The Meta Area (MA) serves as a connective framework in which the processes of perception, conceptualization and coping with challenges are investigated separately as well as interconnectedly, thereby aiming at a diachronic and intercultural perspective and thus a better understanding of the multiplicity of challenges in living together. The questions which are pursued in the Thematic Areas and the resulting outcomes interact with the perspectives of the Meta Area. At the same time, the transfer of results from the Thematic Areas to the Meta Area enables the further development of a theoretical-methodological toolkit and facilitates a level of abstraction beyond the individual challenges.
Challenges only become challenges, if they are preceded by the perception of an initial trigger. Moreover, perception is not only the registration of a complex situation, but also its evaluation and categorization. Only the evaluative perception and categorization of the trigger itself or/and its influence on one’s own individual being (physical, psychological) or one’s own community (social, cultural) creates the challenge. Therefore, perception is not a passive, exclusively sensory and information-receiving process. Rather, challenges are always evaluated and classified against the background of past situations or cognitive and habitualized perceptual schemas (conscious or unconscious). This classification therefore represents a categorizing practice in which perceived triggers are assigned to existing categories, or new categories are created for them. Past perceptions can be studied only if they are expressed in some form, i.e. if perceiving is followed by a practical consummation or representation of what is perceived and categorized (Hirschauer & Boll 2017: 15).
Therefore, we speak of a “perceptual action” (Frers 2009: 188; Hofmann 2016: 290 f.) or “perceptual practices” (Reckwitz 2015; Bachleitner & Weichbold 2015). These can refer to what is perceived and
evaluated itself or lead to perceptual steering or perceptual avoidance. Thus, they are not only reactively oriented for the reception of information but can actively bring it about by aligning existing perceptual practices, strategies and technologies with the perception of future challenges based on previous experiences.
While ad hoc categorical evaluations and decisions are made already in the perception process, we speak of reflexive conceptualization of challenges as soon as higher-level and supra-individual reflection and representation of the causes, limits and effects of a challenge become apparent. Thus, conceptualization involves both the shaping and formulation of a category and the relating of it to other categories. In this way, categories become concepts that are not only involved in specific relationships with other concepts, but that are also associated with specific expectations. The inherent desire of every human being to understand past and present challenges led early on to an institutionalization of knowledge practices, which were understood as a way to cope with future challenges. To this end, past and present challenges are reflected upon through discursive practices in order to make them comparable. However, such conceptualizations are always dependent on the cultural and temporal context, the respective cosmologies and ontologies (cf. Foucault 2002). As a result, they are not or only rarely comparable with the conceptualizations made in the context of today’s scientific work. Rather, depending on the context, one and the same phenomenon could be
grasped through quite different forms of conceptualization (which we classify today as medical, astronomical, economic, religious, and magical knowledge). These forms need to be historicized in their respective specificity and meaning. They can range from pictorial representations of social or natural challenges to philosophical and scientific texts to architectural installations for observing celestial constellations (cf. Habermas & Berger 2011; Pommerening & Bisang 2017).
The third process studied during our research is potential coping (Carver et al. 1989). Based on a broad spectrum of possible responses to challenges, their successful resolution is to be contrasted with unsuccessful failure or ignoring. Therefore, coping potentially encompasses all three outcomes of the coping process. While failure can take on critical and catastrophic features, the successful resolution of challenges can be understood and described as the resilient behavior of individuals and communities. However, this does not usually lead to a return to the status quo but is associated with transformations and adaptations. The resources mobilized for unsuccessful or successful coping do vary according to temporal, cultural and situational context. The term resource is deliberately understood very broadly here. Resources can be cognitive abilities, bio- or sociocultural resilience factors, social options and strategies or material means and opportunities. Also essential to the analysis of coping are individual as well as collective processes through which coping strategies, practices and structures as well as evaluation criteria about coping with success are developed and communicated. Thus, recourses to perceptions and conceptualizations are necessary to recognize that a challenge has been temporarily or permanently overcome, or whether it was considered manageable at all. This requires identifying recurring resources, resilience factors or coping patterns to establish connections between the nature of the challenge and the respective forms of coping. Commonalities and differences may be explained, for example, in terms of culture, time, space or community expression.
The overarching goal of the Meta Area is to ask to what extent clusters such as challenge-cultures or challenge-mentalities can be identified based on similar processes. In conclusion, coping, regardless of its success or failure, leads to changes in perception and the conceptualization of current and future challenges. These transformational and adaptive changes configure the initial situations for future challenges. Thus, it is important to understand challenges not as a closed process or a cycle, but as dynamic evolutions that are constantly changing in people and communities, which in turn are themselves constantly changing.