Aims and Scope

‘America’ has so often been, and continues to be for new generations of young people, a signifier: part of a discourse that performs cultural work that is simultaneously highly personal and political. Albeit in changing ways, it continues to enable people to construct their (European, German, Ukrainian) identities through perceived differences, both real and imaginary, between the local, regional and national, and ‘global’ levels of their own lived cultures. In our project we want to investigate how, by whom, and to what purposes and effects ‘American’ texts/products/practices have been appropriated and transferred to local contexts and how the significance of place, especially of the national kind, has changed in the process. Historically, the mediation of ‘American’ cultural practices in film, TV, newspapers, music, and literature has helped create transnational identifications such as those based on youth (e.g. the concept of the ‘teenager’), gender (e.g. ‘Marlboro’ masculinity, feminist and ‘post-feminist’ femininities), or subcultures (counterculture, hip-hop culture), and it has promoted transformations in concepts of mobility and space (e.g. suburbia, shopping malls), which have provided cross-national threads for European self-identification. The question that arises in the 21st century is: Does the dialogue with America still play a vital role in the production of a ‘European’ identity? What specific role does the flexibility and adaptability of the signifier ‘American’ play in this intermediary function of American culture? What role does the English language play in this process?

To investigate these questions, we are seeking contributions that utilize various methods and theories of cultural studies, analyzing the conjunction between the appeal and rejection of ‘American culture’ and the explicit marking of cultural products and processes as ‘American’ vs. its diverse implicit, unmarked understandings as, for example, ‘consumerist’ or ‘modern.’ We seek to combine an innovative theoretical and methodological framework with empirical ethnographic research, transcending the binary view of Americanization as either a form of cultural imperialism or a form of active cultural appropriation. Together we will build on the methods of cultural studies and translation studies, applying theories of cultural transfer, media theories (e.g. Hebdige and Fiske), postcolonial theories (e.g. Bhabha), cultural anthropology (such as de Certeau’s theories of everyday life), and theories of globalization. The conference will examine the potential and the limits of American culture as a third term that is capable of ‘othering’ both national and European traditions (for identification or dis-identification) and can therefore serve to reconstruct and to transgress national cultural identities. The signifier ‘American’ is seen as fluid, dynamic, and polysemic, performatively constituted at the various conjunctions between the appeal and rejection of ‘American culture.’ We will use textual and translational methodologies to explore in which ways the term ‘American’ performs important cultural work in a variety of text and multimodal formats, i.e. film and DVD subtitling, re-speaking and audiodescription.