Program & Abstracts

DAY 1: Thursday, May 27, 9:15-19:00

9:15–9:30 Introduction 

James S. Pearson (Department of Philosophy, University of Tartu) 

Catherine Gibson (School of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Tartu)

9:30-11:00 The Biopolitics of Multiculturalism: A Visual Analysis Perspective

This panel seeks to discuss the phenomenon of multiculturalism from the viewpoint of visual analysis, which allows to scholarly engage with the concepts of aesthetic turn in international relations, performativity and imagery, as well as popular geopolitics. In the meantime, the panel proposes an innovative biopolitical approach to the cultural and semiotic aspects of multiculturalism which focuses of human corporeality, sexuality and the plethora of bodily aspects of vernacular politics, both mainstream / official and alternative. The three proposed presentations are mutually complementary and reinforcing, unpacking different dimensions of the multiculturalism – biopower nexus.

Chair: Catherine Gibson (School of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Tartu) 

Visual Biopolitics: Constructing the Research Subfield of (Multi)cultural Studies, Andrey Makarychev (Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu)

Resistance to Polish Anti-Multiculturalism in Street Stickers, Michael Cole (Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu)


Nowadays, stickers are “…always visible, yet rarely seen, read and understood” (Velikonja, 2020:xii) in towns and cities throughout Europe. While many are produced and posted for commercial purposes (Vigsø, 2010:30), stickers have become more commonly used to express socio-cultural and political identities and reinforce feelings of group membership (Reershemius, 2019:623). Their small size and duplicability, as well as the relative ease of maintaining anonymity and thus evading legal repercussions when posting them, means they have become “…the main medium, therefore one of the main techniques of street art” (Velikonja, 2020:143) and a “staple of contemporary repertoires of protest” (Awcock, 2021:2). 
Despite this, stickers remain largely ignored by scholars of political participation and protest (Awcock, 2021:7). Therefore this paper first evaluates the combination of linguistic and visual elements, which make political stickers a unique genre of expression (Vigsø, 2010:30) and communication (Reershemius, 2019:623). In doing so, I argue that socio-cultural context (Bloch, 2000:65) and spatio-temporal positioning of stickers are crucial factors in fully understanding the meanings they convey (Velikonja, 2020:7). 
Having established a broader analytical framework, this paper takes the 2020 Polish Presidential election campaign as a case study, during which LGBT+ rights issues emerged as a key nodal point for revealing socio-political divisions in the country (Theise, 2020). What follows is a visual content analysis of pro-LGBT+ stickers posted in Krakow, as an act of resistance to incumbent President Andrzej Duda, whose biopolitical agenda discursively excluded the LGBT+ community from conceptualisations of the Polish nation (Płotka, 2018; Yatsyk, 2019).

Transgender Women in India: Religion, Sexuality, and Politics, Sami Nathan Siva (Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu)

11:30-13:00 Biological and Semiotic Perspectives on Human Diversity

Here, we want to present a panel discussing the definition of diversity among us with a multidisciplinary approach, adopting the perspectives of semiotics, physical anthropology, and human population genetics. The panel will begin with the definition of multiculturalism in a cultural semiotics theoretical framework. We will then discuss what bones can tell us about our ancestry from a phenotypical point of view and finally the genetic point of view explaining the concept of admixture within Eurasia.

Chair: Marcel Keller (Institute of Genomics, University of Tartu) 

A Culture is Always Multiple Cultures: A Semiotic Approach to Multiculturalism, E. Israel Chávez Barreto (Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu) 


