Exile and Academic Freedom Today

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the conference Exile and Academic Freedom Today,“ which will take place on 18th–19th October 2018 at the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI). The conference is a part of Academy in Exile, an initiative founded by the Institute of Turkish Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen, the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen and the Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien, with support of the VolkswagenStiftung. You can find the conference program here.

Our interview partner is Egemen Özbek, academic coordinator of Academy in Exile at the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI).

Together with Volker Heins and Kader Konuk, you are one of the organizers of the conference „Exile and Academic Freedom Today“. How did you come up with the idea for this event?

The conference is Academy in Exile’s first public event of this scale. The Institute of Turkish Studies at the University Duisburg-Essen, the Kulturwissenschafliches Institut Essen (KWI), and the Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien founded the Academy in Exile in 2017 to provide a forum for scholars-at-risk to continue working in the social sciences and humanities outside of their home countries.

With populism and anti-intellectualism on the rise, and civil liberties and academic freedom under intensified threat, we are experiencing a major crisis of knowing our world and being able to act upon it. With the inaugural 2018 conference, the Academy asks how the global intellectual community can and ought to respond to this crisis.

The conference theme is at present highly relevant. Increasing numbers of scholars are facing persecution in their home countries, seeking safe havens abroad. Which aspects of Exile will the conference highlight in particular, and what are the unique perspectives and insights that the participants can gain from attending your conference?

The conference will explore the institutionalization of academic freedom since its establishment as Lehr- und Lernfreiheit at the Humboldt University in Berlin. It asks how the meaning of exile is changing with respect to academic freedom. With growing numbers of scholars internally displaced or exiled abroad, emphasis will be placed on the common understanding of exile as a form of refuge, as well as on other types of state and social control of dissent and free thought.

It is also important to note that, as political theorist Judith Shklar, who was herself an exile, reminds us, the modern experience of exile is manifold and cannot be contained within the idea of one’s banishment from their city or polity: “Exile itself is but a part of a larger social category, ranging from the forcibly excluded to people who exile themselves without moving by escaping into themselves, as it were, because their world is so politically evil.” (“Obligation, Loyalty, Exile”, p. 181). Such a broadening of the concept seeks to focus on affinities between new forms of exile and calls for comparative inquiries.

With unprecedented numbers of people on the move today—symptomatic of a global crisis produced by armed conflict, economic and social inequality, and environmental degradation—we further inquire into the relationship between exiled scholars and refugees. The conference seeks to revisit the meaning of academic freedom in our contemporary context. Connected to the discussion on new forms and conceptualizations of exile, presenters will shed light on academic infringements experienced by various, often subaltern, groups within academia. As an increasing number of governments pursue illiberal agendas, there are emerging regions where academic freedom and civic engagement come under threat. Conference participants will learn about the legacies of previous experiences of supporting threatened scholars, as well as about the current efforts to sustain scholarship in the long run, including the institutional support needed for exiled scholars to continue their research and to become integrated into German academic life.

Do comparative and/or transregional perspectives play a particular role in the conference?

Even though the repression of academic freedom and the criminalization of critical voices in Turkey will constitute a key focus of the conference, geographies of violations are ever expanding. We are witnessing the curtailing of academic freedom in regions as diverse as the Eastern Europe, India, China, Russia, the Middle East, and Americas. While local causes of violations may vary, there are global trends that are at play in terms of infringements in academic freedoms. Trends such as illiberalism, populism, anti-intellectualism, and the erosion of democratic principles and structures, discernible in different contexts, resonate with each other and are, in turn, amplified to enable further decay. Hence any engagement with the contemporary state of scholarship at risk has to have a transregional perspective.


Citation: Exile and Academic Freedom Today – Interview with Egemen Özbek, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 16.10.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/13907.


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1 Antwort

  1. 16. Oktober 2018

    […] Interview with Egemen Özbek […]

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