Research Agenda

Globalization has become a buzzword of political communication. In many discourses it appears as the ultimate causation of today’s processes and conflicts – as if the world would have entered a totally new stage.

Our point of departure is different: Global connections have a history as long as reactions by societies towards the profitability or feared losses
of sovereignty have far reaching historical roots. It is worth investigating the different historical forms of these entanglements and the ways human beings dealt with them.

Global flows of people, goods, ideas, capital etc. challenge existing formats of social self-organization and territorialization around the
nation-state. But they don’t lead to a completely borderless and flat world. On the contrary, we observe again and again processes of re-territorialization yet not necessarily the defense of its historical forms but an innovative search for new regimes of territorialization – thus the interest in the differences between empire and nation, or between nationalization and transnationalization as well as in the role of regionalizations (within and beyond the level of nation-states) or of networks across continents and oceans.

While de- and re-territorialization are permanently ongoing dialectic processes which are determined by the various global flows on the one hand and the search for ways to tame them, to re-establish sovereignty, there are historical moments when conflicts concerning new spatial frameworks of social interaction and integration which occur at very different places actually coincide. These critical junctures of globalization are of particular interest to our Graduate School.

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We are interested in mechanisms that make the interaction between societies a source for innovation and development instead of taking societies as containers for granted. Development, however, doesn’t mean necessarily that global inequality will be reduced per se. On the contrary, new spatial frameworks that help territorializing property, political control, and cultural belonging are introduced to profit even more from growing global exchange and are thus related to the exercise
of power and dominance. Our research is critically engaged with actors of power relations.

Forms of resistance to such search for hegemony can be observed both at a transnational and even global level, by actors using national institutions and at the local and regional level. While often activists describe and label their efforts as anti-globalist they are in fact part of the dialectics of de- and re-territoralization described above searching for alternative ways of spatially framing social action. Places, institutions, but also symbolic entities generating social and cultural capital can develop the capacity to function as portals of globalization. By portals we mean those concrete sites that historically have been centres of world trade or global communication, have served as entrance points for cultural transfers, and where institutions and practices for dealing with global connectedness have evolved. Such places have always been known as sites of transcultural encounter and mutual influence. They are not only places through which economic and military dispersion has taken place and global networks have been created, but they are also places where a whole range of social forms and symbolic cultural constructions (of the ‘own’ and the ‘other’, of home and locality) challenge national affiliation in communities of migrants, merchants, and travelers from distant places. This allows for analysis of how global connectedness challenges a seemingly stable territorial order by extending it to other spheres, and it invites us to look at the various means by which elites try to channel and therefore control the effects of global connectivity (among others, by the creation of political structures and social control).

This research agenda cannot be addressed without strong competencies on various world regions. For this reason the Graduate School combines efforts from all the area studies represented at Leipzig University (ranging from East Asian Studies to Near East and African Studies, from North to Latin American Studies, but also including Eastern and Western European Studies). Candidates are invited to develop projects that bring developments in at least two different world regions together. At the same time a historical approach is related to systematic analytical categories from the social sciences including evidently human geography. Candidates are expected to take up the challenge of such inter- and post-disciplinary reading and to develop during the taught part of the programme appropriate skills.