Labex: TransferS. Transferts culturels, traductions, interfaces [Cultural Transfers, Translation, Interfaces]

Collège de France, École normale supérieure
Michel Espagne

Coordinated by the Collège de France and the École normale supérieure, the Labex TransferS will study how Cultural Transfers have been shaping societies and cultures from Antiquity to the Present Day. Resolutely transdisciplinary, it will develop the use of digital data in the humanities. It will also explore synergies between the methodological and conceptual frameworks developed in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and those from the Natural and Formal Sciences.

The concepts of “Cultural Transfers” and of “Interfaces” are at the core of the project and correspond to the heuristic devices that will enable to approach the question of globalisation. The concept of Cultural Transfers was first elaborated by M. Espagne, the director of the UMR 8547 and leader of the project in 1987. Cultural transfers promote transnational studies, which focus on what circulates between supposed entities, such as national states. The existence of nations, ethnic groups, civilisations, languages or national cultures is therefore challenged and put into perspective. Indeed, cultural transfers emphasise that their very basis depends on translations, circulations, multiple exchanges and hybridisations.

In a similar fashion, the idea of interfaces is a challenge to a traditional way of understanding knowledge: it aims to underline the fact that science grows in the spaces between disciplines. Interfaces are those points where a scientific question or problem is analysed with the tools of different disciplines.
Both cultural transfers and interfaces are paradigmatic examples of the way in which knowledge emerges in a transdisciplinary environment. Transdisciplinarity is thus key to the understanding of major processes of contemporary societies, cultures and sciences.

The research program of TransferS is structured around two methodological and technical modules and 15 case studies.

The Modules will be a strong incentive for scholars and teams from different disciplinary fields to develop and sustain a constant dialogue.

Module 1 corresponds to “Theoretical Frameworks”. One of the major strengths of TransferS consists in the elaboration of a collective working methodology: this methodology is based on the systematic confrontation of theoretical frameworks, and will evolve according to the future development of case studies. Borrowing from all the disciplinary fields of Humanities, Social Sciences and Formal and Natural Sciences, this methodology will be the label of the Labex. It will ensure the coherence of enquiries, the cumulativity of results and the effectivity of the research program. The same methodological and theoretical framework will constitute the core of the educational program.

Module 2, “Data Recording and Structuring”, will develop and/or refine tools which encourage transdisciplinary communication and data integration. A key aim will be to ensure that the data from each field of study is recorded and structured in compatible manner, both in order to guarantee its comparability and in order to enable the application of quantitatitive methods and competing interpretative frameworks, such as those proposed in Module 1.

The case studies se are organized around four axes.
TransferS 1. Questionning Centre and Periphery in Culture. The first axis of the project is anchored in material culture (archaeology), practices and institutions (social anthropology), economic and social history, sociology and political science as well as transnational historiography. The aim is to show how cultural systems frequently regarded as paradigmatic are modified under the action of their periphery, which they transform in turn.
The following case studies will be undertaken:
- Interfaces on the Border of the Classical World
- Epistemologies of transnational historiographies
- The European Network of the République des lettres
- Anthropology of social practices and changes of scales in the contemporary global world

TransferS 2. Languages and Interactions between Languages. The second axis of research focuses on linguistic and discursive circulation and the importation and appropriation of intellectual constructions. The aim is to show how the diversity of languages impacts on philosophy and linguistics. The shift from one language to another is by no way a systematic process, because of the structure and conceptuality that one language imposes on the other: it cannot rely on universals, but requires a process of translation. Translations will also be studied as an element of cultural history. From Antiquity to the Present Day, this research axis aims to demonstrate the progressive construction of a cultural globality.
The following case studies will be undertaken:
- From pivot language to natural languages
- Expressing Space and Comparison
- History of Translations and Cultural Globality
- Translation and textual genesis

TransferS 3. The Aesthetics of Transfers: Acculturation and Appropriation. The passage from one cultural space to another is a particularly creative process in the field of aesthetics. This is true both in the long-term exchange networks between actors of the artistic world, and in the growing number of literatures whose genesis is the result of the intersection of languages and cultures. Indeed, the history of some forms of art, such as cinema, can be considered to be a history of cultural transfers.
The following case studies will be undertaken:
- Architectural models and their diffusion in Antiquity
- Literary Genetics and Multilinguism
- Postcolonialism and Francophony
- Transfers in Cinema and Theatre
- Transfers in Art History

TransferS 4. History of Sciences and Epistemology: Interfaces Philosophy/Sciences. The emphasis of Humanities and Social Sciences on transfers has its logical counterpart in the concept of “interfaces” as a new way of describing the history and epistemology of science. The research developed in this axis, whilst shedding a new light on the history of the Humanities and the Formal and Natural Sciences, also reveals some of the conditions of creation of knowledge.
The following case studies will be undertaken:
- Circulation of Sciences in Europe (16th to 19th centuries)
- Phenomenology as a history of cultural transfers
- The transnational History and Epistemology of the Humanities in the 19th Century.
- Interfaces Philosophy / Contemporary Sciences

TransferS regroups 13 of the leading French teams in Social Sciences and the Humanities. All of these teams are part of the PRES Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL). They are all working on topics related to TransferS and combine a disciplinary expertise with a strong innovative and conceptual approach. The teams are classified A+ by AERES and the CNRS and cover disciplines including Archaeology, Art History, History, Law, Linguistics, Literature, Philosophy and Sociology:
- Research teams with the ENS as unique affiliation: Pays germaniques : histoire, culture, philosophie (UMR 8547); Archéologies d’Orient et d’Occident et textes anciens (AOROC, UMR 8546); Institut d’histoire moderne et contemporaine (IHMC, UMR 8066); Langues, textes, traitements informatiques, cognition (LATTICE, UMR 8094); Institut des textes et manuscrits modernes (ITEM, UMR 8132); Centre international de recherches : philosophie, lettres, savoir (CIRPHLES, USR 3308).

- Research teams at the Collège de France: Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale (LAS, UMR 7130), Chair “Anthropologie de la nature”; Respublica literaria (UPS 3285), Chair “Rhétorique et société en Europe aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles” and Chair “Littérature moderne et contemporaine : histoire, critique, théorie”; Chair “Religion, institutions et société de la Rome antique”.

- Research teams with the ENS as co-affiliation: Centre de recherches sur la pensée antique (Centre Léon Robin, UMR 8061); Atelier de recherches sur l’intermédialité et les arts du spectacle (ARIAS, UMR 7172); Centre Maurice Halbwachs (UMR 8097); Centre de théorie et analyse du droit (UMR 7074).

Coordinator: Michel Espagne, UMR 8547: Pays germaniques: Histoire, Culture, Philosophie (ENS/CNRS)


Michel Espagne
UMR 8547: Pays germaniques : Histoire, Culture, Philosophie (ENS(CNRS)

Labex: TransferS. Transferts culturels, traductions, interfaces [Cultural Transfers, Translation, Interfaces], 01.06.2011 Paris, in: H-Soz-Kult, 24.06.2011, <>.
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