Research Areas. Arriving at a New Social History of Asymmetrical Dependencies:

The Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies (BCDSS) is a collaborative research center in which a large number of researchers from various disciplines jointly explore societal phenomena of “strong asymmetrical dependencies”, drawing upon a large range of regional, temporal and disciplinary approaches.

The research output of the BCDSS should be more than the sum of the members’ individual projects. Thus, all members of the BCDSS are also members of a Research Area, irrespective of their status group. The BCDSS aims at communication at eye level and, therefore, intends to set an example to reduce hierarchies and hierarchical dependencies that are still common within academia.

In order to benefit from the interdisciplinary potential of the collaborative research, the following five Research Areas are meant to bring the researchers together:

  • RA A: Semantics – Lexical Fields – Narratives
  • RA B: Embodied Dependencies
  • RA C: Institutions – Norms – Practices
  • RA D: Labor and Spatiality
  • RA E: Gender (and Intersectionality)
© David Leveque, unsplash.

The first research area Semantics – Lexical Fields – Narratives aims to establish a new language of analysis. In other words, an important condition for our ambitious undertaking is questioning our own analytical vocabulary. We need to reconsider the key concepts, terminologies and categories that structure the way we think and speak about asymmetrical dependencies. The goal of the first research area is the exploration of the semantics, narrative patterns, and discursive structures used by historical actors themselves in organizing their world and talking about asymmetrical dependencies. Thus, Research Area A focuses on the textual articulation of dependencies and the production and use of a "grammar of dependency" by making use of the new interest in historical semantics.

The second research area Embodied Dependencies examines primarily non-textual relics of asymmetrical dependencies that have been "inscribed" in bodies and artefacts. It builds on the "material turn" and body history. The aim of this research area is to correct the widespread imbalance in the academic evaluation of written and non-written traditions by taking into consideration pre-colonial perspectives and to establish archaeology, art history, and object-based anthropology on an equal level with those disciplines of the humanities that focus on textual sources. In this way, we give "voice" to actors operating in non-textual environments.

The third research area Institutions, Norms, and Practices studies forms of asymmetrical dependency produced at the crossroads of conflicting institutions, norms, and practices. Their interaction must be conceived as a two-way movement: top-down, i.e., from institutions to practices (for example, when institutions create norms that are – or are not – implemented into practices), and bottom-up (for example, when practices produce norms and these become ‘institutionalized’)

The fourth area Labor and Spatiality is concerned with labor-related asymmetrical dependencies and mobility. Instead of starting with the Industrial Revolution and adopting European free, waged labor as the standard labor relation of modernity, all forms of labor will need to be taken into account in equal measure. Against this backdrop, the dialectics between spatial mobilization and immobilization of dependent groups or individuals will also need to be studied. By doing so, the Research Group is engaging in current debates in global labor history.

The fifth research area Gender (and Intersectionality) addresses asymmetrical dependencies specifically at the intersection of gender, status, class, ethnicity, religion, and age. Originally developed in the field of gender studies, intersectionality has since been productively applied to various forms of social hierarchization, discrimination, discreditation and stigmatization. Intersectionality does not only necessitate a rethinking of personal identity, but allows for an overarching analysis of asymmetrical dependencies present within identities.

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