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

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“Fellows enrich the work of the Cluster in multiple ways”

The first fellows have arrived at the University of Bayreuth to contribute to various research sections of the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence. We talked to the program’s co-founder and Vice Dean of Research Professor Erdmute Alber and to the fellow Doctor Samuel Ndogo from Kenya about their expectations of the Cluster’s fellowship program.

Prof. Alber, among other functions you are the Cluster of Excellence’s vice dean of “Research”, could you please explain what this position entails?

EA: As vice dean of research I have mainly three tasks: firstly, I organise the “knowledge lab”, and therein the conceptual, methodological and theoretical work of the Cluster. Secondly, I am responsible for integrating the output of the research sections into the “knowledge lab”. Thirdly, I am heading the Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies with its three pillars: the fellowship program, the Junior research groups and the programs for Post-docs, here especially the postdoc-working groups.

Why is the fellowship program an integral part of the Cluster’s research concept?

EA: Fellows enrich the work of the Cluster in multiple ways: they bring their own research projects and agendas to Bayreuth and connect with our work here. Their projects do, secondly, relate to the Cluster’s core themes. They can, therefore, enrich our debates with aspects we could not produce on our own. Thirdly, hosting fellows is a beautiful way of connecting our institutions as well as our discussions with other scientific debates. Therefore, they immensely contribute to the internationalisation and networking of the Cluster. Let me just give an example: fellows may on the basis of their interaction with colleagues from Bayreuth develop plans for common publications, conferences and other scientific activities. Last but not least, we are also hosting fellows from our own university in order to give them space for concentrated work on their publications. The fellowship program is, therefore, also an integral part of our publishing strategy.

Which aspects were crucial in the process of determining the candidates?

EA: The most important aspect is that their research interests relate to the research agenda of the Cluster. They need to work on themes that interest all, or at least some of us.

How many fellows will the Bayreuth Academy host in this academic year?

EA: We will welcome 28 fellows from different backgrounds: 12 scholars from Universities in African countries, nine from European universities, five from the Americas, and two from Asia.

What can the fellows expect during their stay at the University of Bayreuth and what is expected of them in return?

EA: We will provide a suitable academic environment, access to the library and a working space. In return, the fellows will give at least one lecture and one teaching unit or discussion round for PHD students, and they attend the debates in the knowledge lab. It is the first fellow year and we are all still learning, every day. I am really looking forward to learning as well – scientifically, but also in organisational terms.

Doctor Ndogo, welcome to our University, welcome to the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence! You have just arrived in Bayreuth - how long will you stay with us?

SN: Thank you, I am very glad to be at the University of Bayreuth, specifically at the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence. I will stay at the University of Bayreuth for a period of six months. I arrived on the 2 October and I am so glad to be in Bayreuth for the winter weather –  although for the past couple of days it seems like I brought the sunshine from Kenya with me!

What is your impression of the University? In which ways does it differ from your own?

SN: The University of Bayreuth is unique in several ways. First of all, it provides adequate facilities in terms of what a scholar in African Studies would aspire to get. When I think of studies on any aspect of the African continent the first place I think about in Germany is the University of Bayreuth – so it is definitely unique in the sense that apart from the adequate infrastructure, the University of Bayreuth has over the years built a huge network of experts in African studies. Also, more fundamentally speaking, the University of Bayreuth has a collaboration with the University I work at. Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya, is one of the partner universities of the Cluster and serves as an African Cluster Center. Therefore, I am very excited to be here as a fellow of the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence and through my research fellowship I look forward to further cementing that kind of collaboration between our two universities.

What impacted your decision to apply for the fellowship at the Cluster of Excellence?

SN: There are a few factors that impacted my decision. First of all, I used to study at the University of Bayreuth: I was a junior fellow at the BIGSAS Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies; with that in mind, I was very much aware of the excellent research environment the University of Bayreuth offers. Secondly, I came to learn about the call through the collaboration that we have with Bayreuth. Therefore, when the call came in I was quick to send in my application and here I am. I am so glad that I was successful and that now I am a part of the pioneer group of fellows at the Cluster of Excellence.

You are - as you said - part of the pioneer group of fellows that were invited by the Cluster of Excellence - what do you make of that?

SN: In fact, it is quite a nice thing to be pioneer. Being pioneer means that you become part of what I would call “pace setters” and setting high expectations as well. So for me, it is a good opportunity that one has to not only pursue individual research interests but also to set the pace in terms of the expectations of the Cluster’s fellowship program and to work within the research objectives that have been set by the Cluster.

Which research questions are you currently working on? Which of the six research sections will you be contributing to?

SN: At a personal level, I am interested in working within the framework of the Research Section “Arts and Aesthetics” and within this area I would want to contribute to the advancement of the theoretical and methodological agenda of the Cluster. I also envisage to participate in the discussions on the concept of reconfiguring African studies, which is a core question of the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence. But I also want to continue my research on an area that I have been working on for the last year, which is the creative and cultural Industries in Kenya with specific focus on the various artistic forms – theatre, film and music – their nature and characteristics, modes of production, practitioners as well as audience. Additionally, I am interested in understanding the relationships between these artistic forms and other modes of digital production that provide viable audiences. In short, these are the key research questions that I would like to address during my stay here at the Cluster of Excellence. (sg)

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