Jahreskonferenz Forum Transregionale Studien: Knowledge and Society in Times of Upheaval

Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB)
Andreas Eckert (HU Berlin / Forum Transregionale Studien), Simone Lässig (GHI Washington) and Franz Waldenberger (DIJ Tokyo)
20.11.2018 - 21.11.2018
Andreas Eckert

The concept of a knowledge society has featured prominently in both academic and public discussions. In recent years, however, it has been supplemented by the internet, digitalization, big data, and the specter of artificial intelligence. While knowledge is always socially constructed, access to knowledge is economically and politically determined. Knowledge and its dissemination define, control and sustain power relations and social rank. In its applied form as technology and skills, knowledge constitutes a productive asset essential for competitive advantage, innovation and growth. But what happens when knowledge becomes data? How do technological innovations transform the relationship of the individual or the community to state and society? How do societies cope with the unprecedented growth of knowledge and the scale of its dissemination and control?

We live in times of great upheaval. The political and epistemic order established in the 19th and 20th centuries appears in disarray as new authoritarian movements and unprecedented forms of control challenge both the ideas and practice of liberal democracy. This change is increasingly perceived as a crisis, and the mobility of people, goods and ideas have emerged as issues of controversy and containment. From a historical perspective, such times of upheaval are not necessarily news, but can be characterized as a “status mixtus,” a transformative period, during which communities, empires, states and societies and underlying knowledge structures are contested and reconfigured. A transregional perspective reveals that mobility and immobility, wealth and poverty, success and failure, have always been distributed unevenly within and between countries or societies.

Upheaval can result from a variety of causes. Specific historical and regional examples enable us to a better understand the diverse and complex linkages between knowledge and social order. Our conference will focus on four constitutive relations: 1) new infrastructures as drivers of change 2) discourses and publics, 3) migration and mobility and 4) labour and technological change. A closing roundtable discussion will address the question of knowledge and society in light of the state of Europe today.

Panel 1: New Infrastructures as Drivers of Change

Infrastructure provides the foundation of social, political and economic organization. Changes in the geographic distribution of populations, such as migration and urbanization, have always been accompanied by corresponding infrastructural developments. Shifts in global trade routes decided the fate of empires. Today, globalization and the knowledge society continue to be driven by advances in transportation and communication infrastructures, which deepen and reconfigure the international division of labour, thus changing not only economic, but also constellations of political power, knowledge networks and social structures. Infrastructure is relevant beyond material forms. Legal systems, public administration, education and health services or religious institutions all rely on shared systems of knowledge, values/beliefs and customs/rituals that exceed manifestations in the form of buildings and written documents.

The panel will discuss the economic, social and political impact of new infrastructures by looking at three distinct recent examples: China s one belt one road initiative, surveillance infrastructures, and blockchain technology. With the re-invention of the silk road narrative, China s one belt one road initiative aims at leveraging the country s domestic economic success to expand and strengthen its global economic and political influence. Whether China s promises of massive infrastructure investments will materialize and eventually pay off and how the implied financial dependencies will affect geopolitical power relations remains yet unclear. Surveillance infrastructures are transforming public space. They promise safety, better regulation, but also infringe on privacy. Their impact on public life, mobility, safety and privacy depends on the governance structures, which regulate and balances related economic, political and administrative interests. Blockchain technology is not only the basis for crypto or token currencies, the underlying principle of storing information across a distributed ledger has the potential to revolutionize many service industries, including the internet. Decentralized internet apps can be expected to challenge the position of monopolistic platforms such as facebook or amazon.

Anja Senz (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg): "China’s Belt and Road Initiative as a Driver of Change in South and Southeast Asia"
Johann Kranz (Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität München): "How to Tame the Tech Giants? Blockchain and the Future of the Internet Economy"
James Sidaway (National University of Singapore): "Planetary Urbanization’s Multiple Frontiers: Viewed through Security Infrastructures of Yangon, Myanmar"
Chair: Franz Waldenberger (Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien Tokyo/Ludwig-Maximillians- Universität München)

Panel 2: Discourses and Publics

Since the 19th century, new communication technologies, including the telegraph, telephone, radio, television, and the internet, have transformed the public sphere and the nature of public discussion. An educational infrastructure and the dissemination of knowledge through schools, universities, publishing houses, newspapers, has emerged in tandem with nation states and regions - or along lines of linguistic, denominational or political communities – often under the patronage of the state, or some other kind of authority, and of educated elites. The concept of the public sphere is related to the various forms and possibilities of communication. An unprecedented growth of knowledge has resulted in increasing specializations, on the one hand, and relative ignorance, on the other. We might even say that innovation in communication and media technologies both offers possibilities to connect new or counter publics and also contributes to extreme or dying publics, to parochialism and fragmentation.

But how, we might wonder, do innovations in communication affect the dynamics of the public sphere over the course of longer historical periods and in specific regional contexts? How do innovations in communication and technology in Eastern Europe or the Middle East, for example, reshape, transcend or fragment social and political boundaries? What are the possibilities individuals or groups have to contest authoritarian narratives and practices? What is the relation between the circulation of text and image? Ultimately, what does the idea of the public mean in times of upheaval?

