2/2023: Expert culture in the age of uncertainty

(CFP: February 1–28, 2023)

Experts have always played a significant role in society. Their importance increased as our lives became more complex and specialised. With information aggregating at an impossible pace, referring to the knowledge of those who have it has proven to be an indispensable part of life. Experts have emerged as valuable assets, both in the consumer culture (predictable and associated with growth and system stability, but also enforcing constant choices) and in the culture of anxiety, uncertainty and less stable rules of social order. In postmodernity, an expert is someone that has the knowledge necessary in the times of ubiquitous risk to reduce uncertainty and the probability of a mistake. In the social sciences, the category of an expert is frequently associated not only with knowledge and communication processes but also with the exercise of power. An expert can gain impact by using knowledge and influencing public discourse. It was already Jürgen Habermas who said that public discourse was dominated by what could be called expert culture. However, recent technological progress has reduced the importance of experts. In the age of the internet, anyone can become an expert, says Tom Nichols, with collective wisdom and reliance on media specialists emerging as inseparable elements of our lives. In the face of these dilemmas, it is necessary to ask the following questions: Does the knowledge of current experts truly correspond to modern challenges? When suddenly confronted with unexpected situations, can experts diagnose them and predict how they will unfold? Are we currently experiencing the affirmation or depreciation of expert culture? What will the future expert be like? Are we living in the tyranny of experts, as William Easterly said, or are we seeing a crisis of expert culture?

3/2023: Ethnomusicologist on a field trip. The field in ethnomusicology

(CFP: April 3–28, 2023)

‘Field trip!’ – this slogan has been used by nearly all generations of ethnomusicologists. How has the definition of the key concept of field change in ethnomusicology throughout years? What is the identity of the source found by today’s researchers of musical folklore? What is the ontological and semantic value of the concepts of ‘authentic’ and ‘genuine’ in the study of the broadly defined traditional musical culture? The modern definition of the field as a specific location one must go to in order to meet the mythical ‘Other’ and their work is becoming increasingly blurred despite the concept being still associated with rural areas as a place of folk music. However, performers no longer operate in isolated communities but in a world similar, if not the same, as researchers. The music they perform has changed or lost its former context and function. Consequently, it seems crucial to ponder on the relationship between the researcher and the subject, particularly in the light of the well-established knowledge that the development of tradition is a result of people’s individual contributions to culture rather than anonymous work of unknown groups that needs to be preserved in its authentic form (as was the belief for centuries). Another important issue is collecting fieldwork documentation as a hobby. What motivates this activity and what happens to the collected material afterwards? In the digital age, ethno-enthusiasts are inadvertently contributing to the McDonaldisation of field research, making a professional definition of the term even more necessary than ever before.

4/2023: Small-Town Syndrome, or small-townedness

(CFP: July 3–31, 2023)

The new concept of Small-Town Syndrome (in Polish: małomiasteczkowość, which literally translates as ‘small-townedness’) has attracted increasing attention in recent years. It accommodates descriptions of space other than those attributed to the opposition of the countryside vs. the city (a large metropolis and city life). Surveys by the Public Opinion Research Centre (CBOS) indicate that only 13% of Poles would like to live in the city. While Small-Town Syndrome remains a relative term, the city–countryside opposition is currently undergoing deconstruction. One can no longer think of rural areas only as ‘orientalised’ world, provinces or peripheries ridden with complexes (although the latter can still be the case). Neither can it be romanticised, as was a common practice in the mid-20th century and the then popular vision of global village (cf. Leszek Kołakowski). This deconstruction combined with the subsequent disenchantment with the previous visions of life and the simultaneous recognition of the ‘new magic’ of social reality allow the world to open anew, with small-townedness emerging as a strong voice in public life and, frequently, a mediator between the city and the countryside. As a hybrid concept, it shows the dynamics of the clash between the local and supra-local forces. The revival of small towns has been driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, during which many young people returned to their family towns and localities. What was it like for them? Is the small-town locality a newly invented tradition or one that has been regained? Will this socio-cultural change trigger the processes of deglomeration? Can the provinces become a new utopia? Do we need a new anthropology of everyday life to take a fresh look on the detail as a reflection of the general picture and understand the contemporary phenomenon of small-townedness?

1/2024: Asymmetries of knowledge: Cultural studies and literary studies

(CFP: September 1–29, 2023)

The concept of this issue is to explore topics related to the analysis of the historically and geographically diverse origins of cultural studies intertwined with and emerging from literary studies. A two-fold theoretical approach is proposed: (1) the transition from the scientific analysis of conceptual discourse to ‘cultural studies on scientific culture’ as defined by Anna Zeidler-Janiszewska; and (2) the reconstruction of social and interdisciplinary translations referred to by Karin Knorr Cetina as ‘transepistemic arenas of research’, that is communities and relationships extending beyond the purely cognitive dimension (and studied, for example, from the perspective of Adele Clarke’s situational analysis). Another topic is the reconstruction of protocultural traditions from the Polish humanities of the 1920s to 1960s as a reservoir of largely unexplored categories and conceptualisations. Our aim is to encourage more reflection on the ideas and writings by scholars such as Stefania Skwarczyńska, Stefan Żółkiewski, Dawid Hopensztand, Konstanty Troczyński, Stanisław Brzozowski (and probably many others) as participants in the modern debate, of which we are also a part.