Historical Theory(ies) and Critical Whiteness Studies

Teaser: This paper explores the argument that whiteness is inscribed as an invisible hegemonic norm in European theories of history, particularly in historicism as the still contextually relevant theoretical basis of nation-state history, and that this norm continues to the detriment of people of color to this day.

“Against racism in germany – Fight against discrimination / Gegen Auländerfeindlichkeit – Für Freiheit und Vielfalt” by Daniela Hartmann (alles-schlumpf) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Blind Spots I – The Present of Historicism

Is historicism as a theory of history itself historical, and therefore of present interest only in its historizable manifestations? The mere fact that debates about the mutability and topicality of this theoretical concept continue to this day may be an indication that we are indeed dealing with a present of historicism.1 However, the view of past events has both changed and expanded. If we no longer assume that an inner context is waiting to be “discovered” in history itself, we concede to historians that they are able to narratively provide the past with an inner context.2 Historians therefore generate historical meaning, and do so by referring to historicity Metahistory as the reflexive theoretical basis of historical science. Jörn Rüsen has observed that historicism is contextually embedded in the concept of historicity Metahistory as an original conception.3 Accordingly, historicism offers a conceptual background to the current theoretical field of historiography, and hence to the disciplinary matrix. History is thereby perceived as a directed context of temporal change in humanity. Origin and future move apart, human practices can only be culturally oriented through concepts of time. Change and transformation are thematized, and the need for orientation corresponds to interest in knowledge. When no longer considered tradition, “[…] change itself makes sense.” Change becomes the guarantor of the future (genetic formation of meaning). Intersubjective verifiability is ensured by methodically regulated procedures, the master narrative appears as an epoch-typical form of representation, especially of the history of the nation-state. Historiography’s function of orientation is “primarily politically oriented, [it] legitimizes the nation-state with its focus on the creative spirit in the fields of politics and culture,” and “brings national identity to the fore as the dominant form of collective belonging“.4

Blind spots II – Germans are Black.5

Being German and Black have not been mutually exclusive since the seventeenth century.6 Germany was also involved in the transatlantic slave trade, as Black people were brought to European and German courts as lackeys and objects of prestige.7 People stayed, started families, practiced their professions, and made careers. The Black German philosopher Anton Wilhelm Amo8, who came to the Wolfenbüttel court as a child and later received a teaching qualification for philosophy as a trained scientist, is one example from this history.9 Black people are therefore part of German history and culture; Germans have been not only white but also Black for centuries, but this is not reflected in German history or its culture of memory.

“Anton Wilhelm Amo” by Gertrud K. is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Critical whiteness researchers in Germany have been drawing attention to this blind spot for some time and historicizing the phenomenon, with the Enlightenment coming into particular focus. Critical whiteness research has identified the Enlightenment as the origin of the “hegemonic normativity of white positions”.10 Whiteness appears as a “construct of racism,” not in the sense of an ontologization of skin color, but as a social position. Against this background, whiteness is to be understood as a form of historical and cultural self-empowerment, through which “collective patterns of perception, knowledge and action are constituted.” This social positioning is accompanied by power and privilege, which also manifest themselves “independently of self-perceptions and beyond official institutions, both individually and collectively.” Similarly, Blackness is also understood as “a social and political position historically produced by racism”.11 Because Critical Whiteness Studies deal with whiteness as a social positioning in a historical perspective, it also becomes interesting for theories of history. The question arises regarding the knowledge that can be gained from applying Critical Whiteness Studies to theories of history. Since whiteness as a self-concept is usually not conscious, it “enjoys” a “‘structural invisibility’.”12

The aim of this paper is to suggest that there might be a present discourse of whiteness as a hegemonic norm in historical scholarship, one that has its starting point in the Enlightenment. Specifically, the discussion explores whether the concept of reason and rationality underlying theories of history—especially historicism and hence historiography—is not universal but bound to whiteness in the sense of social positioning. This would explain why being Black and German seem to be mutually exclusive. At the same time, this exclusion could then be deconstructed as a racist construction in the sense of a symbolic order.

From the Enlightenment to Historicism

Jörn Rüsen has noted that there is a temporal and causal connection between the Enlightenment and historicism in the sense of a development: “The rational potential of historical thinking determines its ability to reach a consensus. […] The development of historical thinking from the Enlightenment to Historicism entails a ‘rationalization’ of this capacity for consensus. […] ‘Rationalization’ means that the visualization of the past through historical memory is bound to regular procedures that systematically increase the justifiability of historical statements”13 What is important for us is the continuity between the Enlightenment and historicism in this quotation. The Enlightenment’s conception of reason and historicism as a methodically regulated, rational approach to temporal change have been joined together as structural features of historical memory ever since. To this day, they form the standards that constitute modern historical scholarship14

