After the nine turns in cultural studies as famously described by Doris Bachmann-Medick, here comes another, perhaps among all the most profoundly transformative for the humanities. The network turn – proclaimed in the book of the same title (Ahnert, Coleman and Weingart 2020) – represents a timely reaction to the progressive datafication of the modern world as well as to the privileged status of quantification in contemporary academia. Simultaneously, it creates convenient circumstances for rethinking theoretical and methodological assumptions of cultural research while liberated from the constraints of rigid disciplinary boundaries. The topic of this paper addresses the insufficiently articulated in Network Turn idea of the sameness between data and culture. While adopting such a claim as a methodological framework can, as the authors admirably demonstrate, yield substantial research outcomes, it leaves unaddressed a core ontological problems that has preoccupied philosophers of culture throughout the past. Equating culture with data poses the risk of repeating the mistakes of early cultural theorists, many of whom were criticized as being overly inclusive in their definitions, which led to imprecision and limited explanatory potential of the category itself. To ensure the definition of culture outlined in Network Turn a more sound ontological foundation, I draw on Yadin Dudai's notion of cultural engram (2020), which derives from neuroscientific research on collective memory. I make the case not merely for their complementarity, but also suggest some potential directions for a collaborative research agenda unfolding at the intersection of the (neuro)cognitive and network turn.
Bartosz Hamarowski, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Poland