Within the tradition of semiotics so richly developed in Tartu, a culture can be conceived of as a system of meaning-generating mechanisms; that is to say, a culture can be conceived as made up of many different sign systems. This amounts to saying that culture is a system constituted byways of cognizing material reality. The main proposal advanced by this presentation is that without the interplay of two different ways of cognizing material reality, there can’t be any culture at all. Taken to its last consequences, this is tantamount to the claim that a “culture” is intrinsically multicultural. The underlying argumentation to this claim is that culture only exists in and through the relations, it maintains with other cultures; the identity of a given culture can be then thought of as the meeting point of all the relations in which such culture participates, and this implies that to some extent every culture is multiple; or, paraphrasing Kalevi Kull, every culture is a local plurality. Our argumentation is based upon the generalization of two semiotic principles. The first one, advanced by a European linguist, says that a sign only exists within a system; thus a sign is inconceivable without the system, and its being a sign is determined by the relationships it contracts within the system itself. The second one, enunciated by a famous American pragmaticist, says that man itself is a sign; and thus, humans are a central object of semiotic research. These considerations immediately bring to light the inadequacy of using static concepts to describe the multiform reality of human diversity: a better way to give an account of human diversity, at all levels, from the genetic to the cultural, is to think of individuals as being determined, dynamically, by the relations in which they take part.

Phenotypic Diversity in Physical Anthropology: Is Multiculturalism the Checkmate of Ancestry Estimation?, Alessandra Morrone (Department of Archaeology, University of Tartu) 


A clear example of the multiform reality of human diversity is the phenotypic variation between different individuals. How is this variation perceived in physical anthropology? What bonds together bioarchaeologists and forensic anthropologists is the effort in the construction of the biological profile from skeletal remains. This is a sort of personal identikit of ancient or modern individuals including their age, sex, ancestry, pathologies, and physical characteristics, in order to reconstruct the demography of ancient populations or to allow the identification in judiciary cases. 
Ancestry estimation is one of the trickiest steps of biological profile reconstruction, due to the complex relationships between skeletal morphology and social constructs. The traditionally used methods can be either non-metric (trait list approach) or metric (measurements of specific skeletal regions), and generally rely on the correlation between skeletal morphological traits, geographic origin, and the perceived social race of the individuals. 
However, the effective criteria among which earlier scholars have classified human groups by ancestry (a “race-centered” three-group classification) are irremediably biased by the socio-historical contexts of the researchers. While it is true that phenotypic differences among population groups do exist, the genetic complexity of humans, as well as their case-specific environmental factors and social interactions, are incredibly ancient, diverse, and cannot be described by an inflexible and simplistic categorization. Patterns of within- and among-group variation have been substantially shaped by culture, language, ecology and geography, and race is not an accurate or productive way to describe human biological variation. 
Furthermore, phenotypic features keep changing! With current migration and demographic shifting, both metric and non-metric traits are subjected to continuous admixture, further challenging ancestry estimation in its old assumptions. This calls for a refined approach for ancestry estimation, more based on the fluid and continuous phenotypic variation of human communities rather than on static group definitions. In a word, based on multiculturalism.

What Do Our Genes Tell Us?, Tina Saupe (Institute of Genomics, University of Tartu; Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Tartu) 


We, as humans, have always been interested to find out more about our past - where do we come from? How did we get here? And how did our ancestors live? More and more scientists are focusing on the relevance of prehistory to people today and how that knowledge can be used in the future. 
However, in the last three decades, the ability of DNA sequencing has been used to extract DNA from human ancient remains and allows researchers to generate genomes of present-day as well as ancient individuals. The study of ancient DNA (aDNA) gives us a deeper and more detailed look into our past. For now, we are able to estimate the genetic ancestry composition of each human individual from different time periods, cultures, religious backgrounds, and societies. The presentation will focus on the admixture of Eurasian individuals and why Multiculturalism did not start yesterday. We will look deeper into the genetic diversity of ancient as well as modern human individuals using human population genetics. We will focus on the two major migrations into Europe from Anatolia during the Neolithic and from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe during the Copper Age/ Bronze Age transition.
Additionally, more companies, e.g. 23andme and MyHeritage are providing their DNA-test-kits commercially and give you results within a couple of months. Those results can be surprising if you do not know anything about your past. Thus, the controversy of such tests has risen and has found its way into bigger discussion within the societies and reshapes the definition of multi-cultures.

