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Knowledge Ecologies North America: Changing Patterns in a Global Dynamic

Sabine Sielke, University of Bonn

“Knowledge Ecologies North America: Changing Patterns in a Global Dynamic” is a Bonn-based research project in which scholars from the Universities of Bonn, Cologne, and Mannheim cooperate with colleagues working in other parts of Europe, the United States and Canada, as well as Taiwan. Our interdisciplinary collaboration takes off from the following observation: Societies increasingly rely on knowledge as an indispensable resource. Concepts of knowledge – often seen as more than data and information, yet less than competence, expertise, creativity, or wisdom –, modes of knowledge production and circulation, and access to knowledge have consequently become key issues of scholarly and public debate. These discussions frequently turn their attention to the particularities of North American spaces and institutions of knowledge production. Significantly enough, North America – we fully acknowledge the impact of Mexico, yet place our focus on the U.S. and Canada – has retained its crucial position in knowledge production and distribution despite major shifts in global power constellations. The United States in particular have established themselves as a world region generating forms of knowledge that circulate ‘successfully’ on a transcultural and transnational scale and drive globalization. If expectations concerning economic futures capitalize on regions of East Asia, Latin America, and, more recently, Africa, when it comes to knowledge cultures, the global gaze continues to be on North America.

This dynamic raises pertinent questions: What has turned many North American campuses into spaces that keep attracting scholars and students from all over the world? What conditions have been conducive to North American adaptations of knowledge evolved elsewhere and to the local production of innovative, new knowledges? What kinds of locally produced knowledge are particularly viable and productive in and beyond North America? How does knowledge travel, get adapted and transformed – and what kinds of knowledge do not travel? How have shifting media ecologies affected concepts of knowledge and its circulation? How do processes of global migration and cultural translation play into all this? And, as a consequence, how do what we call North American “knowledge ecologies” in turn respond to shifts in a global dynamic? We propose that the paradigm of ecology, defined by zoologist Ernst Haeckel in 1870 as “the science of the economy, of the household of animal organisms,” offers a particularly suitable and fruitful approach to effectively answer these questions.