Harald Welzer - "Subsidies prevent innovation"
At a conference called "New Relations in Art & Society" during the exhibition "100 Lichter, 100 Gesichter" in the art collection of the Ruhr University Bochum, sociologist and social psychologist Prof. Dr. Harald Welzer gave a speech on the "non-synchronism and non-locality of the Ruhr". One of his core theses: after its economical structural change, the region lacks a change of the "mental infrastructure". This "re-narration of its own history", which must be based on actual facts, is a crucial factor for the contemporary identity of the region and its population. According to Welzer, currently, the Ruhr is still mentally stuck in its industrial past.
Mister Welzer, in your speech, you doubted that the capital of culture has triggered any impulses for a "re-narration of history" as you demand it. The free scene, for one, also criticises the old Ruhr folklore - why doesn't this group manage do have some relevant influence on the societal discourse?
Harald Welzer: "I think the group is too small, remaining in its respective niches and segments: there, they can criticise without disturbing anyone – and that is not true for the Ruhr only, but for our complete society. I don't see the critical mass."
Is the lack of a critical mass the only reason for the missing dynamics regarding that issue?
"Maybe it's also due to the fact that the local academic culture doesn't seep into other living environments. Here, academic culture has more of an appendix character - be it the local position of the universities or the public presence of female or male professors. The regional ciritical initiative is not reflected by the local elites here. But processes of change are much easier when mirrored and picked up by established elites - otherwise, they start to erode and become watery in the middle-class surrounding."
You also said that it's hard to call on creativity as the basis of a reinvention because it didn't have a basis here. But aren't culture and creativity metropolitan qualities in general - hence the attempts to implement them here in the Ruhr?
"You cannot implement that artificially, that is an error. It is very difficult to imagine how the transformation is going to happen intentionally. The first industrialisation also didn't work according to a master plan designed by someone. The regional focuses, be they in production or in culture, depend more on geographical conditions, on religion, or the introduction of educational systems at specific points of time. The attempt to control that demonstrates the big vacuum designated by the prevailing non-identity."
What do you mean by saying that?
"Well, if I don't know who I am, but know that I can't go on like that, then I start looking for a possible appropriate origin of a new identity. A good example of that is city marketing - very often, they invent things which have nothing to do with the city at all. After an analysis, you'd notice very fast that the only kind of efficient city marketing is the one based on some empirical facts – because only in that case, people can connect to it, and you can substantiate it. Anything else remains just an assertion. That's the reason why the creativity factor doesn't work."
How do we get out of this trap?
"The workers' culture itself has some possible connecting factors, maybe leading to a confidence of the producing population, a feeling of closeness to things actually produced, leading to social prosperity. I think you can only accomplish transformation when it's linked to existing elements productively used and reformatted, for example, from "fossil" to "post-fossil"."
Isn't the region's lack of self-confidence the big problem, especially when compared to neighbouring cities like Dusseldorf, or Cologne?
"I think that is artificially produced. In my speech, I already mentioned the failed structural change, actually, if you want to put it cynically, this region experiences the same thing sometimes happening to Hartz IV families: mistaking subsidies for the normal way of life. This way of life, though, doesn't trigger creativity and the search for a reinvention of your self, but simply the wish to live in circumstances, and on means generated somewhere else. In a sense, subsidies on a scale that big are preventing innovation."
Occasionally, the local cultural innovators are given a hard time - often, they don't only have enough scope, but they have to face some countercultural endeavours originated by individual initiatives, actively hampering them …
"I agree with you, especially because the money invested in event culture and high culture is not available any more for lively cultural or transformation projects. Beacon projects such as the Ruhrtriennale, capital of culture, etc. need an incredible amount of means, but actually, they don't trigger any change at all. They are some kind of marketing interface, catering to a certain clientele, but they are not the carrier of a vital social process."
What is your prognosis for the region?
"Very bad. The things you can see here, in the Ruhr, basically demonstrate Germany's problem, or maybe even the problem of all western societies, very clearly: they haven't understood that they are not what they think they are. This region epitomises the problem - actually, that's an argument for an opportunity to change things."
So, this local development is just an indication for a large-scale social identity crisis?
"Somehow, the self-perception of an economically thriving techno society marked by skilled workers and engineers, providing prosperity for all, is historically obsolete. Now, others can do that much better. This self-perception - which brings us to the subsidies again - is only fed on social wealth and a lot of infrastructures still working even after their expiry dates. But, as we all know, in the meantime this subsidised continued existence is only funded by loans, nobody worked for it. In this regard, this region is like a magnifying glass, already revealing things still not that obvious to others."
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