Hybridity, a cultural and scientific model for the future

Yvonne Spielmann, Hybridkultur, Berlin 2010

A brief summary and a few theories for the Digital Humanities

Hybrid culture correlates and fuses elements from different media, cultural contexts and discourses. The decisive factor here: Networks change the direction and speed of communication and information. They allow the creation of a public sphere simultaneously anywhere (to that, see my posts about the question of place and time in the Digital Humanities). What criteria should be used to identify and evaluate the medial construction of reality in its constant variability?

The pluralization of cultural practices becomes even more complex because inconsistent or even contradictory processes are linked. This mixing, this hybrid fusion of real and virtual elements creates new artificial worlds in cyberspace. Such human-machine-interactions require an extended critique of knowledge (see my remarks on the book of Mercedes Bunz to that).

Of particular interest in this mixture is the fact that the alien is not culturally adapted (anymore), but that its being different is emphasized. The culture is a hybrid field of plural possibilities, complex overlays. This contrasts with the computer technology with its trend towards ever closer standards and its trend to keep repeating the same mechanically: “In the real world, it is impossible to make the same object. But in the data space, it is easy. Just make a copy and it’s totally the same”, the Japanese artist Masaki Fujihata says.

At the interfaces of virtual and interactive applications, network-like states of co-authorship are something new. They are hybrid, because they circulate non-linear, because they have no beginning and no end and because they cross hierarchies (to that, see my posts about Wolfgang Schmale and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht). The multiplication of personal profiles in the Internet communication is an example for the manifestation of inconsistency as a feature of hybrid cultures. Intermediate areas are created where different influences coexist and the confrontation with difference and diversity is reflected. There are opportunities for the dissolution of dominant, solidified cultural forms. Hybridity thus leads to the displacement and liquefaction of borders, the modulation of productive differences towards pluralism and ambiguity.

Globalization creates a situation in which the dominated cultural context can be detached by diversity. Stuart Hall wants to replace the Western strategy with a productive difference and alignment of production and consumption. There will be no leading media anymore, but a network of information that is evaluated by the recipient. Thus, the (Western) author model is leveled in favor of mixed forms of communal creativity. Hybridity is essentially a relationship of ambivalence, then.

The analysis of hybrid cultures must be concentrated on the location from where it is led. The global networking requires a localization of discussion and experience. Categories of self and others are to be called into question. The absence of knowledge on the foreign will serve as a prerequisite for a dialogue with the stranger. This dialogue model recognizes hybridity as a cultural model of the present and, one must add, to the future. In the Cultural Studies one speaks of in-between-zones. Nestor Garcia Canclini explains hybridization using three processes: “The mixing of collections that used to organize cultural systems, the deterritorialization of symbolic processes, and the expansion of impure genres”.

Hybridization, the mixing of media and cultural practices, establishes a global mass culture, which acts through ethnic and structural differences. To understand these processes, the networks must be analyzed that reshape production, distribution and communication on a global scale. Nation states erode, public issues are shifted to the private. Central authorities and responsibilities disintegrate. Decentralization abolishes periphery ( about that, please see my posts to Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida). A discursive bridge between a media-critical structural analysis and identity-critical approaches to cultural studies should help to come to terms with this. The bridge leads from the place where the concept of a culture is reflected to specific locations with their production and thought horizons (and back again).

Positive hybridization is thus the difference and its placement in a Sowohl-als-Auch. It creates temporary global forums and is becoming the difference-technology for intermediality. Here, technical and aesthetic phenomena are closely related (see my remarks on the interesting book of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to that). Thus, cultural contacts are located in a third space outside time. The result is an extra-territorial, hybrid place for creativity.

x x x

So far, a short summary of some statements of Yvonne Spielmann, Dean of Faculty of Fine Arts in Singapore, in her book, which are of importance for the Digital Humanities. So, what role plays hybridity essentialy in the humanities? Here, three theses to this:

  • Networks allow the production of a public sphere simultaneously in every place. The result is an extra-territorial, hybrid place for works in the humanities.
  • Hybridity correlates elements from different scientific and cultural contexts and discourses. The blurring of practices deconstructs existing science cultures. Does this mean that a new global science culture is going to be established? This is not quite clear and has to be examined.
  • The past is renewed, liquefied in a contingent space in-between that controls the appearance of the presence. This creates an ambiguity between past and present (please see my post on Niklas Luhmann and his system-analytic concept of time to this). This extension of the present is the real challenge for the future historiography (see my review to the book of Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Unsere breite Gegenwart, to that). It seems that we have a totally open situation, here.

It is, of course, to work on these theories. Here, just a first, very preliminary conclusion: If you follow Yvonne Spielmann – and others –, hybridity permeates culture, art and science globaly, thus, creating a new world scale.


Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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  1. Pingback: Digitization is not research: Theories and practices in the Digital Humanities | We think History

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