Fugitive Knowledge. The Preservation and Loss of Knowledge in Cultural Contact Zones

Universität Rostock
Graduiertenkolleg "Kulturkontakt und Wissenschaftsdiskurs"
27.09.2012 - 29.09.2012
Gesa Mackenthun

From 27 to 29 September, 2012, the Rostock graduate school "Cultural Encounters and the Discourses of Scholarship" will host its sixth international and interdisciplinary symposium, "Fugitive Knowledge: The Preservation and Loss of Knowledge in Cultural Contact Zones." The conference brings together experts from diverse disciplines and places around the globe whose work is concerned with the uneven distribution of knowledge generated during processes of cultural encounter and conflict. While it is a truism that, as Walter Benjamin famously wrote, history is written by the victors, much work has still to be undertaken to explore the processes and the ‘logics’ of the asymmetrical preservation of knowledge in comparative and translocal perspectives. This should include critical reflections on the role of the written word (over against oral traditions) both ‘on the ground’ of cultural encounters (the book as a ‘magical’ artefact), in hegemonic discourses of cultural hierarchy (including the discourses of knowledge and theory) and in counter-hegemonic traditions of knowledge. The possession of the cultural technique of writing, and of the institutions for preserving written knowledge in archives, libraries, and most recently computers, has frequently been taken as evidence of cultural superiority while non-written evidence – whether oral traditions or material artifacts – have been reduced to the realm of ‘mythical’ or ‘fragmentary’ knowledge. Even more simplistically, non-written knowledge has often been associated with irrationality while the imperial knowledge collected in archives has been endowed with the nimbus of rationality. Such dualisms are now being contested by scholars working in media studies, postcolonial studies, anthropology, class history, and feminism (among others). The absolute authority of the hegemonic text is questioned with reference to its inscription with the manifold traces of cultural difference (James Scott, “Hidden Transcripts”). Similarly, the rationality and logic of the archive and Western historiography have been critically investigated (Ann Laura Stoler, Carolyn Steedman, Jack Goody, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Gyan Prakash, Walter Mignolo).

The papers address the questions of what counts as knowledge in situations of cultural encounter (the politics of knowledge); the ephemerality, ‘fugitivity’ and ‘fugatiousness’ of knowledges that have not prominently entered the knowledge machine – including alternative knowledges that may in fact resist such inclusion; the dynamics of literacy and orality in situations of cultural contact; the methodical problem of reading hegemonic texts ‘against their grain’ in search of traces of the unspoken and unrepresentable; the significance of material artefacts in constructing narratives of cultural encounter; the significance of media such as images, music, ritual and performance as ‘arts of resistance’ (Scott); the effects of different methods of information storage on the preservation and loss of knowledge.

In bringing together scholars from various disciplines and countries, we invite the contributors to also critically examine how their disciplines have themselves produced their knowledges within situations of cultural contact, which concepts and theories they generated and which ideological sub-texts can be identified. A special concern of the graduate school is to critically reflect issues of representation (literary, scientific, artistic) and the interactions between human encounters and larger processes of colonization, domination, and conflict.


Thursday, September 27 (Hörsaal, Schwaansche Straße 3)

Opening remarks

Hans-Jürgen von Wensierski, Dean of the Philosophical Faculty, Rostock University

Klaus Hock, Chair of the Graduate School “Cultural Encounters and the Discourses of Scholarship”

Gesa Mackenthun, American Studies

Keynote Address
Ali Behdad (Los Angeles)
Contact Vision. On Photographic Transculturation

Friday, September 28 (Internationales Begegnungszentrum, Bergstr. 7a)

I Knowledge, Myth, Error
Chair: Nadine Söll

9:00 - 9:30
Lawrence Desmond (California)
False views and lurid epochs: Blocking the path of scientific error and opening the
path to historical myth

9:40 - 10:10
Gunlög Fur (Linneaus University, Sweden)
“But in itself, the law is only white” – knowledge claims and universality in the history of cultural encounters.

c. 10:30 Refreshments

II German Colonialisms: Rights and Texts
Chair: Theresa Elze

10:50 – 11:20
Liina Lukas (Tallinn)
“Who holds the right to the land?” The Settlement Narratives in Estonian and Baltic-German Literatures

11:30 – 12:00
Daniel Walther (Iowa)
The Historiography of German Colonialism and Reading the Marginalized in Colonial Texts.

c. 12:30 Lunch

III East-Western Knowledge Transfers and Blockages
14:00 – 14:30
Chair: Jacqueline Hoffmann

Sanjay Seth (London)
Western Knowledge and Indian Objects: The 'Crisis' of the Educated Indian

Stephan Kloos (Wien)
The Politics of Preservation and Loss: Tibetan medical knowledge in exile.

15:40 Refreshments

Chair: Sebastian Jobs

Raili Marling (Tartu)
Doubly marginalized: Women’s samizdat between the dissident movement and
Western feminism

Saturday, September 29 (Internationales Begegnungszentrum, Bergstr. 7a)

IV Elusive Knowledge in Latin America
Chair: Timo Schulz

10:00 – 10:30
Neil Safier (Vancouver)
Fugitives to El Dorado: The Early History of an Amazonian Myth

10:50 – 11:20
Ryan Kashanipour (Flagstaff)
Morality of the Moon: Fray Manuel Antonio de Rivas' Syzigias y quadraturas of 1775

11:40 Refreshments

Chair: Silke Hoklas

12:00 – 12:30
Pedro Luna (São Paulo)
Peter Wilhelm Lund (1801-1880) - A Forgotten Danish Naturalist or the Father of Brazilian Paleontology?

c. 13:00 Lunch, sightseeing?

V Embattled Historiography: The United States and Latin America
Chair: Andreas Beer

15:00 – 15:30
Víctor Hugo Acuña Ortega (Managua)
Histoire croisée of the United States, Nicaragua and Costa Rica: The Historiographies of the War Against the Filibusters of 1855-1857 (19th - 21st Centuries)

15:50 – 16:20
Ricardo Donato Salvatore (Buenos Aires)
Between the Big Stick and the Good neighbor. U.S. Scholarly Engagement with South America, 1900-1945

16:40 Refreshments
17:00 Final Discussion (incl. information on publication)

Discussant: Susanne Lachenicht, Bayreuth


Andrea Zittlau

Graduiertenkolleg "Kulturkontakt und Wissenschaftsdiskurs", August-Bebel-Str. 28, 18055 Rostock


Fugitive Knowledge. The Preservation and Loss of Knowledge in Cultural Contact Zones, 27.09.2012 – 29.09.2012 Rostock, in: H-Soz-Kult, 02.09.2012, <www.hsozkult.de/event/id/termine-19879>.