Working Together Across Borders: What MECAM & MECILA Can Teach Us

By Julius Dihstelhoff & Tomaz Amorim

Global academic collaboration is a dynamic field, where it is important to deal with inequalities and build connections between institutions from different regions. Recent discussions have shed light on these pivotal issues. Julius Dihstelhoff, Academic Coordinator of the Merian Centre for Advanced Studies in the Maghreb (MECAM) in Tunis/Tunisia, and Tomaz Amorim, Academic Coordinator of the Maria Sibylla Merian Centre Conviviality-Inequality in Latin America (MECILA), shared their reflections on these issues. They addressed two exemplified questions on the #MECAM space on the TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, drawing from their expertise and experiences in the recent MECAM’s & MECILA’s joint Round-Table event titled “Asymmetries of International Knowledge Production and Circulation: Experiences, Best Practices, and Challenges.”

São Paulo/ Brazil – Centro Brasileiro de Análise e Planejamento (CEBRAP), 29.09.2023, Asymmetries of International Knowledge Production and Circulation: Experiences, Best Practices and Challenges, Photos by Poliana Martins.

This joint roundtable, held on September 29, 2023, from 7 – 10 pm at CEBRAP, São Paulo, and livestreamed, served as a significant platform. Its goal was to create an open space for researchers from MECAM and MECILA, the Merian Centres located in São Paulo (Brazil) and Tunis (Tunisia) respectively. During the discussion, participants shared their experiences in conducting research between different institutions, overcoming gaps in knowledge, and addressing the urgent need for decolonial thinking and horizontal cooperation. The context of the discussion remains the same: a global situation marked by unequal opportunities.  

Navigating Global Perspectives: To what extent do the Maria Sybilla Merian Centres contribute to fostering international collaboration and offer the opportunity to explore global issues from diverse perspectives?

At the heart of the Academic Coordinators’ reflections lies the significant impact of the Maria Sybilla Merian Centres (MECILA and MECAM), funded by the German Ministry of Higher Education and research (BMBF), in promoting international collaboration while creating distinguished respective research platforms based on mutual learning, respect and trust. These Centres, similar to many Institutes of Advanced Studies around the world, have a central role in addressing global challenges and improving the academic field (both locally and in Germany). Their activities help create academic ‘landscapes’ by serving as bridges, as platforms connecting different views and showing the many voices that contribute to the internationalization of area studies in Social Sciences and Humanities. These Centres are not just physical places, they are intellectual spaces that shape scientific debates and discussions about global challenges. Their unique trait is their ability to support international and intergenerational collaboration and include different perspectives, providing valuable insights into the complex details of important and specific scientific topics.

São Paulo/ Brazil – Centro Brasileiro de Análise e Planejamento (CEBRAP), 29.09.2023, Asymmetries of International Knowledge Production and Circulation: Experiences, Best Practices and Challenges, Photos by Poliana Martins.

The Merian Centres have several important goals. They use a bottom-up approach, integrating different institutions and their logics. They ensure inclusivity and diversity in their research programs, attempting to dialogue with underrepresented groups. They also foster inter-cultural dialogues, where scholars from different regions exchange and learn from each other. They conduct interdisciplinary research, addressing complex scientific questions from social and humanities sciences perspectives. This broadens their academic horizons and enhances their understanding of multifaceted issues. They also explore new research topics, such as climate resilience, food security, environmental migration, and post-Covid conviviality, among others.

The Merian Centres demonstrate the benefits of international collaboration, where researchers from different countries combine their resources and expertise, creating innovation. They also produce transregional knowledge, using innovative formats beyond their fellow programs, which are central to their work. For example, as relevant formats, MECAM has Traveling Academies & Transregional Workshops[1] (organized by Forum Tranregional Studien in Berlin & Université de Tunis) and Rencontres Ibn Khaldun[2] (organized by German Institute for Global and Area Studies in Hamburg & Université de Tunis). MECILA invites scholars for short visits in São Paulo where they interact with the local network and the Fellows; publishes all its work, as well as outreach and open science activities online and in Open Access; and supports the exchange of researchers from the Network in different Latin American countries. All these activities and formats strengthen South-South and North-South dialogues and disseminate scientific results and policy outreach globally, creating spaces for mutual understanding. They also publish their work for different (non-)academic audiences and show the progress of their fellow projects. From public platforms like this #MECAM space on the TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research to academic books and journals, the Merian Centres ensure that their research reaches diverse audiences, increasing the impact of their work.

Coping with asymmetries of International Knowledge Production and Circulation: What methods do the Centres use to fulfill the desire for horizontal collaboration within an asymmetrical environment?

