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Research Area A: Semantics – Lexical Fields – Narratives


Focus on the Textual Articulation of Dependencies

Photo by Patrick Tomasso, unsplash

In Research Area A, we approach the phenomenon of slavery and other types of strong asymmetrical dependencies from three methodologically and theoretically distinct perspectives: (1) Semantics, (2) Lexical Fields and (3) Narratives.

(1) Semantics

Our approach to the semantics of the many different (predominantly pre-modern) languages we are interested in focuses on the word, i.e., the lexical dimension, as well as on pragmatics, in so far as meaning often turns out to be dependent on the contexts in which a word is used. We aim at identifying inventories of linguistic items (and their usage) that are pertinent to our topic at a particular time and in a specific historical (con)text.

Most of us will first adopt a synchronic approach and focus on a single text or a small set of texts. These case studies will allow us to compare different ways of conceptualizing asymmetrical dependencies linguistically. Our approach is based on the assumption that the meaning of a word can only be identified by taking its usage into consideration. Detailed analyses of key terms that are associated with the conceptualization of strong asymmetrical dependencies promise to provide new insights into the self-concept and knowledge of pre-modern societies.

(2) Lexical Fields

Our understanding of lexical fields is based on an onomasiological approach – which linguistic items are used to refer to a concept? Which words are used to express a concept? This means that the concept is a semantic unit. We are interested in single concepts such as wisdom or fear, but also in more complex semantic units like strong asymmetrical dependencies.

We consider concepts to be abstract units that are manifested in a particular language. In some cases, we can identify anthropological constants, which suggest that there are at least some universal concepts.

What provides deeper insight into the specific societies we are interested in is an analysis of the concrete expressions of concepts, which may look similar, but usually are not identical for people in different cultural contexts and language communities. A lexical field encompasses the set of linguistic items in one language that can be linked to a particular concept (e.g., wisdom) and the related conceptual network due to semantic relations.

In comparative studies, which seek to examine different cultural contexts, the concept of lexical fields promises to be enormously useful, since it is a tool that helps us to reveal differences in terms of usage associated with otherwise similar concepts.

(3) Narratives

We also focus on the analysis of narratives of slavery and other forms of strong asymmetrical dependencies. Our definition of the term narrative text is based on Dietrich Weber (Erzählliteratur: Schriftwerk, Kunstwerk, Erzählwerk. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998).

A narrative text is always a form of cultural self-perception and self-reflection. We define culture as the interaction of material, social and mental phenomena.

So by studying the mental dimension of the culture with the help of the methods supplied by literary studies we can try to reconstruct the system of values, norms, ideologies and collective concepts that is typical of a society, since this system (or at least segments thereof) manifests in condensed form in narratives. However, narratives of slavery and other forms of strong asymmetrical dependencies do not represent cultural realities mimetically; nor can they be accounted for in terms of straightforward relations of cause and effect. Instead, such narratives articulate individual and collective experiences, restructure these experiences and, last but not least, may have a significant impact on cultural symbolic inventories.

Detailed Research Agenda

Download the detailed research agenda of Research Area A: Semantics – Lexical Fields – Narratives here.

Members of Research Area A

Elke Brueggen  Prof. Dr. Elke Brüggen
 Research Area Speaker
Matthias Becher  Prof. Dr. Matthias Becher
 Secondary Affiliation
Ulrich Berges  Prof. Dr. Ulrich Berges
 Secondary Affiliation
Jeannine Bischoff  Jeannine Bischoff, M.A.
 Main Affiliation
Claude Chevaleyre  Dr. Claude Chevaleyre
 Main Affiliation
Stephan Conermann  Prof. Dr. Stephan Conermann
 Main Affiliation
Sarah Dusend  Sarah Dusend, M.A.
 Secondary Affiliation
Magnus Goffin  Magnus Goffin, Mag. iur.
 Secondary Affiliation
Marion Gymnich  Prof. Dr. Marion Gymnich
 Secondary Affiliation
Clara Hedtrich  Clara Hedtrich, M.A.
 Main Affiliation
Manfred Hutter  Prof. Dr. Dr. Manfred Hutter
 Secondary Affiliation
Wolfram Kinzig  Prof. Dr. Wolfram Kinzig
 Secondary Affiliation
Avatar_Frau.jpg  Susana Macias Pascua, M.A.
 Main Affiliation
Judith Pfeiffer  Prof. Dr. Judith Pfeiffer
 Main Affiliation
Martin Schermaier  Prof. Dr. Martin Schermaier
 Secondary Affiliation
Christian Schwermann  Prof. Dr. Christian Schwermann
 Main Affiliation
Peter Schwieger  Prof. Dr. Peter Schwieger
 Main Affiliation
Elena Smolarz  Dr. Elena Smolarz
 Main Affiliation
Rudolf Stichweh  Prof. Dr. Rudolf Stichweh
 Secondary Affiliation
Julia Winnebeck  Dr. Julia Winnebeck
 Secondary Affiliation
Patrick Zeidler  Patrick Zeidler, M.A.
 Secondary Affiliation

Research Group "Beyond Slavery: Dependency in Asian History" of Research Area A and its Members

Claude Chevaleyre  Dr. Claude Chevaleyre
 Researcher and Coordinator
 of the Research Group
 Beyond Slavery: Dependency
 in Asian History

 Research Area A
Anas Ansar  Anas Ansar, M.A.
 Doctoral Researcher

Projects and Events


Open Access Handbook of Semantics of Asymmetrical Dependencies

The collaborative result of the interdisciplinary research on "Semantics – Lexical Fields – Narratives" will be an online publication in the form of a handbook on Semantics of Asymmetrical Dependency during the first funding period. A coherent structure for this handbook will be developed by the members of research areas A and B. All handbook entries will adhere to the same basic structure, will tackle the same methodological problems and elaborate in parallel ways on the most important semantic fields of social dependency in different languages, societies and contexts. The digital format will make it possible to create routes and to connect various entries in order to provide the reader with additional insights.

The handbook will include research results of individual projects and establish an innovative basis for transcultural and diachronic comparisons of dependency structures. Members of all research groups as well as fellows of the Heinz Heinen-Kolleg and external researchers will contribute entries to the handbook. The editorial work will be coordinated by a small team of editors and the coordinators of Research Area A.

The handbook will suggest an alternative approach to transcultural history. We will present different semantic fields of asymmetrical dependency in order to arrive at a new, non-Eurocentric language of categorization and a new taxonomy of analysis.

Workshops and Seminars

Workshops and seminars of the Research Area A can be found on our events website.

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