Lab 1Memory and Reparative Politics in Global Cooperation

Coordinators: Dr. Urs Lindner (Max Weber Kolleg Erfurt), Dr. Christine Unrau (on leave)


While the past has always shaped international cooperation and conflict, the most recent decades stand out as a period in which local, national and global pasts and their material remnants have become a fiercely contested resource of global politics. The end of the Cold War formation, supranational and regional integration processes, heritage policies and tourism, developments in global media, a turn towards minority and identity politics among other trends set a stage in which references to the past are no longer contained by nation-state memories as their main framework. Developments since the 1990s are the result of two strands running through the twentieth century: a turn of political cultures from national “imagined communities” to international, transnational or global ones, on the one hand; and a legal tradition, leading from the international war crime tribunals after
the two World Wars to the International Court of Justice. We consider these two strands and their friction as equally important for present-day global memory politics. As a result, both practitioners and scholars are facing two major sets of dynamics: (1) Memory and Heritage: What are references and forms of global or transnational heritage? How manifold or coherent, how ambiguous or uniform are they? How strongly do they underpin global inequalities and power structures, and allow for their contestation? What are “universalizing”, “cosmopolitizing”, etc. strategies and their pitfalls? How do fragmentation and unifying grand narratives relate to each other? (2) Justice and Reparation: duty to remember and to undo past wrongdoings; elements of conflictive shared pasts (histories of inter-state and civil wars, colonial domination, enslavement, etc.); victim-centred memory; recognition of victimhood and reparation; competing claims to singularity and comparability.

Scholars from both the social sciences and humanities have engaged in both fields. Legal and political scientists have developed and refined concepts of “Transitional Justice”; scholars of international relations have highlighted the role of trauma and memory for the development of power relations, norms, and institutions; historians have identified conflicting actors and interests driving national and “universalizing” memories alike and they have thought about their own role as experts at trials; theorists of memory and culture have reflected on concepts of “entangled” memories and the “chronopolitics” informing recent developments; art historians have confronted the colonial legacy of art and museum collections and revisited the underlying claim of universal cultural heritage; facing historical burdens of cultural representation and contemporary identity politics, they reflect issues of provenance and restitution, and explore the reworking of art historiographies, collection orders and exhibition narratives; philosophers have analysed the genuine normative relevance of historical injustices in difference to a broad concept of social justice or injustices, they are beginning to reflect on the contribution that philosophy as such, even in its supposedly enlightened and rational forms, has made to the justification of racism and colonialism, and they are developing approaches to political and social orders that make past injustices addressable and their repetition at least difficult; political scientists have analysed practices of romanticization or glorification of national pasts, especially in the context of a ‘backlash’ against globalization; psychologists and sociologists have explored the cherished (recent and remote) pasts which are imagined, narrated and aspired to in the context of current global anxieties. As a result, each of these disciplines has amassed important insights into the contexts, characteristics, and challenges of global memory politics. But rarely have they collaborated in crafting a shared analytical framework. Our Lab sets out to change that. We conceive the past not as a neutral substance, but as an embattled “semiotic weapon”; remembrance of the past not as a benign “duty,” but as a deliberately selective act by state and non-state actors to legitimize or delegitimize conflicting visions of global order and negotiate their respective positions and relationships (of communities, states or supra-state actors) and relationships. As a decidedly interdisciplinary effort, we seek to gain a deeper understanding of the role of the past in present-day global politics, along three lines of inquiry:

“Age of apology” – a global normative change?: We interrogate the place and scope of the recent trend to make controversial, conflictive pasts and justice to past wrongdoings the cornerstone of global “moral politics,” as marked by human rights and development. Are we, in fact, dealing with an emerging new global memory regime (Conrad) or will the efforts sprouting off the singular memory of the Holocaust remain a short-lived exception to the time-honored rule of subordinating justice to (social, international) peace (Meier)? How stable, profound, far-reaching, and irreversible is the critical approach to national pasts and responsibilities actually? We seek to assess to what extent recent developments are actually unprecedented by comparing how different societies (past and present) have coped with conflictive pasts. We also want to understand how the upsurge of recent
nationalist, nativist, and “anti-repentance” movements and governments relates to global memory politics. Do these movements merely oppose self-critical approaches to the past or do they pursue a more ambiguous strategy of partial rejection and partial adoption? We are particularly interested in dynamics between local, national, supra-national and global
levels, from international conventions on restitutions down to neighborhood debates about controversial monuments and street names.