A search for traces

My argument in this circumstantial exploration is that the Enlightenment discourses of reason, understanding (rationality), history, and race were so subtly inscribed in the emerging discipline of history and its theoretical foundations that they remained invisible, and allowed for a notion of universality that we now know was idealized during the Enlightenment but did not yet apply to all people.15 One could thus also assume that the concept of rationality underlying historicism (possibly other European theories of history as well) precisely reflects this early contradiction. Essentially based on the Handbook of the European Enlightenment16, I now look for evidence that whiteness is invisibly inscribed as a hegemonic norm in the theoretical foundations of modern historical science. As a result, the considerations presented here should be understood as a self-reflection that is centrally inscribed in the idea of the Enlightenment.17

Indicator No. 1: Reason is subject to a developmental proviso

Reason, and “the idea of a general human reason” in particular, are considered the guiding ideas of the Enlightenment.18 The focus was on humans “as deficient beings” who must first be made reasonable.19 This suggests that the Enlightenment began as an elite project, with an increasingly self-confident bourgeoisie “as its privileged bearer.” Godel, Deutsche Aufklärung, p. 89.)) From this group, in turn, individuals decisively shaped discourses as avant-garde20 Hettling refers to the change in meaning that the concept of citizen underwent in the context of the Enlightenment. The focus is no longer on class itself, but on its “social formation” in the context of a specific way of life and cultural orientation (Hettling, Bürger, p. 123). Since the eighteenth century, a common culture and way of life have been central to the self-image of class, which is distinctly heterogeneous21 This heterogeneity is socially formed by the common “reference to a symbolic order”.22 And this identity-creating symbolic order, as the argument goes, is based among other things on whiteness in the sense of hegemonic positioning.

Indicator No. 2: Eurocentrism dominates the philosophies of history in Europe

In the mid-eighteenth century, Johann Gottfried Herder juxtaposed the universalism of the Enlightenment with an anthropologically based philosophy of history “that emphasizes the place- and time-specificity of culture”23 In this way, “cultural comparisons and criticism of civilization” became possible with far-reaching consequences.24 A special role was played by the theory of climate, via Montesquieu and Herder, “which sought to explain political forms of rule, civil institutions, religious cults, the so-called ‘national character’ and even the peculiarity of national literature and painting from the conditions of the climate. […] Climate is defined […] not as a meteorological average, but as man’s place in a world whose nature gives him certain specifications. […] The basic idea of the climatic theories of the eighteenth century is that man and the forms of his culture cannot be meaningfully grasped outside of this local situatedness. The differences between peoples and civilizations should therefore be explained by the differences in their places of settlement.”25 Montesquieu in particular used this theory to justify the supremacy of European peoples and “the ‘colonial subjugation and exploitation of non-European peoples,’” thereby introducing a Eurocentric perspective into the universalism of the Enlightenment.26 Montesquieu’s Eurocentrism subsequently dominated natural history, anthropology, and the philosophy of history in France, “and therefore in the whole of Europe” (!). “‘Each people receives a firmly determined place according to the spatial distance that separates it from the fixed common center: the civilized European, who of all people is at the same time the >most beautiful and most shapely<; who most perfectly embodies the prototype appropriate to the species and against whom all other varieties simply appear as more or less degenerate deviations’”.27 Here it is clear that a hegemonic concept of norms is embedded in the enlightened discourse right up to the philosophy of history, which is oriented to the appearance of the European human being, who is elevated to the ideal of beauty.28 Based on this observation, one can reasonably assume that the Eurocentrism inscribed in the French philosophy of history also forms the basis of the theories of history that build on this philosophy.29

Indicator No. 3: RegardingImmanuel Kant’s race theories, the rational mind becomes white

Immanuel Kant also considered the theory of climate suitable for explaining the different manifestations of people on earth. In his 1775 paper “Von den verschiedenen Rassen der Menschen” (“On the Different Races of Man”).30 he declared that all people belong to one species because they can produce fertile children together. Black people and white people had a shared humanity, but belonged to different “races”.31 Kant believed that due to the climate, iron particles formed in the blood of Black people in such abundance that everyone with Black skin “stinks”.32 Kant compares them to animals living in a climate especially suitable for them, one that makes their bodies strong but their nature “lazy, soft and dallying”.33 Kant continues: “In the sex of the whites, however, this iron dissolved in the juices, and would not precipitate at all, thereby proving at the same time the perfect mixture of the juices and strength of this human race before the others”.34 Kant concedes that Black people have emotional inclinations, but not intellectual abilities.35 He takes up Hume’s demand to “cite a single example” where a black man has shown talent in any field, and Hume’s assertion that “among the hundreds of thousands of blacks who are seduced from their countries elsewhere, although a great many of them are also set at liberty, yet not a single one has ever been found who has presented anything either in art or science, or any other praiseworthy quality, although among the whites some are constantly rising from the lowest rabble, and acquiring a reputation in the world by excellent gifts.”36 In a concluding argument, Kant turns skin color into a mark of reason: “[…] in short, this fellow was black from his head to his feet, a clear proof that what he said was stupid.”37 The notion of Black people as “stupid and cultureless” expressed in these formulations—while white people become the subjects of history—is captured by Hegel in the image of a history-less African continent. In sum, these statements seem suitable to add the “whiteness of the spirit” as an additional aspect of the hegemonic norm regarding the appearance of European people.38

