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Traveling forms

Nomis Foundation supports project in the fields of literature and anthropology at the University of Konstanz

Over time, people, as well as their cultural goods, move from place to place. The University of Konstanz’s interdisciplinary project “Traveling Forms” focuses on the mobility of cultural forms in four sub-projects combining literary and anthropological perspectives. Examining past as well as present phenomena, the group will develop the concept of ‘form’ further for cultural studies. The Swiss Nomis Foundation will fund the project with 1.2 million euros starting in October 2020 for at least four years. The project’s speaker is Juliane Vogel, professor of German literature in Konstanz.

When people meet, they create and use “forms”. They adapt these forms to fit the specific situation and take them on a journey through time and space. In a globalized world, forms have become increasingly mobile and traditional concepts of “form” need to be redefined. The project “Traveling Forms” concentrates on forms that move beyond cultural and social boundaries. How, for example, do literary genres travel? Different forms of transmission and publication are possible, and genres can move using vastly different institutions or actors. “Shakespeare’s tragedies were introduced to Germany by traveling theatre ensembles who presented spoofs of Shakespeare in local inns”, Juliane Vogel explains her “Traveling Tragedy” part of the project. She contrasts the spreading of everyday theatre in the Shakespearean tradition with the courtly, highly codified tragedies of classic French theatre. 

“We would like to find out how cultural, literary, aesthetic and institutional forms both stabilize and destabilize as a result of travel and migration”, explains Juliane Vogel, who was just awarded one of the highly regarded Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prizes for 2020. “Traveling Forms” believes that forms are constantly being renewed and adapted in order to maintain their relevance, in particular when they travel, migrate and cross boundaries. Juliane Vogel: “We ask what happens when a form that originates from 17th-century England re-emerges in 18th-century Germany. Which forms emerge when an incoming form comes into contact with local forms?”

The sub-project led by Christina Wald, professor of English literature in Konstanz, “Migration of Tragedy”, is closely related and examines tragic forms in the post-colonial period of the 20th and 21st centuries. Which kind of genres emerge as a result of European and classical forms meeting with African contexts and forms? Post-colonial tragedy also functions as a form of political resistance. The project discusses the political consequences when western and native theatrical forms intersect.

The sub-project led by Thomas Kirsch, professor of anthropology in Konstanz, “Activism as a Traveling Aesthetic Form”, also looks into political resistance and changing forms under current media policies. His work is based on his own ethnographic recordings of dance forms that are used by resistance movements, adapted and passed along. The researchers expect to gain knowledge about how forms are transformed and how the shape of a form is related to its stability and variation. “On the one hand, we ask what makes the form recognizable while, on the other hand, the form never remains exactly the same. It lives on exactly because it is being adapted and passed on”, Juliane Vogel says.

Dr Marcus Twellmann, a cultural studies scholar in Konstanz, examines the space where literature meets anthropology. His sub-project “Forms in Translation” strives to develop a general theory of form processes that is based on his interdisciplinary research and that will benefit the entire project. The project coordinator’s work is based on the concept of assemblage as used in cultural anthropology. It understands forms not as an organism made of interlinking parts but rather as comprised of elements of different movements and cultures that are temporarily brought together in a certain temporal context that can later be dissolved. This makes it possible to describe the local anchoring of globally circulating forms as they integrate elements of their new location.

The project “Traveling Forms” evolved from research on mobility within the cultural studies research priority at the University of Konstanz. 

The Nomis Foundation is a private foundation based in Switzerland that supports research in any discipline. It funds research projects around the world that pursue radical new approaches or new perspectives. 


  • Nomis Foundation supports “Traveling Forms” project at the University of Konstanz
  • Four-part project in the fields of literature and cultural anthropology
  • Speaker: Juliane Vogel, professor of German literature in Konstanz
  • Funding amounts to 1.2 million euros starting in October 2020 and lasting at least four years