14:30-16:00 Multicultural Discourses

Chair: Siobhan Kattago (Department of Philosophy, University of Tartu) 

Working out the Waterline: Examining the Threshold Between Negative and Positive Policy within Political Multiculturalism, Vello Pettai (Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu; European Centre for Minority Issues, Flensburg) 


As with many concepts in social science, the notion of multiculturalism has been challenged by semantic and discursive ambiguities that have greatly muddled the use of the term both in scholarly and public contexts. While a great deal has been done by some authors to clarify the broadscale meaning of multiculturalism (Wieviorka 1998), there remain some important obscurities in relation to what is captured more specifically by ‘political multiculturalism’. 
It goes without saying that the conventional point of departure for political multiculturalism comes both from comparative policy analysis and from political theory. Within the realm of the former, political multiculturalism refers to the kinds of government policies that are undertaken with an express purpose to preserve and empower diverse ethno-cultural-religious identities in a multiethnic society. Likewise within political theory, debates over political multiculturalism aim to lay the normative groundwork for these human rights and principles of justice. 
However, in what is often spoken about as a ‘backlash’ to political multiculturalism over the last 15 years, this notion has become muddled, since it has become fused with a range of other adjacent phenomena. Critics of political multiculturalism have broadened the debate to encompass additional issues like migration, immigration, naturalization, integration. Whether by conscious intent or unwitting misunderstanding, the way in which we talk about political multiculturalism is no longer solely about the ‘positive’ elements of enriching society with multiple identities, but rather about the ‘negative’ preconditions such as the terms under which new individuals can at all enter a society, obtain the right to remain there or become some ‘integrated’.
The focus of this paper will above all be conceptual and reflective. Its empirical component will not be actual debates in any particular country. Rather, as an illustration of how to find the waterline between negative and positive policy within political multiculturalism, the paper will juxtapose different comparative surveys of the phenomena raised in this abstract. Much as Sara Wallace Goodman (2015, 2019) has recently done, the paper will look at varied indices of immigration, citizenship, integration and multiculturalism in order to flesh out more clearly the full range and sequence of phenomena that go into understanding contemporary political multiculturalism. 

Goodman, Sara Wallace. "Conceptualizing and measuring citizenship and integration policy: Past lessons and new approaches." Comparative Political Studies 48.14 (2015): 1905-1941.
Goodman, Sara Wallace. "Indexing immigration and integration policy: Lessons from Europe." Policy Studies Journal 47.3 (2019): 572-604.
Wieviorka, Michel. "Is multiculturalism the solution?." Ethnic and racial studies 21.5 (1998): 881-910.

The Integral State, Subalternity and Race: The Movement for Black Lives and its Reception in Russia, Viacheslav Morozov (Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu) 


The M4BL has opened up a radically new stage in the debate about multiculturalism and its significance for universal emancipation. My paper will use Antonio Gramsci’s concepts of subalternity and the integral state to reflect upon the differences between race relations in the US and Eastern Europe, with Russia as the main case in point. Recent neo-Gramscian literature has come up with the concept of integrated subaltern – identifiable, ‘familiar’ parts of the hegemonically organised social landscape. I argue that in the US context, blacks are integrated subalterns. They have a legitimate position within the integral state, which enables them to advance demands and achieve localised political success. However, their demands are domesticated and neutralised by the transformist workings of the integral state. The situation in Russia is closer to the opposite extreme: there, race does not constitute a valid platform for the representation of subaltern groups, which results in the exclusion of non-whites from the hegemonic order. Racial minorities are hardly ever represented even as voiceless subaltern: racial difference is thematised mostly in racist discourses, while even in the more progressive part of the mainstream it is mostly ignored. This indicates a more radical exclusion and oppression, but at the same time demonstrates the emancipatory potential of mobilising race politically in the Russian context.