“‘Deutcher kolonialismus’ @deurcheshistorischesmuseum” by Sakena is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Taking the Enlightenment seriously from its universal side: Further developing the capacity for critical self-reflection

“Kant’s reflections on anthropology,” says Oehler-Klein, “ultimately show a linking of biological and cultural-historical argumentation by ascribing certain abilities and characteristics to races. For Kant, only Europeans seemed to be historically powerful bearers of culture; only the race of whites possessed the capacity to reach the highest stage of man’s self-emergence as a being of reason.”39 Peggy Piesche has observed that Kant “draws such a differentiated picture of European whiteness that it takes the normative place in opposition to race […]”.40 White and able citizens, who were exclusively male at the time, settled into this hegemonic normative place (social positioning), and could even imagine themselves as being outside of “race” discourses.41 Seen from the hegemonic white position, only others are racist. The privileges associated with this hegemonic positioning can subsequently no longer be easily recognized and reflected upon.

Around 1800, the view of history gradually “moves from enlightenment to understanding, and at the same time becomes part of nation building.”42 Enlightened thinking with all of its implications—including “the hegemonic normativity of white positions”—was thus incorporated into the self-image of emerging European nation-states, including Germany. This may be one reason why being white and German seems “normal,” while being Black and German seems like an oxymoron. A nation that imagines itself as a cultural nation is hardly willing to perceive as equals people characterized as “lacking history and culture.” That this discriminatory view of Black people shows continuities from the Enlightenment to the present can be demonstrated by the representation of African history and Black people in textbooks.43

Short biography:

Dr. Bärbel Völkel is professor of history and its didactics at the University of Education in Ludwigsburg. She previously served as a teacher at a comprehensive school and a subject leader at a Studienseminar. Her current research focuses on the side effects of how history is communicated in the nation-state. She sets out from the premise that nation-state history is ethnocentric, and that the whiteness underlying it as an invisible norm. Bärbel Völkel has developed a new approach to historical thinking in the form of an inclusive didactics of history. At the center of this didactics are dialogues about history(ies).

