SSASA » Overview

A Long History of American Studies Programs at Salzburg Global Seminar

Since Salzburg Global's founding in 1947, with the first American Studies program at Schloss Leopoldskron, the study of America has played a vital role in the history of this organization. For decades, scores of prominent intellectuals - academic and non-academic - have gathered in Salzburg to examine and debate American politics, foreign policy, economics, literature, history and culture, and America's role in the world. More than 30 American themed seminars have been organized, all are self-funded.

Session in 2016:

Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes
September 23 to 27, 2016


Interviews and coverage from our SSASA programs

Richard Sennett: "More local, less glamorous"
Richard Sennett: "More local, less glamorous"
Oscar Tollast 
Richard Sennett has suggested to Salzburg Global that fewer local architects are getting jobs within their local communities and cities. The professor of sociology at New York University recently attended Salzburg Global as part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association 2013 symposium on ‘Sustainability and the City: America and the Urban World’. In our latest podcast, Professor Sennett reviews the difference between an open and closed system used in cities and what effect this has on architectural styles. It was the main topic of discussion during his lecture on ‘The Open City’ at this month’s symposium. Professor Sennett argues open systems can allow new ways of thinking, with a focus on how forms can grow and adapt over time within their communities. He describes the limitations of constructing buildings for very specific purposes, which lack resilience and are often destroyed to make way for something new. With this in mind, we discuss whether there are ways to incentivise architects to refrain from this style and to focus instead on innovation. This episode is second in a series of podcasts stemming from the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association 2013 symposium on ‘Sustainability and the City: America and the Urban World’. In our first episode, Professor Saskia Sassen discusses the environmental challenges cities face.
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“It can only be the beginning: the beginning of exploratory dialogue”
“It can only be the beginning: the beginning of exploratory dialogue”
Oscar Tollast 
Participants at this year’s Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association symposium have praised the session for its inclusion of a variety of voices. With the session on ‘Sustainability and the City: America and the Urban World’ coming to an end this evening, the group summed up what had been discussed and achieved. During the four-day workshop, participants discussed a number of well-known problems facing cities under the theme of sustainability and how they could be tackled. Whilst some came away with the belief that the material environment was the “least important thing in the city”, others identified the types of city systems in existence. A few participants felt that cities were, “by default”, open systems that were complex and diverse entities. But the future of cities was questioned, with one participant suggesting cities could be obsolete if unable to cope with the situations they are exposed to. But this led one participant to question: “Is there a way for us to do things differently from how we’ve done things in the past so that we don’t design cities that solve problems but try and design cities for the purpose of human beings living in them?" Other arguments considered stemmed from Saskia Sassen and Richard Sennett’s lectures on the third day of the session, including that cities ought to be more in control of what’s going on in the cities than the national governments should be. It was suggested that the idea of people who live in the cities and control their own spaces was an idea taken for granted. One of the conclusions drawn from the session was being able to rethink how solutions to sustainability and city living could be addressed. A participant said he was impressed by the notion of “opening things up, taking a step back and not rushing to conclusions”. He believed this could allow cognitive and discursive frameworks in order to understand solutions. The group’s feeling was best summed up by one participant who said: “Different people from different backgrounds react totally differently to different lectures.” However, this in itself presented its own challenge. Finding a common language and unifying all of the views collated proved to be difficult. But one participant felt this strengthened the session. He said: “If there’s disagreement, then that actually has many more benefits in terms of all the discussions that come forward. “It can only be the beginning: the beginning of exploratory dialogue.” Participants had spent the morning listening to a presentation by Fred Fisher on the topic of Art Meta-Cities. This was followed by a panel discussion on the cultural representations in and of the city, featuring contributions from: Petra Eckhard, Anna Krawczyk-Laskarzewska, Madeline Lyes Nicola Mann, Ana Manzanas, and Tazalika te Reh. Multidisciplinary approach Symposium co-chair, Ron Clifton, said the mixture of academics and professionals at the session provided a number of alternative perspectives. Reviewing the session, he said: “It raises questions about the city and our great message out of this is there are problems we need to address that we have yet to fully articulate. “How do you sustain a city and how