The debt: historicizing Europe's relations with the 'South'

Project Participants

  • Project Leader
    Universitat de Barcelona
    Università degli Studi del Piemonte Orientale,
  • honneth@em.uni-
    Institute for Social Research
    University of Helsinki

Since the Euro-crisis, the benign European self-image of unity in diversity cedes in the face of a new South-North divide, in which different layers of the past are evoked to explain the division and justify actions. The reasonings mix historical facts with normative, moralistic claims. At their centre is a concept of debt. The core question is: what impact does the invocation of a past debt have on the relation between two (collective) subjects in the present? The question will be answered by selected analyses of debt in narratives about the European past.

Invocations of debt have a performative potential and intend to direct action, claiming that a historical debt relation entails rights and responsibilities in the present. This project links questions of historiography with concerns in political philosophy and addresses squarely the issue of the connection between past and present as posed in the arts and in historical sociology. Thus, it adds considerably to common research on “uses of the past” that often merely shows the past's “constructability”.

Scholarly debate has done little, in the newly divided Europe, to make different view-points intelligible to others. The research will demonstrate how performative invocation of past debt has an impact on the present, but also how a historically insensitive accounting view of debt can provoke guilt-oriented reconstructions of the past as a counter-measure. It aims at a more responsible use of the past in the present.


Project Image: "Words of Resistance" copyrighted to Gao Xingjian. 

Associated Partners: 

AP 1: Judit Carrera, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, Spain

AP 2: Judith Maiworm, Goethe Institut Barcelona, Spain

AP 3: Xavier Artigas, Metromuster, Spain

AP 4: Stefan Mumme, BHF Bank Stiftung, Germany

AP 5: Enrico Donaggio, Unione Culturale Franco Antonicelli, Spain

AP 6: Christina Koulouri, Research Centre for Modern History (KENI), Greece

The debt