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collaborations: assemblages, articulations, alliances

Research Unit (Forschungsgruppe) funded by DFG, 2025-2029

Focusing on a wide range of cultural texts, artifacts, performances, social movements and practices, the Research Unit  aims to systematically and exemplarily research emergent forms of social and political collaboration of human as well as other-than-human actors. It is itself a collaborative effort in which scholars with an expertise in Anglophone literary and cultural studies cooperate with colleagues from the areas of sociology, anthropology and political theory expecting mutual benefit from the reciprocal enlargement of discipline-specific perspectives. 

We proceed from the assumption that addressing many of the most pressing challenges of our contemporary world requires social and political practices and acts of theorizing that are both planetary in their scope and collective in their orientation. Among these challenges are the global ecological destruction in the wake of the uninhibited economic pursuit of “growth“ worldwide; the rapid increase in social inequalities and financial disparities both within (even affluent) national economies/societies and, more pressingly, all across the globe; the unfinished project of decolonization and the concomitant extractivist subordination of most regions of the Global South; and the forceful rise of right-wing populist movements worldwide. These challenges are of a global scale and require global solutions that include planetary practices, but also acts of theorizing that move beyond conceptions of the world as constructed in Western epistemologies, necessitating a pluralization and transformation of our own knowledge practices. Moreover, the urgent need of new modes of imagining the planet makes the aesthetic a central domain for the enabling or occluding of creative collaborations.

Funded by the German Research Association (DFG) for a period of four years, the Researcdh Unit will enter its active phase at the end of 2024.




from bystander to actor: literature, collaboration, participation

Project within the Research Unit Collaborations: Assemblages, Articulations, Alliances funded by DFG, 2025-2029

More than any other art form, literature has in Western modernity been established as strictly non-collaborative: a solitary practice in terms of both production and reception where authors write in isolation for readers who read alone. But at the same time, literature has also always been associated as a deeply intersubjective force that, ideally, allows for specific forms of connecting with and participating in other worlds. In that view, literature has articulatory potentials that, however, remain mostly unenacted. The reader is not so much a participant in the stories they read; not even a participant-observer of, but rather a bystander looking in from the outside at an inside that yet may exert a strong appeal and trigger what Immanuel Kant, in a different context, has dubbed "wishful participation".  

This joint project proceeds from the observation that over the past two or three decades, literary practices have (re)emerged that foreground the partcipatroy and collaborative dimensions of both writing and reading. This is no doubt owed to a significant degree to the medial shifts in the wake of the digital revoution, but it clearly affects 'traditional' print literature as well, as indicated by a range of budding modes of cooperative  and multi-authored textual production as well as by the manifold forms of collaborative reading. Our project aims to provide a number of case-specific analyses but also to develop a systematic and conceptual vocabulary for the current trend to rearticulate 'literature' as collaborative and participatory. This endeavour can only be pursued with a view on the worldly dimension of literature as 'species-wide faculty' (Dimock). It is for this reason that we explicitly attempt to bring Western notions of literature, however volatile these may be at this conjuncture, into conversation with concepts, schools and traditions from outside Europe and the US. Next to Dirk Wiemann, the Principal Investigator,  an early-career scholar will contribute to the project with theirir PhD research; moreover, Prof. Dr. Satish Poduval (English and Foreign Languages University Hyderabad, India) will act as a visiting Mercator Fellow and substantially widen the scope of the project with his expertise. 

This project is an integral part of the DFG-funded Research Unit Collaborations: Assemblages, Articulations, Alliances. It will accordingly not start work until the end of this year. 




minor cosmopolitanisms

Research Trainig Group (Graduiertenkolleg) funded by DFG, 2016-2025

Funded by the German Research Association (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), the Research Training Group (Graduiertenkolleg) Minor Cosmopolitanisms offers posts for 12 doctoral researchers and 1 post-doctoral researcher, who will be supervised by a group of local and international experts. Funding for doctoral researchers covers a period of three years from October 2016. 

The Research Training Group (RTG) wishes to establish new ways of studying and understanding the cosmopolitan project against and beyond its Eurocentric legacies. It attempts to overcome a divide that characterises cosmopolitan thought between ‘major’ sociological and philosophical readings of cosmopolitanism as either “actually existing” or normative ideal. The RTG straddles both perspectives by investigating cosmopoli­tanisms as emerging in a wide range of locally em­bedded representational and performative practices. Attention to such practi­ces encourages us to think beyond the schism between cultural relativism and humanist universalism, as they combine visions of transcultural justice, peace and con­viviality with an ethical commitment to difference and alterity. As such they bring into being cosmopolitanisms in a ‘minor’ mode unforeseen by dominant scripts and creating new subject positions within the dominant discourses. More specifically, the minor denotes a per­spective crucially informed by postcolonial thought and builds on interpretations of cosmo­politan practice which have been variably qualified as “agonistic,” “black,” “creole, “decolo­nial,” “discrepant,” “indigenous,” “rooted,” “subaltern,” “vernacular,” or “visceral.”