does a city get sustainable in terms of planning or in terms of involving people?” He added: “If the idea you come out with from this session is: ‘What kind of action can I take in conjunction with helping to maintain the viability of cities and an improvement of life?’ then we’ve done our job.” Mr Clifton’s co-chair, Christopher Bigsby, suggested the session’s atmosphere helped discussions and ideas formulate. “There’s really no distinction between the people that stand up here and say something and the people down there that say something, because they’re all experts in their own area.” Whilst a number of sessions in the past have resulted in declarations and action statements, this particular session hasn't. But in response to this, Mr Bigsby said: “Everybody will take things away from this seminar which they didn’t bring to the seminar, but they discovered precisely through discussing things with other people.” Symposium director, Marty Gecek, shared these sentiments. She concluded: “As of today we’ve completed 11 symposia under the auspice of this professional American Studies Association, and we’ve touched on many of the issues involved with sustainability of the city. “We’ve discussed the social, cultural, economic and political roles that cities play in the lives of their inhabitants. “Sustainability is about balancing the needs of people with the needs of the environment, including the built environment.”
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SSASA Symposium - Day 3: The City and Globalization
SSASA Symposium - Day 3: The City and Globalization
Oscar Tollast 
Sociologists Saskia Sassen and Richard Sennett visited Salzburg Global today to lecture participants at this year's Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association symposium. The married couple gave separate lectures both before and after lunch, each focusing on a specific subject area. Prior to this, participants had split into topical discussion groups to discuss a number of issues. These included: culture and the city; race, ethnicity and the city; and linking technology to the city. Professor Sassen's lecture was entitled 'Bringing Cities into the Global Environmental Debate', whilst Professor Sennett's lecture focused on 'The Open City'. With her husband speaking after lunch, Professor Sassen took to the podium beforehand, describing it as "a great pleasure" to be at Salzburg Global. The professor of sociology at Columbia University started her presentation by suggesting implementing policy wasn't enough in tackling environmental issues that often veered off into "the wrong direction". She said: "You have to mobilize [city populations] in terms of the specifics of their neighborhood, their concerns - not by some sort of central command. "The truth of the matter is that science is not enough in the cities. There is a lot of other stuff happening in the cities, and so cities are a challenge.” Professor Sassen’s research and writing focuses on globalization, immigration, and global cities. She was chosen as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy. Cities were a “complex but incomplete system” with the capacity to keep reinventing themselves, according to Professor Sassen, but she didn’t advocate a return to nature. "There are laws that work against you. A lot of what is lawful today actually works against the environment. A lot of what feeds the dynamism of urban economies is against environment." Following lunch, Professor Sennett discussed how design matters to the vitality of the city. The professor of sociology at New York University and at the London School of Economics and Political Science discussed the difference between open and closed city systems. He described how a closed system, whilst lacking innovation and rupture, held context. Professor Sennett highlighted star shaped cities as an example. “Nothing is left to chance, in order that every block has equal access to resources in the city. “Nobody’s left out. That’s the brilliance that everybody has access to everything in the city but they have it by virtue of micro-planning.” Open systems, on the other hand, contain far more complexity in the formation of streets where multiple functions can be carried out, and allowing for innovation. But Professor Sennett explained the problem presented by the system. “We’re advocating something that requires cultural persuasion even though the notion of an open city is very attractive. “In principle we’re advocating something that is disrupted – particularly in a modern western context – when people want from where they dwell a sense of security.” Professor Sennett’s research has explored the ways in which individuals and groups make social and cultural sense of the cities in which they live. He added: “The emergence of a new form other than old is perhaps the most fundamental fact about an open system. It is a fact which sociologists have puzzled over as much as mathematicians.” Following Professor Sennett's lecture, participants received a break before attending a fireside chat in the Schloss Leopoldskron’s Great Hall, where Bernardus Djonoputro provided an interesting discussion on Jakarta, as a case study for sustainable planning and Asian cities. Mr Djonoputro, secretary-general of the Indonesian Association of Urban and Regional Planners, spoke about the area's risk to flooding but how steps could be made to fight this challenge. These included engaging the community and government, identifying the meaning of the flood, finding synchronizing tools, transmitting related information and converting it into a readable language to be shared by all.
