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Research Areas

The JFKI’s Graduate School of North American Studies (GSNAS) has been funded by the German Research Foundation as part of the Excellence Initiative since 2006. Following the Excellence Initiative, Freie Universität Berlin has pledged to sustain the School as one of its most successful Ph.D. programs and most internationally visible research institutions. Due to the GSNAS’s continued academic achievements, the School has secured additional funds from both the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Einstein Foundation Berlin.

In its academic framework, the Graduate School is dedicated to a comprehensive interdisciplinary analysis of North American societies from the early modern era to the present. Between 2019 and 2024, the GSNAS’s Research Focus will be on "Transformations of 'Democracy‘ in North America". To investigate transformations of democratic practice that have shaped the histories, societies, cultures, literatures, politics, and economies of the United States and Canada, the Graduate School’s study program has been organized into eight interdisciplinary research areas.

 


RA I

Culture
History
Literature
Sociology
Political Science

American Conceptions of Democracy between Canonization and Crisis

Key Topics:

  • Contemporary discourses on the crisis of democracy
  • “Democracy” as self-description in North American politics, culture and society
  • Democracy and democratization as elements of U.S. and Canadian foreign policy
  • The United States and Canada as democracies ‘in the world’
  • Democracy as a discursive construct, communicative practice, and literary imagination: metaphor, narration, dramaturgy
  • Analytical frameworks: cyclical systemic crises or fundamental change?
  • “We the People”: Immigration and Citizenship

 

 


RA II

Literature
Culture
History
Sociology
Political
Science
Economics

Race, Gender and Class as Competing Elements of North American Ideals of Democratization

Key Topics:

  • “Identity politics” and/as/vs. “lifestyle politics”
  • Indigenous activism in international perspective
  • The literary public sphere as a national and transnational field of cultural democratization
  • The Mexican-American borderlands as a transnational space
  • Indigeneity in a post-colonial age
  • Urban racial politics in the United States and Canada
  • Racism and the topos of “a culture of poverty” in North American discourses on democracy
  • Concepts and techniques of multicultural mediation, representation, and participation
  • Multiculturalism and religious freedom

 



RA III

Political Science
Economics
History
Sociology
Culture

Multi-Polarization of American Politics

Key Topics:

  • Multiple polarizations and alliances: market radicalism (left-wing and right-wing neoliberalism), nationalism, ‘classical’ liberalism, progressivism, and American socialism
  • The role of religion and faith-based communities across the American political spectrum
  • Shortcomings in democratic governance; tendencies of de-democratization in the United States and Canada
  • Democracy and representation in the “multi-level” systems of Canada and the United States
  • Structural origins of dysfunctionalities of the U.S. political system
  • Tensions between public and private accountability in North American democracies
  • Alt-right and the neo-fascist International

 



RA IV

Literature
Culture
Sociology
History

Aesthetics of Democracy

Key Topics:

  • Competing concepts and practices of democratic art throughout American history
  • Crises of representation as democratic crises?
  • Democratized aesthetics and quotidian digital media
  • Competing practices of democratic aesthetics in American literature after postmodern avant-gardism
  • Academization of popular culture vs. popularization of ‘high’-cultural sectors
  • The media ecology of North American democracies
  • The politics of language and issues of multilingualism in the United States and Canada
  • Aestheticization of politics

 


RA V

Sociology
Culture
Literature
Political
Science
History
Economics

Publics and Counterpublics

Key Topics:

  • Developments after the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine
  • Literature, film and television as subsets of the public sphere
  • Changes in the literary field in reaction to the ‘attention economy’ and digital communication
  • News cultures: medial and political dynamics of ‘the news’ in North America
  • Social media and the new structural transformation of the public sphere (in the fields of print media, post-cinema, and digital-age television)
  • Public and Cultural Diplomacy and its domestic repercussions
  • (New) political cultures of affect
  • Social articulation and political mobilization in times of #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo

 


RA VI

Economics
History
Political
Science
Sociology

Economic and Financial Crises

Key Topics:

  • Financial crises in historical perspective
  • North American trade in international perspective
  • Political and social dimensions of the financial crisis
  • The significance of global disequilibrium
  • Financialization of the North American economy
  • Financialization of North American politics
  • Economics and democratic theory
  • Modernization and international cooperation

 


RA VII

Economics
Political
Science
Sociology
History

Democracy and Inequality

Key Topics:

  • Socioeconomic inequality and political reform throughout American history
  • Societal effects of inequality
  • The evolution of functional income distribution in the digital age
  • Tax-transfer-spending battle lines in the fiscal future
  • The decline of the middle class and the crisis of democracy
  • The financial system and the political economy of ‘rent-seeking’
  • Democracy and the future of work
  • Mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion

 


RA VIII

Political Science
History
Culture
Literature

Globalization, Democracy and (the End of?) American Hegemony

Key Topics:

  • “America First”? Challenges to US-American hegemony
  • Transnational networks and human rights
  • The ‘foreign policy’ of American culture
  • North American nation branding and nation building
  • Multilateralism and global governance
  • Sovereignty as an (endangered) ideal of state action
  • Imaginary and political meanings of borders and border security
  • Contemporary societal dynamics of migration
  • Populism as a (global) challenge

 

This research program aims to provide an interdisciplinary framework for investigating American notions, imaginations, and practices of “democracy,” especially in the areas of domestic and foreign policy, economic development, cultural production, literary processing, and the negotiation of social relations in a multi-ethnic society, as well as on the level of media-ecological change. Our analysis of these aspects is grounded in a research-oriented and curriculum-based collaboration of six disciplines from the humanities and the social sciences. Experts from related disciplines such as Comparative Literature, Film and Theater Studies as well as Latin American Studies serve as affiliated faculty members of the Graduate School and are available as additional Ph.D. mentors.

 

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
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