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Collaborative Research Centre 1285 "Invectivity. Constellations and Dynamics of disparagement"

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Invectivity. Constellations and Dynamics of disparagement

Summary of the Research Program

Phenomena of vituperation and disparagement, of humiliation and derision not only have an astonishing occurrence in contemporary politics and society; from a cross-cultural, epoch-spanning perspective, they present themselves as fundamental operations of societal communication. As moments of social dis­rup­tion, stabilization, and mobilization, they harbor the potential to build communities and shape socie­ties; their work is simultaneously destructive and productive.

Our joint research project introduces the concept ‘invectivity’ as an umbrella term for such phenomena. ‘Invectivity’ denotes those aspects of (verbal and nonverbal, oral and written, gestural and pictorial) com­munication that are capable of degrading, offending or excluding others. The invective – understood as the actualizing mode of invectivity – manifests itself and does not so much as unfold its functions in a rigidly patterned manner but rather in medially, politically, socially, and aesthetically complex, historically variable constellations. Manifestations and functions of the invective thus need to be approached as per­for­mative processes, as relational webs of attributions, resonances, and follow-up communications, as framed by their social, discursive, and medial enabling conditions. All levels of the social are codetermined by the productive moments of destructive communication – they are either generated or dissolved, at least condensed or energized by them.

With the concept of invectivity, the proposed Collaborative Research Center aims to develop a new per­­spective in cultural research in order to make apparent, across its individual contexts, the pre­con­ditions and effects of degrading-destructive communication. Its short- and medium-term goal is a com­pa­rative analysis of constellations and dynamics of the invective, its medium- and long-term goal a theory of invectivity. A broad spectrum of studies, ranging from antiquity to the present, will provide the em­pirical basis for an analysis of invectivity’s complex constellations. They are meant to collect the different mani­festations and potency of invectivity – from the constitution of temporary groups over the (de-)formation of social orders to epochal breaks. On this basis, the social functions and cultural forms of invectivity are rendered visible, describable, and comparable.

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