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Regine Schönenberg

Re-territorialization of remote knowledge production to the German academic landscape


Academic production is dependent on a multilayer context of disciplinary and every-day knowledge embedded in cultural matters of course. The so-called "objective knowledge" is far from being as it seems since even the very disciplinary discourses differ from country to country. Western hegemonic definitions of "the right knowledge" are losing their power of impact and local scientific discourses are becoming more self-confident. Often, field-researching scientists lack adequate preparation for a systematic integration of this inevitable process of adaptation to the new scientific and cultural environment to the original research design. And, to a even lesser extent is he/she prepared to re-territorialize the "alien" research results to the original scientific discourse of his/her discipline. Such processes of transnational knowledge-production are common place nowadays. In my contribution I will propose a possible approach to tackle the problem.

Where do we think nowadays?

A viable starting point to understand the multilayer character of scientific knowledge is Thomas Kuhn’s metaphor of the “houses of science” – meaning the century-long construction of scientific disciplines. It implies two important affirmations: scientific knowledge is historically grown and, consequently its evolution is embedded to the respective discursive environments; secondly, a house stands on firm grounds, although visitors may stay and news may come in from faraway places and discourses.

Thinking about the ever growing frequency and speed of visitors and news, we can imagine well, how the upper floors of the respective houses of science differ from their basements and ground floors. I imagine them to be more colorful, constituted of different materials and consisting bridges to nearby houses of other disciplines. Visitors come and go and their inhabitants travel frequently, too.

When we enter the house through the visitors’ hall or through one of the bridges, we will not know the structure or the building materials of the below floors, nor their colors and scents. Interdisciplinary would afford time and effort: one would have to go down to the ground floors and basements of the respective disciplines, learn everything about their histories, struggles, divisions and paradigm-shifts to be able to understand their scholars thoroughly. But time is short and the scientific exchange which is taking place on the roof-terrace tends to be multi-disciplinary. Ideas circulate freely and are being integrated and understood depending on the respective background of the participants of the debate. The resulting knowledge cultures are hybrid, travel through the internet and are being reproduced, independently from strict controls and peer-review-procedures. The latter continue to exist and manage to dominate the scientific business in the western hemisphere until now. Nevertheless, they are increasingly being threatened by the velocity and variety of knowledge production and scientific communication.

The Power of definition: Which knowledge is really scientific?

Science does exist all over the world, but “peer-review-journal’s” and centers of excellence are concentrated in the English-speaking western hemisphere. Considering the above described process, this picture can only persist as long as we, the Westerner’s receive the visitors from all over the world in “our houses”. Staying there, they often work themselves through the whole structure, and even try to reproduce it back home.

But what happens, if we stay abroad long enough to get in touch with alien thinking patterns, intellectual traditions and their philosophical basements? Lost between completely different reference points, we may insist on being the holders of the “right” theory and methodology and become isolated or we integrate to the local scientific discourse and start reading everything we have never heard of and catch up. New worlds are opening up, leading research questions and most notably, the footnotes modify. The scientific “brick”, originally meant to become a part of “our” scientific house at home, gets an unknown form and texture. Presentations on congresses and publications follow; first citations of such publications do appear and our freshly produced “knowledge-brick” is being built in to the respective scientific house of our guest culture.

Back home

Then we come home. Field research is over, the results are systemized and several articles are being published – in the language of the guest country, but published.

This is when the real work starts, since the aggregated knowledge will have to be completely deconstructed and reintegrated to the scientific discourses of our house of science back home. Even though a roof-terrace-talk is more permissive nowadays, the form, color and texture of an in-built brick still must fit in to the rest. Now, we will have to read everything that was missed out, while reading alien texts abroad. Arguments, scientific reference points and the footnotes change again; central findings are being reframed and empirical material is being seen from new perspectives. The outcome might be surprising or even paradox.

Probably, our academic friends on the locale were the knowledge was generated would not understand the results or the necessity of such a process. Even though they have integrated a few of “our” theories to their construction of reality, ultimately they too believe their reference system and scientific results to be conclusive.

Towards a better practice of de- and re-territorialization of knowledge

The first step to tackle the above described problem is to be conscious about it and to get prepared. I propose the following practical steps:

Following those steps, the process of de- and re-territorialization of knowledge will be as interesting as the research itself!

Personal note: The empirical basis of this contribution are almost 20 years of research in the Brazilian Amazon and constant attempts of re-territorialization of that knowledge within the German academic discourse. Lately, I had the opportunity to present the results of those attempts at a congress in the Amazon which highlighted once more the necessity to dispose of a sound methodology to pursue such a concern.

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