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Accepted Paper:

‘No Racism at Our Front Door’: an ethnological institute, a problematic street name and engaged anthropology  
Duane Jethro (University of Cape Town)

Paper short abstract:

This paper profiles the negotiation of disciplinary and political stakes that arise in taking responsibility for colonial legacies looking at the Institute for European Ethnology’s (Humboldt University, Berlin) public support for and engagement with the public debate about renaming Mohrenstraße.

Paper long abstract:

This paper analyses what is at stake in taking account of one’s disciplinary position in debates that concern colonial legacies in the city. It focuses on the decision of the Institute for European Ethnology, at the Humboldt University, to issue a public statement announcing its support for the activist driven call for the renaming of the Mohrenstrasse in Berlin. An anachronistic racist term for dark skinned peoples from North Africa, the street name has a fiercely contested legacy linked to the presence of black Africans in Berlin, the royal urban history of the city and the German slave trade in particular. The IfEE has been located on the Mohrenstrasse for more than two decades, but only issued a clear public statement as a unit in 2020, despite periodic internal debate about the name and sustained student concern about it. The shift was distinct in the German academy as a coordinated move to activate the anthropological enterprise beyond ‘objective’ research and analysis for public engagement with matters of race, difference and the colonial past in the very local context. Organising public walks, participating in activist events, arranging for engaged learning spaces and programming teaching around the problematic name of the street, the Institutes’ various public activities around the debate threw into relief the stakes framing distinctions between activism and academia, research and resistance, pedagogy and politics. The paper sketches the important, robust scholarly negotiation of this vexing, yet very mundane, grappling with difficult heritage at the door.

Panel Irre08a
Taking responsibility for the past: heritage ethics in an era of cultural protectionism I
  Session 1 Friday 2 April, 2021, -