College of Fellows


Belonging is an increasingly questionable concept in the 21st century, in which human society is becoming more and more global. Societies are becoming more diverse, national allegiances are being challenged by modern labor migration as well as by flight and poverty migration, and traditional ties seem to be generally dissolving. At the same time, a new need for belonging is emerging. Do the phenomena of globalization and belonging contradict each other? Or are we challenged today to rethink belonging at all?


Workshop "Shifting Orders: Belonging in Transition", 14 - 16 October 2021, College of Fellows, University of Tübingen

Belonging is an increasingly questionable concept in the 21st century, in which human society is becoming more and more global. Societies are becoming more diverse, national allegiances are being challenged by modern labor migration as well as by flight and poverty migration, and traditional ties seem to be generally dissolving. At the same time, a new need for belonging is emerging. Do the phenomena of globalization and belonging contradict each other? Or are we challenged today to rethink belonging at all?

The topic of the workshop takes up a number of research questions that are currently being widely discussed in many humanities and social sciences. The question of the lines of belonging along which increasingly globalized societies are structured is a key issue everywhere. The different perspectives and emphases of the individual disciplines not only complement each other, but also productively challenge each other.

"Belonging" is explained in English dictionaries as "to have a proper place". Thus, the term opens up perspectives on space, on "one's own" and on property, which one possesses quite concretely. "Property is an institution that simultaneously constitutes a thing-relationship and a socialrelationship" and also forms a particular form of self-relationship. Owning movable things - in the narrower sense "belongings" - or land does not only mean that one can freely dispose of them, generate income from them, resell them, and exclude others from them. Rather, ownership, selfworth, recognition, and even identity enter into a far-reaching alliance in modern societies: The modern subject is one who owns what he or she uses or needs, or, to put it another way, only those are sovereign subjects who own what they use and need.

Property guarantees power of disposal, right of exclusion, participation and belonging. These rights are protected by modern states and are considered fundamental rights of freedom. The protection of property and the freedom to own are not value-neutral regulations, but are based on normative principles.

This is followed by questions about the justice of distribution or about formats of distribution and belonging. Increasingly discussed today are concepts of distribution and belonging in terms of the - historical and contemporary - "commons": tangible and intangible resources are referred to as commons. These include air and water, of course, but today also access to education, knowledge and information. In principle, they can be used by all members of a community and thus combine a specific type of "belonging" with a particular type of "affiliation."

Belonging and Property

If one follows the suggestion that modern orders can be recognized by the fact that they can no longer hide their contingency, the view becomes free for the reactions that this provokes. Without being backed up by metaphysics any longer, the rational bipeds step onto the stage - and intervene in the course of events. Through the exchange of signs we create orders, give structures to the social world. We establish relationships and draw boundaries; we erect symbolic orders, regulate proximity and distance, and tie belonging to certain conditions. None of this is harmless, no gesture neutral.

And all of this happens without our being able to claim extramundane authority for it. What we call "reality" owes itself to perpetual classifications and categorizations. Orders of belonging must be examined within this horizon - that is, those social practices through which recognition, entitlement and participation, resources and capitals are allocated. In this context, the triad of race, class and gender comes into view. But it does not stop there. Other categories must also be taken into account and examined in their interplay.

These processes of negotiation are rarely conducted cooperatively and consensually; it is less likely that they are conducted violently. Because these struggles do not stop at the borders of the nation state, it is also important to look at the power relations that have developed between the Global North and the Global South.

Belonging to the World and Situatedness

When we think of belonging, we first think of something like a connecting and often correspondingly binding relationship. A person belongs to a group, a thing belongs to someone's property. When we describe belonging in this way, the moment of not-belonging is already included. It is true that what belongs to another is by no means unaffected by this form of relationship, but on the contrary can be decisively determined by it, for better or for worse. And yet, there is no identity; that which belongs exists in its essence independently of the respective form of belonging, and could therefore also not belong (or belong to something else).

Differently with regard to the belonging to the world. One cannot not belong to the world, this is true for persons as well as for things. But what then still means belonging? If there is nothing beyond belonging to the world, then the distance described above is lost in relation to the world, then the belonging person or thing has no being in itself independent of the world. Belonging to the world is therefore constitutive for everything that exists. However, the world itself, to which we all belong, does not exist beyond our belonging to it either. World as such does not exist. The analysis of belonging to the world therefore shows that what belongs and what it belongs to are mutually constitutive of each other and only emerge from the process of belonging itself. This, however, does not describe a special case of belonging, but instead captures a basic feature of every form of belonging.

Reflecting on this basic feature of belonging allows for a critical analysis of numerous entrenched forms of belonging (claims to ownership as well as self-understandings) that are no longer specifically performed and lived. An exciting question arises about the situatedness of belonging. "Belonging" does not exist in general; there are only concrete and temporary processes of belonging. In this we encounter something like the situatedness of world.

