Research Training Groups (RTGs) are established by universities to promote researchers in the early stages of their academic careers, and funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for a maximum period of 9 years. Their key emphasis is on the qualification of doctoral researchers within the framework of a focused research programme and a structured training strategy.
Since research and supervision practices are inevitably entwined with thematic questions, the RTG Minor Cosmopolitanisms aims to pursue a minor cosmopolitan approach in its practices. These include:
In an academic environment that is ever more dominated by competitiveness and individual careers, we try to create a space that is conducive to collaborative work. This entails a recognition of the intersubjective nature of knowledge production and a reflection on the relation between researching and researched subjects. It also means committing to a continuous reflection of hierarchies among scholars in different positions, and of complex relations of power and domination. The aim to create a convivial space of exchange and knowledge production must at the same time involve a continuous reflection of existing functional roles such as “supervisors” and “supervisee”, and of the institutional hierarchies attached to these roles.
Since knowledge is always situated knowledge, working together implies taking into account different positionalities with respect to race, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship, and other social categorisations. Our understanding of discrimination is intersectional and refuses to establish hierarchies between different forms of oppression. It is based on an analysis of structures of power and dominance and thus rejects individualising and moralising notions of privilege. As a publicly-funded programme within the framework of German academia, we operate from a structurally privileged position and within an elitist space to which access is strongly dependent on cultural, economic, and social capital. While working within this system, we at the same time try to contribute to a transformation of these structures. This includes encouraging applications from the Global South. It also means thinking about concrete measures that aim to counter imbalances of power and opportunities within the RTG programme – as much as possible. We know that these measures will always have limited impact, but we understand the RTG as a micro-space within which to experiment with ways to effect (small) changes within this system.
In contrast to the self-narration of modern science as a European invention, scientific knowledge has always been global in character, articulated from different localities, epistemologies, genealogies, constellations of knowledge and power, and positionalities. Minor Cosmopolitan academic work implies always properly acknowledging the contribution of these silenced subjects and traditions in our own knowledge production, and to actively encourage horizontal and respectful dialogue and cooperation. Our collaboration with the RTG’s international partners is essential in this respect both for the RTG as a whole, and for individual research projects. Experience has shown that while electronic means of communication are useful, it is still essential to meet in person and in the flesh. This creates a fundamentally unresolvable tension between the problematic ecological impact of frequent intercontinental flying, and the need for this kind of exchange. It also implies the need to think about mobility as a privilege, including the inequalities produced by the possession of more or less privileged passports, and to actively seek ways of sharing this privilege.
Encounters of different knowledge traditions in situ are indispensable for processes of unlearning privilege and genuinely learning with and from others. And yet: As argued above, we are painfully aware that the planetary scope of the RTG and the mobility it enhances are an ecological problem. To alleviate some of the strains on the environment, we follow a policy in which virtual travel is preferable to physical travel wherever viable and productive (e.g. in international supervision talks, the participation of international supervisors in vivas, etc.). We emphasise that long term physical travel is more sustainable than short term travel, esp. when involving flying or even intercontinental travel. Flying to conferences or other short-term events should be avoided; wherever necessary, it needs to be specifically justified. Whenever feasible, train travel is preferable to air travel (additional costs shall be covered by the RTG). As a general rule, flight costs for travel below 1000 km will not be refunded by the RTG (exceptions may apply to researchers with young children, disabilities, etc.). If RTG events involve catering, it is vegetarian.
We understand research as a contribution to the critique, reflection and transformation of social and ecological inequalities, power asymmetries, injustices. This means that we encourage crossings between activist and academic work, but also that we see academic work itself as an important intervention in dominant discourses. This of course does not automatically exempt one from finding ways of communicating between different discursive spheres. As one element of our training programme, we therefore give PhD fellows the option of developing a so-called Outreach Project. This open format enables cooperation with activists, artists, and other societal actors, as well as more pedagogically-oriented projects. Outreach in this sense can mean translating scholarly language and concepts for other contexts, in order to enable more varied debates. Ultimately, and idealistically, the aim would be to open up conversations between different spheres and to create and sustain new spaces of learning.
The RTG collaborates closely with the University of Potsdam’s Welcome Center that assists international doctoral researchers with visa formalities and other bureaucratic and practical issues. We are ourselves committed to making implicit knowledge explicit: to clarify expectations and administrative procedures, to especially help those who come from a different academic system, don’t speak German, or find access to academia challenging because of their class origins. We offer a Diversity and Social Justice Training for all RTG fellows, as well as workshops on Critical Practice in Academia. Finally, we have installed a conflict counsellor deliberately positioned outside of the structures of the RTG who can be approached by all members of the RTG in all matters of structural discrimination.