Institute of Early Modern History

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Cultures of Vigilance

An application for funding is currently being prepared to establish a Collaborative Research Centre "Cultures of Vigilance". It aims at analyzing the historical and cultural foundations of 'attention'. It thereby focuses on phenomena which are fundamental to public safety, law, politics, health as well as religions and mechanisms of subject constitution but have not yet been analyzed systematically. The guiding concept of vigilance emphasizes two specificities of such cultural techniques. Firstly, their evaluation remains open: Acts of watchfulness can be described and perceived as threatening (indiscretion, surveillance, disciplining) but also as indispensable, reasonable, profitable or even necessary for salvation. Secondly, vigilance can never be entirely delegated to institutions or carried out by apparatuses. It is fundamentally based on the participation of individuals which partially and situationally use their focused attention to serve a higher purpose. The Collaborative Research Project wants to explain how individuals are culturally motivated and guided in this processes and how they interact with social-political incentive schemes and technical and institutional possibilities. It relies on an interdisciplinary research effort that combines perspectives from history, ethnology, history of medicine, law as well as literary, art and theater studies. It includes forms of attention directed to oneself and to others.