18th September 2020

German National Library: Cultural History of Social Distancing

German Book and Writing Museum of the German National Library

Even if in the summer of 2020 the search engines hardly need half a second to spit out well over a billion hits under the keyword Social Distancing, the phenomenon of social, better: physical distance is by no means a topic of the beginning of the 21st century: the term social distancing is new, but the idea behind it has been reflected in social and cultural practices for millennia. Their objectives are very different. Infection control has been particularly strongly imprinted in cultural memory, but the prescribed distance is not only about health but above all about maintaining power, sometimes also about mysteries.

And social distancing has always been accompanied by conspiracy myths, the salt of which is always suspected of abuse of power. But it also has the potential to create new things: on the one hand, new formats and instruments of communication are emerging that experience surprising acceptance; on the other hand, the emptiness created by radical social abstinence can create space for a new awareness of ethical and moral priorities – even beyond the well-established wisdoms “distance is the new decency”. Or – as Schopenhauer already knew: distance is “courtesy and fine custom”.

For more information on this fascinating exhibition, https://ausstellungen.deutsche-digitale-bibliothek.de/distanz/#s0