Reparative politics and the politics of reparation: We seek to gain a better and more complete picture of the central forms of reparative politics and their role as a challenge, impediment and/or chance for global cooperation. We want to retrace the complex pathways along which apologies, restitution, and compensation became a contested topic and a resource of soft power in inter-state relations (e.g. the origins of material restitution practices in the spirit of Europe’s post-Napoleonic restorative policies). We analyze instances in which demands for apologies, restitution, and compensation have been raised and negotiated in international politics and how moral arguments have mixed with realpolitik in the (few) cases in which larger material gestures actually occurred. We are again particularly interested in how reparative politics play out on different scales, for example how campaigns for reparations at a national level (e.g. for slavery, land dispossession, etc.) and inter-state negotiations (e.g. for colonial crimes) relate to each other, and how moral and legal frameworks interact.

Mobilizing common pasts: In a situation of multiple and urgent social, health and ecological crises, we witness various attempts at retrieving or constructing a common past as a rationale for cooperation and a motivation for joint action. For example, indigenous movements recur to pre-colonial experiences of community life in order to develop alternative visions for future world orders. On an ideational level, anticolonial and antiracist thinkers are highlighted in order to challenge the Western centric canon of political thought. At the same time, the claim to a common past may be mobilized for self-victimization, obfuscating historical responsibility and appropriating experiences of oppression. For example, far right ideologues have started to equate the current “plight” of white Europeans in the context of “mass immigration” with Native Americans’ experiences of colonization. Thus, this research stream aims at exploring how and to what ends “common pasts” are imagined and deployed in political projects on the local, national and global level.


Lab 2Contesting Authority Relations – Reconsidering Grounds and Rules of Global Cooperation

Coordinators: Prof. Dr. Andreas Niederberger, Dr. Christian Scheper


Our interest in this thematic field is based on the impression that we are currently not only witnessing new fundamental social conflicts (e.g. over border regimes and migration; labour, production, trade and consumption; identity and recognition; ecological planetary boundaries), but also new forms and narratives of carrying out conflicts or of conceiving of what is being fought over in them. These conflicts have both domestic and transnational dimensions and they do not (necessarily) lead to increased or new forms of transnational cooperation, but they are also not necessarily carried out in a purely violent manner. Especially where cooperation itself is of high normative importance and does not result directly from economic calculations, individual actor interests, shared values or other interrelationships between the respective conflict parties (e.g. global climate protection), it often seems to fail. Here we see an interesting starting point for a search movement for new explanations for the changes of the transnational and especially for the political dimensions of its reconfiguration.
So far, there have been three main types of explanatory models for the emergence of cooperation: first, material interests or goals that can ultimately only or better be achieved cooperatively; second, shared normative or value attitudes that commit actors to mutual reference or respect, even if they do not arise directly from their interests/goals; and third, finally, political decision-making in and about the shared social space under the premise that this decision-making is an ongoing and revisable process and does not permanently and exclusively privilege some interests/goals over others. In view of what we are currently observing, we would venture the following diagnosis: The conflictual nature of the transnational constellation is by no means to be seen as a ‘malign’ feature per se – as the failure of a normative global cooperation project, so to speak. Rather, it represents a qualitatively new phase of the (always already existing) genuinely political moment of social cooperation that also becomes visible transnationally – that is, of what has already been indicated in the third explanatory model. At the same time, however, the changes cannot be explained solely in terms of a politicisation of global governance; nor can they be explained solely by observing an increasing questioning of the liberal script and corresponding markers of normative insecurity. Rather, it seems to us to be more fundamentally about the question of the constitution of authority, that is, about what actually constitutes the political negotiation and interweaving of interests, goals, and so on and what distinguishes it from mere imposition or domination. For some, for example, the political requires specifically the concession of being able to renounce in principle the realization of interests, while for others it presupposes the very recognition that certain identities or interests are non-negotiable. Social conflicts are not only about different interests or ideas of norms, the primacy of which is the subject of political struggle, but also about forms of collectivity, the constitution of agency, and the formation of political authority in general.
We therefore propose to investigate in Research Lab 3 the dynamics and contested nature of authority and its formation (or not). How and when does authority emerge transnationally? How does supposedly stable authority become unstable and an object of conflict? More fundamentally, we can ask: How is the transnational changing with regard to the reasons and drivers for social cooperation? And what is global cooperation if we understand it not primarily as a normative goal, but as an expression of changing social conditions and political authority?

