Universität Bielefeld

Research projects

It is a major aim of our network to further ongoing efforts to conceptualize the Black Americas as space of entanglements. In this section, scholars are invited to present their current research projects in order to encourage academic debates and exchange between different research areas.

Note: Please click on the researcher's names to get further information about their projects.

Modernity between 'Indigeneity' and 'Blackness'
(Olaf Kaltmeier and Wilfried Raussert)

Olaf Kaltmeier and Wilfried Raussert

The research project as part of the SFB Practices of Comparison with the working title "Modernity between 'Indigeneity' and 'Blackness'" explores newly emerging practices of comparison which are related to identity politics in the fields of cultural production, social sciences, and politics in the early decades of the 2oth century. The project is primarily concerned with second order comparisons in the field of black cultural and indigenous movements in the early twentieth century in the Americas. The following questions are central: How are identity politics shaped by practices of comparison. Which are the comparative regards that are being used to compare individuals and communities? Through the use of which different ways of comparison emerge incommensurabilties or merge similarities and differences that surface within the comparative practices into a coherent overall picture, namely into a complex tertium comparationis based either on 'indigeneity' or 'blackness' respectively?

Black Inter-American Mobilities and Autobiography in the Age of Revolutions (1760-1860)
(Astrid Haas)

Astrid Haas

From September 2019 to August 2020, Research Fellow Astrid Haas is working at IBAR on her project: "Black Inter-American Mobilities and Autobiography in the Age of Revolutions (1760-1860)." The project is funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 834975. This interdisciplinary project explores the ways transnational autobiographies by black authors address different forms of black mobility in the Americas during the Age of Revolutions and its aftermath until the onset of the US American Civil War (1760-1860). During that time, large parts of the Americas gained their independence from the European colonial powers. Simultaneously, black-authored narrative texts emerged in the region. Among them, autobiographies played a key role as vehicles of asserting black selfhood and participation in societal discourses. In her project, Astrid studies the four major types of black life narratives of the period: slave narratives, Indian captivity narratives, memoirs of Christian missionaries, and memoirs-as-travelogues. In all of them different form of (im)mobility played a defining role in shaping black identities and experiences. This research project is the first of its kind to comparatively study transnational black autobiographies from across the Americas in the Age of Revolutions. At the core of Astrid's work is a literary text analysis of selected black autobiographies from the period.Her specific focus is on the (voluntary or enforced) spatial, socio-cultural, and narrative mobilities of black people, as they are expressed in this text corpus. Astrid will communicate and disseminate her research through public lectures, academic presentations, and a series of journal articles, to be subsequentially extended into the first comprehensive monograph on the subject.

Rappin' Feminism Otherwise: Hip Hop and Alternative Epistemologies
(Julia Roth)

Julia Roth

Her research project examines the role of hip hop for anti-racist feminist knowledge production in the Americas, particularly in the Caribbean and Cuba. Given the crucial role music has historically played in the region as a means of belonging, survival and resistance, she is interested in the way musical genres can contribute to alternative modes of communication and connectedness. Drawing on historical examples such as the Blues Woman in the early 20th century, the musical entanglements during the Amerafrican vanguard movements of the 1920s and 1930s (Harlem Renaissance and Afrocubanismo), or the Black Power movement in the US and its resonance in Cuba, she focuses on the hip hop movement in the Bronx and Havana in the late 20th century, particularly on the artists dedicated to a feminist aim. Based on Angela Davis observation of the Blues Women as communicators of feminist topics into Black working-class communities and on Patricia Hill Collins? dictum that hip hop is the medium for addressing and practicing feminism outside academia, she will examine and discuss the strategies crucial protagonist apply in their lyrics, videos, and performances, putting special emphasis on the translocational dimension of such endeavors.
Looking Through the Lens of Translocational Positionality and Belonging- Life
Narratives entangling the Dutch Caribbean and North America
(Deborah Duttenhofer)

