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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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Annual Themes

The events of the Plenary Colloquium (Thu 2 to 6 p.m.) of the Knowledge Lab are dedicated to a general theme during one academic year and are coordinated by a group consisting of PIs, postdocs and other participants, as well as the team of the Vice-Dean of Research.

The annual theme group establishes the programme for the plenary and for the annual cluster conference, which takes place on the respective annual theme in the summer semester. The group also prepares an edited volume on a topic derived from the annual theme, which has the character of a key publication for the cluster.

Annual Theme “Temporalities” (October 2024 to July 2025)

Contact persons: Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni

As relations occur in time and space, temporality is an important category within which to critically examine the dynamics and processuality of relations, as well as the simultaneity of multiple options and orders in the world. “Temporalities” is thus an angle from which to analyse phenomena not in terms of finished products of processes, but rather as processes themselves, and also in terms of their simultaneity with other phenomena (Atmanspacher and Ruhnau 1997). Treating phenomena as constituted in and through relations necessitates a conception of time not as a linear sequence of past, present and future, but rather as “an interlocking of pasts, presents and futures” (Hodder 2012, 98), in which “past and future resonate in the present” (Massumi 2002, 200). Concepts such as “polyrhythm” (Deleuze and Guattari 2015 [1980]; Lefebvre 1992) are also useful for engaging with the emergent and multiple character of time as a non-linear phenomenon, focusing on moments of rupture, pause and repetition as well as the coexistence of different rhythms at different rates. Accordingly, this angle also urges us to consider the mutual production of time and space (May and Thrift 2001).

Examining expressions of multiplicity from the angle of temporalities thus impels us to capture the temporal dimensions of the emergence of relations, the specific dynamics and speeds of relations, and the simultaneity of different temporalities that we find in relational constellations in the field. Furthermore, the angle of temporalities will also be key to refining our perspective on reflexivity, since relations may project themselves into the future and / or repeat or refer back to previous relations. Thus, beyond reductive notions of continuity or cause and effect, the angle of temporalities will require us to consider the recursive entanglements of relational processes that comprise multiplicity. Our own reflexivity as researchers also demands us to critically consider the imposition of temporalities on Africa, such as the epistemic denial of Africa’s coevalness in certain strands of African studies (Fabian 2002 [1983]).

  • Atmanspacher, H., and Ruhnau, E., eds. 1997. Time, Temporality, Now: Experiencing Time and Concepts of Time in an Interdisciplinary Perspective. New York: Springer.
  • Deleuze, G., and Guattari, F. 2015 [1980]. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Fabian, J. 2002 [1983]. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. New York: Columbia UP
  • Hodder, I. 2012. Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships Between Humans and Things. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Lefebvre, H. 1992. Éléments de rythmanalyse. Paris: Éditions Syllepse.
  • Massumi, B. 2002. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke UP.
  • May, J., and Thrift, N., eds. 2001. Timespace: Geographies of Temporality. New York: Routledge.

Annual Theme: Spatialities (October 2022 to July 2023)

Contact persons: Eberhard Rothfuß, Matthias Gebauer

Further group members: Iris Clemens, Martin Doevenspeck, Susanne Mühleisen, David Stadelmann, Alexander Stroh-Steckelberg

The annual theme of the 2022-23 academic year, Spatialities, calls for an exploration of the multiple spatialities of entangled African lifeworlds. Connecting to debates in critical area studies, the heuristic angle of spatialities invites us to focus on the relational processes of construction and constitution through which ‘areas’ emerge, change and de-/re-territorialize. Such perspectives help cast a fresh view on African interconnections and the dense presence of Africa in the world as well as of the world in Africa. Other possible synergies with the annual theme may include inter- and transdisciplinary approaches to co-create new imaginaries and innovative productions of multiple social, material, and artistic spaces.

Former Annual Theme: Medialities (October 2021 to July 2022)

Contact person: Ivo Ritzer

Further group members: Ute Fendler, Ulf Vierke, Cassandra Mark-Thiessen

All forms of cultural production are decisively shaped by a respective medium: they only come into being through that very medium (mediality). In other words, cultural production is always medially constituted, i.e. coming into existence through processing, storage and transmission of certain data. Due to this mediation, cultural productions can and do permanently change throughout history, constantly adopting to the material and technical resources at disposal in a state of flux. In that relation, mediality means the general presupposition or condition under which cultural production and any art form is able to take shape at all: within mediality the specific circumstances of culture are negotiated. Thus, the concept of the medium not only refers to all domains of cultural exchange, which in itself is medially determined. Media encompass, but are in no way limited to means of mass communication, including everything from languages to numbers, cars to light bulbs, clothes to guns. Mediality therefore applies to all cultural production and is thus relevant to all disciplines. The challenge is to pay attention to a given medium's genuine structure as a particular disposit if but not fall into some kind of hardware-determinism leveling all differences. To put it another way, our task is to consider culture beyond textuality, and still not reduce it to the sheer materiality of data at the same time. The concept of the medium can be used here to stress the processual and performative character of all culture, whose multiplicity of practices and phenomena (cultural techniques) perpetually interacts with the mediality of the medium in question.

Former Annual Themes: Modalities, Relationality

Modalities (October 2020 to July 2021)
Contact person: Clarissa Vierke

In the center of the knowledge lab´s concern during the academic year 2020/21 is the concept – or perspective – of modalities. How, and in which modalities is multiplicity thought, imagined, lived and produced? Which modes of relationality do we find empirically and how can we grasp them?   What makes modalities so productive in producing and shaping multiplicity?
Next to temporalities, spatialities and medialities, modalities serve as a heuristic angle to get a grip on the Cluster’s main concerns: relationality and reflexivity, from a multiple perspective. Modalities will help us to work across disciplines by offering perspectives to zoom into the multiple dimensions of relations and reflexivity.
During the academic year 2020-21, the angle of modalities makes us consider various ways and processes of relating, like, for instance, forms of dependence, conflict, exchange, cooperation, resistance and denial, as well as their outcomes and properties. In line with the dynamic view on multiplicity, we are interested in the infinite processes of change and becoming, i.e. how modes of relation and those in relation change over time and vary across different contexts.
Modalities helps to systematize our research findings, but also to discover and compare a variety of theoretical concepts like, for instance, meshwork, networks, entanglements or rhizomes.

Relationality (Summer semester 2020)
Contact person: Erdmute Alber

Africa is neither unitary, nor isolated, but rather is, and always has been, constituted through its ever-changing relations, globally entangled and in flux. This understanding calls for a new conceptual framework that allows us to grasp the dynamic interrelationship of diversity and entanglement and to study “Africa multiple” in coherent and systematic research formats. Rethinking older notions of diversity or plurality and connectivity, the concept of multiplicity shifts the focus from diverse, discrete entities that have connections towards the continuous relational processes involved in their production. Transcending the limitations of both conventional area studies and global studies, this conceptual approach allows us to capture the simultaneity of heterogeneous and mutually influential African ways of life and world-making emerging in multi-directional and multi-layered processes of relating. Accordingly, the concept of relationality will serve as our primary analytical tool for the study and conceptualisation of multiplicity.

Webmaster: Dr. Doris Löhr

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