Black and white photo of confetti.

Annual Theme 2017/18: Diversity

Diversity means different things: diversity management is increasingly an integral component of organizational and corporate structures; in the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity, biodiversity has become a key political concept combining the struggle to protect nature with its sustainable, equitable exploitation; on a political level, diversity indicates respect for different identities and the effort to provide equal and fair access to political and social life for all. But precisely this appreciation of plurality has recently come under fire, as witnessed by an article from November 2016 in the New York Times which claimed that the “the fixation on diversity” was in part responsible for the results of the American presidential election.

In 2017/18 the ZfL will devote its Annual Theme to the concept of diversity and the current struggles surrounding it.

Initiating our investigations are three contributions that can be read on our blog, or in our brochure. Ernst Müller and Falko Schmieder trace some of the most relevant stages in the history of the relatively recent concept of diversity. They thereby open up new perspectives on processes of interdisciplinary translation – between biology and social theory, between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ – that have contributed to the concept’s rich current pertinence. Eva Axer’s article on Johann Gottfried Herder demonstrates that the unity of cultural diversity and plurality was already an issue in 18th century philosophy. Back then, the construction of analogies between culture and nature placed diversity within a larger analytical system, which revolved around an enduring interest in archetypes. In his text, Georg Toepfer examines the concept of biodiversity and unpacks which biological precepts undergird its current programmatic embrace. What is the relationship between ecological activism and the production of biological knowledge? Which modes of representation are suited to embodying, or visualizing the plenitude and diversity of life?

Representing Diversity: the title of the ZfL’s annual conference, which will take place in January 2018, highlights the institute’s interest in the literary and cultural dimensions of the topic. The conference will investigate perspectives on diversity that interrogate the concept’s underlying constructions, its forms and formats, the narratives and paradigms that bolster the idea of diversity, as well as the modes of representation that either seek to bring order to variety, or simply try to avoid it. Analyzing diversity as a concept in this manner necessitates creating a space of analytic distance in which judgment is suspended. Only then can we investigate diversity’s manifold representations in their full plurality. This modus operandi is not, however, apolitical – for the central question that we aim to address is how diversity has become a normative concept, and what political and cultural consequences this continues to carry with it.

Further events that relate to the theme of diversity are our annual Summer Academy for young scholars that addressed Genealogies of Diversity; an interdisciplinary conference that is planned for 2019, examining the concept of Extinction – of biological species, threatened languages, social classes, or literary genres; the Literaturtage will interrogate the elusive figure of the Sonderling (the eccentric, oddball, or outsider) as a figure of singularity, or particularity.


See also

Brochure [in German]:
Order your printed copy for free!


  • Editorial
    Eva Geulen, Daniel Weidner, Stefan Willer
  • Diversität, begriffsgeschichtlich
    Ernst Müller, Falko Schmieder
  • Was heißt Einheit in der Mannigfaltigkeit? Johann Gottfried Herders Kulturtheorie
    Eva Axer
  • Biodiversität
    Georg Toepfer



ZfL Annual Conference
11 Jan 2018 – 12 Jan 2018

Diversität darstellen

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum

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7th International Summer Academy at the ZfL 2017
09 Oct 2017 – 12 Oct 2017

Genealogies of Diversity. Contexts and figurations of a controversial concept

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et.

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Lecture in the context of the exhibition »Berührt–Verführt. Werbekampagnen, die Geschichte machten«
27 Jun 2017 · 6.30 pm

Matthias Schwartz/Dirk Naguschewski (ZfL): »Du bist Deutschland«. Diversität als Werbeziel

Museum für Kommunikation, Leipziger Str. 16, 10117 Berlin

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