Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Transnational “Infrastructures” of Knowledge and the Cultural Foundations of the 21st Century Non-profit Organization

Vanessa Dirksen


The project proposes the conduct of a cross-cultural comparative investigation of the ways in which institutional knowledge is negotiated in contemporary transnational nonprofit organizations. This investigation is urged by processes of digitalization and the increasing interconnection of knowledge practices. The circulation of knowledge from various hitherto unconnected sites not only causes a pluralization of knowledges, it furthermore assumes the increased exposure to “alternative”, and often marginalized, knowledges. Allegedly, this exposure challenges prevailing classificatory oppositions of formal/ informal; procedural/experiential and indigenous/Western, and incites processes of knowledge hybridization bringing forth qualitatively new kinds of knowledges.

The general aim of the project is to show how such processes of knowledge blending evolve and how the resultant “hybrid” knowledges are acted upon in the various local contexts of a transnational, governmental or non- governmental, organization. This is studied in the field of European migration. In order to study the impact knowledge hybridization might have on the cultural foundations of nonprofit organizations concerned with matters of European migration, the empirical work of the study starts off with the investigation of an important enabler of transnational knowledge flows: the internet-enabled knowledge network. Cases are drawn from the more institutionalized networks such as for instance the European Migration Network as well as from networks that are not directly committed to an institution, e.g., Diaspora networks.

The study of knowledge hybridization processes presupposes a view of knowledge as both representation and “knowing in practice”. First, and in line with the notion of knowledge as representation, the digital networks of the study (to be specified at a later point in time) are studied as boundary objects. Broadly defined, boundary objects refer to the spaces where various social worlds intersect. Studying digital networks from the perspective of the boundary object entails the investigation of the conversation and interaction of its members as “captured” by the system. This is done by means of (online) ethnomethodological conversation analysis. The second line of research concerns the ways in which the represented knowledges are adapted to specific sites of knowledge application through processes of “translation” and “enactment”. This is studied by means of ethnographic participant observation. For the reflection on the empirical material, theoretical insights are predominantly drawn from globalization studies (i.e., on cultural integration), the anthropology of knowledge (i.e., on the concept of indigenous knowledge), and social studies of science and technology (i.e., on interdisciplinarity and the work of classification).