“The Relationships I Am Investigating Are Knowledge Relationships” – Interview with Stella Kneifel
We regularly introduce scholars that work in the project by letting them answer three short questions. Today, we talk to Stella Kneifel. She joined the University of Erfurt as a PhD student in history in 2018 and the project “Relations in the Ideoscape” in March 2019. She holds degrees in Sociology and Education from the University of Jena (B.A.) and in Middle Eastern Sociology and History from the University of Erfurt (M.A.).
What will you be working on while being involved with the “Knowledge Unbound” project and what did you work on before?
By co-creating an exhibition with Birgit Schäbler and Syrian and German students at the University of Erfurt that compares the peaceful revolution in the GDR in 1989 and the short Syrian spring of 2011 during my master’s studies (history, sociology and anthropology of the Middle East) I encountered the theme of the interdependence between the GDR and the Arab states.
Since autumn 2018 I deepened this theme by working on my dissertation within the “Relations in the Ideoscape” project. I examine the complex relationships between the GDR and the countries of the Middle East, which could be established by allocation of scholarships to students of social science and teacher exchanges. I am especially interested in the emerging discipline of sociology and the discipline of philosophy as well as the students and teachers active in it. The main objects of investigation are relationships that could arise through the exchange of knowledge, which under certain circumstances still have an effect today.
What role does the concept of “knowledge” play in your own research?
The relationships I am investigating are knowledge relationships. I examine what knowledge Arab students acquired and were taught in the GDR and what they did with it during the course of their lives.. Did it change, expande or even harm them when they returned to their home countries?
By exploring knowledge relationships through the biographies of Arab students, “the knowledge of the time” can be discerned and it is also possible to see how long and how intensively the knowledge relationships were maintained after their studies. As it turned out there are still relationships that have been established through their studies as of today. To give an example, there is a network of former Palestinian students of the GDR in Germany who founded an association. According to the motto “we were helped in the GDR, today we want to help others”, they developed concepts to pass on knowledge, skills and already existing contacts to Palestinian students today. This shows that the knowledge relations gained in the GDR continue today and are inter alia used as social capital.
Have there been any surprising moments in your research recently?
I am consistently surprised by the multiple exciting stories and biographies of former Arab students in the GDR. What surprised me recently was the following: Palestinian students of social sciences in the GDR noticed several contradictions. For example, the contradiction between the scholarly (taught in university) and lived Marxism-Leninism, as a former law student told me in an oral history interview. However, the common language and the way of thinking in the ideoscape was a strong bond between the Palestinian and GDR society that should not be endangered – despite all the contradictions, the GDR was a common intellectual home.