Increasing Presence of Documenta Exhibition in Global Civil Society: Methodological Relevance of John Urry's "Sociology beyond Societies"
Table of Contents
Methodological Relevance of “Post-Societal Sociology” to Documenta 11
Five Platforms of Documenta 11
Global Level of Documenta 11’s Agency
In accord with the stance of John Urry (2000) and Zygmunt Bauman (2000) on the global civil society as increasingly coming into effective legal and political existence, I propose to read John Urry's Sociology beyond Societies: Mobilities for the Twenty-first Century (2000) as a springboard to application of its methodological and theoretical aspects to the international art exhibition Documenta 11. The consideration of Documenta in the context of globalization allows me to trace its impact both on the institutional form that Documenta has taken and on the range of issues that its components cover in relation to the global civil society. The five Platforms of Documenta 11 give important insight into the constitution of global civil society as a public sphere taking place beyond the nation-states. In this regard John Urry's book Sociology beyond Societies: Mobilities for the Twenty-first century (2000) gives a number of methodological starting points from which to begin to chart the contours of the global civil society in the constitution of which such global mega-events as Documenta art exhibition participate.
In accord with the stance of John Urry (2000) and Zygmunt Bauman (2000) on the global civil society as increasingly coming into effective legal and political existence, I propose to read John Urry's Sociology beyond Societies: Mobilities for the Twenty-first Century (2000) as a springboard to application of its methodological and theoretical aspects to the international art exhibition Documenta 11. The consideration of Documenta in the context of globalization allows me to trace its impact both on the institutional form that Documenta has taken and on the range of issues that its components cover in relation to the global civil society.
Belonging to the circuit of the international art biennials, Documenta takes place every five years (Bauer 2002: 103). Its international reach and the cultural authority that it enjoys are an example of how networks, agents and hierarchies cutting across national borders constitute a field of agency that is the increasingly effective environment where local, regional and global entities act. Among such heterogeneous networks that link the local and the global are the institutions and collectivities that traverse the previously isolated political, economic and social spheres. The change in the emergent structure of mobilities that re-work the landscapes of movement and action cuts across institutional, social, and political borders. It creates affinities and contexts for effective action that subverts the expectations formed in the age preceding the current wave of globalization as
the social basis of a 'global civil society', and of its resulting 'sociology of mobilities' […] come to occupy powerful places in the scapes and flows that are re-constituting the complex emergent global domains emerging in the twenty-first century (Urry 2000: 211)
Methodological Relevance of “Post-Societal Sociology” to Documenta 11
John Urry diagnoses contemporary societies as to have entered into the “'post-societal' phase" (2000: 1) entailing growing influence of the "variously powerful networks and flows" (Urry 2000: 1). On one hand, he ascribes such situation to the "apparently declining powers of national societies (whether or not we do in fact live in a global society)" (Urry 2000: 2). On the other hand, however, his European positioning frames his discussion of globalisation and sociology’s responses to it. He discusses global civil society in the context of the transition to the regulatory state (Majone 1996) that took place in the member countries of the European Union in the second half of the twentieth century. Such regulatory state is
organised around the promotion of various mobilities and as a result of this common market, was designed to ensure peace across Europe in the post-war period. It has sought to develop the four freedoms of movement – of goods, services, labor and capital – and has intervened with national state policies to eliminate barriers to mobility, trade and competition (Urry 2000: 199)
This change in the structure of the mobilities that has come to increasingly organize not only the countries of the European Union, but also those around the world with the widening nation-state association with such organizations as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, UNESCO, the International Labour Organization and others obliges sociologists "to establish what new rules of sociological method and theory are appropriate" (Urry 2000: 2). Among the pathways that lead from the reconstruction of “the 'social as society' into the 'social as mobility'" (Urry 2000: 2) I choose the one that leads towards the conceptualization of the global civil society as an emerging discursive and institutional configuration. For the purposes of this paper the global civil society corresponds to
an emergent level of the 'global' [that] is developing [and] that can be viewed as recursively self-producing […] [as] its outputs constitute inputs into an autopoietic circular system of 'global' objects, identities, institutions and social practices (Urry 2000: 206)
In terms specific to the operation of Documenta as an international art exhibition, one could ask what degree of reflexive awareness the curators behind the Documenta have as they formulate its agenda. The Artistic Director of Documenta 11, Okwui Enwezor explicitly positions the exhibition at the global level of operation as he designates its Platforms, the five international components which Documenta 11 comprised, as signifying “journeys of experience and methods for thinking the global at the height of its own reconstitution" (Enwezor 2002: 55).
For the art project of Documenta 11 that took a year and a half to present to its international publics, from March 2001, with opening of its first Platform, to September 2002, when its fifth and last Platform closed its doors, it is a startling development from what was conceived to be a one-off event in the post-WWII Kassel in the West Germany in 1955 (Grasskamp 2003: 163-164). Moreover, almost a decade before Documenta 11, the local press coverage for the Documenta 9 in 1992 frowned upon the introduction of private sponsoring of the previously public event and gave negative critical assessment to the lack of emphasis that its Belgian curator Jan Hoet had placed on the regional and Central European context in view of the reunification of Germany (Galloway 1993). In other words, as recently as 1992, Documenta was yet to be widely seen as institution positioned in the global context.
The expansion in the agency of Documenta, with its team of international curators, from the localization in Kassel to its dispersion into its multiple venues of Documenta 11 (Becker and Enwezor 2002) clearly shows the decisive change that globalization has wrought. The rise in the widespread awareness to globalization in contemporary art (Amor et al. 1998) dates to the early nineties when: “the discourse of globalisation took off. Exponential growth in analyses of the global suggested that there might be a putative global reconstitution of economic, political and cultural relationships" (Urry 2000: 162). Therefore Documenta 11 came onto the public stage as a self-consciously global cultural event that seeks to build itself