Translated by Arby Gharibian

Cite this article as: Bärbel Völkel, "Historical Theory(ies) and Critical Whiteness Studies," in Geschichtstheorie am Werk, 12/10/2021, https://gtw.hypotheses.org/946 (Access Date 27/05/2022).
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  1. See Scholtz, Gunter, ed., Historismus am Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts. Eine internationale Debatte, Berlin 1997. []
  2. See Iggers, Georg G, Historismus – Geschichte und Bedeutung, in Scholz, Historismus, pp. 102-126, hier p. 125. []
  3. See Rüsen, Jörn: Historik. Theorie der Geschichtswissenschaft, Köln, Weimar, Wien 2013, p. 18. []
  4. Rüsen, Jörn, Geschichte im Kulturprozess, Köln, Weimar, Wien 2002, S. 54-57, all quotations ibid. []
  5. In this text, the skin color designation “Black” is capitalized throughout to mark its constructed nature beyond discriminatory attributions. The color “white,” on the other hand, is written in lowercase and italics, because as an analytical category it refers to whiteness as a fundamental norm in white perception associated with privilege (See Sow, Noah, weiß, in Susan Arndt & Nadja Ofuatey-Alazard, eds., Wie RassismusausWörternspricht. (K)Erben des Kolonialismus im Wissensarchiv deutsche Sprache. Ein kritisches Nachschlagewerk, Münster 2015/2, pp. 190-191. []
  6. See Kuhlmann-Smirnov, Anne, Schwarze Europäer im Alten Reich. Handel, Migration, Hof, Göttingen 2013. []
  7. See Zeuske, Michael: Sklaverei. Eine Menschheitsgeschichte von der Steinzeit bis heute, Stuttgart 2018, p. 96. Zeuske speaks of slavery “without institution”. []
  8. See Mabe, Jacob Emmanuel, Anton Wilhelm Amo interkulturellgelesen, verbesserte und aktualisierte Auflage, Berlin 2020. []
  9. Although Amo returned to Africa due to racist hostility. []
  10. Piesche, Peggy, Der >Fortschritt< der Aufklärung – Kants >Race< und die Zentrierung des weißen Subjekts, in Eggers, Maureen Maisha Grada Kilomba; Peggy Piesche; Susan Arndt, eds., Mythen, Masken und Subjekte, Münster 2020/4, S. 30-39, hier S. 30. []
  11. Arndt, Susan: >Rassen< gibt es nicht, wohl aber die symbolische Ordnung von Rasse. Der >Racial Turn< als Gegennarrativ zur Verleugnung und Hierarchisierung von Rassismus, in Eggers et. Al, Mythen, pp. 340-362, all quotations pp. 343-344. []
  12. Ibid., quotations p. 346. []
  13. Rüsen, Jörn, Konfigurationen des Historismus. StudienzurdeutschenWissenschaftskultur, FfM 1993, pp. 79 and 81. []
  14. See Jordan, Stefan, Theorien und Methoden der Geschichtswissenschaft, Paderborn 2016/3, p. 47. []
  15. See Stollberg-Rielinger, Die Aufklärung. Europa im 18. Jahrhundert, Stuttgart 2017, pp. 256-284. []
  16. Thoma, Heinz, ed., HandbuchEuropäische Aufklärung. Begriffe, Konzepte, Wirkung, Stuttgart 2015. []
  17. Godel, Rainer, Aufklärungen. Deutsche Aufklärung, in Thoma, Europäische Aufklärung, pp. 86-90, hier p. 88. []
  18. Scholz, Oliver R., Vernunft, in Thoma, Europäische Aufklärung, pp. 536-547, hier p. 536. Manfred Hettling stresses that the Enlightenment’s empathetic and utopian content represents an egalitarian and universalistic image of mankind. See Hettling, Manfred, Bürger/Bürgerlichkeit, in Thoma, Europäische Aufklärung, S. 123-131, hier S. 123. []
  19. Thoma, Heinz, Aufklärung, in Ders., Europäische Aufklärung, pp. 67-85, hier p. 67. Thoma dates the Enlightenment roughly between 1650-1800. []
  20. See Pecar, Andreas; Damien Tricoire: Falsche Freunde. War die Aufklärung wirklich die Geburtsstunde der Moderne? Frankfurt/New York 2015, p. 19. []
  21. Ibid., p. 128. []
  22. Ibid., p. 130. []
  23. Godel, Deutsche Aufklärung, p. 87. []
  24. Pickerodt, Gerhard, Exotisch/Fremd, in Thoma, Europäische Aufklärung, pp. 201-210, hier p. 204. []
  25. Horn, Eva, Klimatologie um 1800. Zur Genealogie des Anthropozäns, in ZfK – Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 1|2016 © transcript 2016, urn:nbn:de:hbz:6:3-zfk-2016-16493, pp. 87-102, hier pp. 89-90. []
  26. Pickerodt, Exotisch/Fremd, S. 204 und 205. []
  27. Quotations ibid. []
  28. In Denis Diderot there is a critical counterpart to this concept of a Eurocentric hegemonic norm, although his statements remained in the realm of a “modern early socialist-oriented utopia,” Ibid., pp. 207-208. []
  29. See Rohbeck, Johannes, Geschichte/Geschichtsphilosophie, in Thoma, Europäische Aufklärung, pp. 242-251. []
  30. Kant, Immanuel, Von den verschiedenenRassen der Menschen, Norderstedt 2018, Philipp Schröder, Books on Demand []
  31. Ibid., pp. 31-32. []
  32. Ibid., p. 41. []
  33. Ibid. []
  34. Ibid., p. 42. []
  35. Piesche: >Fortschritt<, p. 33. []
  36. Kant: Menschen, p. 59. Kant was a contemporary of Amos. It is very unlikely that he did not know him. []
  37. Ibid., p. 61. []
  38. See Farr, Arnold, Wie Weißsein sichtbar wird. Aufklärungsrassismus und die Struktur eines rassifizierten Bewusstseins, in Eggers et. Al, Mythen, pp. 40- 55, hier p. 43. []
  39. Oehler-Klein, Sigrid, Rasse, in Thoma, Europäische Aufklärung, pp. 419-428, hier p. 425. []
  40. Piesche, Fortschritt, p. 36. []
  41. The fact that white women also laid claim to this hegemonic positioning is shown by Annette Dietrich, KonstruktionenweißerweiblicherKörperimKontext des deutschenKolonialismus, in Eggers et.al, Mythen, pp. 363-376. []
  42. Thoma, Heinz, Aufklärung, in Ders, Europäische Aufklärung, p. 68. []
  43. See Marmer, Elina; Papa Sow; Aram Ziai: Der ‚versteckte‘ Rassismus – „Afrika“ im Schulbuch, in Marmer, Elina; Papa Sow, eds., Wie Rassismus aus Schulbüchern spricht. Kritische Auseinandersetzung mit >Afrika< -Bildern und Schwarz-Weiß-Konstruktionen in der Schule. Ursachen, Auswirkungen und Handlungsansätze für die pädagogische Praxis, Weinheim, Basel 2015, pp. 110 – 129. []

Bärbel Völkel

History didactician - Research on the democratization of nation-state history - Research on the communication of history in plural societies - Thinking history inclusively My view of the world: Everything is connected with everything - Everything is one

