Looking back at the Joint Summer School of the Flying University in Transnational Humanities and the Graduate Centre Global and Area Studies
Daniel Leon (Leipzig U)
Although it is now common for PhD summer schools to promote international participation, the 15th Summer School of the Graduate School of Global and Area Studies (12–15 June 2017) was extraordinary. This year, the organization of the summer school of the 7th Flying University in Transnational Humanities “landed” in Leipzig. The Flying University’s host institution, Sogang University (Seoul, South Korea), was an active partner in shaping the meeting. Under the framework of “Making and Changing Spaces of Action Under the Global Condition”, young and experienced scholars from all corners of the world, from Argentina to South Korea, contributed to the interdisciplinary discussion.
The joint conference placed “space” and “space-making” at the centre of analysis and, as such, was closely connected to the research agenda of the SFB, whose annual conference this year will also address practices of space-making. While some view space as a “physical” dimension, like a dry continent, others emphasize its being a collectively imagined dimension, like the “Western World” or the “Global South”. Sometimes spatial formats are both physical and imagined, such as the “nation-state”. In every interpretation, actors from around the world and in different positions of power compete and cooperate to make and change spaces; to invent and to challenge them; and to frame their projects spatially, acting towards certain goals. These spatial formats multiply under the global condition. Understanding how, when, and why this takes place and what are the resulting effects is a challenge for social scientists, historians, anthropologists, geographers, specialists of different world regions, and professionals from related disciplines. In this regard, participation in the Flying University is particularly fitting considering the theme of the SFB’s annual conference since global processes are transnational and transregional by definition; they transcend the nation-state as well as the framework of continental constraints.
The summer school offered nine academic events in total. It started with a keynote lecture by Elisabeth Kaske, professor for society and culture of modern China at the University of Leipzig, on the global aspirations of Sichuan Province, China, during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Thereafter, the conference continued with its “main course”, six panels that discussed changing and making spaces of action through varying academic and area perspectives. Panel one, “Actors, agency, and their connection to space making”, gathered contributions from five social anthropologists who looked into agency and the shaping of space in India, Burkina Faso, and Ecuador. Panel two, “Minorities as actors in space making”, looked at the role of minority groups in national societies through the lenses of political science, area studies, and cultural history. Panel three, “Self-positioning of Eastern European Societies under the Global Condition”, gathered specialists from the Leibniz ScienceCampus “Eastern Europe – Global Area” in Leipzig, who discussed how political, cultural, and religious actors shape and reshape this region in a global perspective. Panel four, “Memory culture and space”, discussed the use of historical memory by actors in Eastern Europe and East Asia and its effects on spatial imaginations. Panel five, “Identities in connective spaces”, looked at how Jewish diasporas in the Balkans and the Middle East, Korean children in Poland, and British soldiers in Germany shaped and reshaped identities, thereby connecting different spatial frameworks. Panel six, “Conflict and social change in sub-national and transnational spaces”, gathered sociologists, historians, and political scientists to discuss how conflicts have space-making effects on different scales in Latin America and Africa. Additionally, a reading course was offered by Prof. Dr. Matthias Middell (University of Leipzig) on recent literature on global studies and space-making while Prof. Jie-Hyun Lim (Sogang University), Prof. Dr. Frank Hadler (GWZO), Dr. Sarah Ruth Sippel (University of Leipzig), and Dr. Anna Novikov (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) contributed to a round-table discussion on the changing imaginations of the “East” in both Europe and Asia.
The summer school offered a diverse discussion on making and changing spaces of action under the global condition from different academic disciplines within the social sciences and humanities, making a point of including area perspectives from all continents. The diversity of research presented was a great strength and simultaneously created a challenge. The strength was the richness of research presented that illuminated different ways of addressing the problems of space and space-making under the global condition. The challenge was to develop a common perspective and guiding framework for the research presented. What was demonstrated is that spaces of action are not a priori defined frameworks, but are socially produced and subject to change. Therefore, focusing on actors, agency, and practices is crucial for the understanding of processes of spatialization. In any case, the presentations and discussions during the four intense days of work contributed to the insights developed at the SFB.
On a final note, I would like to thank Dr. Martina Keilbach for her extensive work organizing and managing the joint conference as well as my colleagues Diana Ayeh and Jens Reinke for their organizational help.
Daniel Leon (Institute of Political Science, U Leipzig, Germany)
Daniel Leon, MA, earned a bachelor of arts in international relations from Florida International University in Miami, USA (2008) and a master of arts from the American University in Cairo, Egypt (2010). He worked as a visiting professor of international relations at the University of Los Andes in Merida, Venezuela (2012–2013).
Image source: GSGAS, Link (13 July 2017)