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Chair for Sociology of Africa - Prof. Dr. Jana Hönke

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Postcolonial Hierarchies in Peace and Conflict

Although post-colonial and decolonial approaches have also been received and further developed in Anglo-Saxon peace and conflict research (Barkawi 2016; Sabaratnam 2013; Jabri 2016), they have little application both theoretically and methodologically in German peace and conflict research (see Brunner 2018, Dittmer 2018, Engels 2014, Hönke/Müller 2016, Mageza -Barthel 2016). This post-/decolonial “gap” in peace and conflict research offers new perspectives on the international peace and security order, including its assumptions on violence, conflict dynamics, and justice.

A network of four partner institutions based in Marburg, Bayreuth, Freiburg, Erfurt therefore investigates how historically entrenched postcolonial hierarchies are reflected in contemporary conflict dynamics as well as in the knowledge production of peace and conflict research and what implications, but also transformatory potential, arise from that for a sustainable conflict transformation in the future.

The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and started in April 2022.



Further details can be also found in the official press release of the University of Bayreuth.

Researchers in Bayreuth from various disciplines of Sociology, Political Science, Ethnology and History focus in different projects on issues of postcolonial hierarchies in external security governance and peacebuilding, with emphasis on South-South relations and conflict-related development cooperation and humanitarian aid.

In the following, the different research projects at Bayreuth are listed:


Prof. Dr. Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni (Chair in Epistemologies of the Global South):
Decolonizing the Political Community in Southern Africa: The Case Study of South Africa and Zimbabwe

This project’s entry point is how epistemology frames ontology. This framework is applied to the understanding of the contemporary postcolonial hierarchies of race, ethnicity, and gender as well as concomitant material inequalities. What is under investigation is how imperial/colonial episteme reproduced itself in the form of what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak termed ‘postcolonial reason’ and how this in turn informed a very problematic postcolonial political modernity characterised by conflicts and violence related to postcolonial state-making, postcolonial nation-building and democratization. At the centre of the postcolonial conflicts are issues of identity, citizenship, power, gender, belonging, and struggles over resource ownership and distribution. Conceptually, this project advocates for a transformative justice predicated on decolonizing the political community as an act of thinking and imagining a state which is decoupled from the nation so as to enable a citizen-state different from a nation-state. Empirically, two Southern African countries of South Africa and Zimbabwe constitute the site for research with a focus of political cultures and practices. South Africa and Zimbabwe are both former white settler colonies, both led by former liberation movements and both are haunted by complex conflicts related to citizenship, belonging, power, and resource ownership which are constitutive of postcolonial hierarchies. While South Africa predicated its transformative justice on neoliberal democracy and truth and reconciliation as key pillars for building a new political community (called the rainbow nation) in which victims and perpetrators who have forgiven each other would emerged as equal citizens; Zimbabwe pursued a radical exclusionary and violent nationalist path in which political opposition was never tolerated and a compulsory land reform process (called the Third Chimurenga) which culminated in withdrawal of citizenship from the minority white farmers and redefined belonging in nativist terms. For both countries, the transformative justice mechanisms have not brought peace. Methodologically, desktop research, literature reviews, archival work and interviews will allow for a grounded analysis of emergent postcolonial exclusionary and predatory political cultures and practices of governance and critical reflections on conceptions of transformative justice.

Dr. Maria Ketzmerick:
Transformative Responsibility and Global Justice in Conflict: Between Former Colonial Powers and Non-Western Actors?

In October 2017, the Anglophone conflict in Cameroon escalated violently, with more than 3,000 deaths and 500,000 internally displaced persons (Mehler and Glund 2021). At the international level, the conflict and its violent events have already been discussed in the new format of the Arria-Formula Meeting (Coni-Zimmer and Peez 2019). In recent years, there has been a normative shift in the debate on international intervention in the fight against war crimes and violence against civilians in the wake of the emergence of global justice standards (Langer and Eason 2019; Mégret 2015). According to In the era of “new interventionism” (Doyle 2001), despite its criticism (Richmond and Ginty 2015), the UN is expected to respond alongside other international actors when civilians are harmed. This project investigates this policy of protection and justice, focusing on post-colonial hierarchies of knowledge related to security, peace and conflict. The project analyses the factors and knowledge systems that determine when and how international or regional actors decide to intervene to prevent harm to civilians, and what form such interventions take. In particular, the project focuses on the changes brought about by stronger non-Western actors, such as China: Changing norms of justice and human rights on transformative responsibility in situations of violence for former colonial powers and non-Western actors? What is the background to non-intervention, as in the case of the Anglophone conflict, and what is the role of strategic non-knowledge (McGoey 2012)? What influence do non-Western actors without a colonial past have in this process they share the The impact of the new actors on the dimensions of peace and security policy is fundamental not only on the ground, but also in international institutions (Fung 2019) and thus raises once again the question What new hierarchies are emerging in conflict research and in practical conflict resolution and violence prevention? Does that mean for local decision-makers?
Based on the empirical example of the Anglophone conflict in Cameroon, the project aims to develop a theoretical perspective on peace and conflict research with postcolonial/decolonial theories (Sabaratnam 2017; Go 2013) that recognizes international norms as well as geographical-historical consequences and influences (Hönke and Müller 2012). Thus, the project addresses all three axes, but is embedded in research field III of the network.