4 Responses

  1. Bärbel Völkel says:

    Ein weiterer Versuch…
    Wie kommt wissenschaftliches Denken in einen Fluss und wie kann aus dieser Verflüssigung ein Diskurs entstehen, der neue Gedanken zulässt? Wie kann es gelingen, konträre Positionen nicht als ideologisch verblendet oder hoffnungslos veraltet zu diskreditieren? Wie kann es gelingen, eine ambige Haltung zu entwickeln, bei der sowohl das Eine wie auch das Andere gleichzeitig wahr sind, auch wenn beide Wahrheiten sich gegenseitig auszuschließen scheinen? Und wie kann wissenschaftliches Arbeiten weiter möglich sein, wenn sowohl das Eine wie auch das Andere gleichzeitig wahr ist und irgendwie auch gleichzeitig falsch zu sein scheint?
    Vor einigen Tagen hatte ich ein Gespräch mit einem Historiker. Wir kamen auf meinen Blogbeitrag zu sprechen, in dem ich zu einem selbstreflexiven Diskurs in Bezug auf die theoretischen Grundannahmen des Historismus und der mit ihm verbundenen historischen Methode aufgerufen habe. Der Kollege sagte mir sinngemäß, dass kein Historiker und keine Historikerin auf meinen Beitrag reagieren würde, weil meine Überlegungen schlicht falsch seien. [Das ist so lange eine unbewiesene Behauptung, bis meine Ausführungen widerlegt sind] Die historische Methode habe überhaupt nichts mit Weißsein zu tun. Jeder Mensch auf dieser Erde könne diese Methode anwenden und zu für alle plausiblen Ergebnissen kommen. [Das stimmt, das habe ich auch nie angezweifelt.] Hautfarben spielten da überhaupt keine Rolle. [Das ist die Frage. Wissenschaftler*innen des globalen Südens müssen sich, wenn sie im internationalen wissenschaftlichen Diskurs gehört werden wollen, auf die wissenschaftlich relevante Literatur und wissenschaftlich relevanten Methoden des globalen Nordens einlassen. Ich meine hier durchaus hegemoniale Diskurse und soziale Positionierungen erkennen zu können.] Kritik unter Bezugnahme auf die kritische Weißseinsforschung sei eher ideologisch motiviert, hier würde eine kleine aber laute Gruppe versuchen, seriöse und etablierte Forschung in Misskredit zu bringen, um eigene Interessen dominant machen zu können. [Das ist ein veritabler Vorwurf, der die Wissenschaftlichkeit des Ansatzes negiert und auf den hin ein wissenschaftlicher Diskurs auf Augenhöhe kaum noch möglich ist.]
    Ich möchte noch einmal den Versuch eines Gesprächsangebots machen und mich dabei auf die Überlegungen Hasok Changs zur Pluralisierung wissenschaftlicher Aussagen zu beziehen (Chang 2021, 97-114). Mein Ziel ist es, meine Ausführungen vom Ideologieverdacht durch die Bezugnahme auf die kritische Weißseinsforschung zu befreien. Vielleicht könnte die Konfliktzone so beschrieben werden, dass seitens der historischen Methode der wissenschaftliche Ethos darin besteht, sich den vergangenen Gegenwarten so nah wie möglich unter deren eigenen Bedingungen zu nähern. Dabei wird die unhintergehbare Gegenwartsbezogenheit des Historikers/der Historikerin und deren Auswirkungen auf die Forschungsergebnisse jedoch allzu leicht unzulässig marginalisiert oder sogar vergessen (Chang 2021, 97). Der kritischen Weißseinsforschung hingegen wird der Vorwurf gemacht, sie nutze die Vergangenheit zur Durchsetzung eigener Interessen in der Gegenwart. Dahinter verbirgt sich möglicherweise die Sorge, disziplinspezifische Konsense könnten verloren gehen.
    Chang sieht jedoch gerade in der Auflösung solcher Konsense Chancen für erweiterte Perspektiven auf scheinbar vertraute Phänomene. „The need for such pluralism concerning science arises from the fact that modern science has developed largley in a monist spirit – looking for the one scientific truth about the one reality that we all inhabit, assuming that there is one right answer to each scientific question, and one best method for arriving at that right answer.“ (Chang 2021, 106) Chang sieht in dem Drang zur Generierung intersubjektiv geteilter Aussagen und deren hegemonialer Implementierung im wissenschaftlichen Diskurs die Gefahr der Ausgrenzung und Negierung innovativer und origineller Erkenntnisse, die alternative Deutungen in die Debatten der Gegenwart einbringen könnten.
    In diesem Sinne würde ich meine Ausführungen gerne gelesen sehen. Die kritische Weißseinsforschung wäre dann als eine „‘complementary science‘“ (Chang 2021, 108) zu verstehen, die Erkenntnisse ermöglicht, die ohne ihre Anwendung nicht sichtbar gemacht werden können. Ob meine Erkenntnisse, die ich hier vorgestellt habe, letztlich tragfähig sind oder ob sie schließlich verworfen werden müssen, wird nur über wissenschaftliche Diskurse herauszufinden sein. Diese Diskurse aber erst gar nicht zu führen, entsprechende Überlegungen einfach als falsch abzutun, ohne dies zu belegen oder wenigstens den Dialog zu suchen, ist für mich keine Option im Wissenschaftsraum. Es geht schließlich nicht nur um wissenschaftliche Methoden im Elfenbeinturm der Wissenschaften. Es geht die Konsequenzen, die wissenschaftliche Aussagen für ganz konkrete Menschen in ihren konkreten Lebensverhältnissen haben.
    Chang, Hasok (2021): Presentist History for Pluralist Science, Journal for General Philosophy of Science 52: 97-114.

