The Project

Our research consortium De:link // Re:link – Local perspectives on transregional processes of (dis)entanglements is based on a joint project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) (duration April 1, 2021 – March 31 2024). We are researchers from the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU), the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) Berlin, the Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies (BICC), and the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) Berlin. We work from different disciplines and with area studies expertise from various regions on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The BRI, initiated by president Xi Jinping in 2013, is a large-scale infrastructure project of the People’s Republic of China that aims to connect China with countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. In promoting the BRI, reference is regularly made to the “Old Silk Roads” as a historically successful example of transcultural trade and exchange of goods and ideas. The current geopolitical and geocultural advance of the People’s Republic renders the BRI an element of China’s “New Silk Roads”.

From the perspective of area studies, we examine the coupling and decoupling processes that occur in the course of the New Silk Roads project. In particular, we focus on the following questions:

Likewise, we are interested in the (cultural-)political implications of the BRI, e.g. in view of German and European policymaking and political agenda-setting.

Thematic Lines

With De:link // Re:link, we leave the often narrow geopolitical and economic level of interpretation that currently dominates research on the BRI and foreground the expertise of area research as an analytical foundation. The research project is divided into three intertwined thematic lines (TL). These serve as overarching and structuring approaches and bring together different individual research projects.

TL1 Cultural politics of infrastructure in Asia and Africa: Negotiating transregionally shared and local heritage

Taking existing and new power relations into account, thematic line 1 investigates connectivities and disconnectivities in relation to material and immaterial cultures and cultural heritage in the context of the BRI. The individual projects describe and analyse how cultural policy is shaped and negotiated in different Asian and African regions. Against the background of BRI-related projects, what interactions can be identified between different local, regional and national cultural policies? How do they manifest themselves? Which new and old cultural (infra)structures and geo-cultural regions emerge or change as a result?

Dr. Jamila Adeli (HU),
Prof. Jeanine Dagyeli (University of Vienna), Prof. Eva Ehninger (HU), Prof. Susanne Gehrmann (HU), Daniel Koßmann (HU), Prof. Aldin Mutembei (University of Dar es Salaam), Prof. Nadja-Christina Schneider (HU), Fiona Smith (HU), Prof. Manja Stephan-Emmrich (HU) and Tanya Talwar (HU)

TL2 Language ecologies in transition: Interactions between linguistic, cultural and social dynamics

Thematic line 2 focuses on multilingualism and language hierarchies as approaches to access local perspectives and knowledge on the BRI. Considering that the linguistic articulation of local perspectives is an identity-forming and dynamic part of culture, a regional studies account is particularly insightful in order to understand transregional transformation. By means of (socio)linguistic analyses of language dynamics, local, regional, and national perspectives on processes of change are observed and articulated, which in turn generates new approaches and knowledge to existing and newly forming cultures.

Dr. Linda Ammann (HU), Prof. Adams Bodomo (University of Vienna), PD Dr. Katrin Bromber (ZMO), Prof. Jeanine Dagyeli (University of Vienna), Dr. Andrey Filchenko (Nazarbayev University), Prof. Henning Klöter (HU) and Prof. Aldin Mutembei (University of Dar es Salaam)

TL 3 Fault lines in the social contract: (Trans-)local re- and de-solidarisation

Social structures become entrenched in formalized, but often also unspoken “contracts” (social contracts) between state and society, and they have considerable persisting power. The individual research projects in thematic line 3 address the local effects of massive transregional infrastructure projects: How does the BRI intervene in local social structures? Since the “new” social complexity in the transregional space of the BRI does not yet allow for generalized statements about how large infrastructure projects affect social contracts, they are analysed through the lens of local perspectives. The focus is thus on the transformations and continuities that large-scale projects like the BRI trigger at the local level. Which processes of adaptation and negotiation of social contracts can be empirically identified – and by means of which concepts?

Nadia Ali (BICC), Prof. Sarah Eaton (HU), Dr. John Njenga Karugia (HU), Prof. Kai Kresse (ZMO),  Valentin Krüsmann (ZOiS), Dr. Julia Langbein (ZOiS), Dr. Katja Mielke (BICC), Dr. Beril Ocakli (ZOiS), Prof. Dr. Conrad Schetter (BICC), Kadara Swaleh (ZMO)

All three TL address different analytical levels in terms of socio-economic, political-institutional, and cultural / cultural-political (ideas, language, cultural codes, etc.) entanglements and disconnections. The combination of complementary disciplinary approaches underlines the innovative character of our endeavour.