Workshop: ‘Decolonising Political Theologies’ in Conversation with James Sidaway (Zurich, 26 May 2023)

Convened by Benedikt Korf, Department of Geography, University of Zurich, with James Sidaway, Department of Geography, National University of Singapore

Date: 26 May 2023, 09:00am – 12:00pm
Venue: Collegium Helveticum, Rudolf Wolfs Saal, Schmelzbergstrasse 25, 8092 Zürich

Benedikt Korf: 

This half-day seminar will discuss James Sidaway’s forthcoming paper ‘Beyond the decolonial: Critical Muslim geographies’ and bring it in conversation with political theologies from elsewhere – beyond ‘Muslim geographies’ and beyond ‘Europe’ in a post- and/or de-colonial spirit.

James Sidaway is Professor of Political Geography at the National University of Singapore (NUS). His input will be followed by contributions from three discussants, and a lightning session.

Please register your interest with Benedikt Korf at: 

Workshop: “The Cultural Life of Democracy” (Zurich, 3-4 Nov 2022)

Convened by Harshana Rambukwella and Benedikt Korf, Department of Geography, University of Zurich

Date: 3 & 4 November 2022
Venue: Völkerkundemuseum, Universität Zürich

Harshana Rambukwella: 
Benedikt Korf: 

This workshop is a modest attempt to broaden the critical discourse on democracy by using Sri Lanka as an empirical locus, but adopting a comparative gaze beyond Sri Lanka, and to explore the possibilities of fashioning the ‘cultural life of democracy’ as a conceptual and methodological heuristic to explore democracy and democratization as an actual political practice rather than a political ideal. Politically and intellectually the project aligns with the ‘post-colonial’ spirit of exploring ‘alternative’ accounts of democracy but is also cautious of how populist-authoritarian iterations of democracy have rationalized themselves through claims to alterity. Challenging the dominance of what Chakrabarty (2000) calls ‘hyperreal Europe’ there have been attempts to understand democracy in relation to postcolonial social experience. These include, drawing on the practice of adda in Calcutta society as a form of public sphere (Chakrabarty 2000), rethinking democracy from the margins in Chile where the isolated Chachapoyas region has historically resisted integration by self-consciously constructing itself as a pre-modern and pre-political society (Nugent 2002) and examining Islamic forms of democratic participation in Arabian societies that do not follow the Turkish ‘secularist’ model (Rane 2010). Collectively, these can be understood as forms of democratic participation that do not follow a rigid definition of democratic norms. This approach to ‘provincializing’ democracy has also yielded a number of studies that attempt to map civic life in South Asian societies (Orsini 2000; Dass 2015; Scott et al. 2016). The workshop thereby aligns with the agenda of the SINERGIA project “Reversing the Gaze”, which seeks to unsettle the Eurocentrism of democratic theory.

Taking Sri Lanka’s current political crisis as well as its varied history of democracy as a case, this workshop invites critical and comparative reflection on postcolonial theories of democracy, electoral politics and political dissent beyond the Sri Lankan case. The term “cultural life” starts from the supposition that the cultural is often a site of political struggle, but also, that politics develops a cultural life of itself: in the events it celebrates, the rituals it performs, the narratives it produces and the mundane practices it follows in the everyday. Studying how exactly these different modes of political conduct are mobilized and negotiated gives us an insight into “actually existing politics” (Spencer 2007: 177). Studying actually existing politics raises normative questions: We recognize that discourses like ‘post-truth’ have led to an erosion of norms such as ‘civility’, a class-driven but vital norm theorized by scholars like Norbert Elias and Pierre Bourdieu (Thiranagama et al. 2018). Similarly, populist leaders have redefined sovereignty in self-serving ways that draw on the rhetoric of decolonization. The theoretical and political challenge, therefore is in fashioning a stance that recognizes that ‘civility’, for instance, has a loaded colonial history (Thiranagama et al. 2018: 163- 64) – but at the same time does not romanticize populism or restrict democracy to a set of culturally exclusivist markers.

Specifically, the workshop intends to explore the following interdisciplinary questions:

  1. What insights can a ‘cultural’ account of democracy offer for postcolonial societies like Sri Lanka, which ‘standard’ accounts of democracy and democratization such as the study of democratic institutions, the rule of law, etc., are unable to offer.
  2. How can we trace the ‘cultural life’ of democracy in varied forms of artistic production such as art, literature, film and theatre, but also political activism and events?
  3. What are the methodological and conceptual challenges of a project of this nature with its interdisciplinary and methodologically eclectic approach?

Workshop: “Decoloniality and the Politics of the Urban” (hybrid, 27 Oct 2022)

The Geneva Graduate Institute, the Reversing the Gaze Project and the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) invite you to participate in an upcoming workshop, exploring themes of decoloniality in relation to the politics of the urban.

Date: 27th October 2022
Time: 9:00-16:30 UK time
Format: Hybrid

What is the politics of the divide between the urban and the non-urban (semi-urban, peri-urban and the rural), in contemporary postcolonial and metropolitan contexts, as well as historical colonial contexts? The divide is fundamental to the emergence of modern states as political-economic entities – European, colonial, and developmental. It expresses a politics of concentration/scale, productivity, specialisation, and movement to be governed. Crucially, colonial histories and categories of urban and rural and their relationship to productive and unproductive labour give shape to internal hierarchies of citizenship within states. The politics of these categories manifest themselves in historic rubrics of retribalisation, and contemporary politics of internal labour migration and populist resentment. The divide is of interest as at once a material site, political framework, and historical stage for the making of colonial and postcolonial states – and potentially for the continuation of an “unfinished project of decolonisation”.

This is a unique opportunity to engage with interdisciplinary scholarship on relevant themes of decoloniality, both historical and contemporary. If you’re interested in participating in a panel, kindly submit a short abstract (no more than 200 words) to and with the title ‘Decoloniality Workshop Submission’ and your name and affiliation by October 3th, 2022. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Tanushree at

Workshop: “Researching the (un)familiar” (Basel, 17 Oct 2022)

Workshop in the framework of the sub-project When there are Strangers in Our Midst. Citizenship, Migration and Re-tribalisation in Switzerland

Time & date: Monday, 17 October 2022, 10:00-16:00 CET
Venue: Centre for African Studies Basel, Rheinsprung 21, 4051 Basel, room 00.002

This research workshop examines experiences of doing research in familiar and unfamiliar contexts. The familiar/unfamiliar are understood as fluid and mutually non-exclusive, and may refer to different aspects of the researcher’s biographical, social or intellectual relation to the specific regional and historical context she/he works on. The workshop focuses on methodological challenges and conceptual issues with a focus on doing research in Europe and in Africa. The workshop draws on research in the framework of the study “When there are Strangers in Our Midst. Citizenship, Migration and Re-tribalisation in Switzerland” (a case study of the Reversing the Gaze project).


10:15-12:00 – Session 1

  • Introduction by Elísio Macamo
  • Keynote by Peter Geschiere followed by discussion

12:00-14:00 – Lunch break

14:00-16:00 – Session 2

  • Presentation of current research by Winnie Kanyimba and Matthias Maurer
  • Final discussion



  • Elísio Macamo (Centre for African Studies Basel/Department of Social Sciences, University of Basel)
  • Pascal Schmid (Centre for African Studies Basel)

Registration form