Faculty of Humanities

Thematic Clusters

The PhD programme will address the complex temporal dynamics of entanglement in the Global South via a number of case studies. These case studies will investigate, from a subject-centred perspective how “entanglements” are embedded in local temporal practices and conflicting regimes of temporality. In order to achieve an increased coherence of the programme, the projects will be organized in three thematic clusters that are situated at the point of intersection of the various disciplines involved: “subject and community”, “mediatisation and performativity” as well as “historicity and futurity”.

Cluster 1: Subject and Community

The thematic cluster on “subject and community” analyses the entanglement of temporal politics and temporal practices that mediate between subjects and their social surrounding. In this context, it is not only the relationship between subject and community that is considered to be recursive (Giddens 1984), but also the relationship between temporality and subjectivity. If temporality is thus considered to be a product of social practices, the subject implicated in these practices can only be conceptualized in the dimension of temporality (Mbembe 2000). This recursivity of subject and time leads to two complementary approaches of crucial importance to our endeavour. According to socio-centric approaches, the social institutions of time both exert external coercion and furnish an “apparatus of self-coercion” (Elias 1984), or, following Foucault, produces subjectivising effects in the in terms of sense of discipline and self-guidance (Foucault 1975, 1991). On the contrary, subject-centered approaches stress the importance of societal and autonomous forms of “lived time” that result from dissociation from temporal forces of synchronisation. In this latter sense, deoccidentalised alternatives to the concept of “Eigenzeit” (“subjective time”, Nowotny 1989) must be developed to take account of the ways Global South temporal practices mirror, refract or disrupt Western discourses of subjectivity. In contexts that are, for broad strata of the Global South, shaped by precarity, informality and acceleration (Simone 2010), it is particularly important to investigate which repertoires of temporal tactics of resilience or of resistance against synchronisation are available to “temporal subjects”. This is true for the shaping of everyday time, especially at the point of intersection with the “informal” subsistence economy and the work environment. Within the framework of an entanglement-oriented approach, the issue of an increasing commodification of temporality—in terms of an economisation and consumption of temporal resources—plays a central role. Its specific subjectivising effects (Baumann 2007) must be considered on the basis of their efficacy for societies of the Global South. Of crucial importance is the question as to which mediation efforts are applied by subjects to rival rhythms of life and which “time-maps” (Gell 1992) they implement to negotiate such tensions. Which imaginaries of temporality do time-users employ to respond, productively and reflexively, to the regimes of temporality in which they are embedded? In which temporal imaginaries do subjects ground political agency? How are such imaginaries connected to the everyday praxis of political interaction (Lazar 2014)? How are temporal practices themselves used as political resources in the debate about societal participation—for example, in the form of refusal and resistance? Finally, the corporeal dimension of lived time is of significance in this context: how do bodily and natural rhythms, social practices and temporal politics interact with one another? In which way do the culturally specific roles of gender, ethnicity, class, religion and age—always understood within the perspective of their intersectionality—impact the potential formations of temporality (Felski 2000).

Cluster 2: Mediatisation and Performativity

The second cluster deals with the fact that time, in order to be efficacious in social contexts, requires complex forms of mediatisation (Landes 2000). A starting point for such an endeavour would be to construct a repertoire of medial apparatuses for the production of time—clocks, calendars, or devices based in natural temporalities (Landes 2000: 6)—and the cultural practices within which they are implemented. Subsequently, we must analyse the segmentation and measurement of time that serves the temporal orientation within the society (Elias 1984) or its integration into the labour processes (in tradition of Marx, see Postone 1993 und Negri 2003; in anthropological terms, Bear 2014). On the level of communication technology, the result is also a synchronisation of different temporal regimes, such as is shown by Global South diaspora studies with its focus on “counter-modernities” (Ganguly 2004; Guha 1998). It thus becomes apparent that, in view of the mediatisation of temporality against the background of the technological revolution of the digital age, differences in possibilities for media participation (the “digital divide”) in the societies of the Global South are also manifest in the form of a temporalisation of social and cultural differences.

Media anthropology faces the question as to how the construction of anthropological difference can be connected back to the dynamics of a media technological modernisation. Innovations in media technology have been, in the history of anthropology, directly applied to the measurement and archival of social and cultural differences and were, in this way, instrumental for the construction of allochronic temporal relations (Rony Tobing 1996, Thies 2015). It has also been shown in connection with theories of nationhood (Anderson 1983) that there is a link between the emergence of imagined communities and the implementation of synchronous notions of temporality through the dissemination of specific mass media. For this reason, the role of the media in modelling notions of synchronous temporality must be investigated (medial narratemes of synchronicity) as well as the production of synchronicity through rituals of media consumption, such as everyday reading of the newspaper or the communal cinema trip (Galison 2003).

This ritual dimension of medial communication gestures toward a second dimension of the mediatisation of temporality in the form of ritual structures with which—both in everyday as well as institutional contexts—temporality is performatively established or embedded in ritual temporal spaces that are completed with the passage of time. Turner (1987) responds to this in his anthropological research on liminal (externally determined) and liminoid (self-determined) transgression of temporal demarcations, which forms the basis of a performative understandings of temporality as cultural praxis (see also Bhabha 1994). At the same time, institutional frameworks find expression in the form of rituals and thereby have, as an external force, a structuring effect on everyday life. Such ritualistic temporal practices can be connected to a variety of concepts of aestheticisation and musealization of temporality (e.g. O’Reilly 2004) as well as to notions of disciplinary heterochronies in the Foucauldian sense (1994, IV: 759).

Cluster 3: Historicity / Futurity

This thematic cluster deals with the relations of entanglement in the production of the past (Comaroff and Comaroff 2012) and the production of the future (Appadurai 2013). On the basis of a comparative approach, we will look into the ways in which, in cultures of the Global South, both the persistence of the past well as projections toward the future vastly impact on the ways in which the present is imagined and dealt with. The geopolitical dimension of “entangled temporalities” inevitably comes to the fore in this area. In the light of a drastic reduction of temporal horizons of futurity and historicity in the present, one must ask which utopian futures are still available at all today (Scott 1999, 2004, 2014; Mbembe 2000; Titlestad 2014). The focus of this cluster lies on the spectrum of temporal imaginaries that extends from everyday culture via literary and audio-visual treatments to theoretical debates and the discourses of social movements.

When considering the dimension of the past, it is noticeable that questions of identity in literature and the media are bound up, to a great extent, with their respective modes of modelling history, and the ways precolonial, colonial and postcolonial, mythic and progress-oriented conceptions of history are interwoven in those modes. For large sections of the Global South public, interaction with the past—for example, in the context of memory culture (truth commissions, restitution policies)—plays an important role (Comaroff/Comaroff 2012: 133-52) in which connections with present-day interests and with projections for the future cannot be neglected.

With respect to imagined futures in the Global South, it is vital to understand which notions of the future, connected with hopes (Ortner 2016) and aspirations (Appadurai 2013), are possible following the crisis of the socialist liberation utopias after 1990 (Piot 2010) and in the face of precarious living conditions and global threats? What does the crisis of utopian projection mean for social agency (e.g. Heidenreich und O’Toole, ed. 2016; Weiss 2004; West-Pavlov, ed. 2014, Lambek 2010)? Which autochthonous resources for the production of futures offer possibilities of agency in the face of widespread experiences of contingency and precarity? In other words, which role do those values and norms, cosmologies and everyday practices, experiences and forms of engagement with the past play for the conceptualization and design of a good future (Robbins 2013; de Sousa Santos 2014)?

Possible Thesis Topics