The Right of Belonging / Not-Belonging in the Global Encounter

That rights require belonging, i.e. that the validity of rights depends on their scope of application, to which one must belong, has been consensus at least since Hannah Arendt's critique of human rights. In her reading of Arendt, however, Judith Butler sharpens Arendt's critique once again when she rejects Arendt's talk of a pre-legal state of nature or of 'naked life' as a place or state of nonbelonging. For belonging and non-belonging are, according to Butler, equally the result of legal action. The assumption of a pre-legal non-belonging follows the logic of origin or founding narratives, which have a heuristic function and are usually oriented towards the deductive justification of a state, but do not describe historical processes - and cannot capture the complexity of globalization processes, migration and multiple belongings. Accordingly, not only does the question of the conditional relationship between law and belonging arise anew, but also that of the legal production of non-belonging.

The meaning of belonging, however, extends beyond the field of the juridical, since belonging also means a specific participation and being part of a group, which is expressed in social and cultural practices, ideas and narratives, and which is affectively justified and, if necessary, 'naturalized'. Belonging is accordingly more than just membership. It is part of and participates in (collective) processes of subjectivation. In view of the conditional relationship between law and non-belonging, the question arises, especially in the context of globalization, migration and multiple belonging, what role law plays in (collective) processes of subjectivation, how it relies on narratives, ideas and practices of socio-cultural and socio-historical belonging in its production of legal belonging and non-belonging, which it selects and communicates in order to establish belonging/nonbelonging.

Belonging, Emplacement, Home

In this section we want to explore the question of the human being's sense of place. One of the central traits of human belonging is linked to emplacement, in the questions of where we come from, where we live and dwell, where we stay. The question is most likely to arise when we find ourselves in unfamiliar, alienating places, such as when we are forced to stay in a hospital for an extended period of time, or in an alienating part of town where there is a sense that we do not belong. Nevertheless, the question of where one feels one belongs cannot be answered easily. Places of belonging, the positive localization of human beings, turns out to be complex and differentiated. Are places to be understood territorially, geographically? Or can they rather be traced back to the human being's sense of meaning? Should places be thought of at all only starting from the belonging to it, so that localization is to be understood actively - as a finding or creating of places?

It is in human habitation that the need for localization is most pronounced. However, dwelling is often temporary, i.e., temporal. What does it mean to dwell? Does it refer to human establishments or does it existentially define human beings? Is dwelling to be understood starting from habits (habitus)? Does dwelling presuppose familiarity? And what does it mean to feel at home?

The question of home arises especially with reference to the refugee and migration issue. Is home interchangeable? Can a new homeland be found or created? Or is home to be questioned as such at all, overtaken by today's mobility and globality? Beyond the frequent political misuse of the term homeland, especially in the refugee question, does homeland still have carrying power with reference to the belonging of the individual?

Religion and Belonging

Forms of religious belonging vary widely across the globe, depending on tradition and religious community. Of particular interest in the context of the conference is the change in the understanding of belonging and of attribution processes that can be observed in various social contexts in recent decades, not least as a result of the increasing religious pluralization of many societies. The congruence between official and self-identified affiliation, religious practice and religious conviction is by no means (any longer) given; nor does official nonaffiliation imply a lack of practice and conviction. Rather, even in Jewish, Islamic, and Christian societies, there are increasingly multiple affiliations, practices, and convictions that are more situationally oriented than defined exclusively by a particular religious community. The academic debates here discuss concepts of "believing without belonging" (Grace Davie) as well as "believing in belonging" (Abby Day) for Europe and North America. Thereby, "believing" is increasingly interpreted in the sense of a performative self-identification with regard to social relations. The link between religious and social belonging is particularly relevant in migration contexts, in which, for example, religious practice as confirmation of an ethnic identity can, on the one hand, become more significant for the individual than in the home country, and on the other hand, can hinder integration.

Little consideration has been given to non-Christian societies, such as those in East Asia, where intentional religious affiliation is largely irrelevant, but Buddhist or Shinto practice (in the case of Japan) is integrated as a matter of course into individual life courses and into the consciousness of national belonging. Given the diversity of conceptions of religious belonging, the question arises of how the relevance and forms of religious belonging change in religiously and ethnically plural societies.

Workshop "Belonging. Zugehörigkeiten im Wandel", 7 - 8 October 2020, CIIS, Universität Tübingen



Becker, Ralf; Bermes, Christian; Westerkamp, Dirk (Eds.): "Zeitschrift für Kulturphilosophie 2021/2: Belonging / Zugehörigkeit"

214 pages, 978-3-7873-4105-4.

With contributions by Niels Weidtmann and our Fellows in Intercultural Studies Eveline Cioflec and Abbed Kanoor.

Becker, Ralf, Bermes, Christian, Westerkamp, Dirk: Editorial.

Cioflec, Eveline, Weidtmann, Niels: Einleitung. Belonging - Zugehörigkeit

Kimmich, Dorothee: Belonging – Zugehörigkeit und Eigentum. Eine prekäre Verbindung

»Belonging« is usually discussed in the context of social participation. However, the English »belonging« also associates – similar to the German word ›zugehörig‹– the aspect of possession and property: it is also about »belongings«. In the following, various examples from religion, politics, literature, and film will be used to discuss the narratives that intertwine social belonging and material possession and reveal as well as conceal their (neo)mythical connection.