Working together under unequal conditions is not easy. However, MECAM and MECILA manage these challenges well by promoting international and horizontal collaboration. Our approach is based on equality, joining efforts and goals despite the difficulties of unequal contexts. Some of the challenges are: financial disparities, with different access and amounts of funding among partner institutions; asymmetric power relations, with more power for some partners, which can affect decision-making and limit others’ contributions; cultural differences and communication barriers, with different norms, styles, and languages that make collaboration and understanding harder among partners from different backgrounds; and the management of international projects, which is complex and time-consuming due to different logics, time zones, laws, and procedures in partner institutions (such as (state) universities, think tanks, and associations). Also, ensuring ethical and academic standards is challenging, especially with many partners involved, requiring strict adherence to ethics and quality. All of these hurdles are amplified by the mitigation of diverse voices, financial threats, the need for continuous vigilance, resource constraints on Merian centres, and limitations in effective advocacy. Successfully navigating these complexities demands a smart and proactive approach to ensure the continued excellence and inclusivity of academic pursuits.

São Paulo/ Brazil – Centro Brasileiro de Análise e Planejamento (CEBRAP), 29.09.2023, Asymmetries of International Knowledge Production and Circulation: Experiences, Best Practices and Challenges, Photos by Poliana Martins.

The Merian Centres deal with these challenges effectively by using decolonial thinking and horizontal cooperation models, as shown by MECAM’s and MECILA’s best practices: normative alignment and ethical procedures are the foundation, linking research programs with the Merian Centre’s work agenda. Strong internal ethical procedures maintain research ethics, creating a collaborative environment based on trust and reliability. Also, a solid and flexible organizational structure is key. By affiliating fellows with universities, the Merian Centres provide secure research opportunities and international recognition, stressing equal cooperation. Institutional integration into existing university frameworks also supports fairness, with clear internal governance structures based on collaboration and mutual respect. This also includes equal voting rights. Moreover, clear and standardized communication channels are essential, creating a shared understanding among diverse stakeholders. Flexibility to adapt to new insights and emerging topics through active participation and transparent communication is important, ensuring adaptability to changing challenges. Then, shared responsibility and effective leadership with two directors, each of them affiliated in Germany and in an institution from the academic region of the centres, are the pillars of the Merian Centres’ collaborative efforts. Involving multiple stakeholders in decision-making and idea generation, these practices create a respectful and open knowledge exchange.

Also, the two directors and us as Academic coordinators balance power dynamics and increase inclusivity, encouraging a collaborative spirit despite inherent asymmetry. Furthermore, collaborative research practices – like Open calls for participation regarding various working formats – are vital. Individual fellowship projects follow the partnership-based approach of “researching with” rather than “researching about” at each Merian Centre. These partnerships go beyond the fellow programmes and create wider networks, where they share resources and skills, reduce inequalities and work better together. They also commit to free publishing (Open Access) and make sure that everyone can access their publications, making their work more collaborative and accessible.

All in all, the Merian Centres use tailor-made strategies to deal with the challenges of unequal conditions and to support their mission of making Social Sciences and Humanities more international. They also learn from each other in the ‘Merian Centre Family’ (consisting of CALAS; ICAS:MP; MECAM; MECILA and MIASA), showing how working together can make a difference in complex situations.

For further information, you can visit the event’s announcement on the BMBF website and access the recorded video of the session, allowing you to engage with the insightful discussions that took place during this event. Concerning MECAM and MECILA in general, you can visit its web pages [;].

About the Authors

Dr. Julius Dihstelhoff, serving as the Academic Coordinator of the Merian Centre for Advanced Studies in the Maghreb (MECAM) in Tunis/Tunisia since May 2020, oversees the organizational management of MECAM. Holding a PhD in Political Science from Philipps-Universität Marburg, his research focuses on German foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa region, political transformation processes in Tunisia, regional (re)organization in the MENA and political Islam.

Dr. Tomaz Amorim, the Academic Coordinator of the Maria Sibylla Merian Centre Conviviality-Inequality in Latin America (MECILA) since 2022, holds a PhD in Literary Theory and Comparative Literature from Universidade de São Paulo. His research interests include Critical Theory and modernist literature in Germany and Brazil, with a current focus on the relationship between extractivism and avant-garde movements in South America. He has published poetry books in Brazil, literary translations, and regularly contributes to contemporary Brazilian literature discussions.


[1] Traveling Academies & Transregional Workshops: They reflect the MECAM’s transregional and dynamic dimension. Researchers from the Maghreb, Europe, and around the world participate in this format, creating a space for innovative and comparative research. These Traveling Academies and Transregional Workshops are organized in various countries within the region, amidst diverse contexts, aiming to engage with different research traditions.

[2] Rencontres Ibn Khaldun: They are primarily organized in Tunisia but also in Germany and across Europe, aiming to reach a broader audience. This working format designed to make the research work of the center accessible to a wider, non-academic audience, breaking free from established academic formats. Through Rencontres Ibn Khaldun, MECAM creates a platform for dialogue where the outcomes of scientific research spark societal debates and enable an exchange of ideas between researchers and actors from the political, cultural, and civil society scenes.

Citation: Julius Dihstelhoff ; Tomaz Amorim, Working Together Across Borders: What MECAM & MECILA Can Teach Us, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 28.11.2023,

OpenEdition schlägt Ihnen vor, diesen Beitrag wie folgt zu zitieren:
Forum Transregionale Studien (28. November 2023). Working Together Across Borders: What MECAM & MECILA Can Teach Us. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 17. Juli 2024 von

Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. It provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. More...

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