Jens Wietschorke

The politics and poetics of cultural cleavage

Notes on a narrative


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Cosmopolitans versus communitarians, liberal elites versus globalization losers: Diagnoses of a fundamental cultural division of society are circulating en masse. This article discusses some implications of current narratives of division based on the example of the German debate but also with references from France, Great Britain and the United States, and it formulates a criticism of all too simple patterns of interpretation. It shows that the assertion of a dichotomically structured cultural cleavage plays, not least, into the hands of the right-wing populist discourse, whose core narrative is the juxtaposition of ‘elites’ and ‘the people.’ In a second step, the narrative of the cultural cleavage is historicized: Using the example the of the formative phase of scientific folklore studies in the second half of the 19th century, it becomes clear that diagnoses of division always fulfil certain functions within the cultural and scientific field. Finally, the article also states an increased need for cultural studies research in a field of discourse in which social problematic situations and political conflicts are time and again interpreted in cultural terms.

cultural cleavage, social inequality, right-wing populism, globalization, anti-elitism, folklore studies