The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and The British Academy Knowledge Frontiers Symposium Awards 2021

Dr Ranji Devadason, Keele University, Dr Thomas Morsch, Freie Universität Berlin, and Dr Jens Wegener, Ruhr-Universität Bochum.

Entanglements: Transcultural encounters, new forms of work and entrepreneurship

Transculturality has become a condition of work and entrepreneurship in contemporary society because of advancing processes of globalization. From ‘digital nomads’ to international experts, from migrant workers to uprooted academics, transcultural encounters are compelled within many jobs and organisations, as well as informing sought-after opportunities. This BA seed fund will enable us to organise an interdisciplinary workshop about how transcultural encounters inform work and entrepreneurship. Through our collaboration, we will analyse how influencers, philanthropic professionals, and other transcultural entrepreneurs act as important emblematic social figures of the contemporary information economy and digital platform capitalism (Srnicek 2016; Nymoen and Schmitt 2021).

Dr Agnieszka Kubal, University College London, and Dr Birgit Apitzsch, Sociological Research Institute (SOFI) Göttingen.

Judicial activism in times of crises – a comparative perspective

Does it take a crisis to make judges more activist? How do judges respond to political and societal pressures in their decision-making and communicative practice? We ask these questions in two empirical contexts – in Germany and Poland – where on the basis of different dynamics, judges face significant challenges to the professional work. This seed research project aims to collaboratively examine how judges make and convey their decisions in sensitive contexts, when facing mounting political and societal pressure. The overall aim of this project is to pilot an empirical, socio-legal inquiry into the meanings, interpretations and practices around judicial decision making and communication. Furthermore, the conceptual and methodological advances from this small-scale comparative case study will feed into a broader project on the knowledge production around judicial decision-making in times of crisis.

Dr Christopher Moran, University of Warwick, Dr Margaret Hillenbrand, University of Oxford, Dr Damien Van Puyvelde, University of Glasgow, Dr Jens Wegener, Ruhr-Universität Bochum and Dr Thomas Gijswijt, University of Tübingen.

Visual Culture, State secrecy and surveillance

The academic study of state secrecy, surveillance, and transparency activism is enjoying something of a golden age. This intellectual energy is arguably most evident in the interdisciplinary field of surveillance studies but extends far into the fields of intelligence studies, international security/history, and organisation studies, where practices of secrecy in governmental, corporate, scientific, digital, and technological environments are now explored in often vigorously interdisciplinary ways. Yet despite the fact that cultures of secrecy also take an explicitly culturalist or material form, the study of secrecy in its literary, visual, performative, and art historical dimensions still trails other fields of inquiry. What’s more, those studies which do exist tend to be relatively narrow and siloed in their disciplinary focus. Our collaborative project sets out to redress this imbalance by exploring dynamic interactions between visual culture and practices of secrecy across a range of settings. Working from the premise that visual culture is itself a highly encoded

realm – one naturally predisposed to articulating secret things – we will explore the ways in which cultures of secrecy are both reflected in, and refracted by, the domain of the visual. The visual realm is a particularly fruitful field of investigation when other avenues of enquiry are cut off by the very cultures of secrecy that scholars wish to study. In short, visual culture is a domain where practices of secrecy manifest themselves in over forms.

Dr Jamie Woodcock, The Open University, and Dr Caroline Ruiner, University of Hohenheim.

