By Prof. Simo

Humanities are a product of the society. This also applies to other sciences, but much more to the Humanities. They are producing findings that the respective societies need to understand their own functioning, their possibilities, as well as the challenges they face and other societies. They enunciate (produce) Knowledge about the past, the present and the future, using available concepts and categories. Thus, Humanities enrol in paradigm, that express desire, hope, expectations, intentions, certainty, anxiety, uncertainty, the ability and the disability of given societies. However, humanities also produce societies. They produce meanings and tools for the production of meanings. They regulate the circulation of Knowledge. In this sense, many findings that are produced by them and they structure doctrines, modes of perception, representation frameworks, affective capacities, interpretation grids, and so on. This is how they take part in the production and reproduction of cultures. By this doing, they take part in the construction of connective structures, world understandings, and common intellectual horizons.       

As long as nations, as well as states that were based on them were still considered as naturally given, historically enrooted, and politically legitimate frameworks for the organisation of societies and theirs economies, it seemed natural that the humanities should conduce the nation and the State. Even if Humanities willingly deals with human being and even if their produced knowledge claims universality, it is certain that they could not succeed in transcending the intellectual horizon that was defined by the Nation. They largely remain in service of the Nation, and their paradigmatic framework is the one determined by the Nation. The latest is still the place where societies make sure of their identity and demarcate themselves from other societies. In this way, the humanities contributed in the construction of the self and the alien, of hierarchies, localisations and categorisations. This is why humanities are often accused of ethnocentrism. This reproach is being formulated from two perspectives: first from a humanistic perspective, that stress on the universality of the idea of man. This perspective criticises the fragmentation of the humankind due to the focus on national horizons. What is pursued in this sense is the preoccupation with a human being that adheres to its unity beyond all possible plurality and hence will less focus on that. What makes human beings different from others or what oppose them, than on that, what makes them to what they are, and what bring them closer together. This perspective assumes that it all depends on the intellectual mind-set and that one could overcome all possible epistemological hindrance and reach a transcendental approach, if one adopts convenient intellectual procedures and concepts. Nevertheless, there is a reasonable doubt about a perspective that transcends historical, social and even political and local self-images and interests. The second perspective from where humanities are being criticised as ethnocentric is postmodernism. Postmodern thinking challenges all great narratives, among which the nation. On the other hand, the nation is considered as obsolete in the context of globalisation. The principles of fluidity, mobility, shrinkage of time and space are considered as distinctive attributes of the present. Values that persist (remain) in the logic of confinement and particular identities are being considered as obsolete. Thus, despite globalisation, mobility and fluidity, no one can claim that old asymmetries has disappeared, that the invocation by particular powers, be they  nations, religions or cultures, has disappeared or are on the way to. The only possibility of overcoming or at least terminating ethnocentrism is in my opinion the cooperative production of knowledge and instruments of knowledge production beyond borders. There has always been such cooperation. In Europe, there is a long history of knowledge transfer, of contacts between scientists from different countries. International magazines and fora enable the intellectual and personal exchange between scientists. Thereby, ideas and paradigms move and discussions arise, which lead to the formulation of common languages.                   

     However, the international field of scientific cooperation runs like other fields. It tends to reproduce, consolidate and naturalise asymmetries, which arose in the course of history. Most of the time, the movement of knowledge therefore do not occur in form of an exchange, but rather in form of a diffusion. There are powerful centres of knowledge production. The power of these centres of course is based on the quality of the produced knowledge, but mainly on their capacity to make the produced knowledge available for others. The disposal of powerful canals for diffusion ensures hegemony in the production of knowledge and ideas. This is why some critics from the South speak of an epistemological imperialism.   

Precisely the creation of a peaceful and cooperative living together between the North and the South is one of the biggest challenges for the humankind in the 21st Century. 

     The German philosopher Axel Honneth joined Frantz Fanon to identify the problem of recognition as the source of conflicts between humans and societies in the world. Structural gaps precisely in the production and distribution of knowledge about others represents (are) also the expression of not-recognition of the ones by the others, i.e. of the South by the North. These gaps lead necessarily to tensions and permanent conflicts. When we now consider that the production of knowledge about mankind is done by societies and that science therefore provide intellectual means to these societies in order to stabilise their self-image, it is the obvious, that this knowledge can stimulate or milden (appease) conflicts.    

A few years ago, there has been a very intense debate among Africanists about the role and structure of a "science of Africa". During this, debate many participants stressed on the necessity of cooperation with African institutions and researchers. Many were then thinking of development policies programs, i.e. financial and material assistance for those African institutions. It is known about the weakness of research institutions in Africa, as well as the difficulties of all kinds African researchers use to face in their activity. Nevertheless, it would be simplifying to consider the scientific cooperation between Germany and Africa just from the point of view of assistance for economic development. During a meeting at the Federal department of foreign affairs in 2009, my colleague and friend Michael Lützeler wrote an abstract that I would like to quote at this point. "For new research methods are also being proved outside of Germany, it would be nothing but an advantage for innovative international German studies if there is a network of foreign contacts in the field of German studies, which should not suspend the connection to German philology but will rather improve it." It is very interesting that Lützeler precisely refers to German studies, which supposedly has a natural centre, in order to point out the fact that there is a fascinating and stimulating praxis developing outside of Germany. After the recent congress of African German Philologist in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), the spoke person of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Dr. Luckscheiter asserted that he had just experienced another way of practicing German Studies and he found that way captivating. In spite of infrastructural deficits, difficulties, and weaknesses that arise from it. There is nevertheless an interesting productive activity in Africa that could be part of the scientific cooperation with Germany. That is why the philosopher Ulrich Lölke and I, we both mention in the context our common contribution to the alluded debate, the epistemological enrichment for German colleagues in the framework of the scientific cooperation with Africa. 

     As we put it, "it is much more important to mention the epistemological input for the German praxis of a science of Africa."  Here we come to fundamental problem of a cooperative research on Africa, which Edward Said enunciated as follows:

"how one can study other culture and peoples from a libertarian, or a non-repressive and non-manipulative, perspective"  (Said [1978] 1995 : 24) In this way, we would like to refer to scientific cooperation as an instrument to go beyond the scope of the notional field in which the scientific discourse itself is embedded (Mundimbe 1998). We understood Said's question in the sense of what I am arguing here. One could formulate this question as follows: How can one knowledge produce about other nations and cultures? and I would add, on one's self, without reproducing or neutralising domination structures and power deployments, but rather by deconstructing them in order to go beyond their scope and to ensure acknowledgement, so that conflicts and tensions can be avoided and the basis for a fructuous    cohabitation should be launched. My answer to this question is presented as follows:

Through a scientific cooperation which alone can enable step by step a move from ethnocentric positions through a mutual challenge, as well as the elaboration of common categories (concepts). This is the only way by which the expectations and fears of each part can be taken into consideration and knowledge free of every domination relationship can be produced. It is obvious that this undertaking is a difficult one. But there is no option (alternative) to it. It will be the assignment of our centre to work for solutions to this challenge.