    English version:

    Another attempt…
    How does scientific thinking get into a flow and how can a discourse emerge from this liquefaction that allows for new thoughts? How can we succeed in not discrediting contrary positions as ideologically blinded or hopelessly outdated? How can we succeed in developing an ambiguous attitude in which both one and the other are true at the same time, even if both truths seem to be mutually exclusive? And how can scientific work continue to be possible when both one and the other are simultaneously true and somehow also seem to be simultaneously false?
    A few days ago I had a conversation with a historian. We came to talk about my blog post, in which I called for a self-reflexive discourse regarding the basic theoretical assumptions of historicism and the historical method associated with it. This colleague told me, mutatis mutandis, that no historian would respond to my post because my reasoning was simply wrong. [This is an unproven assertion until my remarks are refuted]. The historical method would have nothing at all to do with whiteness. Every person on this earth could apply this method and come to plausible results for all. [That is true, I have never doubted that] Skin colors would play no role at all. [That is the question. Scientists from the global South, if they want to be heard in the international scientific discourse, have to engage with the scientifically relevant literature and scientifically relevant methods of the global North. I think I can recognize hegemonic discourses and social positioning here]. Criticism with reference to critical whiteness research would be rather ideologically motivated, a small but loud group would try to discredit serious and established research in order to make their own interests dominant. [This is a veritable accusation that negates the scientific nature of the approach and makes a scientific discourse at eye level hardly possible.]
    Once again, I would like to invite to a discourse, referring to Hasok Chang’s reflections on the pluralization of scientific statements (Chang 2021, 97-114). My aim is to free my remarks from the suspicion of ideology by referring to critical whiteness studies. Perhaps the conflict zone could be described as that, on the part of historical method, the scientific ethos is to approach past presences as closely as possible under their own conditions. In doing so, however, the historian’s inescapable interconnection with his own present and its impact on research findings is all too easily marginalized in an inadmissible way or even forgotten (Chang 2021, 97). Critical whiteness research, on the other hand, is accused of using the past to assert its own interests in the present. Behind this may be the concern that discipline-specific consensuses could be lost.
    Chang, however, sees in the dissolution of such consensuses opportunities for broader perspectives on seemingly familiar phenomena. “The need for such pluralism concerning science arises from the fact that modern science has developed largley in a monist spirit – looking for the one scientific truth about the one reality that we all inhabit, assuming that there is one right answer to each scientific question, and one best method for arriving at that right answer.” (Chang 2021, 106) Chang sees in the drive to generate intersubjectively shared statements and to implement them as a hegemonic scientific discourse the danger of exclusion and negation of innovative and original findings that could bring alternative interpretations into the debates of the present.
    In this sense that I would like to see my remarks read. Critical whiteness studies would then be understood as a “‘complementary science'” (Chang 2021, 108) that enables insights that cannot be made visible without its application. Whether the insights I have presented here are ultimately viable or whether they must eventually be discarded will only be found out through scientific discourses. But not to engage in these discourses at all, to simply dismiss corresponding considerations as wrong without substantiating this or at least seeking dialog, is not an option for me in the scientific space. After all, it is not only about scientific methods in the ivory tower of science. It is about the consequences that scientific statements have for very concrete people in their concrete living conditions.

    Chang, Hasok (2021): Presentist History for Pluralist Science, Journal for General Philosophy of Science 52: 97-114.

  2. Liebe Frau Völkel,

    diesem spannenden Artikel wollten wir eine noch größere Reichweite verschaffen und haben ihn deshalb in den Slider auf unserer Startseite de.hypotheses.org aufgenommen.

    Viele Grüße

    Ulrike Stockhausen (Community Management)

