Beyond "colonial amnesia" - Decolonising German institutional memory through transformative social activism

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Languages Cultures Art History & Music


In its current form, Germany's dominant cultural memory manifests an attitude of ignorance towards German colonialism. Promoting a gravely historic version of Germany's past and the marginalisation of local communities descending from formerly colonised peoples, institutions are increasingly scrutinised
by activists demanding genuine re-engagement with the past.

My PhD will advance this debate by exploring the transformative potential of non-institutionalised memory activism to encourage the decolonisation of mainstream memory culture. This will involve an acknowledgment of the colonial period as a constituent of modernity, a re-assessment of authoritative
knowledge and representation, and a critical self-reflection on the normativity of whiteness that excludes non-white perspectives and governs contemporary memory culture. By conducting extensive qualitative research among key activist movements engaging with these challenges, such as Berlin Postcolonial and
the Centre for Political Beauty, including interviews, participant observation and study of specific campaigns and analyses of their own publications, my research will generate an in-depth understanding of their approaches as well as a comprehensive insight into the possibilities of and for transformative activism. This will inform a critical deconstruction of persisting normative memories and demonstrate the necessity and value of decolonising memory, bridging the gap between activism and mainstream institutions.

Germany's engagement with its colonial experience, or the lack thereof, has constituted the core of my work for seven years. It initially drew my attention during my BA at Leipzig where I discussed postcolonial theory as a way of thinking (Mbembe 2008) for my undergraduate dissertation (achieving a first class
mark) and worked with the activist group Leipzig Postkolonial. Commencing my MA at Birmingham in 2017 I extended my knowledge base and consolidated my work thus far in my dissertation (achieving a Distinction). In this work, I conducted an analysis of the Strassen initiative in Berlin, an activist group seeking to change street names that commemorate German perpetrators of colonial violence, as a case study of underrecognised activism challenging normative memories in Germany. At Birmingham I further secured my unique skill set as a researcher through additional engagements, such as presenting mywork at the Researching Africa Day at Oxford (March 2018), demonstrating my knowledge on the power of decolonisation through the Decolonizing Knowledge and Power summer school in Barcelona (July 2018) and developing my research organisation skills through coordinating the Global Southern Epistemologies
Workshop in Hyderabad/India (December 2018), attended by 50 participants from four continents.


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