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SSASA Symposium - Day 2: Sustaining the City
SSASA Symposium - Day 2: Sustaining the City
Oscar Tollast 
A series of discussions under the theme of sustaining the city took place today at the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association symposium. Participants spent the morning listening to architect, planner and urban designer Peter Cookson Smith, and Slavis Poczebutas, a project director at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). Mr Cookson Smith’s lecture was entitled, ‘Planning and Sustainable Dimensions of Asian City Development’. Covering the development of a continent, Mr Cookson Smith discussed colonial and post-colonial activity, talking about the disappearance and emergence of architecture, protection of cultural areas, and vertical living versus the street scene. Mr Cookson Smith said: “At the end of World War Two, only 17 per cent of Asians lived in cities. By 2013, this has grown to more than 50 per cent. “In certain situations cities have evolved into mega urban regions or expanded natural areas, as a result of concentrated economic development and investment.” Social, political, economic and aesthetic challenges represented by the growth of cities were also raised. The architect has written regularly on the subject of urban design and sits on Hong Kong Government’s Harbourfront Commission, the Land Advisory Policy Committee, and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council Infrastructure Committee. Following his lecture, he added: “From all this, can we dare to simplify some of these issues? Can we build on the strengths that are inherent in those Asian cities? “Asian cities are different in all sorts of ways but what strikes me is how many similarities there are.” Symposium co-chair, Christopher Bigsby, reminded participants that the topics so far were a reminder of how much they’ve taken on. Meanwhile, Mr Poczebutas, provided a lecture to the group, entitled ‘Out of Touch – The Corrosion of the Natural’. He spoke of key drivers for change in a society in transformation, noting the impact of technology. The architect suggested society was becoming increasingly estranged from nature. "By answering the basic questions we might be able to identify again the vision of future possibilities. As I've described before, there are a series of trends which are all closely interrelated and manifesting into a society that's strange and disconnected from their natural foundation." Mr Poczebutas has in depth experience in the design of buildings and the urban spaces between them. He led the design and management of various large scale projects such as the New Hamad International Airport City development and Media Masterplan in Qatar. Mr Poczebutas added: "Cities will not be able to exist without their rural hinterlands and where cities might fail in the future, the rural territory can even be their savior." Following lunch, the group broke off into smaller discussion groups to discuss: culture and the city; cities around the world – culturally, socially economically, and politically; and the role of civil society in urban life and development. This extended further after a coffee break, with new discussion groups forming on: the ideal city of the future; architecture and the urban crisis; the Asian experience in the sustainability and liveability of cities.