Multilingual Reality vs. Monolingual Ideology: Linguistic Landscapes of the Twin Cities of Ivangorod / Narva, Kapitolina Fedorova (School of Humanities, Tallinn University) & Vlada Baranova (Department of Sociology, Higher School of Economics St. Petersburg)


Linguistic landscapes represent an important source of information on multilingual speech practices typical for certain areas. However, they do not necessarily provide precise reflections of such practices since some languages can be under- or overrepresented in public spaces due to different power relations between ethnic groups and dominating ideologies (Gorter 2006; Blackwood et al. 2016). This paper deals with the representation of foreign languages in the linguistic landscapes of the twin border cities of Ivangorod and Narva on the Russian-Estonian border. The data collected in 2018–2021 are analyzed in the framework of Ethnographic Linguistic Landscape Analysis (Blommaert 2013), with a focus on language ideologies and their impact on communication practices. Russia adheres to a strict monolingual policy, not favoring diversity in public language use. Estonia’s language policy is more complex; however, Estonian is the only official language of the state. The city of Narva, populated mostly by Russian speakers, reveals an evident mismatch between official language policy and actual communication patterns. The diversity of its linguistic landscape is created mainly by private actors, with business playing a major role. Ivangorod, despite being a border city, does not use foreign languages as a symbolic resource to construct its border identity. Rather it represents, in terms of linguistic landscape, an outpost of monolingualism. 

Blackwood R., Lanza E., Woldemariam H. (eds.). 2016. Negotiating and Contesting Identities in Linguistic Landscapes. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic.
Blommaert J. 2013. Ethnography, Superdiversity, and Linguistic Landscapes: Chronicles of Complexity. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Gorter D. (ed.). 2006. Linguistic Landscape: A New Approach to Multilingualism. Clevedon; Buffalo; Toronto: Multilingual matters.

16:30-17:30 Contemporary Political Theory

Chair: Lelde Arnicāne (Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu) 

Culture and Realism in the Ethics of Immigration, James S. Pearson (Department of Philosophy, University of Tartu)


The ethics of immigration is currently marked by a division between realists and idealists. Idealists tend to focus on conceptualizing morally ideal immigration policies, which the realists object are far-fetched and unfeasible. By contrast, the realists seek to formulate actionable policy-recommendations capable of addressing current political problems relating to immigration. This is an instance of what has been called ‘problem-solving’ realism. The issue is that several political theorists have cast doubt on the coherence of problem-solving realism. They demonstrate that what counts as a ‘feasible’ solution is far harder to determine than problem-solving realists make out. In this paper, I argue that the immigration realists are indeed vulnerable to these objections, and I make a case study of David Miller’s theory of immigration (with a focus on his dubious conception of cultural nationalism) in order to substantiate my claim. I conclude that the ethics of immigration would therefore do well to engage with the recent literature in political realism.

Accepting the 'Strange Multiplicity': Struggle for Recognition as a Continuous Process, Laura Vilbiks (Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu) 


The presentation will dissect James Tully’s approach to cultural recognition and citizenization, as outlined in „Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity“ (1995) and later in „Public Philosophy in a New Key“ (2008). Tully opposes unilateral demands of recognition, suggesting a pluralist and complex way of responding to the claims of recognition. The current practice of modern constitutionalism, as Tully calls the various prevailing strands of political theory, fails to address the multiplicity of demands by diverse members of the society. It also often seeks to establish a definitive consensus, which Tully deems anti-democratic in a multinational and multicultural society. Instead, the struggle over recognition should be a continuous process of discussion, as there will always continue to be dissent and disagreement. The sense of belonging that Quebec citizens felt during the long-winded public debate over their demands started dissolving after the 1995 referendum – the discussion stopped, a seemingly „final“ and uniform solution was imposed. Rather than viewing citizenship as an institutionalized status, minorities should become citizens by participating in the processes of identity formation and taking part in everyday discussions, through which they will develop a sense of belonging. In modeling these discussions, Tully takes inspiration from the practices of indigenous nations, emphasizing the principle of reciprocity, mutual recognition, and mutual acknowledgment. The question remains, however, whether and how such respectful and reciprocal multilogues can actually be accomplished in the realm of practical politics.