Omar Al-Ghazzi (London School of Economics): "The politics of infantile communication in Syria’s war"
Nataliya Gumenyuk (hromadske.ua, Kyiv): "Regaining Public Trust In Times Of Populism. Lessons from Ukraine"
Alia Mossallam (Cairo/EUME Fellow der Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung 2017-19): "Visualising, Enacting and Writing Histories in Times of Political Upheaval"
Chair: Georges Khalil (Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin)

Panel 3: Migration & Mobility

Times of upheaval tend to emerge alongside mass migration –– caused either by uncertainty and fragile societal conditions (resulting e.g. in emigration, labor migration, and/or increased mobility of experts and other knowledge producers) or more directly, by persecution, expulsion and displacement in contexts of war, civil war or genocide. The consequences of these migrations are often closely related to transfers, translations, and transformations of knowledge and knowledge regimes that can be both beneficial and detrimental.

To date, there has been a wide variety of stimulating research on knowledge transfers by cultural and intellectual elite migrants. Yet, the state of research on migration and knowledge in a broader, non-elitist context is still unsatisfactory. Taking into consideration past and present and regionally diverse developments the panel will thus address forms and causes of migration and mobility in contexts of upheaval from two perspectives. First, the panel aims to address the agency of migrants themselves by focusing on migrant knowledge. What knowledge is available to migrants – individuals and groups? What knowledge do they create and culturally translate during migration processes? Which knowledge affects the possibilities/willingness of migrants to integrate themselves into a new society? And to what extent do these new societies recognize and utilize, ignore or delegitimize knowledge produced by migrants?
The second perspective will focus on recipient societies that have to come to terms with mass (im)migration that is either caused by upheaval or causes climaxes in states of transformation and upheaval. In many cases, recipient societies do not seem to be prepared for dealing with a large number of immigrants. Rather unexpected mass migration thus forces states and societies to cope with a high level of uncertainty, contingency, and disorientation. Against this background, we are particularly interested in questions pertaining to the kinds of knowledge available to them (or unavailable/ disregarded by them); the role different migration experts gain in processes of policy and decision making; which (non)knowledge leads to certain actions when knowledge is ignored or challenged by counter-narratives; and what role knowledge plays when it comes to the receiving society’s reactions on perceptions of mass migration and different forms of mobility. What knowledge traces a more positive reaction, and what creates rejection and uprising? These are critically important questions with a global reach both past and present.

Jan C. Jansen (German Historical Institute Washington DC): "Papers and Trails: Migration Control and Agency during the Atlantic Age of Revolutions (1770s-1820s)"
Xóchitl Bada (The University of Illinois at Chicago): "Portable Labour Rights for Migrant Workers in North America"
Leo Lucassen (International Institute of Social History/Leiden University): "Expert Knowledge on Migration in the Public Arena: How to Get your Message through?"
Chair: Simone Lässig (German Historical Institute Washington DC)

Panel 4: Labour and Technological Transformation

Recent discussions surrounding what is called “Industry 4.0” or the digitalization of labour proclaim a fourth industrial revolution. The newness is predicated on a historical break with the informatization and computerization of firms and productive seen in the late 1970s/early 1980s. From this moment, many experts envision far-reaching global transformations of the labour market. More pessimistic voices link “Industry 4.0” to the prognosis that only a few high-skilled specialists will be needed to run high-tech production, thereby relegating many more workers to the ranks of the low-skilled. Already non-wage economic activities, unregulated by law and unprotected by social regulations or services, have become increasingly visible in many parts of the world, including the North Atlantic region. The rise of the “informal” and the “precariat” seems only to affirm that full-time wage labor with benefits was not a global norm, but rather the exception in many parts of the world and the contingent product of a particular conjuncture in 20th century world history.

This panel aims to historically contextualize the so-called fourth industrial revolution and transformations of labour since World War II. We start from the observation that during the years of the economic boom (‘Trente Glorieuses’ between c. 1945 and 1975) increasing political intervention in the sphere of social policy and labour law, as well as the expansion of (regulated) public sector employment, altered the fundamental character of wage labour in most parts of the world—even if political regulation, the dynamics of labour market, and the realities of the work place have taken very different shapes in different localities. Sometime around 1980, a global tendency towards an informalization of labour took hold as priorities of political intervention changed and as public employment was reduced in many countries. At the same time, we saw across the globe the rise of a digital society in which computerization transforms the processes, results and structure of companies. Against this backdrop, we will discuss in a historical perspective the links between knowledge, technology and transformations of labour in order to better capture the fundamental changes commonly understood as “Industry 4.0"

Prabhu Mohapatra (University of Delhi): "Notes on Technology and the Future of Work: A View from India"
Nicole Mayer-Ahuja (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen): "The Fourth Industrial Revolution? Labour in Times of Digitisation"
Frank Bösch (Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam): "Western Knowledge about Reforming China, 1972-1989"
Chair: Andreas Eckert (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin/Forum Transregionale Studien Berlin)

Roundtable: Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft an den Grenzen Europas
Jeanette Hofmann (Wisschenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung)
Paweł Machcewicz (Polnische Akademie der Wissenschaften/Fellow des Imre-Kertesz- Kolleg Jena)
Ernst Dieter Rossmann (Ausschuss für Bildung, Forschung und Technikfolgenabschätzung, Deutscher Bundestag)
Amr Hamzawy (Stanford University/Fellow des Wissenschaftskollegs zu Berlin 2018-19)
Chair: Christoph Möllers (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin/ Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin)

The roundtable discussion will be in German. English translation will be provided.

Please register at initiatives@trafo-berlin.de if you would like to attend and if you will be needing a translation device during the roundtable discussion.



Jahreskonferenz Forum Transregionale Studien: Knowledge and Society in Times of Upheaval, 20.11.2018 – 21.11.2018 Berlin, in: Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists, 27.10.2018, <www.connections.clio-online.net/event/id/termine-38619>.
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