Over the last decades we have seen impressive research on various aspects of American (or, to be precise, USAmerican) influence in Europe and of the European encounters with America. However, this interest has so far found little resonance among Danish scholars, neither in the humanities nor in the social sciences. The ambition of this research project is to remedy this situation through a number of focused studies combined with a broader network structure. The core group of the project will consist of four senior researchers, one post.doc., and three PhD students.
The first generation of studies in Americanization from the 1970s and early 1980s was rooted in varieties of the cultural imperialism paradigm. However, since the 1990s the dominant trend in international studies has been to analyse Americanization within the theoretical framework of cultural encounters (inspired primarily by anthropology and post-colonial studies). While the cultural imperialist approach focused on the transmittors as well as the transmitted, the cultural encounter approach focuses primarily on the reception, pointing out how American practices and products were transformed in the transfer process and changed by being embedded in new contexts.
Cultural encounter approach
It is no accident that the cultural encounter paradigm has gained hegemonic status in the field. It has simply much more interpretative power than the cultural imperialist one, and also this project will use the cultural encounter approach as the key theoretical reference. That being said, we also want to address the shortcomings of the approach. Inspired to a high degree by Victoria de Grazia’s analysis of The United States as a “Market Empire” (Irresistible Empire, 2005) where she stresses the role played by American actors, but also by recent debates among European historians on transnational history (and histoire croisée), we would point out two crucial limitations. First, the cultural encounter approach tends to make light of the crucial question of power: Historically, encounters have tended to be asymmetrical privileging the American side. Second, this approach has focused too little on the fact that the phenomenon of Americanization must be seen as a cumulative series of encounters meaning that the recipients must be understood as “moving targets”.
Ambitions of the project
It is one ambition of the project to demonstrate that the cultural encounter approach will gain from reflecting upon these criticisms. Another, and less sophisticated one, is to take advantage of the backwardness of Danish Americanization studies. It is evident that the point of departure for the project must be the results of the international research in the field. This will help locate fruitful research areas, but it will also secure that the project, although perceived as a national one, is placed solidly in a comparative framework. Indepth knowledge of international research combined with the researchers’ expertise in Danish history will facilitate research that document where Danish trends are parallel to what is found in other European countries, but equally important also where they are not.