23rd Karlsruhe Dialogues - Speakers

The City: Home of Minorities


Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kaschuba


Foto: Mathias Heyde

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kaschuba is former director of the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research (BIM), member of the Executive Committee of the German Commission for UNESCO and of its Committee of Experts for Intangible Cultural Heritage. From 1994-2015, he was professor for European Ethnology at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and executive director of the Institute for European Ethnology; from 2011-2013 Kaschuba served as executive director of the Georg-Simmel Center for Metropolitan Studies. His research, essays, and books focus on European history of the nation state, ethnic belonging, and politics of history, as well as on global developments of metropolitan areas, mobility, and migration in the present. He is member of various scientific boards for journals such as Geschichte und Gesellschaft in Germany, L´Homme in France, or Folklore Studies in China. His publications include: Die Überwindung der Distanz. Zeit und Raum in der Europäischen Moderne (2004), Urban Spaces after Socialism. Ethnographies of Public Spaces in Eurasian Cities (2011), and Einführung in die Europäische Ethnologie (ed., 2012).



1. In your opinion, what aspects of collective life (economy, politics, society) are affected the most by a lack of taking on responsibility?

I wouldn’t omit any of the three areas of irresponsibility. The political sector refuses to engage in any visionary debate on the future of society, despite and also because of the fears about globalisation. The business sector systematically avoids issues of social distribution and justice such as the debate on ecological sustainability. And society itself is ambivalent at the least: on the one hand trapped in populist fragmentation and differences, on the other hand on the positive path to a civil society.


2. Do you see a continuing trend that democratic majorities increasingly often vote against our values of a tolerant society? If so, how does one respond to it?

We lack an intensive debate about the relationship between individual freedom and joint responsibility in politics and the media. Moreover, this in a society which is tending ever more to a society of ‘lifestyles’ in which political overlaps and cultural commonalities can no longer be assumed. Here, politics is failing both as a navigator and as a mediator in almost every respect. And the self-proclaimed social elites are disgracing themselves here as well.


3. In your view, what circumstances preclude the assumption of responsibility? Is the main reason to be found in a loss of seemingly secure values, norms and regulations?

The current fragmentation and division of society is certainly also a result of uncertainty. However, this seems to be less a result of concrete and shared experience and more a result of the targeted debates and campaigns in our ‘hysterical times’. It is not only the Gaulands and Trumps who contribute to this, but also German Ministers of the Interior when, for instance, they threateningly describe migration as the ‘mother of all our problems’ instead of recognising it, with reference to the history of civilisation, as the ‘mother of society’.


4. Where does the responsibility of science with regard to the impacts of its research start and where does it end (e.g. ‘gene manipulation of embryos in China or ‘research in artificial intelligence’)?

The scientific community must generally extend itself much further into societal areas in order to supervise and guide the way that people react to its research questions and research results – such as application in business, in the medical sphere and in society as a whole. Only in this way can freedom of science and of research be properly defended. In this respect the times of the academic ivory tower are over once and for all. This is something, however, that many colleagues have still failed to recognise.