Comparative research on food delivery platforms: pilot in Germany and the UK and establishment of an international network

The aim of this project is to analyse the topic of food delivery platform work in a comparative perspective. Platform work has grown rapidly in recent years and has become the focus of much contemporary research. A key area of growth has been food logistics organisations that are based on the use of digital technologies for organising work. This has involved the platformisation of work processes, new flexible modes of working, connection to suppliers, transporters, and customers to coordinate food transportation. This has been accelerated through the importance of the freshness paradigm and the requirement of short-term coordination. In these contexts, work organisation is based on applications such as GPS tracking and routing systems. In this sense, workers organise their work via smartphone apps which are having demonstrably positive and negative impacts on work. The use of digital devices provides both a greater flexibility in terms of working time and place, therefore more autonomy for workers, but also represents a new attempt at control of workers, their actions, and performance. Not least, this profoundly impacts the workers’ collaboration with colleagues and their managers. Previous studies have shown that food delivery drivers differ in their working conditions and employment status - this ranges from independent contractors paid per delivery to permanently employed workers paid per hour and integrated into social security systems. Overall, it is difficult for workers to build up a representation of interests to support the consideration of the workers’ rights and the negotiation of working conditions. However, studies are often based in a single country or case study, with less attention seeking to understand how different national contexts shape the experience of the work and the ability of workers to contest and negotiate their conditions.

Dr Katherine Fennelly, University of Sheffield, and Dr Martin Doll, Institut für Medien- und Kulturwissenschaft, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf.

Harmony Hall: a media/archaeology approach to Robert Owen’s Socialist Architecture

The socialist commune “Harmony Hall” (1839–1845) in Hampshire was the only project in the UK in which social reformer Robert Owen was directly involved. Following his “science of the influence of circumstances over human nature,” Owen argued that the commune should prove the practical feasibility of his “Rational System of Society” and thus serve as a “perfect model of the new social order” (Engels). It is often cited as an example of the failure of the utopian ideals of Owenism as such by many contemporary commentators, e.g. by Marx and Engels. Harmony Hall – considered a failed experiment – has never been studied in depth (the majority of scholarly work on Owenism concentrates on New Harmony in Indiana, US, with only some focus on education, management and financial methods at Harmony Hall (e.g. Podmore 1907, Royle 1998). The proposed collaboration between archaeologist Katherine Fennelly and media scholar Martin Doll specifically aims at joint research on the architectural difference between ideal and realization of Harmony Hall, with a focus on the material structure. Therefore, in this research endeavour, the usually separated perspectives on architecture from historical archaeology (such as middle-range theory) and media studies (architecture as medium) will be entangled. With a focus on the charged relationship between the materiality of the planned building (by Owen and the architect Joseph Aloysius Hansom) and that of the finally built structures the architecture will be analysed as a medium. From this perspective, Harmony Hall will not be understood as a static construct, a fixed structure, but a dynamic assemblage (Latour, Yaneva 2008). The project is concerned with the dynamics which are at work in the space, first during the building process which lead to differences between construction plans and result (and even subsequent structural changes) and, second, the agency of the building once erected. By the way a building is coorganizing its use, it becomes part of the social(ist) processes that take place in it: for example, by connecting or separating rooms, by enabling or blocking views, by making action and communication possible or not.

Dr Eric Tourigny, Newcastle University, Dr Doris Gutsmiedl-Schümann, Freie Universität Berlin, Dr Nanna Heidenreich, Universität für Angewandte Kunst Wien and Dr Tiago de Luca, University of Warwick.

Reimagining ‘aliens’ – nomenclatures of invasion, interdisciplinary connections and the impact on broader discourses about the spread of non-human species

We seek to bring together a cross-disciplinary team of researchers from the UK and Germany to identify how concepts of biological ‘invasions’ impact on research directions and public discourse. The uncritical use of concepts referring to ‘invasive’ or ‘alien’ non-human species have been heavily debated in the fields of conservation biology, biogeography and ecology as they imply a negative or unwelcome movement with nefarious intentions (Heger et al. 2013 J. Nature Consv. 21: 93-96), ultimately impacting the ways these species are viewed by researchers and the public. The terminologies adopted by researchers whilst studying species that move from one place to another changes over time, depends on the research cultures that have developed within disciplines and on the research contexts/questions being investigated. Exploring how scientists view these species can inform on variable constructions of concepts of ‘nature’, the cultural frameworks that shape each discipline and better understand the impact of research language on public discourse.

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