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Video podcast of the FRIAS Lunch Lecture Series "Shifting perspectives" 2018/19

LLS Shifting PerspectivesIn scholarly work, what is the "center", and what is on the "margins"? Who decides? How are such distinctions enforced? How pronounced is this dichotomy, which is deliberately put in inverted commas, in different disciplines? What does the world of science and scholarship miss by neglecting the so-called "margins"? How can the issue of lacking resources for "outsiders" be addressed, especially in the experimental sciences? And what role do geographical imbalances in knowledge production and sharing play, be it between the global north and south, or between west and east?

The task of this new lunch lecture series is to invite leading scholars to (1) reflect on the ways in which, in their respective fields, some approaches, sources, methods, questions, stakeholders and areas of the world are judged to be central / mainstream and others judged to be marginal and (2) to ask what could happen if their respective fields were to engage in a process of strategic "decentering"? How might science and scholarship become more innovative, more global, more equitable, and conceptually richer if their so-called "margins" were no longer dismissed as marginal?

From the margins to the center: The case of philosophical anthropology

Prof. Dr. Oliver Müller, Philosophy, University of Freiburg

Oliver MüllerIn the 1920s, a new and promising philosophical discipline was launched by Max Scheler and Helmuth Plessner, called “philosophical anthropology”. Fiercely contested by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, this approach was only briefly in the center of philosophical debates. After World War 2, philosophical anthropology was more or less completely marginalized, due to several biographical, social and philosophical reasons. Only in the 1970s it was cautiously revitalized by some bold attempts. But in the last two decades, philosophical anthropology has made an astonishing comeback. As a flourishing philosophical discipline it is now back in the center of fundamental philosophical debates. In my talk, I aim at telling the fascinating story of philosophical anthropology, its protagonists and their opponents, in order to elucidate the reasons and background of this notable development.

Video Podcast

Lowering Asymmetries in Global Knowledge Production

Prof. Dr. Andreas Mehler, Political Science, University of Freiburg

MehlerGlobal asymmetries in knowledge production are a constant feature of (not only) the Social Sciences and Humanities. A simple transfer of a ‘Northern’ research programme based on mainstream theories to the ‘Global South’ is resented more and more.

In the case of Africa, African researchers complain about unfair conditions and outright side-lining when it comes to producing knowledge even about their own continent. In extreme cases and some fields of knowledge African scholars feel sometimes condemned to recycle what others have written about Africa. This state of affairs is not only less and less ethically acceptable, it also arguably limits chances for cooperation and for innovative thinking. The presentation will explore origins and implications of existing asymmetries and propose a number of avenues to come to a more equitable knowledge production across the globe.

Video Podcast

Centering the margins in experimental sciences

Prof. Dr. Cecile King, Immunology, The Gravan Institute for Medical Research

KingHealth, science and technology are important for economic and social development. Experimental sciences depend upon research funding, but the criteria for research funding often reinforces the center. In experimental sciences the margins contain research that may seem to lack rationale, but they also contain novel ideas that challenge currently accepted paradigms and research into neglected diseases, including diseases that affect poor and marginalized populations. This presentation will explore the factors that reinforce the center in experimental sciences and how initiatives that have been developed to support marginalized research can redefine the center.

Video Podcast

The ‘End of Metaphysics‘? Decentering and Recentering in the History of Modern Thought

JunProf. Dr. Philipp Schwab, Philosophy, University of Freiburg

The lecture addresses an ongoing process of decentering and recentering which has been taking place in the history of modern thought over the last about 200 years. This process has often been linked to the so-called ‘end of metaphysics’: While traditional ‘metaphysical’ thought had envisaged an all-encompassing and unifying representation of what there is, properly grounded by first principles, such an approach has been rejected by 19th and 20th century philosophy in various ways. Although this modern decline of metaphysical thought can doubtlessly be understood as a process of decentering, the lecture will show that it has simultaneously stimulated counteractive processes of recentering, more recently being expressed affirmatively as a ‘new need for metaphysics’.

The lecture intends to shed some light on these processes, thereby addressing manifestations of decentering and recentering both in philosophy as an academic discipline but also in our contemporary lifeworld.

Video Podcast

Iconic Crusoe

Prof. Dr. Sandro Jung, English Literature, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics

Sandro JungWhile not yet as “dead” as Roland Barthes would have had the “author,” the concept of the author, once so central to the discipline of literary studies, has in recent years been challenged by forces from the margins. The New Critics had insisted that nothing but the text itself, hermetically sealed and coherent as a piece of art, mattered. The material realisation of a text in the shape of the physical book, its typography, and illustrations were not relevant for the New Critics. These features of the printed edition remained not only on the margins but for many literary critics they also remained invisible entities that did not feature in literary-historiographical narratives. The subjects traditionally on the margin are steadily moving to the centre, however, and illustrations, in particular, are acknowledged as valuable elements of the textual condition that encompasses both the work and its material iterations.

The lecture will focus on the move from the margin to the centre of book-historical approaches to literary texts. It will highlight the significance of illustration studies as part of literary scholarship through a detailed examination of the iconic fortunes of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and the ways in which the diachronic reception of the text can be charted by means of iconological analysis, thereby rescuing what the author-focused centre traditionally obscured.

Video Podcast

Watching China’s Rise from the Academic Margins

Prof. Dr. Daniel Leese, Sinology, University of Freiburg

LeeseFew events have shaken the global political and economic order in the past two decades as the (re)emergence of China as a powerful actor on the world stage. While there has been ample discussion of the geostrategic implications of this rise, the question of whether this also implies the emergence of new paradigms of governance or rulership has received less attention. This talk will highlight some alternative political concepts that have either been coined in China or on China in the recent past, such as the notions of tianxia, the China model or the Chinese dream. By looking at the peculiar fusions of history, present and future in these concepts, the difficult role of Sinology as a discipline at the academic margins will also be reflected upon, especially now that its object of study, China, moves to the center of global attention.

Video Podcast

Shifting Perspectives in History: Women’s History. Gender History. Intersectionality

Dr. Anne-Laure Briatte, History, Sorbonne University


For a long time, history has been male-centered and gender-blind. As a consequence, women were largely invisible and appeared at best at the margins of history. Women’s History emerged in response to it, recentering women in the discipline of history and shedding new light on them as participants of history. Now, Gender History is mostly preferred to Women’s History. For a few years now, some scholars have been criticising Gender History and pleading for making history intersectional. What is at stake in these shifts? Is it only a matter of wording and following new trends? Obviously not.

In this talk, I will recontextualise the emergence of new historical approaches in relation to the criticism of the discipline and of feminist theories, but also in relation to the background of social movements. Women’s History . Gender History . Intersectional History : step by step, I want to show what is theoretically at stake with these new concepts and how we can contribute to make our society more equitable in using these thinking tools.

Video Podcast