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Located at the centre of its research activities, the Knowledge Lab interlinks the cluster’s three main research structures: the African Cluster Centres, the Academy, and the Research Sections. It offers a variety of meeting formats—from the ad hoc to the regular and formal—for cluster members and guests to come together and propel academic debates. As the locus of these meetings, the Knowledge Lab assembles scholars and their research projects in various venues to exchange ideas and methods and to engage in debate and systematic reflection. Directed by the Vice Dean of Research, it generates a thriving intellectual and interdisciplinary research environment that also includes non-academics, such as artists and activists, and stimulates transdisciplinary synergies and research.
The Knowledge Lab indeed is crucial in connecting the cluster’s theoretical, epistemological, and methodological issues. Accordingly, it is subdivided into three interlinked spaces for debate and exchange: The Theory Forum, the Reflexive African Studies Forum, and the Methodology Forum.
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.
General themes and contact persons
1. 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.
2. 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 heuristc 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 winter term, 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.
3. Medialities (October 2021 to July 2022, contact person: Ivo Ritzer)
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. Furthermore, according to insights in media studies, this condition can never be thought independently of any medium's technological qualities. The challenge is therefore to pay attention to a given medium's genuine structure as a particular dispositif 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.