Forty years ago the University of Oldenburg was founded as a new regional academic institution open to democratic reforms of teaching and research, while emphasizing the social commitment of science in its declaration of principles. Other reform universities such as Bremen or Osnabrück share this critical approach. Particularly the decision to name the university after Carl von Ossietzky embodied research understood as critical intervention. Carl von Ossietzky, a pacifist journalist and radical critic of the complicity of science and technology with militarism, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935 when he was detained in the concentration camp Esterwegen near Oldenburg. He died in 1938 in Berlin due to his suffering during his imprisonment.

Revisiting the university’s 1970s vision, the overall aim of the conference is to question current epistemic paradigms in cultural studies and the social sciences, to scrutinize the production and migration of knowledge, as well as ways of implementing and pursuing critical thinking in the 21st century.

This includes investigations into how academic knowledge productions on a global scale have been transformed after large social changes such as the end of the Cold War and decolonization, and how these interact e.g. with notions of transversal politics (Yuval-Davis 1997: 125-132). It also addresses new modes of knowledge production (Gibbons et al. 1994) and will share current concepts of the future role of universities (Schneidewind 2009).

Current developments in the “geopolitics of knowledge” (Mignolo 2012: XVII) include efforts to assert the objectives of European higher education policies for promoting Europe as a globally competitive knowledge-based economy and for creating a European Area of Higher Education as a model for other world regions. This development is accompanied by an increased commodification of knowledge. At the same time the EU and national research programmes have expanded North-South networks to contribute to the formation of knowledge societies in the Global South. The rhetoric of these policies with their concepts of empowerment is part of the discourse on development and modernity reconstructing notions of centre and periphery. In this respect, European-African co-operations – often aimed at a critique of structural adjustment programmes and neoliberal policies of African public universities – nevertheless involuntarily reproduce hegemonic power relations within academic knowledge productions.

However, the emphasis of networked research in European universities also creates opportunities to challenge hegemonic academic knowledge productions and to empower involved researchers to develop a variety of approaches in regard to the particular meanings of a socially responsible science and academia in different regional and local settings. At the very latest since the 1970s dominant paradigms of Western science have been challenged by post-colonial, gender and cultural studies. Especially post- and de-colonial approaches have addressed the “geopolitics of knowledge” through notions of “polycentric epistemologies” (Harding 2011: 154) and their respective integration, transformation or rejection of Western epistemics, not least through links to local and regional knowledge systems beyond the academic context. In this vein, academic knowledge in African settings has contributed to a diverse tradition of radical thinking “which has articulated new intellectual agendas, extended the scope and richness of world scholarship, and added new epistemologies, perspectives, fields of study, and methods” (Mama 2007: 21f.). Especially, hegemonic concepts of modernity and gender are being challenged e.g. through feminist scholars who address conceptual imbrications that are also reflected within European discourses.

Against this background, the conference aims to go beyond mere acknowledgements of the cultural diversity of academic knowledge and its transfers in European and African settings. The focus is on the potentials of networked research for creating critical knowledge in order to analyse and to counter the inscribed power relations within (trans)local agendas. Taking the situatedness of epistemologies and methodologies into consideration furthermore requires a reflection on the constitution of research fields and research questions within the complexities and entanglements of the respective societal, cultural and economic contexts.

The conference aims to address, but is not limited to the following questions:

  • Whose knowledge and which methodologies are accepted, rejected or partly integrated into which knowledge systems? What are the discursive procedures that privilege, neglect or exclude certain epistemic processes?
  • What paradigmatic shifts and/or breaks occur in South-North or South-South academic co-operations and discourses?
  • To what extent does networked research contribute to changes in academic knowledge production in the respective (local/regional/national) contexts?
  • In which ways are knowledge systems moulded and/or critiqued by e.g. orientalism or occidentalism and notions of modernity (western, multiple, other etc.)? To what extent are they linked to questions of race/racism? How are these intersections explored by gender and queer theories?
  • What are the correlations of knowledge production with transversal politics or other conceptualisations of critical alliances?
  • What are the effects of neo-liberal policies on knowledge production within co-operative academic contexts?
  • What are the inter-/transdisciplinary implications of such a critical dialogue between social, cultural and engineering sciences?
  • Against the background of ever more technologies and managerial decision making processes structuring daily life and social interactions: What are visions of the future or conceptualisations of a ‘next society’?

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