Trafo Annual Conference - Knowledge and Society in Times of Upheaval

The annual conference hosted by the Forum Transregionale Studien and the Max Weber Foundation offers scholars from various countries the opportunity to discuss key political, cultural, economic and social themes in transregional perspective and to have interchanges with respect to processes of internationalization in the humanities and social sciences. The series of conferences make the field of transregional research accessible to a broader public, particularly from the spheres of science, politics and the media.

On November 20 and 21st 2018, the Annual Conference “Knowledge and Society in Times of Upheaval” took place at the Wissenschaftszentrum für Sozialforschung Berlin (WZB) in Berlin. It was jointly convened by Andreas Eckert (HU Berlin/Forum Transregionale Studien), Simone Lässig (GHI Washington) and Franz Waldenberger (DIJ Tokyo) and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF).

The concept of a knowledge society has featured prominently in both academic and public discussions. In recent years it has been supplemented by the internet, digitalization, big data, and the specter of artificial intelligence. While knowledge is always socially constructed, access to knowledge is economically and politically determined. Knowledge and its dissemination define, control and sustain power relations and social rank. In its applied form as technology and skills, knowledge constitutes a productive asset essential for competitive advantage, innovation and growth. But what happens when knowledge becomes data? How do technological innovations transform the relationship of the individual or the community to state and society? How do societies cope with the unprecedented growth of knowledge and the scale of its dissemination and control? What are the links between knowledge, technology and the transformation of publics and labor?

We live in times of great upheaval. The political and epistemic order established in the 19th and 20th centuries appears in disarray as new authoritarian movements and unprecedented forms of control challenge both the ideas and practice of liberal democracy. This change is increasingly perceived as a crisis, and the mobility of people, goods and ideas have emerged as issues of controversy and containment. The conference will focus on four constitutive relations: 1) new infrastructures as drivers of change, 2) discourses and publics, 3) migration and mobility, and 4) labor and technological change. A closing roundtable discussion will address the question of knowledge and society in light of the state of Europe today.

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