17:45-19:00 Keynote

An Old Wine in a New Bottle? Multiculturalism in Historical Perspective, Eva Piirimäe (Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu)


Multiculturalism is often contrasted with nationalism – whilst nationalism advocates a close fit between cultural and political identities, multiculturalism recognises the existence of a plurality of cultural identities within one political community. As such, it is seen as a novel theoretical approach distinctly suited for the pluralist conditions of post-Second-World war liberal democracies – one capable of specifying the ways in which substantive, rather than merely formal, equality is to be guaranteed in a modern polity.

The lecture will critically examine this established view. First, as recent debates on multiculturalism have shown, its relationship to nationalism is far less settled than it may appear from a purely analytical point of view. Multiculturalism has stood open to criticisms from two apparently opposing sides. On the one hand, multiculturalism is seen as just a variety of nationalism; on the other, it has been evaluated as detrimental to civic cohesion. Both lines of criticism trade on the idea that multiculturalism harbours an essentialist, reifying and politicising approach to culture.  The first would like to do away with all kinds of ascriptive group identities,  whilst  the second, by contrast, re-affirms the need for a common national identity.

Second, the lecture will revisit the theoretical foundations and intellectual origins of multiculturalism. Whilst multiculturalism is often seen as a recent invention, its main conceptual architect, the philosopher Charles Taylor, has always been open about the relevance of a set of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century ideas for this theory – first of all, Herder’s ideal of authenticity and Hegel’s emphasis on the universal need for recognition. However, whilst Taylor attempted to insert these elements into a theory of substantive equality in a liberal democratic polity, we may wish to adopt a more rigorously historical approach and ask about the ways in which different historical authors have theorised the relationship between individuals, nations and states since the eighteenth century. The lecture’s particular focus here will be on ninteenth-century theories of ’nationality’ and non-territorial cultural autonomy, which will then be juxtaposed with contemporary theories of multiculturalism.

DAY 2: Friday, May 28, 10:00-18:15

10:00-11:00 Historical Approaches to Religion and Solidarity in Multicultural Societies

Chair: Riho Altnurme (School of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Tartu) 

How to Research Multiculturalism in Religious History? The Case of Estonian Orthodoxy in the 20th Century, Irina Paert (School of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Tartu) 


This paper will introduce the project ‘Orthodoxy as solidarity: an examination of popular and conciliar Orthodoxy in Estonia during the long 20th century’ (PRG1274). Using  multiculturalism teleologically, we can claim that multiculturalism was an intrinsic feature of religious approach to cultural and ethnic diversity. However, there were limitations to that. 
Charles Taylor stated that there may be a religious ground for a presumption of the equal worth of different cultures (Taylor, et al. 1994). Indeed, the influence of the biblical and patristic notions of human being’s affinity with God, the sacredness of human life and the kinship of all people, children of Adam, had a strong influence on the religious ‘politics of recognition’. Eastern Christian churches’ sacred languages (Greek, Church Slavonic, Romanian, etc) were close enough to the vernacular, and  unlike Latin, could be understood by the people. There are arguments that Orthodoxy was easily identifiable with a specific ethnic group and nation. Through Orthodox missions, several ethnic groups received written languages and could reflect on their own culture and religion. Does it mean that cultural and ethnic differences within the Orthodox church were recognised as equal? Did the Orthodox church recognise other forms of Christianity as equal? Looking at the Russian Orthodox Church during the period of the Russian Empire we can observe a tension between the Imperial order that granted each confession in the Empire a legal status and self-government, and the non-established religious groups; as well as the tension between Russian and non-Russian Orthodoxies in the Empire. Here, we will explore the tension between the Orthodox universalizing visions, such as the concept of sobornost, on the one hand, and the practice, on the other, showing examples of religious multiculturalism, and misrecognition of non-Russian Orthodox cultures, which is still persistent.

