrated by Robert Musil in his book "The Man without Qualities", is to find specific material within the masses contained in the Austrian National Library (3). But at least in contrast to Indian libraries with comparable collections, a system to locate material is at least available (not to mention new electronic aids recently introduced.)

However, the access to collections in Europe doesn't meet the requirements of cultural studies today. Their structure broadly reflects their nineteenth century origins, though there are marked differences from country to country, differences which can be seen too within countries. Two examples of organisation of national libraries will be described here. In France, the Bibliotheque Nationale was organised as a national collection in the second half of the 19th century and documented, for example, only those exchanges of letters between scientists which were written in French. In contrast, the Austrian National Library was never a national library. This was not only because, for historical reasons, materials such as papyrus scrolls, engravings, globes, photographs, books and recently electronic publications were and are collected. It also possessed no national bibliography for an extraordinarily long time. Furthermore, Austria, as did France, Germany, etc., always placed great importance on collections of the most varied aspects. This is not necessarily always the case, for example, in Switzerland, which also has first class collections (note the debate around the setting up of a literary archive in Berne).

In the 90s, new factors in structuring information have also to be taken into account. While for a long time the importance of archiving new media wasn't recognised in many countries, television archives are now being compiled which promise access to entirely new research material. Clearly, much has already been destroyed, but the daily volume of material also makes it almost impossible to archive. Electronic bibliographies of radio dramas etc. already exist, which reputedly contain for the German-speaking area alone 55,000 works. This coincides with the reorientation of politics in the interests of protecting power.

Meanwhile, other forms of communication are retreating, such as printed literature. This is not a linear process, but is also connected to work modes particularly in the scientific disciplines engaged with language and literature.

Proceeding from current information structures, we would soon see that the canonical forms are little suited to promotion of open scientific processes. But current information structures are much more likely to hinder and to predetermine scientific processes.

As a priority, mention must be made in this context of the question of access to archives. This is still in no way satisfactory in Europe. The hindrances are different from country to country. They reach from closure to destruction. This means that speaking only of the post-1945 period, there are numerous "blank spots" in the public memory which can no longer be repaired.

Turning from examples from various countries, one needs to examine methodologies and introduce the concept of "canonical selection." Developments until now have been largely dictated by the wishes of private and state donors. Then - especially since the 1960s - when new fields of research were established, the material was often no longer available. For example, one can enumerate social history, women's history, the history of peace, research into science and oral history.

Even if one assumes that there are archives in Europe which were only minimally subjected to closure, destruction and canonical selection, there is still another problem which arises from the demands of synthetical research: access to data under conditions of limited time and money.

It is true that much has improved in this respect. If one examines the expense which a scholar had to cover from his/her own resources should he/she have wished to publish medieval manuscripts in the 19th century, there are clear qualitative improvements in travel and reproduction methods in the second half of the twentieth century. Quite apart from the fact that it is not always strictly necessary to travel. One can sit at a computer in Lemberg/Lviv, in Rutschuk/Rousse, in Cracow/ Kraków and study bibliographic material from the Austrian National Library or Austrian newspapers, or even information from databases in the USA, Japan, etc. However, the information system in the Internet is by no means as well developed as one could wish. For example, the European Association of National Libraries has no search engine capable of working over a range of servers. Search engines capable of processing multilingual information with the greatest possible precision are still not available. The distribution of hardware and the status of software leave a great deal to be desired, a subject which has already been dealt with at an INST conference in 1997 in Innsbruck. (4) And it has been demonstrated that dialogue among those developing information systems, science, software and hardware is essential for the formation of effective new structures. Questions such as the construction of software, the use of symbols, security of systems, authors' rights, applications of programmes etc. affect us all, whether we are involved in the information sciences, literary studies, as providers or as librarians.

Another problematic area is the evaluation of sources.

It is clear that because of the nature of the subject matter the adequate methodology can only be transdisciplinarity, (or interdisciplinarity, as it may term itself, but which works in principle in a transdisciplinary fashion.)

It is this methodology which allows systematic processing of the complex volume of data, of which very exact accessibility via multi-server search machines would be so desirable.

But simply defining the methodology is not enough. The desired applications illustrate at the same time the necessity of transforming education, and scientific structures, communication and cooperation.

Although it is clear that there are many and varied aspects involved, one may still express the essential requirements succinctly: the importance of conceptual development in relation to today's social structures must be recognised and circumstances appropriate to this created.

(1) In Europe, 196 billion US dollars, in the US, 320 billion US dollars. Jakob Steurer: Was kommt auf den Teller? Die Presse, 29.8.1998.
(2) Cf. on cultural concepts: Cultural policies in Europe. In: http://www.spoe/ri/kulturkonferenz/index.htm
(3) Robert Musil, "Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften" (1952). Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag, p. 459f.

Cultural concepts
Language, images, number systems
Reality and Virtuality

Does Europe exist?
Information Structures
Structures of Research
Cultural Studies on the WWW
Cultural Processes
European Policies, Civil Societies
Education and Scholarship
"Culture of Peace"
Cultural Exchange
Financing Research

© INST: Research Institute for Austrian and International Literature and Cultural Studies, 1998