Strategic project

Dynamics of Cultural Transit: Portugal and the English-Speaking World - Discourses and Representations (a research rationale)

1. Our cultural territory - a starting point:

The current project marks a significant step forward in the research designs pursued by CETAPS. It does so, however, without being untrue to the Centre's research record, in which it seeks an enabling ballast. As suggested by its title, CETAPS has its dominant disciplinary domain in the field of English Studies, as understood and practised internationally - but inflects it with the Centre's active awareness of the responsibilities and expectations that arise from its location, from its cultural and linguistic circumstance in Portugal. Indeed, CETAPS has engaged from the outset in research that focuses on the particular insights that a Portuguese 'place of reading' affords on the Anglophone world - on its overwhelming linguistic medium, its pervasive cultural conformations, its massively influential literary output.

This also entails that the Centre's remit has increasingly become more than the tale of two nations suggested by the hyphenated formula that closes its title - and it has benefited from concerns that have prevailed in the intellectual environment of the Humanities since the closing decades of the twentieth century. These have included a rather emphatic querying of the concept of the nation, challenged as it has been by a critique of its political configuration (Anderson 1991), of its ideological validity (Bhabha 1990) or even of its historical veracity (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983). This critique has also been reflected in the increasingly reduced conceptual operativeness of the 'nation' towards a delineation of enabling frameworks for cultural and literary studies. If one takes Europe as a case in point, the uncertainties that have beset the concept and its productivity have hardly helped towards a delineation of identity traits that can confer a consistency upon the Union stronger than the starkly material definition of an economic community. These perceptions largely underlie CETAPS's plans for a new stage in its development.

2. Our intellectual bearings - footholds for a new departure:

The research programme to be described in detail below is firmly predicated on notions of community and identity. The possibility of thinking a community such as Europe as a postnational state (Ricoeur 1996), or the basis for a transnational identity, is bound today to an identification of commonalities that can still be recognised within the imaginative, artistic and affective range of a cultural Europe (Fornäs 2012). Against the background provided by those new forms of conflict that, in the contemporary world, have awakened the ghosts fostered by national narratives, there is a strong case to be made for rethinking intercultural mediations on the basis of a principle of hospitality (Ricoeur 1996). Indeed, the specters of autarky and cultural enclosure can be arguably best exorcised by promoting an acknowledgement of the mediations, encounters and shared traits that can support a postnational sense of identity. And this should entail, for researchers in the Humanities, a sustained inquiry into the discursive trajectories that, in the closely imbricated domains of textuality, the arts, and dominant cultural and intellectual apparatuses, still provide the bedrock for a common sense of humanity (underlying some of the currently all too visible disaffections).

Some of the enabling concepts for such an inquiry can be found at the very centre of debates that have energised the intellectual environment of the humanities and social sciences over the past two decades. They include the constructivist notion that perceptions of space and place (without which identities cannot find 'a local habitation and a name') arise not from 'essential' features, but rather from processes that are both discursive and relational. A non-static understanding of the making of place and identity also converges with views on the concept and realities of nationhood, and its arguable historical transformation into 'postnationality'. One finds the proponents of such views envisaging the political possibility of 'a postnational model of interdependence', and characterising 'the postmodern critique of power' as contemplating 'a community where identity is part of a permanent process of narrative retelling', predicated on the 'reminder that every citizen's story is related to every other's' (Kearney 1997: 62-3). This involves both an analysis of current conditions and a speculative glimpse into an imminent future, but scholars of national images have long argued that identity and location depend on relations and representations, rather than intrinsic features: 'national characterizations take place in a polarity between self and Other (...) [the relation] between "auto-image" and "hetero-image" tends to show invariant dynamics in various different national and cross-cultural confrontations' (Leerssen 2000: 271).

A programme for research predicated on the conceptual apparatus sketched above could hardly find a more adequate basis than that of a research team specialised in interrogating the cultures of the global language from a European periphery (Portugal) the history of which is closely and challengingly connected to the primary culture of that language. The current project offers a novel approach to the team's disciplinary range, and a significant extension of its remit, by addressing the objects of inquiry identified below.