Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences

Artificial Intelligence, Communication, Culture, Philosophy, Religion and Liberal Arts and Sciences


Rapid Social and Cultural Transformation: Online & Offline

Program leader Ad Backus

The modern world is characterized by rapid and intense social and cultural change. Due to globalization and the attendant new technologies demographic and cultural changes seem more pervasive than ever before. These form the object of this research program. We engage specifically with digital culture, communication and group formation in globalized society, and the implications for the public sphere.

Globalization leads to ever increasing diversity, also named 'superdiversity', as people move across the world, taking with them cultural characteristics and practices. This leads to various kinds of culture contact, and often results in cultural hybridization, as individual people’s identities are affected, communicative and cultural practices get adapted to dynamic situations, communities struggle to maintain their coherence while new communities emerge, and ideologies get challenged and reshaped. Digital culture is understood here as the wide range of phenomena associated with online cultural and social practices, involving substantive transformations of the public sphere, of forms of community and identity formation, of communicative practices, and of social and political relationships. We investigate the integration of online activity in people’s lives and in the societies they inhabit and shape.

Research on these phenomena and processes is organized within three broadly interpreted 'cultural zones': art, religion, and communication. In each of these zones, we investigate changes induced by globalization and digitalization. At the superordinate level, we attempt to transform the common theoretical and methodological approaches to the phenomena and processes we engage with, in order to do justice to both the cultural continuity and innovation that typifies modern culture.

Transforming Artistic Practices

Leader Odile Heynders

Globalization and digitalization affect power relationships, community connections, and the identities that shape them, as well as the art that reflects these dimensions. Artistic practice is undergoing rapid shifts, involving important changes in the products of cultural expression and imagination, such as visual art, literature, film, and music clips, in the fora in which they occur, witness the changing distinction between the private and the public spheres due to the massive use of social media, and in the actors that generate or interpret these practices. These changes affect many areas of social life, including the educational and political arenas. The program aims to contribute new theoretical and methodological models, required to understand the contemporary mechanisms of artistic production and reception. Specific attention is given to the narratives and the imagination artists and intellectuals produce in making sense of the dynamic world they are part of. In addition, a comparative historical perspective on earlier technological and social changes (19th and 20th century) is developed.

Transforming Ritual Practices

Leader Herman Beck

Similar transformations are observed in what used to be a field of robust sociocultural and political transparency and structure: religion. On the one hand, digitalization and globalization have triggered a range of new opportunities for practicing religions, forms of spirituality and rituals, prompting new distinctions and interactions between fields of the sacred and causing complex forms of blending between religious and other aspects of identity, in which religion assumes the shape and function of one kind of cultural material alongside others. On the other hand, brand new forms of inter-religious interaction have emerged, feeding into new forms of politicized religiosity involving forms of radicalization as well as forms of trans-denominational relaxation and de-institutionalization.

Transforming Communicative Practices

Leader Ad Backus

Globalization and digitalization have engendered new patterns of communication, including but not limited to multilingual language use and interaction through internet and cell phone. In turn, these developments have spawned new norms in speaking and writing, new sociolinguistic realities and new structures of power and inequality. All of those come with new and different patterns of learning and acquisition, notably caused by the ever increasing number of skills needed to function in modern society, and the expansion and intensification of informal learning environments, both on- and offline. Studying these new phenomena and accounting for them requires innovative approaches in sociolinguistics, semiotics, discourse studies, and anthropology, since many existing theories do not do full justice to the dynamic and variable nature of everyday communication in a world that is 'superdiverse', highly networked, and subject to constant change. The program also aims to shed light on the role of communication in the larger cultural transformations investigated in other parts of the program.