Cartographies of Multiculturalism: Approaches to Mapping Ethnoreligious Communities and the Politics of Data Visualisation in the 19th Century Baltic, Catherine Gibson (School of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Tartu) 


Maps of ethnographic and religious groups construct vivid images of human diversity, presenting us with a mosaic of shaded areas representing different peoples. This practice of thinking about human identities in spatial terms emerged through the work of 19th-century mapmakers experimenting with applying geographical data visualization techniques. They used mapping to untangle and bring a rational sense of order to the complex intersections of ethnic, linguistic, and religious belonging pertaining to the inhabitants of Eastern Europe’s imperial borderlands. This paper examines how 19th-century cartographic methods, data visualisation techniques, design considerations, and map production processes had a long-lasting impact on approaches to mapping multicultural societies in the Russian Empire. I argue that embedded in the seemingly “neutral” and “scientific” cartographic vocabulary of scales, legends, lines, colours, and shading was a highly political and illiberal agenda. The process of visualising data on human diversity involved creating ethnolinguistic and religious taxonomies, hierarchies of importance, and distinctions between indigenous and colonising populations, and thus was used by mapmakers to shape ideas about who should and should not belong in the territory.

11:30-12:30 Theological and Philosophical Dialogues on Multiculturalism

Chair: Indrek Peedu (School of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Tartu) 

Denying Multiculturalism: Orthodox Ecclesiology and the Anticolonial Narrative of Western Captivity, Andrey Shishkov (NGO Center for Advanced Theological Studies, Moscow; School of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Tartu) 


The narrative that forms the modern Orthodox identity and conciseness is a history of colonization and decolonization. The main Orthodox historical narrative created in the XIX-XX centuries and fueling modern Orthodox identity says: after the schism in 1054, the history of Orthodox-Catholic relations is a continuous series of attempts by the ecclesiastical Rome to colonize Orthodoxy. We can find this narrative in the works of Frs. Georgy Florovsky, Alexander Schmemann, John Meyendorff, John Romanidis, Vladimir Lossky, Christos Yannaras, and other theologians who belong to the theological trend of the neo-patristic theology, which occupies a dominant position in Orthodox theology from the 1930s. The opposition of the East and the West is a crucial element of neo-patristics as a method. George Demakopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou note that the category of the West plays an important role in the Orthodox imagination and construction of the modern Orthodox self. The emergence of the Orthodox anticolonial narrative is closely connected with the assertion of the romantic paradigm in Orthodox theology (and first of all, in ecclesiology). The romantic understanding of the Church is associated with the idea of the Church as an organic community, the main characteristic of which is unity. The romantic approach is based on opposition to the Other. In some cases, this Other may appear within the Orthodox Church, destroying Orthodox unity. For example, in the confrontation between Russian and Greek Orthodoxy. However, romantic ecclesiology can allow for a variety of national identities and cultures (in Christ, there is neither a Greek nor a Jew); it works with them on the principle of a melting pot, placing organic unity above diversity. Unlike decolonialism, the postcolonial approach is sensitive to the complexity of the issue of identity. The postcolonial narrative could be constructed around the theological notion “koinonia,“ which focused on a dynamic understanding of unity as communion, not on a static understanding of unity as an organic body.

Approaching Diversity Meaningfully: On the Young Martin Heidegger’s Analysis of Different Ways of Understanding St Paul, Karin Kustassoo (Department of Philosophy, University of Tartu) 


