CRC 228

Future Rural Africa: Research Profile of the Collaborative Research Centre

The Collaborative Research Center (CRC) combines expertise from two complementary centers of excellence at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne to study newly emerging issues of social-ecological transformation and future-making in Africa. It takes current largescale land-use change in rural Africa as its starting point. Focusing on the two seemingly opposite, yet often mutually constitutive processes of intensification and conservation, it investigates their impact on social-ecological transformation in the context of three major growth corridors in eastern and southern Africa. While social-ecological transformation is commonly understood in relation to past processes, this CRC takes a different perspective: It conceptualizes social-ecological transformation as an expression of ‘future-making’. Resonating with current debates in the interdisciplinary field of future studies, this means that potential futures and the different ideas of how they can be realized are seen to have a decisive impact on current land-use dynamics, especially through diverse processes and politics of anticipation. ‘Future-making’ refers to physical changes as well as social practices that link the present to the future in various ways. Whereas natural scientists primarily study how a ‘future of probabilities’ is anticipated in different forms of calculation, measurements and models, the social scientists also take into account how a ‘future of possibilities’ takes shape in visions and imaginations. Together, the projects of the CRC will analyze how such different approaches to the future inform practices of large-scale land-use change, and how they relate to each other. Special emphasis will be put on surprises and unintended sideeffects of future-making, which play a key role in characterizing rural Africa today.

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The CRC is structured in three project groups, each organized around a bridging concept that addresses specific aspects of social-ecological transformation and future-making (Figure 1). Project group A (‘coupling’) studies the articulation between social and ecological subsystems, B (‘boundaries’) looks at the shifting zones of interaction and confrontation, and C (‘linkages’) explores cross-scalar drivers, connections and causations. Empirical research focuses on development hubs in the Kenyan Rift Valley, the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania, and the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. The CRC builds upon profound research experience of the applicants and African counterparts, amplifies the unique combination of expertise at the universities of Bonn and Cologne, fosters partnerships with scholars and scientific institutions in Africa, and aims at making Bonn-Cologne one of the leading centers of innovative research in the emerging field of futures studies and social ecology in Africa.

Link to the project homepage here.

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