Lab 3Revisiting Transnational Cooperation and Regimes of (Non)Knowledge in Times of Datafication, Fake News and Post-Truth

Previous Coordinators: Prof. Dr. Stephan Scheel, Dr. Laurens Lauer, Prof. Dr. Sigrid Quack – currently on hold


This research strand is concerned with how the production of different forms of knowledge and evidence, but also various types of non-knowledge, shape and reconfigure societal life and transnational cooperation in times of datafication, fake news and post-truth. Recent scholarship has shown that the initiation, implementation, (re-)evaluation and development of transnational cooperation in various policy fields, ranging from environmental protection to policing and crime control, infrastructure planning, global health or migration management is shaped by the production of knowledge, but also different types of non-knowledge, such as ambiguity, doubt, ignorance, secrecy or undone science. Particular artefacts of knowledge production such as statistical tables, maps, rankings or graphs depicting numerical facts play a key role in constituting certain issues as shared ‘matters of concern’ (Latour) and to gather a set of diverse, previously unconnected actors around a policy issue. These knowledge artefacts initiate and shape forms of cooperation, but they may also help to destabilise and undo them. In fact, they themselves frequently become the subject of disputes, contestations and fierce political struggles and debates.
The situation accordingly resonates with the public to an increasing degree, too, affecting citizens’ perception of relevant matters, their political attitudes, and – more generally – the conditions of their coexistence in various ways. On the one hand, the amount of available data and information has reached new levels, which leaves people with unprecedented opportunities to gain insights into various subject areas, events, and ways of life. On the other side, data and information are not equally prevalent or consumed (i.e., echo-chambers), nor do they have uniform effects. In fact, the adverse repercussions of this development dominate the scholarly debate and draw attention to the variety of involved interpretation schemes and rationales that imply disparate understandings of facts, validity, and truthfulness and resorts to different orders of worth. These phenomena cannot be grasped in terms of their underlying logics alone, though, since they rest on social practices that constitute social groupings, their experts, and authorities in the first place and, thus, connect and separate different social strata and institutional domains.  
These interrelationships take on particular weight in the context of global and transnational cooperation, where the production of knowledge is shaped by epistemic communities and struggles, professional standards, and political economies of (de)funding. What’s more, technological and methodological innovation have fundamentally changed the preconditions for transnational or global cooperation and created new fields of action altogether. International networks of investigative collectives using open data to collaboratively researching crimes against human rights, global tax evasion schemes, or public mis-/disinformation are telling examples for this development. They also draw attention to data’s context of origin, possible intentions of their generation (if any), and expedient ways of utilizing them, as recent debates about ‘the end of theory’ in the age of big data have pointedly emphasized. The points lead back to the practices of knowledge production and their inherent logics in a range of social sectors and policy fields and asks how the interrelated production of knowledge and non-knowledge affects and is shaped by transnational cooperation in times of fake news and post-truth and the datafication of everything.