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Presence and Tacit Knowledge

Heike Paul, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg

The research agenda of the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program “Presence and Tacit Knowledge” funded by the German Research Foundation (2012 - ) can be characterized by two basic tenets. First, we seek to broaden international scholarly debates on temporal and spatial presence by moving beyond the confines of a European history of ideas and beyond an exclusive focus on aesthetic discourses. We hold that phenomena of presence are not only relevant in/for different functional areas of society but also culturally specific. Therefore, we adopt a comparative approach in order to examine forms and discourses of presence across time and in different cultural and social contexts. Second, we propose a relationship of interdependency between phenomena of presence and forms of tacit knowledge. We conceive of this relationship as encompassing processes of ‘presentification’ (presence as explication of tacit knowledge) and – in turn – processes of sedimentation and modes of embodiment (presence registering as and turning into an implicit understanding). Implicit knowledge is described and analyzed as a kind of Schattenwissen that may exist subliminally and that often cannot be fully explicated. Drawing on theories in the field of cultural studies and social sciences (by, among others, Michael Polanyi, Pierre Bourdieu, Raymond Williams, Harry Collins, Alexis Shotwell, Lauren Berlant, and Diana Taylor), our program engages in systematic theoretical reflections on both concepts, “presence” and “tacit knowledge,” as well as in more concrete case studies of our paradigm in the cultures and societies of North America, China, Europe, Latin America, India, and the Middle East. American Studies dissertation projects as part of the doctoral program include a study of US ruin photography and memorial culture (S. Koehler; advisor: Prof. Dr. Antje Kley), an analysis of aging, whiteness, and masculinity in contemporary American fiction (S. Koetzing), and an investigation of contemporary evangelical popular culture and its (gendered) discourses of presence (M. Sauter). A postdoctoral project (Habilitation) addresses the politics of sisterhood in US-American Culture (K. Gerund).

In my own work I am concerned, more specifically, with 1. presence as/and alterity in the context of phenomenological philosophy, 2. tacit knowledge and ideology (in discourses of myth, civil religion, and public feeling), and 3. tacit knowledge as ‘everyday gothic’ in literature, art, and popular culture.

John F. Kennedy Institute