Deborah Duttenhofer

Her proposed research is in Literary and Cultural Studies focusing on life narratives relating Dutch-Caribbean and North American authors. Both written and oral life narratives from Dutch-Caribbean authors who have had personal experiences living or travelling in North America, and vice versa will be included for text and discourse analysis. Using the analytical lens of 'Translocational Positionality and Belonging' as postulated by Floya Anthias, the identity construction of these selected authors will be explored. Preliminary research has indicated relations between Afro-Diasporic communities in New York and St. Martin.
The Politics of Race in Panama: Afro-Hispanic and West Indian Literary Discourses of Contention
(Sonja Watson)

Sonja Watson

Dr. Watson's manuscript tells the story of two cultural groups: Afro-Hispanics, whose ancestors came toPanama as African slaves, and West Indians from the English-speaking countries of Jamaica and Barbados who arrived during the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries to build the railroad and the Panama Canal. While Afro-Hispanics assimilated after centuries of mestizaje (race mixing) and now identify with their Spanish heritage, West Indians hold to their British Caribbean roots and identify more closely with Africa and the Caribbean.By examining the writing of black Panamanian authors, Sonja Watson highlights how race is defined, contested, and inscribed in Panama. She discusses the cultural, racial, and national tensions that prevent these two groups from forging a shared Afro-Panamanian identity, ultimately revealing why ethnically diverse. Afro-descendant populations continue to struggle to create racial unity in nations across Latin America and the Caribbean. Currently, Dr. Watson is working on a manuscript on Panamanian reggae en español.

Documentary Film Project "A Bronx Butterfly's Story"
(Alina Muñoz and Wilfried Raussert)

Alina Muñoz and Wilfried Raussert

This short documentary film project about the Afro-Latina poet, educator, and activist Maria 'Mariposa' Fernandez intends to let the poet tell her own story in a 20 minute short film. The conceptual director is Wilfried Raussert, The film editor is Alina Munoz. Film recordings and voice recordings were made in New York, Harlem, Spanish Harlem and the Bronx in 2014 and 2015, by Wilfried Raussert and Kenyatta L. Skyles.

Between Spanish Harlem, Funky Colón, and Black Rio: Soul, Migration of Music, and Translocal Identity Constructions in the Black Power Era (1965-1975)
(Matti Steinitz)

Matti Steinitz

The project -funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for a three year-period - proposes to investigate the role of U.S. African-American soul music for the reception of Black Power discourses and the formation of anti-racist movements in Latin American contexts. In the light of recent debates on the transnational dimensions of African-American movements and cultures, transculturations in the Western Hemisphere and the relations between music migration and identity constructions, the genre soul shall be examined for its role as manifestation of a new black consciousness raised in the context of Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the 1960s and 1970s. This project will outline how soul with its symbolic representations of black pride was received across the US borders as a soundtrack for the departure of African-Americans into a new era, arguing that it had a significant role in the transnationalization of the Black Power Movement. By highlighting the forms of appropriating soul in the West-Indian community of Colón (Panama), the Afro-Brazilian Black Rio movement and the emergence of Latin Soul/Boogaloo in New York's Puerto Rican migrant neighborhood Spanish Harlem, an underexplored chapter of the globalization of afro-US-American cultural goods shall be analyzed in various locations of the hemispheric exchange processes and in its relations to the divergent connotations of nation, race and ethnicity origin within the respective societies.

Afrodescendant and Indigenous TransnationalMovements in Latin America: Crossroads of territorialiy and collective/ethnic memory
(María del Pilar Ramírez Gröbli)

