Postcolonial Legacies, Scholarly Mobility and Research Capacity Building – Interview with Daniele Cantini

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the workshop “Postcolonial legacies, scholarly mobility and research capacity building”. The workshop will take place from June 15 to 16, 2017 at the Orient Institut Beirut.

Our guest today is Daniele Cantini, research associate at the Orient-Institut Beirut since September 2016. After earning his PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Modena and Milan – Bicocca in 2006, with a thesis on the Jordanian university system and its students, he spent several years in Cairo, Egypt (2007-2010), where  he was an associated researcher at the CEDEJ, working on different projects dealing with university education and its privatization, worries of citizenship, youth, religious minorities, and migration. Since 2011 he is senior research fellow at the Research Cluster “Society and Culture in Motion” at the MLU Halle-Wittenberg. He is the author of “Youth and Education in the Middle East: Shaping Identity and Politics in Jordan” (London: I.B. Tauris, 2016).

Please find the abstract and the program of the workshop here.

What do you hope to achieve with the workshop “Postcolonial legacies, scholarly mobility and research capacity building”, and which questions do you want to raise?

Daniele Cantini. Picture: private.

The workshop I am co-organising contributes to the ongoing debates on the conditions and effects of mobility, by applying this rather successful concept to the specific link between scholarly mobility and knowledge production in the social sciences and humanities, with a regional focus on Africa and the Middle East.

While both student and scholarly mobility are very old phenomena, perhaps even constitutive of academia, in recent years there has been a tremendous increase in numbers as well as in destinations, and a sustained policy interest. In the EU, for example, mobility is currently not a choice, but rather a necessity for being a knowledge-worker, both at the student and at the scholar level. Keeping in mind the limitations of this discourse outside of the global north, where access to travel permits is often limited and where research funding does not allow exchanges on a par, a high degree of mobility appears to be increasingly the norm in these regions as well.  Thus, it seems necessary to have a closer look at how this phenomenon is affecting the ways of research practices and knowledge production. This is particularly needed in areas of the world in which the conditions of knowledge production in the social sciences and humanities are particularly dire.

The workshop addresses this issue by looking at three interrelated themes: Firstly, by analyzing to which extent patterns of scholarly mobility can be traced back to colonial times, when modern universities were founded, and how they still impact both, student and scholarly mobility today. Secondly, by analyzing the actual forms this mobility takes, as reflected for instance in the debate on brain drain/gain, or the conditions of researchers’ circulation, especially at advanced career stages. And lastly, by addressing the recent efforts at research capacity buildings in different settings, both inside and outside the university.

With this event, we also want to contribute to discussions of hegemony in knowledge production, switching the focus of analysis to the everyday practices and conditions of knowledge production, as well as to the impact of mobility on career paths and on research issues. The workshop  builds on my recently concluded project on the conditions and possibilities of knowledge production at the doctoral level in Egypt, while at the same time adding new levels of complexity by opening the topic up, both geographically and methodologically.

The links between knowledge productions and mobility are a growing field. What is the particular approach of your workshop to uncover and dissect the links between knowledge and scholarly mobility more specifically?

The guiding idea of this workshop is not only to connect the three themes outlined above, but also to give their evaluation an interdisciplinary spin. While social anthropology has a particular strength in its ethnographic method when analyzing issues related to scholarly mobility, I am particularly interested in ways to combine the ethnographic perspective with more quantitative approaches. I am convinced that a combination of both will optimize our understanding of the increasingly complex circulatory patters of students and scholars in academia. Therefore, I am very pleased to co-organize this workshop with a demographer, Lama Kabbanji, who has researched the nexus of mobility and knowledge production from a quite different angle.

The aim is to provide methodological insights on how to make sense of the flow of scholars, which is not limited to a south-north mobility but which is increasingly taking a circular form, albeit without an overcoming of persisting (if not increasing) structural inequalities. In particular, presenters at the workshop include historians, geographers, demographers, as well as sociologists and social anthropologists, mixing scholars, younger and more established ones, who are doing research on the topics with people who are responsible for managing such research flows. Crucially, the last session of the workshop is devoted to a thorough discussion about theories and methodologies used in presenting the topics discussed during the workshop.

The main goals of the workshop are to discuss and if possible develop theories of academic mobility; to explore the role of individual and institutional networks on scholarly mobilities and scientific diaspora formations, and to identify how research and knowledge production are being reshaped by new movements of postgraduate students and forms of institutional isomorphism.

Academic mobility is an important topic until today, why did you decide to put the focus of your workshop on the postcolonial legacies and their impact on scholarly mobility?

Postcolonial legacies are one of the three main themes to be explored in this workshop. Since the earliest years of university education in Africa and the Middle East, the formation of national scholarly communities has relied on highly mobile populations of research students. A high proportion of faculty members have received their graduate degrees abroad (with some national differences, of course, which are going to be discussed in the workshop). Thus, one focus of the workshop lays on the link between postcolonial legacies and employment patterns, and the examination of how these have changed in the last decades.

This already uneasy dynamic has been complicated in recent years by an increasing emphasis on the production of useful social science knowledge as a precondition for economic development. Governments and private agencies put in place ambitious doctoral training plans; at the same time, supervision cultures are underdeveloped, employment patterns are becoming more hazardous, and research is increasingly produced outside academia. The same phenomenon can be observed in the social sciences – hence the often-described crisis of knowledge production in these domains is to be analyzed along these new phenomena.

The research projects that will originate from the workshop will benefit from a clear theoretical and methodological discussion, as well as insights into experiences of research training organizations such as the Arab Council for the Social Sciences or CODESRIA. The initiated research will progress in co-designed projects and will thus be in a position to address the persistence of obvious inequalities in a context of highly isomorphic conditions, through research projects that are effectively.


Further contributions to the TRAFO series „Emerging Topics“: 


Citation: Postcolonial Legacies, Scholarly Mobility and Research Capacity Building  – Interview with Daniele Cantini, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 29.05.2017,

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Editorial Board (2017, 29. Mai). Postcolonial Legacies, Scholarly Mobility and Research Capacity Building – Interview with Daniele Cantini. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 15. Juni 2024, von

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  1. 21. Juni 2017

    […] Postcolonial Legacies, Scholarly Mobility and Research Capacity Building  – Interview with Daniel…, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 29.05.2017 […]

  2. 4. Juli 2017

    […] Postcolonial Legacies, Scholarly Mobility and Research Capacity Building  – Interview with Daniel…, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 29.05.2017. […]

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