Interview with Prof. Dr Claudia Derichs (Senior Fellow)

Photo taken by the Käte Hamburger Kolleg’s team

Photo taken by the Käte Hamburger Kolleg’s team.                                   “What we should admit nowadays is that knowledge production is done in a very hegemonic way. There are so many things around us that we take for granted and as universal but things are not universal and they are not normal, it is just our way of looking at things and judging them that is normative…”

Written by Yanda T. Bango, 01 April 2015


Professor Claudia Derichs is a senior fellow at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research. Asked why she joined the centre, she stated that it is because what the centre does suits her research interests, additionally, she knows some of the people from the centre who she has always liked working with. As a lover of Duisburg, working and living in the city is a perfect combination for her. The research that she is currently conducting in the centre is Knowledge Production and Global Cooperation.

Derichs, born in a small village 1km from the Netherlands and later changed her nationality to German at 15, believes that her decision to become a researcher was clear from a very young age in her life. She states that this is because from early on she had been politicized; the thought of entering the capitalist corporate world was thus not possible for her.  Before commencing with her Bachelor’s studies she knew that she would not be studying anything in natural sciences or technical studies. She expresses that she loved languages and thus enrolled for a programme to start being a translator and chose Japanese and Arabic which she combined with social sciences in her Bachelor’s studies. She then moved on to her PHD where she eventually became a social scientist who is very much interested in the world and its different regions, hence her interest and focus in development studies.  As chair of Comparative Politics and International Development Studies, she is now based at the University of Marburg, Germany.  She states that her inner feeling is still resting on a strong pillar in Area Studies.

Derichs expresses that what inspired her to study Arabic and Japanese languages was “a pure fascination, a whole lot of curiosity and the drive to know”; she wanted to develop the ability to listen, speak, write and essentially communicate in more than one language. Her recent presentation at the centre is titled Invisible connectivities: sharing principles and concepts in transnational and translocal settings. What she brings out in this paper is that Area Studies is still linked to geographical spaces and this affects our process of knowledge production. In her work she also tries to look at what connects people beyond the conventional demarcations of geographical spaces and in this case discovers that people also connect through emotional, spiritual and religious beliefs. She finds that emotional geographies, in the Muslim case, are also strong features in the sense that a creation of emotional comfort zone is bestowed in principles and ideologies.

One of the most important issues that Derichs raises is that knowledge production is done in a very hegemonic way.  She asserts that “there are so many things around us that we take for granted and as universal but things are not universal and they are not “normal”, it is just our way of looking at things and judging that renders them “normal” – a very normative behaviour. This is something that the whole apparatus of producing knowledge, in this part of the world in particular, has to acknowledge. Everyone can relate to the lopsidedness that knowledge production accepts when scholars are instrumentalized for nation-building and ideological indoctrination”. She adds that writing history is always a biased project, but on a larger scale we also have to admit that this is not confined to small localities or to nation-states but to the global-state as well. For Derichs, “knowledge production is very biased; we are glossing over a lot of things that are simply never put onto the scholarly market”.

Derichs expresses that what she views to be one of the basic differences between social sciences and other sciences is that social science is not able to conduct experimental research in the laboratory; “we always do it with the reality at hand, with people in their normal course of life.  We do not put people in prison and see how they look after one year”. She criticises this as the very reason social science is regarded weaker than natural science “yet everyone knows that people’s behaviour is not based on hard facts, numbers and things that we can always measure. People are led by very different motivations; we can only get close to analysing these realities when we take into account that there is something apart from physical and chemical laws”.

Responding to the issue of what she thinks needs to be researched more on, Derichs states that there is too much concentration on the very surrounding that people live in. In her words: “I notice that because the discipline in which I work is so much concentrated in not only Germany but Europe, and when you are in another part of the world no one cares much about Europe so I would love it if people could learn beyond Europe and go outside it as well”.

Derichs feels that there are so many ways in which one’s scholarly work can bridge the gap between social research and practical life. For her, it begins with a simple thing such as cooking, trying to make other people appreciate different tastes. She adds that coming with the tastes also means learning about different cultures. This, for her, is one example that translates to everyday life and of course in the very basic communication. She also asserts that “you can translate your scholarly world view into situations that occur in daily life, in particular by trying to somehow raise people’s awareness towards being tolerant and accepting of difference”.

Lastly, Derichs believes that people feel they are connected to somebody else, to another part of the world just because these people know that we share a certain faith, a certain confidence, belief; we share certain values and this has expanded to cover quite a lot of people and geographical spaces. She asserts that we can’t ignore this anymore, “there is something happening, people feel a certain kind of belonging and this is important to them because everyone is thinking about the good life. In development studies we are also thinking about the good life but we are not asking the people what they think the good life is”. Ultimately, here main point is that we need to be more inclusive of what is happening in the world.

Book Challenge:

Professor Claudia Derich’s top ten books

  • Tamim Ansary: Die unbekannte Mitte der Welt. Globalgeschichte aus islamischer Sicht [The unknown center of the world. Global history from an Islamic Perspective]
  • Brigitte Steger: (Keine) Zeit zum Schlafen [(No) Time to Sleep]
  • Anja Desiree Senz: Korruption in Hongkong [Corruption in Hongkong]
  • Nawal El-Saadawi: The Hidden Face of Eve – Women in the Arab World
  • Somaly Mam: Das Schweigen der Unschuld [The Silence of Innocence]
  • Rania Al -Baz: Entstellt [Disfigured]
  • Tash Aw: The Harmony Silk Factory
  • Rani Manicka: Töchter des Monsuns
  • Lisa See: Sun Flower and the Secret Fan
  • Ellis Avery: The Teahouse Fire
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