María del Pilar Ramírez Gröbli

Transnational ties between afrodescendant and indigenous peoples are reshaping local ethnic identities and social structures in Latin America by mobilising ethno-cultural meanings for the social change. Afrodescendant groups and indigenous communities have been building transnational networks throughout the Latin American continent, especially since the end of the 1980s. The interactions among indigenous and afrodescendant movements have led to intense questioning on ethnicity and generated political recognition processes that have transformed place imaginaries and ethnic-political patterns beyond the nation-state. Some of these developments have become established organizations that pursue social mobilization and political involvement, to transnational scales. Although both of those groups have been marginalized, especially during the colonization, colonial histories of each ethnical group show significant differences. While indigenous peoples already inhabited the subcontinent, afrodescendants were forcefully brought from Africa as slaves. Assimilation policies have affected and defined their socio-political achievements and participation within Latin American nations. However, both written and verbal alternative literatures have preserved their cultural practices and ethnic memories. They have been reproduced within the subcultures and passed on from generation to generation. This ethnic-historic legacy has also contributed to rebuilding ethnic symbols and subjectivities which influence the acknowledgement of plurinational states in the contemporary context. The formation of ethnic networks through the subcontinent from both afrodescendant and indigenous peoples are shaped by convergences and dissimilarities regarding scopes, discourses, and thematic focuses. This ethnic interaction at transnational scales influences both local processes and trans-local interaction. This study envisions: (a) comparing and contrasting transnational formation from both afrodescendant and indigenous organizations and their interdependencies, (b) to examine the role of narrative/literary practices (written or/and oral), especially concerning collective ethnic memory and territorial governance, and (c) to explore to what extent transnational ethnic alliances and narratives influence the place-base social structures by illustrating the afrodescendant case in the cross-border Ecuadorian-Colombian area.

Latin American Antiracism in a 'Post-Racial' Age
(Mónica Moreno Figueroa and Peter Wade)

Mónica Moreno Figueroa and Peter Wade

This project, which starts in January 2107 and runs for two years, aims to investigate anti-racism in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico; to contribute to conceptualising and addressing problems of racism and racial inequality in the region; and to use the Latin America context to provide lessons of wider relevance to anti-racism. We propose that Latin American countries present new opportunities for thinking about anti-racism in the supposedly "post-racial" world of Europe and the United States, where anti-racism has apparently gone into "crisis" and emerged as an often insipid and hard-to-defend multiculturalism. Influential currents in Europe and the United States think that paying attention to race simply exacerbates racism. Meanwhile, racial inequality and racism continue.

We will explore how Latin Americans involved in anti-racism address key problems for anti-racism in Latin America and increasingly for other regions. First, how to practice anti-racism when most people are mixed, may deny the importance of race and racism and may themselves be the victims and the perpetrators of racism. Second, how to practice anti-racism when "culture" seems to be the dominant discourse for talking about difference, but when physical differences remain a powerful but often unacknowledged basis for discrimination. Third, how to create effective anti-racist action when race and class coincide and make it easy to deny that race and racism are important factors. Fourth, how to make sure anti-racist action addresses gender difference effectively. Fifth, how to pursue anti-racism when it is often claimed that little overt racist violence is evidence of racial tolerance.

Our project aims to work with a wide variety of organisations in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico to explore how anti-racism is pursued in state and non-state circles, in legislation and the media, and in a variety of campaigns and projects. We aim to strengthen anti-racist practice in Latin America by feeding back our findings and by helping build networks. We have hired for post-doctoral researchers, who will work in each country supported by a local academic co-investigator.

From Temporary Migrants to Permanent Attractions: Tourism, Cultural Heritage, and the Construction of National and Transnational Afro-Antillean Identities in Panama
(Carla Guerrón Montero)

Carla Guerrón Montero

From Temporary Migrants to Permanent Attractions recounts the story of the Panamanian Afro-Antilleans of the Archipelago of Bocas del Toro as they are constructed by a national government eager to develop tourism on the basis of cultural diversity and as they construct themselves in the context of the national project of imagining the nation in postcolonial terms, on the one hand, and their own diasporic affiliations, on the other. Based on long-term, in-depth ethnographic research, the manuscript is an historical ethnography of the ethnicity of Afro-Antilleans in Bocas del Toro and Panama City and their evolution through time, from plantation worker to tourism worker. It addresses the complex transnational positioning of Afro-Antilleans vis-à-vis a state that now embraces them as contributors to Panama?s multicultural heritage and vis-à-vis the Caribbean and other points of origination beyond Panamanian national borders (University of Alabama Press, forthcoming). Since 2015, Dr. Guerrón Montero is engaged in a new research project that studies the intersection of culture, economics, and domestic law as they relate to tourism development and the cultural heritage of quilombos in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.