”If the history of religion clarifies religiosity from out of its religious environment, as [it does] out of its historical time, how can one then accuse it of not reaching its object? After all, it interprets, as objective science, free of prejudices and preconceptions, only on the basis of its material of sense that the contemporary source offer, independently of all tendencies of the present.” (GA 60: 53 [77].)
These words of young Martin Heidegger from his lecture course Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion lead to his problematization of different manners of approaching a concrete phenomenon, Saint Paul’s letters. How can we address the letters of Paul, the Apostle from the 1st century, and how can we encounter him in today’s situation?
In this presentation, I take my point of departure from a stance that a discussion over multiculturalism accepts the meaningfulness of the question of how we approach anything whatsoever. From this perspective, I offer young Martin Heidegger’s analysis of different ways of approaching any given phenomenon. Specifically, I first outline two possible ways of relating named by Heidegger as attitudinal understanding [einstellungsmäβiges Verstehen] and phenomenological understanding [phänomenologische Verstehen]. Then I argue for Heidegger’s phenomenological account as offering a better framework for approaching diversity meaningfully. I will illustrate the argumentation with Heidegger’s reading of the letters of Paul.
The proposed presentation is a part of a more comprehensive project in which I explore the applicability of young Heidegger’s phenomenology to the study of the conditions of disagreement and the possibility of an agreement between different monotheistic religions.
GA 60 = Heidegger, Martin 2004: The Phenomenology of Religious Life. Translated by Matthias Fritsch and Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei. Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. [Heidegger, Martin 1995: Phänomenologie des religiösen Lebens. GA 60. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann Verlag.]

15:00-16:30 Multiformity of Culture: Concepts of Semiotics and the Study of Multiculturalism

This double panel offers an overview of some basic traits pertaining to the nature of multiculturalism in a semiotic key. The first of two papers introduces the conceptual basis for different types of thinking which help us to understand different cultural traditions and the other(s) therein. Secondly, since language(s) plays a significant part both in thinking and in culture(s), as well as in space and time, the curious character of language for the study of multicultural societies will be examined. As different cultures are very difficult to reproduce under laboratory circumstances, the study of multiple cultures will be exemplified in the second part of the panel with two papers; one focusing on prison studies and the other on cultural data analytics.

Chair: James S. Pearson (Department of Philosophy, University of Tartu) 

Modal Semiotics as a Methodological Basis for Studying Multiculturality, Herman Tamminen (Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu) 


Sciences dealing with culture readily admit the plurality of cultural universes. Such plurality affords the postulating of differences in cultural traditions, and by that, differences in types of thinking. Besides the possibility of mutually harmonious relationships between two (or more) representatives of different cultural universes, on the very same basis it may be proposed that disagreements, misunderstandings, outright aggression, etc. may also sprout wherever there is a clash of two (or more) types of thinking which are not mutually reconcilable. Both situational outcomes often remain unexplained thoroughly to the end, due to neglection in methodology to take note of mutual compatibilities, and – more importantly – unbreachable differences in types of thinking. Were we to bring to view the elementary fundamentals upon which differences in types of thinking are based, the task to understand the others more clearly seems less improbable.
    The aim of this presentation is to introduce a different methodological approach to cultural traditions and types of thinking, namely, that of modal semiotics as presented by Zilberman (1988). Instead of the more accustomed to semiotic analysis – the study or construction of significational models (of culture) as though they were actual objects – modal semiotics provides us with a three-dimensional understanding of what culture is, how it is possible, why is it inevitable, and how their respective types of thinking differ. By identifying three levels of modal reality – absolute reality, level of phenomenation, absolute irreality – and three modalities therein – deontic, hypothetic, apodictic – which correspond to norm, value, idea, respectively; we may identify six types of traditional thinking according to the possible combinations in modal transitions. This somewhat novel modal methodology aids us to embark under way towards a better understanding of different types of thinking, different cultural universes, and by extension, culture as such.