Research projects will be clustered around five core thematic areas of training. These are minor cosmopolitan theory,justice, bodies, memory and indigeneity. For each thematic field, projects will investigate literature and other forms of artistic production, as well as everyday practices in which minor cosmopolitanisms are acted out. To ensure the cohesion between projects, the RTG has defined minor cosmo­politan aesthetics, translations, mediations and materialities as common research foci.

The qualification and supervision programme fundamentally supports the thematic scope of planetary revision in a plural and decentralised training design. The RTG locates Potsdam at the crossroads of eight partner institutions on four different continents, including the University of Delhi, the English and Foreign Languages University Hyderabad/India, the University of  Pretoria, the University of Cape Town, the University of Melbourne, York University Toronto, and Duke University.

A core team of experts based at Potsdam University as well as Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt University Berlin cooperate closely with scholars from the respective overseas institutions in joint supervision, research, teaching, and the organisation of overseas summer or winter schools. Each doctoral student is expected to spend two semesters at one of our partner institutions; several students shall have the opportunity to obtain a joint degree.

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writing the cosmopolitan imagination: genre transactions in world-literary space 

Bilateral research and exchange network funded by DAAD and UGC, 2016-2020

A bilateral research and exchange network involving the Departments of English and German at the University of Potsdam and at the University of Delhi. The program  funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) for a period of four years from 2016 to 2020.

Writing the Cosmopolitan Imagination: Genre Transactions in World-Literary Space conjoins three research themes that are crucially relevant in current literary and cultural studies: It links the discussion of an emergent transnational ‘world literature’ with contemporary debates over cosmopolitanism, planetarity and global citizenship as well as with the recent turn towards genre as an inherently social dimension of literature. By bringing these three dimensions together, the collaboration project aims to reassess and productively investigate in a sustained bilateral dialogue the ways in which literature contributes to the articulation of identities in the globalization process.

Writing the Cosmopolitan Imagination: Genre Transactions in World-Literary Space comprises the following measures:

  • individual research projects by PhD and postdoctoral researchers in English or German Studies;
  • reciprocal faculty members’ exchange including the teaching of seminars at the host university;
  • reciprocal students’ exchange;
  • extensive reciprocal students' seminar excursions to Delhi and Potsdam/Berlin;
  • summer and winter schools at both partner institutions;
  • international conferences with publication of proceedings;
  • guided students’ project work/students' excursions (three weeks) at both locations;
  • development of a joint module with an e-learning component;
  • joint PhD supervision where applicable

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gutter texts

In graphic narratives, the ‘gutter’ denotes the gap between panels that a reader has to imaginatively fill to generate narrative sequence. A similar ‘gappiness’ has become a hallmark of contemporary fiction as the loosely interlaced multistrand plot structures of influential ‘world novels’ (Bolaño, Mitchell, Powers) illustrate. While texts like these have been widely discussed, the Gutter Texts project shifts focus to a range of narrative forms that have so far received far less critical attention, such as the verse novel or the story cycle: narrative forms that are marked at all levels by the tense constellation of “segmentive and sequential tendencies” (Brian McHale) and a conspicuously gappy texture.

This is an ongoing research focus, whose first output -- Anglophone Verse Novels as Gutter Texts: Postcolonial Literature and the Politics of Gaps (Bloomsbury Academic 2023) -- is a monograph on contemporary verse novels across the Anglophone world. Particularly prolific in the postcolonial world and among diasporic or minoritarian writers in the Global North, verse novels today offer productive alternatives to the dominant prose novel. The study concentrates on two of the most prominent areas in which verse novels ‘do the job’ of the novel with a difference: the figuration of a planetary imaginary, and the shaping of postnational imagined communities. In ‘planetary’ verse novels from the Caribbean, Canada, Samoa and Hawai’i, the central trope of volcanism evokes a processual rather than a complete and finished planet: a world in constant un/making. Post-national verse novels (discussed with a focus on Britain) modify the established paradigms of the imagined community not only by attending to the erstwhile excluded but by locating the post-nation in heterogeneous worldly timepsaces. A concluding chapter speculates whether the resurgence of verse novels correlates with the apprehension of inhabiting a world that has become unpredictable and dangerous but also promising: a ‘post-prosaic’ world.

Texts analysed include Michael Cawood Green, Sinking; Derek Walcott, Omeros; Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red; Abert Wendt, The Adventures of Vela; W.S. Merwin, The Folding Cliffs; Kae Tempest, Let Them Eat Chaos; Bernardine Evaristo, The Emperor's Babe; Patience Abgabe, Telling Tales; M. Nourbese Philip, Zong!

Widening the strictly form-oriented focus of Anglophone Verse Novels, a follow-up book (working titel Lost in the Known: Berlin in Anglophone Fiction after 1989) will analyse a number of Anglophone Berlin novels  by expanding the scope of the notion of the gutter as a general token of incompleteness -- whether of the city, its representation, or the subject immersed in it.