zur normalen Ansicht

Picture Atlas > On the Way 

On the way

Pictures that show vehicles with symbolic significance (a boat, a railway, a car, a plane) in risky situations are a part of that modern collective symbolism which Juergen Link has described as the "archipelago of normalism" (cf. Link 1999). They act as conspicuous illustrations of circumstances that call urgently for social action. In the 1990s it was above all the metaphor of the boat that showed how Western industrial societies were defining as abnormal the influx of migrants after the opening of the Iron Curtain: People tried regularly to justify stricter asylum and immigration laws by pointing to the fact that the boat was already "full" (and would sink if its load were increased).

If trains are frequently used as illustrations connected with EU-Europe, then the reason lies in the dynamics of how European Union integration is progressing. According to the way the train is depicted, what ground it is covering, with what speed, the public gains an idea of how normal certain developments are. For example, the caricature from the "Salzburger Nachrichten" illustrates clearly how normalistic collective symbolism is trying to render complex facts simply; the 10 new member states (of the enlargement in 2004) are, obviously in regard to the state of their economic development, represented as an old-fashioned and scarcely travel-worthy railway carriage, while Turkey - shown as a trolley on a siding - drops completely outside the scheme of normal/not normal.

If in this case the picture has to do with the average speed that is to be expected - the expansion-related coupling of different stages of development will considerably hinder the European Union train of progress - then normalistic collective symbolism readily provides the topoi, such as the distinction between inside and outside: In its campaign for the entry of Austria into the European Union 1994 the Federal Government of Austria chose a train as one way of symbolizing the necessity of Austrian membership: Austria has to get on the train so that it can have a voice in its direction and its speed. "How can we get going in Europe if we do not first get on the train?" was the slogan.

Generally it can be said for the use of topoi in normalistic collective symbolism that it fences off a systemic sphere (Inside/Outside) against an "out there" that no longer has a part in the system (in the example cited, Turkey), it sets the system in motion and in this way makes possible an internal distinction between inside/present/normality and outside/future/abnormality. It sketches an easily comprehensible play of equivalents and oppositions, and thus gives an answer to the management problem of modern societies that consists in "effectively short-circuiting the incomprehensibility and abstractness of expert knowledge effective with the emotionality and subjectivity of large silent majorities" (Link 1999:346). Thus the presentation of vehicles in non-normal situations is always connected to the call for collective steering in the opposite direction.

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About the Project

The Picture Atlas is an outcome of the project ICONCLASH. Collective Icons and Democratic Governance in Europe

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