The Debt: Historicizing Europe’s Relations with the ‘South’
Since the Euro-crisis, the benign European self-image of unity in diversity yields 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 the concept of debt.
The core question of this project 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. It addresses the issue of the connection between past and present as posed in the arts and in historical sociology.
Scholarly debate has done little in the newly divided Europe to make different viewpoints intelligible to others. This research will demonstrate how performative invocation of past debt has an impact on the present. It will also demonstrate 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.