The Project

ERC Consolidator Grant


Narrative World Productions After Western Universalism

In an extensive interview to the New York Times, within the last days of his presidency, Barack Obama made an argument for narrations creating a solidarising humanity: “When so much of our politics is trying to manage the clash of cultures brought about by globalisation, technology and migration, the role of stories to unify is more important than ever.”

Minor Universality aims to make a substantial contribution to the actual debate on the problem of universality after Western universalism. Indeed, the question of how universality can be produced is crucial in times characterised by a double relativistic signature: the necessary political and epistemic critique of Occidental universalism, and worldwide identitarian assertions ranging from cultural othering to neonationalist movements. “Is there anything that relates us to others so that we can say that WE are?”, asks Achille Mbembe.

Here general narratology provides a crucial twist: if it is a genuine, anthropological potential of the narration to make a claim about the world as a whole starting from a singular setting, narrations create ways of extending concrete contexts towards experiences of a shared humanity. This can be analyzed in literature, in an epistemic field beyond the book and in social practices being part of global migrations. In contrast to conceptual debates such as on World Literature, which address the question through canons and legitimacies, this project shifts the debate to cultural practices producing universality in ways that inform the knowledge of our contemporary world: how and with which means do contemporary cultural productions such as literatures, films and social media, literary and cultural festivals and events, architectures and museums, open up local settings so as to produce a new sensuous, embodied or intellectual awareness of a shared humanity?

In her famous TED Talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie asserted that a single story leads to simplifications in the understanding of others. Talking of the Western universalism’s impact on cultures, whose concept considered Western ideas and concepts as being universal, the writer underlined the underrepresentation of many cultures in the universalistic narrative. This also reminds us of the fact that a new world consciousness is often prepared at the margins of dominant discourses: It needs to be inquired for the necessary debates on reparation, our living together and shared commons.

Based on close readings and qualitative case studies the project re-expands the material and medial turns in cultural analysis to processes of consciousness and agency. It also seeks to explore new literacies about the role of narration for civil imaginaries of our world and to provide ways to address universality in public debates about justice and legitimacy within world society.

The ERC Minor Universality project cooperates with colleagues from all over the world. Four partner centres in Hong Kong, Mexico, Tunis and Berlin (HKW) have shaped the project and work closely with the hub based in Saarbrücken.


More information on team & partners



Core publications stemming from the ERC Minor Universality are published in the series "Beyond Universalism. Studies on the Contemporary / Partager l’Universel. Études sur le contemporain“ published with De Gruyter (Berlin, Boston).


More on the series


The series at De Gruyter