Patricia Pinky Ndlovu, with Prof. Dr. Jana Hönke:
Violence and Gender in the minibus taxi industry in South Africa: a decolonial-sociological approach

My projects looks at the three overlapping/intersecting issues in the minibus taxi industry in South Africa which includes conflict, violence and gender. The two central issues for this thesis is gender and violence. This is so because the minibus taxi industry is one of those sites of patriarchy. Women are struggling to operate within this industry that is characterised by violence and patriarchy. Unlike existing studies, conflict and violence in this proposed study is not reduced to ‘taxi wars’. What is being investigated is the ‘everyday violence’ in its multidimensional form- ‘structural, systemic, symbolic, verbal, cultural, organisational and normative violence’. The hypothesis of this study is that patriarchy, if looked at from a gender perspective is an inherently violent structure of power and its manifestations might be one of the key reasons why women are struggling to enter and operate successfully in this male-dominated industry. Conceptually and theoretically, the proposed thesis will draw from decolonial school of thought which enables diagnosis of systemic and institutional violence including patriarchy. The proposed thesis will also pay attention what Cedric J. Robinson (1983) termed racial capitalism and its patriarchal labour regimes. This is important because it forms part of the overarching systematic and structural terrain within which the minibus taxi industry emerges. Therefore, the overarching objective of the study is to investigate everyday violence in the minibus taxi industry, with a focus on how violence affect and shape the gender dynamics.

Dr. Adam Sandor, with Prof. Dr. Jana Hönke:
Alternative Models for the Profileration of Security and Peace

The project focuses on the role of actors from the global South: To what extent are alternative models of ensuring security and peace taking the place of post-liberal interventions by Western states, and with what effects? Within the scope of this work package, concrete practice is to be focused. For example, with South South South interventions in technical areas or the Chinese focus on infrastructure projects and development, the question arises to what extent own approaches, e. g. security through development or a relational approach to collaboration (e. g. Carrozza 2019, Benabdallah 2016, 2020, Bunskoek/Shih 2021). It is necessary to investigate the extent to which safety governance practices and Peacebuilding are indeed different, or rather existing practices of global post-liberal approaches. It is also conceivable that reconfigurations and consolidations of postcolonial hierarchies prevail, not least through mimicry, i. e. the appropriation and passing on of colonially acquired violence and Repression repertoires in current transnational relationships (Tickner et al. 2017; Hönke/Müller 2016). In this context, conflict management should be considered such as the militarized interventions in Yemen and Syria (mainly by the Gulf and other neighbouring states), or hybrid interventions such as those observed by Turkey in Azerbaijan or Russia in Ukraine (Turner/Kühn 2019).

Darja Wolfmeier, with Prof. Dr. Andrea Behrends (Professorship for Anthropology of Africa) and Prof. Dr. Joël Glasman (Professorship for African History):
Post-colonial hierarchies in conflict-related development cooperation and humanitarian aid

With the help of postcolonial perspectives and critical race theory, the racist bias of development cooperation has already been identified (White 2002, Kothari 2006, Kühn 2010, Benton 2016, Pailey 2020). There is little scientific work on the sociological and practical realities of racist (often intertwined) inequalities in the humanitarian sector. Humanitarian organisations are increasingly exposed to criticism of the postcolonial inequalities in their practice, without offering a well-founded solution, but also without solid empirical knowledge of past and present inequalities in their own ranks (Efange 2020, Gray 2020). We aim to contribute to the emerging literature and practice discussion on racialized relationships in externally induced peacebuilding and emergency relief through projects on the historical sociology of aid organizations.


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