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Dynamics of space and Gender: discovering – conquering – inventing – narrating
The interdisciplinary study of space and gender and how they mutually influence one another was the central theme at the heart of the research training group. The group drew on two of the most important developments in recent decades and brought them together in one context, namely: the change in gender order and the change in spatial order, the latter of which is most often studied within the context of globalization. Our starting point was the recognition that in many contemporary works on space, the category “gender” becomes increasingly de-emphasized as the focus of the research becomes broader or more global. As a result we aimed to investigate the interrelations of space and gender constituents as they are constructed in present-day and historical societies, both in and outside of Europe. Our research applied social, ethnic, historical and literary approaches and integrated subject disciplines that include English and German philology, Canadian, Arabic, and Islamic studies, ethnology, history, sociology, theology, ethics and the history of medicine.

We believed that the interlinking of space and gender would result in new impulses in the humanities and social and cultural sciences that are equally meaningful for both research disciplines. The debates over “intersectionality” in gender research that for some time now have dealt with issues that either reinforce or relativize aspects of “race, class and gender”, may become significantly enhanced through concepts of spatial research. Until now a general relationality has often been established without bringing the single dimensions together into one context. Gender research, on the other hand, profits from spatial research in that a spatial definition based on action theory makes it possible to observe micro processes of social positioning from a multidimensional and dynamic viewpoint.

In recent decades the research landscape in most of the disciplines associated with the research training group has, from a historical standpoint, undergone similar transformations. This began in the 1970’s and 1980’s due to new approaches in social history which further evolved in the 1990’s as a result of new methodologies in cultural research. These implied a rejection of the methods applied in structural history and a leaning towards action based theories of research designs. This new approach allowed for a meticulate analysis of individual circumstances, attitudes, and subjective options that resulted in action. Although the difference in perspective was important, in recent years a new trend has emerged in which these genuinely cultural approaches are starting to position themselves into a social and structural-historical context. This is possibly an important reason for the development of the so-called “spatial turn”, in connection with – what is to all appearances – a rapidly globalizing world. The spatial perspective readdresses the relationship between “structure” and “action” in a new context. This is based on a relational definition of space in which space is created through activity, which it then comes to characterize. This interaction merely implies that the structural framework of action is created through activity. It is not important to decide in advance which structural dimension is central in the diverse and multidimensional concept of space, such as the question of class or social standing, educational gaps, center-periphery relationships, or, for that matter, the meaning of gender.

Finally, we hoped to find new answers to contemporary questions that are relevant in a globalized world by applying transcultural perspectives. This represented a central topic for the research training group, a topic which is also gaining in importance among the related disciplines. An increased transcultural understanding is reliant on multiple perspectives and an interdisciplinary exchange. For this reason, we brought together a network of experts from various fields, complemented by a series of international cooperation partners from all over the world. Among these partners was the Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity here in Göttingen. The groups’ expertise covers the Middle Ages up to modern and postmodern times, the research of German and European relations and stretches from the Arabic world to India and South East Asia, Canada and Latin America.

Grafik “Dynamiken von Raum und Geschlecht”

The RTG focused on four distinct areas of concentration, one of which represents the basis for a shared foundation, namely theoretical dimensions. The other three are referred to as “dimensions of embodiment”, “dimensions of location” and “dimensions of entanglement”. The programme’s subtitle “discovering, conquering, inventing, and narrating” further illustrates the relationship between each of these interrelated research areas.
The imaginary realm is inherent in literature but also in real spatial and gender orders, which find expression in the verbs “discovering” and “narrating”. The latter signifies a concept that binds all terms, referring to the constructed character of the concepts of space and gender and elements of their constitution, which again become evident through the medium of narration. The dimensions of power, domination and control are part of constructed or constitutional processes that find expression in the terms “discover” and “conquer”. Indeed, spatial realms also undergo discovery and conquest in the same metaphorical sense that gender and the sexes do.

