— Cultural Sources of Newness

Newness now!

Officially, the WZB research unit “Cultural Sources of Newness” ended in 2014, but intellectually it continues to be generative. Michael Hutter, the former director, and Ignacio Farías, one of the senior research fellows, put their heads together to take the results of our research program a step further.

In the course of intensive discussions about the five cultural techniques* for generating newness that were specified in the research unit’s final report, they reduced the number to three, namely configuring frames, creating objects and risking valuations. More importantly, they realized that all these techniques are really ways of inducing indeterminacy. In a social world that demands innovation but is geared toward eliminating uncertainty and toward gaining certainty, it is not easy to install approaches that are oriented in the opposite direction.

Fortunately, the reviewers of the Journal of Cultural Economy pressured the authors to explain their choice of exactly three ways of sourcing newness. Taking up this challenge led them to take another step forward, resulting in an analysis that takes the fundamental temporal nature of newness into account. Their article demonstrates: Now really matters for sourcing newness!

 “Now separates and connects events that are already over from events that have not yet happened. Each of these three ways resonates with such a now, wedged between not yet and already over. For each of these three ways of sourcing newness, one of the two others constitutes the horizon of past events and the other constitutes the horizon of future events. As the durations of events follow each other, multiple nows appear and then disappear. Taken together, they constitute a circular process that maintains indeterminate situations. Three components are a minimal condition for temporal sequences in which present, past and future are kept distinct.”

The article makes the concepts come alive by illustrating them with a rich diversity of examples.

You are welcome to access the full text by clicking on the link below to get a free e-print:


* The five techniques identified in the final report were: 1) Bordering spaces and environments,  2) Suspending rules and routines,  3) Curating contributions and circumstances,  4) Translating forms of value, and  5) Valuating novelties.