Evolutionism in German Volkskunde in the 20th century: Escaping the Predicament of "Volkskultur"
Elisabeth Timm (University of Münster (Germany))
Paper short abstract:
In the discipline's history, German "Volkskunde" until the 1960's usually is characterised as a nationally confined endeavour. A new analysis of the papers of ethnographer Bruno Schier (1902-1984) will critically resituate his work as a late contribution to international evolutionist anthropology.
Paper long abstract:
The rise of anthropologies that seek to identify a vernacular culture which has not been touched by theological or scholarly knowledge since ancient times is a well-known concurrent of the emergence of the modern nation state since the late 18th century. How did these nationally confined schools interact? One central expedient shared by them has been a vitalist notion of culture. Since the late 19th century, the ideal of an autochthonous epistemic object became amalgamated with evolutionist theory. One of the advocates of this concept was Bruno Schier. He began as a Sudeten German ethnographer after the First World War, made his academic career as a proponent of Volkskunde within the interdisciplinary, völkisch direction of Ostforschung in the interwar years and during the Nazi era, and continued to teach evolutionism at the University of Münster until 1970. The basis of his ideas was an extremely dynamic, even militant notion of culture. On the one hand, this enabled him (and others) to denounce and depreciate comparative, universalistic anthropological approaches that came up around 1900 CE as "international sociology" (in their view: a derogative label). On the other hand, cultural forms that have been said to be autochthonous phenomena thus could be integrated into a joint temporal frame. This paradoxical idea of a not historical but natural type of change served to overcome the deadlock of "Volkskunde" as a domestic type of knowledge and, unanimously, to mobilise "Volkskultur" as an endemic object of investigation without giving up the claim to racial superiority.
Making knowledge mobile: knowledge production and transfer in/to/across/between anthropology's actors, locations, and performances