Gehrlach, Andreas: Die Zugehörigkeit der Dinge zu den Menschen

Western Culture knows only a single judicial concept of ownership: private property. Private property meaning, all things belong to people in the same normalized way. A closer look reveals that our relationship with things is more complex than that and confirms a gradual belonging of things to persons that stretches from an organic or intimate property to things being only vaguely attached to persons. This essay tries to outline this plural concept of ways of owning.

Cioflec, Eveline: Vom zugehörigen Selbst. Narrative der Gemeinschaft

In my paper I discuss belonging to a community as a lived experience aiming at interrogating with Hannah Arendt the dynamics of constituting or reshaping communities through action. The ungraspable »we« of communities allows for both constraining narratives and initiating new forms of belonging as a response to the need to belong. Acting together creates communities which can overturn the often painful experience of belonging to unbearable social units.

Kanoor, Abbed: Gezähmte Schizophrenie. Eine philosophische Analyse von Zugehörigkeit und kultureller Ich-Spaltung

Our time as the age of fragmented cultural ontologies, acceleration, and ongoing socio-cultural transformations is the age of the quest of belonging par excellence. My paper deals with this quest out of a singular culturally situated perspective – the work of the Indologist and comparative philosopher Daryush Shayegan (1935–2018) – which despite its singularity hints at a general hypothesis: the recognition of a tamed cultural schizophrenia can be an inspiring model of belonging for our time.

Rieger-Ladich, Markus: Tertium non datur. Über Gewalt und Zugehörigkeit

The books by Annie Ernaux and Didier Eribon can be interpreted as testimonies of the struggle for belonging. With their rich descriptions of growing up in poverty, of shame and degradation, they make an important contribution to the analysis of orders of belonging. Educational institutions play a significant role in this. In this way, Ernaux and Eribon shed light on the mechanisms through which belonging is created or denied.

Grabau, Christian: Umkämpfte Zugehörigkeit. Ralph Ellison und das Recht des Künstlers, seine Vorfahren zu wählen

»[W]hile one can do nothing about choosing one’s relatives, one can, as artist, choose one’s ›ancestors‹.« These words lead to the heart of a dispute between Ralph Ellison and the Dissent editor Irving Howe in the early sixties which had an impact far beyond literary criticism and scholarship. From this well documented controversy we can learn something about both the power of attributions of belonging and the art of evading them.

Hilt, Annette: Ein Zuhause, das mehr als Heimat ist. Phänomenologische Überlegungen zur Zugehörigkeit

My contribution interrogates how to conceive belonging and how to clarify conceptual connotations of this and other concepts as ›home‹ or a ›dwelling in a place‹ according to their meaning for orienting our social life and identities. Methodically, I start with the phenomenological consideration of ›operative concepts‹ and how these might be reflexively brought into work with experiencing loss of belonging, negation of a home to stay in, and infraction of identity as they are expressed in personal life-stories.

Weidtmann, Niels: Zugehörigkeit als Menschenrecht. Eine phänomenologische Intervention

Based on her own experience of long years of statelessness, Arendt demands that the right of the individual to belong to a political community be recognized as the only human right. However, while the »right to have rights« can serve as a regulative idea, belonging that respects an individual’s personhood can neither be decreed nor granted but must have constitutive meaning for the individual. In the article, belonging therefore is described as different ways of a human’s being-in-the-world or simply as different ways of experience.

Stoellger, Philipp: Von der Theodizee zur Religiodizee. Zur neuen Lust an der Religionslosigkeit

Dzwiza-Ohlsen, Erik Norman: Deixis – Grundzüge einer phänomenologischen Anthropologie des Zeigens. Deixis als Praxis zwischen Berührung und Begriff

Hauck, Christian: Fortschritt. Skizzen zu einer absoluten Metapher

Schmidt, Stefan W.: Phänomenologie der Räumlichkeit und die Gestaltung des Sozialen. Entwurf einer Topologie des Social Design

van der Walt, Johan: Recht, Poesie und liberale Demokratie. Überlegungen zu Voßkuhle, Kohlhaas und Kleist


Sophia Gräfe: Noch einmal nachdenken. Tierforschung für Philosophen (Martin Böhnert, Methodologische Signaturen. Ein philosophischer Versuch zur Systematisierung der empirischen Erforschung des Geistes von Tieren)

Arne Klawitter: Die Erfahrung des Fleisches und die Hermeneutik des Begehrens. Michel Foucaults vierter Band von »Sexualität und Wahrheit« (Michel Foucault, Die Geständnisse des Fleisches)

Nikola Mirković: Anerkennung als Autorität (Alexandre Kojève, Der Begriff der Autorität)

Johannes Röß: Krisenhaftes Denken. Erkundungen zu Georg Simmels Philosophie und ihrer Wirkung (Gerald Hartung/Heike Koenig/Tim-Florian Steinbach (Hrsg.), Der Philosoph Georg Simmel)

Volker Schürmann: Bekennender Anti-Reduktionismus (Thomas Fuchs, Verteidigung des Menschen. Grundfragen einer verkörperten Anthropologie)