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Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association symposium gets underway
Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association symposium gets underway
Oscar Tollast 
The symposium on ‘Sustainability and the City: America and the Urban World’ kick-started on Thursday evening with a presentation on the idea of the city. Participants from 27 countries gathered in Parker Hall to listen to Christopher Bigsby, director of the Arthur Miller Centre for American Studies at the University of East Anglia. Mr Bigbsy's lecture covered among other topics the differing definitions of the term "city" and how each person's experience of a city depends on their social background and lifestyle. He said: "When we speak of sustainability, what do we mean? Clearly we mean our ability to sustain life and earth in the face of global warming, rising populations and finite resources. "But what of cities? To an increasing percentage of people, cities offer wealth and progress, depending on how we choose to define progress. "The challenge in terms of cities is to sustain the life of the individual. For if meaning exists, it does so through individuals. Those possibilities must be protected and expanded.". Prior to Mr Bigsby’s speech, participants were officially welcomed by Marty Gecek, chair of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), and symposium director. Ms Gecek said: "Each of you has certain expectations about this symposium: what's in it for you? What do you want to get out of it? What is your role here? "I'm certain that our speakers will certainly stimulate you with their presentations on this very exciting theme, but dialogue is the key word for the next few days here. "Unlike typical academic conferences, especially in Europe, where many papers are read, our programs provide many opportunities for discussion and to provoke international, educational and intellectual exchange." Clare Shine, Vice President and Chief Program Officer of Salzburg Global, also extended her welcome to the group. Ms Shine said: "Our mission to challenge present and future leaders to solve issues of global concern has not shifted. Nor has our total dedication to American studies as a way of helping young and older people to understand roles and responsibilities of great power in the world today. "It's wonderful timing that you're here now to look at sustainability and the city, because that is going to be the bedrock of how we form the citizens of tomorrow." Salzburg Global recently held a session on 'A Climate for Change: Governance for Sustainability' with its report made available online earlier this month. The SSASA was founded in 2003 to build upon the work of 32 sessions organized by the American Studies Center. It has been able to provide an opportunity for anyone in the field of American Studies to meet and learn from other experts in the field, attending symposia at the Schloss Leopoldskron devoted to broad American themes. This year’s four-day session will draw on a range of disciplines to examine the future of the city in America, and other cities around the world. The session will examine the dynamics that make up the social and cultural dimensions of the modern global city, focusing on common issues, inter-related relationships and future trends. Participants are American Studies academics, urban sociologists, urban planners, architects and others interested in the study of the city. Questions that participants will explore include:
  1. What is the significance of urban living to those in the rapidly growing American, Asian, and other great cities?
  2. Are global cities extraterritorial, sharing more with one another than with the country in which they are situated?
  3. What role does the city play in shaping the lives, values, attitudes, and well-being of those who live in them?
  4. How attuned to human needs and desires are they?
  5. What is the role of the architect and planner in the future of cities?
  6. How can cities become innovators in sustainability?
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Resistance and Readiness
Resistance and Readiness
Louise Hallman and Marty Gecek 

In 2002, in a world still reeling from the recent terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, Americanists from all over the world came to Schloss Leopoldskron, Austria to address “The Continuing Challenge of America's Ethnic Pluralism”.  Ten years on, the
Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association will again tackle the issues of race and ethnicity in the US and Europe. That earlier symposium focused mainly on general issues of race and ethnicity, the impact of then-recent immigrants and refugees in the US, and concern about mounting xenophobia in the USA in the immediate wake of “9/11.” On both sides of the Atlantic, tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim groups have grown in the past ten years since the cataclysmic Twin Towers attacks in regard to issues of migration, integration, and what some have called “the limits of tolerance.” Two major wars; further terrorist attacks in Madrid, London and Texas – all purportedly perpetrated by local or home-grown Islamic extremists; increasing legislation against the wearing of religious symbols such as the burqa, niqab, and hijab (traditional Muslim women’s full face veils and headscarf) in Belgium and France; and the use of planning laws to halt the building of mosques in the USA and Switzerland, have all contributed to a sense of uneasiness and distrust for some on both sides of the religious and ethnic divides. But it is not only anti-Muslim sentiment that has grown.  