Institute of European Ethnology
In Love with the Other. Xenophile Actors blurring cultural Boundaries
‚Foreign‘ and ‚strange‘ cultures have – next to scepticism and rejection – also always provoked fascination and curiosity throughout history. And likewise, historical accounts can be found in all ages for individuals whose adventurousness has lead them to cross their own cultural boundaries, making them trespassers between cultures. In a pre modern society, based upon unity and consensus, ‚xenophiles‘ – those who were interested in the other, the supposedly different and strange, or even felt love and admiration for them – were often discredited and were marked as ‚strange‘ themselves and not seldom persecuted for it. Only the social turn towards modernity enabling mobility (in a physical as well as in a social sense) and plurality, laid the grounds for the foreign, the strange, the other to lose its threat, horror and expected danger.
A small and improvised survey on the topic of xenophilia showed, that once the terminology is clear, the reactions are a real spring of associations and anecdotes: Starting with Boris Becker, who supposedly will only date women of colour; the friend who has a ‚thing‘ for Jewish men; or the neighbour, who is so engaged in Roma culture and rights, as if she were fighting for her own life. A negative connotation of the term xenophilia as well as a rejecting attitude against these ‚xenophile‘ actors is clearly noticeable: individuals, that reach out to the other in a positive way are considered suspicious by ‚normal‘ people. But actually intercultural relations do not only and solely rely on scepticism, distance and rejection as history suggests.
Acknowledging the fact that positive sentiments towards the other have not been part of societal ‚mainstream‘ in neither Germany nor Europe for the longest time, it is worth while casting one’s attention to those who – in history and present – have shown interest for other cultures, have invested time and other means to get closer to this ‚stranger‘, to show solidarity with others and not seldom have had the heartfelt desire to become part of another culture, religion or even of another people through a transformative process. These xenophile actors complete the understanding of intercultural processes and the partly real, partly imagined relations between groups and individuals.
My dissertation project will focus on the motivation of these xenophile actors, their ideas of self and other and their cultural practise of cultural transformation. What leads to a person approach Judaism to an extent, that he is seen as Jewish by others? What motivates a change of language and Habitus leading to integration into a ‚strange‘ culture, as for instance the black community? Which factors come together to foster an over-identification with minority cultures, as the Sinti and Roma? Which aspects of the xenophile actor are made up by his/her personality and personal psyche and which aspects are fostered by a certain image created in a societal setting, which the xenophile actor is exposed to? How are these images produced and how are they transported? How have these images changed, have they at all? What part do idealisation, imagination and fantasies play, even sexual fetish? Is xenophilia a form of escapism and flight of identity? Is cultural conversion an escape within financial and geographical limitations? Which minority codes and behaviours are taken over or imitated? Which societal preconditions are necessary for the xenophile actor to be accepted from the majority – or does his/her behaviour lead to breaking with the majority and forming a kind of substitute community? Are these targeted breaches which majority culture and the excitement of the forbidden a major motivator for xenophilia? Where is the line between xenophilia and xenophobia, positive racism or exoticising of other cultures? What is the reaction of the minority community towards these new members? Are they accepted are they met with scepticism? Are there problems? What is their standing in there newfound group? Do they find the xenophile’s ambitions an illegitimate transgression?
The dissertation will consist of two parts. A first historical, theoretical and cultural-analytical introduction to xenophilia will focus on different sub-phenomena in Germany (Philosemitism, Afrophilia and Philoziganism). The second qualitative-empirical part will look at the situation in contemporary Germany focusing on xenophile actors, their motivations and actions.
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Johannes Moser