‘If you are a racist, a terrorist, or a sexist, please go.’ This is a sign at a community café in Viertel, a hip neighbourhood in the city of Bremen. It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m sipping my coffee while reading the sign at this local hub. The space is eager to communicate a moral stance to its customers. Another sign adjacent to the first one reads: ‘We don’t have Wi-Fi. We believe in conversation.’
Perhaps if I scouted more closely, I’d have discovered more such beliefs. However, true to the Sunday lack of inertia, I merely subject myself to textual messages within reach.
In a way, this is a trifle amusing. I picture a so-called terrorist respecting this rule and skipping coffee here. I picture an Aha moment for a customer who sees himself as a neo-Nazi and realises he doesn’t belong. And we mustn’t forget the possible confusion by the “or” in the message, with a sexist terrorist struggling to choose one identity over another in their self-reflection. I know I’m being silly here, but so is this sign.
Conversation is encouraged but not across the aisle it seems.
I’m currently a visiting research fellow at ZEMKI, a Media and Communication centre at the University of Bremen. Such fellowships are a great way to immerse yourself in alternative academic cultures.
Payal Arora is an Associate Professor at Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication
Community cafés and academic departments have much in common these days it seems. What were once seemingly neutral grounds for social interaction are becoming platforms for political expression. You wear your politics on your sleeve. You bond with those who give the right virtue signalling. Principles should be clear and boundaries should be solid.
Nuance is read as compromise.
Black and white perspectives strive to promote diversity. Exclusion becomes embedded in inclusive rhetoric that may diffuse across a department.
While academia is infused with autonomy, academic cultures are becoming deeply communal.
That’s why I love fellowships. When we remove ourselves from our places of academic habitation, we are confronted with the fact that our lived scholarly communities are driven by certain biases, which make their way into our research and teaching, often subconsciously.
As we move from one university to another, we are compelled to learn a new language and embrace a new set of urgencies.
The very term ‘fellow’ is a good reminder that we are part of a larger tribe, beyond department politics.
We get to take the academic oath, swearing our allegiance to the love of the free idea.