Over the past decade, Europe has seen not only a growth in immigration numbers from asylum seekers – most notable in places such as the controversial Sangatte refugee camp near Calais, France – but also with the increased migration within the EU since Directive 2004/38/EC on the right to move and reside freely was introduced; statistics from the American organization, Migration Policy Institute indicate that in 2010 there were 850,000 eastern Europeans living in the UK alone.  Although these economic migrants are European, their arrival in their new European homes has been met with hostility in some areas, with the Roma community particularly affected; Roma have been expelled from towns and cities in France and Northern Ireland, driven out either by the local authorities or, in the worst incidents, angry mobs. In the US too, there have been increases in legislation to curb immigration and to root out illegal immigrants already living in the country.  Controversial new laws have been proposed and enacted, most notably the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act in Arizona. Supporters of the law claim the Arizona measure simply allows police to question legal residency only after a person has been stopped on reasonable suspicion of another crime.  Its detractors have called it “an unconstitutional and costly measure that will violate the civil rights of all Arizonans,” with accusations of racial profiling and deliberate targeting of the local Latino community. It is against this backdrop of rising racial tensions that the ninth symposium held by the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association on September 27-October 1, 2012 will again discuss these hot topics of race and ethnicity, but this time from a much more comparative perspective, looking at both the European and American experiences of immigration, nativism and the challenge of ethnic and religious diversity. Europe is threatened by a number of risks, claims a 2011 report by the Group of Eminent Persons of the Council of Europe.  ‘Living Together: Combing Diversity and Freedom in 21st Century Europe’ states rising intolerance and support for xenophobic and populist parties, along with discrimination, the development of parallel societies, and Islamic extremism, coupled with the loss of democratic freedoms and civil liberties – long held precious across liberal Western societies now in fear of “being swamped by an uncontrolled influx of immigrants and/or massacred by Islamic terrorists” – and a possible clash between “religious freedom” and freedom of expression have resulted from a growing sense of insecurity brought in part because of immigration, magnified by the distorted image of minorities and harmful stereotypes propagated in the media, and a crisis of leadership. Over the course of the four-day session, Fellows from across Europe and the US will discuss this paper – the threats and their proposed responses – together with a faculty including Farid Hafez, researcher and lecturer at the University of Vienna’s Department of Oriental Studies; Rob Kroes, former president of the European Association of American Studies; Berndt Ostendorf, Professor Emeritus of North American Cultural History at the America Institute of Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich; Rubén G. Rumbaut, Professor of Sociology at University of California – Irvine; noted local Americanist and Professor of Modern History at the University of Salzburg Reinhold Wagnleitner; as well as the report’s author, Salzburg Global Seminar’s Senior Program Adviser, Edward Mortimer. Salzburg Global Seminar is an apt place to hold such a session, not only for its own long tradition of bringing scholars of both the US and Europe together, but also for its location – an Austrian palace built by a Protestant-expelling Catholic Prince-Archbishop and once owned by the exiled Jewish theater director Max Reinhardt before being seized by the local Nazi Gauleiter – a stark reminder of the levels of religious intolerance once present in Europe. A living testament to such intolerance, faculty member Hedwig Rose will recount Fellows with her personal history as a “hidden child” in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during her talk on “The Scourge of Scapegoating.” Chaired by Peter Rose, Sophia Smith Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Anthropology and Senior Fellow of the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute, Smith College, and former director, American Studies Diploma Program, Smith College, participants will take part in plenary sessions, panels, and discussion groups looking at such topics as the push and pull factors for migration; the dichotomies between “natives” and “newcomers” and their significance in the US and various parts of Europe; identities and distinctions between “they” and “we” as expressed in politics and in the art and literature of marginality; patterns of adaptation, integration and isolation; and the varied meanings of “tolerance.” Not only will the symposium look back at the last decade, it will also conclude by looking forward – what does the future hold for ethnic and religious relations in the US and Europe? The Council of Europe report suggests that improvements will need the co-operation of a great many actors: educators, mass media, trade unions, civil society, churches and religious groups, celebrities and so-called “role models”, as well as municipal, national, regional and international institutions. But true to the 65-year history of the formerly-named Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, now Salzburg Global Seminar, and the words of first-session faculty member, the acclaimed anthropologist Margaret Mead, the symposium will start its work with a small group of committed people, and that should never be underestimated.
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