Issue 1 - Spring 2016

Emergence/Emergency

Issue 1 (Spring 2016) of On_Culture: The Open Journal for the Study of Culture on the entanglement of the concepts Emergence and Emergency.

Editorial

We, the Editorial Board of On_Culture: The Open Journal for the Study of Culture, are proud to present this pilot issue and thereby launch an exciting new publication platform at the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC) in Giessen. This e-journal supplements the Centre’s existing publishing program, consisting of the book series Concepts for the Study of Culture (de Gruyter), Giessen Contributions to the Study of Culture (WVT Trier), the series English Literary and Cultural History (WVT Trier), and the online book-review platform KULT_Online.

Emergent Emergencies in Complex Ecosystems

Reflections on the Limits of Narrative Cognition and a Revisiting of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (1990)

Abstract

This article argues that ‘emergent emergencies’ in complex natural systems or ‘ecosystems’ can be understood as the ethical consequences of cognitive failure or “epistemological error” (Gregory Bateson). More specifically, I hold that complex systems display emergent behaviors, and that narrative cognition — our human default way of making sense of the world — is not particularly well suited for understanding emergence. Building on previous narratological work on the incompatibility of narrative and emergence (H. Porter Abbott, Richard Walsh), I argue further that narrative thinking and complex systems are each characterized by distinct types of ‘agency,’ or ways of conceptualizing agency. In its second half, the essay turns to Michael Crichton’s classic Jurassic Park (1990), reading the novel as a fictional thought experiment which not only simulates an emergency situation, but also explores the reasons for the collapsing of the control system in the fictional theme park from the vantage of chaos theory. It will be shown that the emergent emergency staged in the novel is the result of cognitive failure on the part of the park managers, who are misled by a ‘narrative of centralized control’ (Abbott) in their attempts to control the park and a reductionist conceptualization of ‘life.’ Such reductionist approaches to life are contrasted with ecological frameworks in this article.

Sarah Kane’s World of Depression

The Emergence and Experience of Mental Illness in 4.48 Psychosis

Abstract

Fictional narratives of mental illnesses often focus on individual experiences of pain, anxiety and suffering. As such, narratives depict the experiences of illness in a holistic way, revealing the embodied, situated and intersubjective — in other words, emergent — nature of psychiatric disorders. They are thus able to create a different kind of understanding of mental disorders than medicalizing strands of psychiatry that tend to reduce mental illnesses to biological dysfunctions of the brain and the nervous system and thus ignore how disorders straddle the brain, the body and the environment.

In this article, I discuss how the experiential world of depression is constructed and conceived of in Sarah Kane’s play 4.48 Psychosis. Kane’s depiction of severe, psychotic depression is in line with phenomenological accounts of the illness, in which depression is understood as an emergent phenomenon that gives rise to alterations in the embodied being-in-the-world of the subject. The text refers to common cognitive-affective experiences and folk-psychological understandings of the mind and employs different intertextual, narrative and poetic strategies to convey the phenomenal world of depression to its readers. In addition, Kane emphasizes that to treat depression a deeper understanding of this ‘state of emergency’ is needed than what medicalizing psychiatry is able to provide.

Emergency in Protest

Young People’s Politics in the Gezi Protests

Abstract

Protests often indicate social states of emergency. Protesters no longer agree with the existing situation and the way their lives are regulated; therefore, they demand immediate change. The Gezi protests, in which people from various social, political, and class backgrounds went to the streets to voice their dissent, certainly reflected a state of emergency in Turkey. Young people, often referred to as members of the country’s post-1980 apolitical generation within public discourse, unexpectedly gathered on the streets and acted as the frontrunners of this mass movement. What is more, their way of protesting through creative performances and humor effectively increased their visibility. Drawing upon the concept of emergency, and guided by a cultural performative approach, this article focuses on young people’s experiences of protest. It is a study of the reasons and meanings behind young people’s participation in the protests, as well as of values such as trust, solidarity, and collectivity upon which their action was grounded. My findings are based on qualitative field research, i. e., in-depth interviews conducted with young participants of the Gezi protests in İstanbul. The investigation is driven by the questions of how young people describe the notion of the political in relation to trust, solidarity, and collectivity, and how these diverse ways of describing the political through practices foreshadow a new understanding of the political, which gained momentum from the state of emergency of the Gezi protests.

Schools under Fire?

School Shootings and the Construction of a Cultural Discourse of Emergency

Abstract

Contrary to popular belief, rampage violence at suburban and rural schools occurred before the infamous Columbine High School shooting in April 1999. While school shootings — before Columbine gained international media attention — were treated as a local rather than a national or even international problem, they are now seen as an emergent phenomenon that has to be addressed with appropriate urgency.

In this paper, I want to examine whether school shootings are in fact increasing and address the medial construction of the discourse of emergency that has evolved around these acts of excessive violence. I argue that the public perception of school shootings is inseparably intertwined with the media dynamics in the aftermath of these incidents. In these discursive dynamics, I argue, it can be seen that these acts of violence lay open society’s underlying fears. School shootings, as this paper shows, are closely linked to contemporary media logic and can be understood as examples of the contemporary dynamics of cultural discourses of emergency.

The Trouble With Emergence

I have grown suspicious of the word emergence and the concepts it designates. More often than not, the term seems to serve as a deus ex machina whenever other models or theories cannot account for a certain new aspect or object. Emergence is then used as though it were based on a concept or a theory, when all the term does is label something as complex, unpredictable, and only comprehensible after the fact. It is my contention that, particularly in the study of culture, we need to carefully scrutinize the ways in which we use emergence and recheck them for their actual analytical and/or heuristic benefit.