The reference to these four verbs is designed to enhance the interdisciplinary discourse between the various research areas. This is why it is not possible to associate the verbs to any specific discipline in our diagram. The implied permeability symbolizes the reciprocal interchange between the different areas, whether they are small entities, as in the human body, easily understandable, such as a city district on a map, or they stretch over continents, as in large, modern day migration movements. All of these spaces exert an influence over one another. Complex hierarchies may develop between these spaces regardless of size or magnitude. The implied permeability between research disciplines makes it possible to concentrate on an advanced perspective in one research area without losing sight of overlapping dimensions in others.

Theoretical Dimensions
A theoretical understanding of the different spatial concepts was important to all doctoral projects. Whether the topic of space is related to physical geography, law, or has a religious or cultural-historical context, whether studying virtual, imaginary, allegorical or utopic orders, or whether the body is interpreted as its own space, the definition of space changes respectively. The starting point for defining spatial dimensions was the research project itself, in which the project’s parameters made it necessary to define the term of space in a new unique context. In addition, we wanted use the study programme (and the discussion with experts from different research disciplines) and the ensuing workshops and conferences as a stage to influence and contribute to current debates on spatial definitions and gender research.

Dimensions of Embodiment
The research focal point “Dimensions of Embodiment” is the study of spatial research in connection with the human body, and how it has evolved in recent decades, most importantly within the context of gender studies and the history of science. Possible thesis topics included the study of different body images, corporal experiences and moments of corporeality in different periods, regions and cultures from a gender perspective. Based on the assumption that there is an interrelationship between “European expansion” and the “expansion of science”, it was possible to imagine projects – to name a concrete example – that deal with the history of anatomy and natural history, as well as natural sciences in a broader context. From a socio-cultural perspective, it was also possible to imagine other works that analyze the newest developments in pharmacology, genetics and neurosciences (gendermapping). In terms of men’s studies, the study of hegemony and subordinate masculinity in connection with ethnic “racialised” bodies are additional themes that invited further study.

Dimensions of Location
A relational definition of space implies the distinction between “area” and “location”. Location describes a concrete, namable site, whereas “area” comes together through activity. This distinction can be taken a step further based on the conditions and effects of “location”, so that different areas of activity are sought after. This distinction is all the more important with respect to hybrid areas, border areas or global areas. These processes of location are always accompanied by other processes of hierarchy or leveling, exclusion or inclusion, and the establishment or leveling of control or power structures. Topics for doctoral theses included themes on the relationship between the private and public sectors, including certain non-European regions, a popular topic of inquiry that began in the 1970’s. Another area of study included what is frequently presumed to be the dichotomies of social life, such as the dichotomy of open or closed, known or unknown gender areas, areas of suffering or effective action, or the relationship between holy or profane areas, which has recently received much attention.

Further examples of possible research projects included the study of current and historical areas of knowledge and the formation of knowledge in relation to processes of knowledge generation and how gender is continually renegotiated. Another topic of study was the meaning of spaces and locations in literary texts and how power and gender relations come together in this context.

Dimensions of Entanglement
The relationship between location and space fundamentally refers to the relationship between local and global areas. Local and global dimensions of space are always interrelated. Our research training group attempted to assess this premise and study current and historical perspectives on the formation of national, transnational and global areas of gender. The effects this has had and still has on the formation of new areas of gender relations, which have emerged via transfer and entanglement remains an open topic of inquiry.
Premodern or modern travel literature, knowledge representation through map analyses, literary processing of immigration experiences (enclave writing), case studies on qualitative interviews and much more were but a starting point for carrying out research projects on the change of identity or national self-perception and perception by others, the development of hybrid networks or transcontinental families, and the mutual influence of economic and cultural entanglements (consumption, tourism and much more).

Fundamentally, the following applies:
Many more examples of research projects are available, and the ones mentioned above have been used for mere illustration. Indeed, we realized that our doctoral students provided us with thesis topics that represent still unknown, new territory waiting to be explored, discovered, conquered, invented and narrated.

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