Multiculturalism and the Prison, Erik Kõvamees (Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu) 


As an Estonian-Canadian (or Canadian-Estonian?) researcher interested in bridging the semiotics of culture with prison ethnography, I have noticed that each of these four categories either represents or approaches multiculturalism in a different way. 1) Multiculturalism in Estonia has often been a controversial topic; in Estonia, I am defined as a väliseestlane, the ambiguous “outside Estonian.” 2) In Canada, meanwhile, multiculturalism has been an official policy since 1971; possessing a complementary ethnic identity (emphasis on the “complementary”) is valued positively in the context of Canadian society. 3) When it comes to studying multiculturalism, the concept of language—extending beyond natural language to include “modelling systems” as diverse as scientific and artistic “languages”—as developed in the semiotics of culture proves a valuable analytical tool. 4) And finally, the study of the prison could benefit from the introduction of both the extended concept of language and the notion of multiculturalism; indeed, as regards the latter, ever since the explosion of racial violence in the prisons of 1960s California, the history of prison studies, especially American, has moved on from a heavily-criticized “colour blind” approach to examining the radically-racialized nature of the prison subculture, i.e., as a multitude of different and hyperbolized ethnic and/or racial cultures.
    Multiple cultures thus reside both inside individuals and in wider social contexts, and in either case can be approached via the extended concept of language and the concept of multiculturalism as such. My presentation’s objective is to meditate on these “multiple multiculturalisms” (the conceptualization of multiculturalism on different scales and in different ways) and use the concept of multiculturalism as a framing device, with special emphasis being not so much on myself, but on the individual identities, group identities, and languages present in the prison world.

Towards Wissenschaft of Cultural Other with Cultural Semiotics and Cultural Data Analytics, Mark Mets (School of Humanities, Tallinn University)


The concept of cultural other is a well-studied topic in humanities and social sciences. Distinguishing one’s own culture from other cultures, together with the categorizing of those cultures are basic steps in any socio-cultural meaning-making. These semiotic processes can be researched through the cultural representations that leave traces in many different modalities. The forms and quantity of such cultural signs have become increasingly plentiful in the digital era together with our interactions with different cultures. There is much to discover about our past, present and potential future conceptions of cultural other by making efficient use of new methods for analyzing large amounts of cultural data. I aim to provide a preliminary analysis on how we can approach cultural other by combining perspectives from semiotics and cultural data analytics. For that, I will provide simple examples of how cultural big data, such as Google n-grams corpus, can contribute to the understanding of cultural other. Furthermore, the data can in itself include othering through biases. It is related to the perspective that our understanding of cultural other as represented by cultural big data as well as the limitations of such data are best understood through the combination of computational and qualitative analysis. This exemplifies the usefulness of a Wissenschaft perspective in cultural studies that overcomes the hard division between sciences on the one side, and arts, humanities and social sciences on the other. It adds to the existing discussions that have connected semiotics and cultural data analytics which look beyond the existing divisions between different modalities, humans, other animals, technology and environment. This approach could also help to better understand the divisions between our and other cultures within our rapidly changing and globalizing cultures.

16:45-18:00 Keynote

Emic Perspectives on Multiculturalism: Insights from Germany and Myanmar

Alexander Horstmann (Friedrich-Alexander University)


This presentation shuns away from the top-down perspective of integration and assimilation towards emic perspectives on ethnic and religious diversity and multiculturalism as a political way to manage or mismanage it. Using the concept of everyday multiculturalism, ethnographic insights from Germany and Myanmar shed light on the strategies of civil society to shape multiculturalism as a way of life. Emic perspectives offer fascinating insights into how togetherness is experienced, what went wrong, and what kind of diversity is desirable? For this to happen, the initiative would come from the bottom-up: We thus introduce the concept of transversal enabler and covenantal civility to show how individuals and communities in the municipality offer public spaces in which diversity can be lived in a way that it is beneficial and meaningful for participants. It is argued that these concepts have to be presented to the government, so that the public administration can facilitate open, inclusive and colorful society on all levels. The talk will be backed with insights from Germany and Myanmar, two vastly different cases of ethnic and religious diversity. The question is: How can we all benefit from immigration and diversity?

18:00-18:15 Conference Concluding Remarks

James S. Pearson (Department of Philosophy, University of Tartu) 

Catherine Gibson (School of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Tartu)