  3. Bärbel Völkel says:

    Herzlichen Dank, Georg Gangl, für die differenzierte Lektüre meines Beitrags und die pointierte Rückmeldung: Sie eröffnet die Möglichkeit zu einer konstruktiven Auseinandersetzung. In Ihrer Zusammenfassung meiner Thesen sehe ich mich verstanden.
    Die Kritik Georg Gangls, dass meine Thesen aus dem Historismus und seiner Methodik heraus hätten entwickelt werden müssen, um überhaupt diskutabel sein zu können, habe ich erwartet. Das Argumentationsmuster hinter dieser Forderung kann dahingehend verstanden werden, dass Aussagen nur innerhalb der Theoriesysteme selbst validiert oder falsifiziert werden können, in denen sie entstanden sind. Das ist eine anerkannte wissenschaftstheoretische Position.
    Ich vertrete diese Position nicht. Meine Begründung, dass grundlegend neue Gedanken nicht durch den wiederholten Gebrauch bekannter Denkmuster entstehen können, gründet auf dem bekannten Phänomen der Blinden Flecke: Wenn Beobachter und Beobachtetes sich im gleichen Referenzrahmen befinden, kann der Beobachter nur das sehen, was er bereits kennt. Erst das Überschreiten des Referenzahmens erlaubt fremde Blicke auf Wahrheiten, die ja nur deshalb wahr sind, weil sie innerhalb einer definierbaren Wissenschaftscommunity als intersubjektiv tragfähig bewertet wurden.
    Diese fremden Blicke auf die Blinden Flecke hier konkret des Historismus im Kontext der aktuellen disziplinären Matrix der Geschichtswissenschaft werden nur möglich, wenn andere Theorien auf ihn angewendet werden. Ich habe die Kritische Weißsseinsforschung als analytische Folie auf den Historismus gelegt, um eine mögliche Erklärung dafür zu finden, warum trotz gemeinsamer Geschichte, gemeinsamer Sprache und gemeinsamer Kultur People of Color nicht Teil der (deutschen) Geschichte sind. Vielmehr sehen sie sich immer wieder mit der (‚freundlich gemeinten‘) Frage nach ihrer Herkunft konfrontiert.
    Dass die historischen Sinnbildungen, die einer historistischen Denkweise entstehen, ethnozentrisch sind, schreibt Jörn Rüsen selbst. Er versucht, diesem Problem durch einen interkulturellen Humanismus zu begegnen. Das erklärt für mich aber immer noch nicht die Absenz der PoCs in der deutschen Geschichte und Erinnerungskultur. Zusätzlich zum Ethnozentrismus muss es also ein weiteres ‚Merkmal‘ geben, das ihnen diesen Platz in der Nationalstaatsgeschichte als Deutsche verwehrt. Und dieses zusätzliche Merkmal ist, so meine im Blogbeitrag vorgestellte These, dass sie in ihrer sozialen Positionierung als Schwarze Deutsche der weißen Mehrheitsgesellschaft nicht umfassend gleichgestellt sind. In einer formalen Hinsicht als deutsche Staatsbürger*innen ist ihre Gleichstellung zwar rechtlich abgesichert, auf der symbolischen Ebene der historischen Zusammengehörigkeit wird sie ihnen aber noch vorenthalten. Die hier aufscheinende Hierarchisierung kann als Merkmal eines strukturellen Rassismus beschrieben werden.
    Die sich aus diesen Beobachtungen ableitende grundsätzliche These, die ich zur Diskussion stelle ist, dass die Geschichtswissenschaft den ihrer disziplinären Matrix zugrunde liegenden Vernunftbegriff und damit auch ihre Vorstellung vom Menschen (noch) nicht historisiert hat. Daher kann sie, wenn sie sich selbst kritisch hinterfragt, auch keine ‚Farben‘ (soziale Positionierungen) sehen, weil Weißsein das unsichtbare privilegierte Allgemeine repräsentiert. Wie also soll aus dem Historismus selbst heraus eine solche kritische Sichtweise möglich werden?
    Was würden wir verlieren, wenn wir diesen Gedanken einmal zulassen und unsere wissenschaftstheoretischen Grundannahmen selbstkritisch reflektieren?


    english version


    Thank you very much, Georg Gangl, for the differentiated reading of my contribution and the pointed feedback: it opens up the possibility of a constructive debate. In your summary of my theses I see myself understood.
    I expected Georg Gangl’s criticism that my theses should have been developed out of historicism and its methodology in order to be discussable at all. The pattern of argumentation behind this claim can be understood to the effect that statements can only be validated or falsified within the systems of theory themselves in which they originated. This is a recognized position in the philosophy of science.
    I do not hold this position. My reasoning that fundamentally new thoughts cannot arise from the repeated use of known patterns of thought is based on the well-known phenomenon of blind spots (Blinde Flecke): if observer and observed are in the same frame of reference, the observer can only see what he or she already knows. Only the transgression of the frame of reference allows alien views (fremde Blicke) on truths, which are only true because they have been evaluated as intersubjectively sustainable within a definable scientific community.
    These alien views of the blind spots here specifically of historicism in the context of the current disciplinary matrix of historical scholarship only become possible when other theories are applied to it. I have placed Critical Whiteness Studies as an analytical foil on historicism in order to find a possible explanation for why, despite sharing a common history, a common language, and a common culture, people of color are not part of (German) history. Rather, they are confronted again and again with the (‘kindly meant’) question of their origin.
    Jörn Rüsen himself writes that the historical sense-creations that arise from a historicist way of thinking are ethnocentric. He tries to counter this problem by an intercultural humanism. For me, however, this still does not explain the absence of PoCs in German history and memory culture. So, in addition to ethnocentrism, there must be another ‘characteristic’ that denies them this place in nation-state history as Germans. And this additional feature, according to my thesis presented in the blog post, is that they are not comprehensively equal to the white majority society in their social positioning as Black Germans. In a formal sense as German citizens, their equality is legally secured, but on the symbolic level of historical belonging it is still withheld from them. The hierarchization that appears here can be described as a feature of structural racism.
    The fundamental thesis that derives from these observations and that I put forward for discussion is that historical science has not (yet) historicized the concept of reason that underlies its disciplinary matrix. Therefore, when it critically questions itself, it also cannot see ‘colors’ (social positionings) because whiteness represents the invisible privileged general. How, then, is such a critical view to become possible from within historicism itself? What would we lose if we allow this thought for once and self-critically reflect on our basic assumptions in the theory of science?

  4. Georg Gangl says:

    Vielen Dank an Professor Voelkel fuer diesen Diskussionsbeitrag! Soweit ich das ueberblicke, liegt die Grundthese ihres Textes in dreifacher, nicht exakt deckungsgleicher Ausfertigung vor:

    1) In den Historismus ist “als theoretische Grundlage der Nationalstaatsgeschichte, Weißsein als unsichtbare Norm eingeschrieben” und dass “diese Norm bis heute zu Lasten der People of Colour geht”.

    2) “[D]ass der den Geschichtstheorien, insbesondere dem Historismus und damit auch der Historik zugrunde liegende Vernunft- und Rationalitätsbegriff nicht universell, sondern an Weißsein im Sinne einer sozialen Positionierung gebunden ist”

    3) Dass den “theoretischen Grundlagen der modernen Geschichtswissenschaft Weißsein als hegemoniale Norm unsichtbar eingeschrieben ist.”

    (Wenn man will, kann man These 1) auch noch aufteilen in die Subthesen, dass “Weißsein als unsichtbare hegemoniale Norm eingeschrieben” in den Historismus ist und dass “diese Norm bis heute zu Lasten der People of Colour geht”)

    Fuer diese Thesen bringt Professor Voelkel 3 “Indizien” aus der Zeit der Aufklaerung in Anschlag:

    A) Weisssein als hegemoniale Positionierung der Aufklaerung

    B) den “klimatologischen Rassismus” vieler Aufklaerer (rein maennliche Form intendiert)

    C) Kants Einlassungen zur “schwarzen Rasse”

    Inwieweit diese “Indizien” die Thesen stuetzen, haengt davon ab, ob belegbar ist, dass der (historische) Historismus diesen “aufklaererischen Rassismus” in sich aufgenommen hat und ob ein solchgearteter Historismus noch immer zu den theoretischen Grundlagen der modernen Geschichtswissenschaft gehoert. Joern Ruesen und Georg Iggers, die von Prof. Voelkel zitiert werden, sind hier sicher gute erste Anlaufstellen zur Beantwortung dieser Fragen.

    Persoenlich bin nicht von These 3) ueberzeugt, also dass Weissein in die theoretischen Grundlagen der modernen Geschichtswissenschaft unsichtbar als Norm eingeschrieben ist. Auch These 2), dass Weisssein in den Vernunfts- und Rationalitaetsbegriff der modernen Geschichtswissenschaft eingeschrieben ist, ueberzeugt mich nicht. These 1) mag zutreffen als These ueber den historischen Historismus; zu deren Beurteilung fehlt mir hier das historische Wissen.

    Ich denke, der Historismus, der der modernen Geschichtswissenschaft und anderen historischen Wissenschaften zugrunde liegt, laesst sich fassen als a) ontologischer Historismus (i.e. alles ist historisch oder laesst sich zumindest so auffassen oder erklaeren); b) epistemologischer Historizismus (i.e. unsere Methoden und Wissensansprueche sind genauso historisch und damit fallibel); c) ein methodischer und regelhafter Zugang zu Quellen und Theorien, der wie Ruesen schreibt (im Text zitiert) an “regelhafte Verfahren gebunden wird, die die Begründungsfähigkeit historischer Aussagen systematisch steigern”. Philosophische Gewaehrspersonen sind hier eher Figuren wie Ruesen und Habermas oder TheoretikerInnen in der (analytischen) Geschichtsphilosophie und nicht Kant oder Montesquieu (und schon gar nicht deren rassistische Einlassungen). “Rasse” und “Rassismus” spielen in der Begruendung von a), b), c) keine Rolle.

    Das bedeutet umgekehrt natuerlich nicht, dass “kritische Weissseinsforschung” keinen Platz haette in der Geschichtswissenschaft oder dass die Geschichtswissenschaft nicht (strukturell) rassistisch waere im Sinne des Zugangs von Minderheiten zur Disziplin und damit auch im Sinne von deren Repraesentation innerhalb derselben. Ich denke, dass kritische Weissseins- und Rassismustheorien dabei helfen koennen, viele verschiedene Phaenomene zu verstehen, Phaenomene, die die Geschichtswissenschaft in ihrer eigenen Geschichte oft straeflich vernachlaessigt hat, dabei muss sie sich aber denselben (historistischen) methodologischen und rationalen Regularien unterwerfen wie jede andere Theorie, die in der Geschichtswissenschaft zur Anwendung kommt.

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