Street Names, Race, Anthropology and Difference
Entering the Making Differences research project as a black South African, I bring a historically informed set of experiences of political change and professional research expertise on heritage and nation building to Berlin. My areas of expertise are the cultural production of heritage and contested public cultures, with special attention to material culture, aesthetics and the senses, as illustrated in my book, Heritage Formation and the Senses in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Aesthetics of Power. My unusual professional and embodied situation in the German academy forms part of the comparative anthropological sensibility I bring to analysis of how difference and diversity are presented and worked through in heritage debates in Berlin.
My research focuses on the negotiation of race, power, possession and belonging in public heritage settings. Between 2017 and 2019, I held a Georg Forster Alexander von Humboldt Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship and was also based at CARMAH. I comparatively engaged with how decolonisation was mobilised in Berlin as a language for the surfacing and critical engagement with colonial legacies in the city as compared to South Africa. Specifically, I looked at activist identification of, and attempts to change, street names with colonial associations in the African Quarter in the district of Wedding.
My current research looks at the 2020 debate about the contested cultural and historical meaning of the Mohrenstrasse street name in the district of Mitte. It maps a contemporary history of the debate as contested between activists, historians, politicians and residents, and especially focuses on the Institute for European Ethnology’s (IfEE) 2020 decision to mobilise a neighbourhood initiative that supports the activist campaign to commemoratively rename the street in honour of the black German philosopher Anton Wilhelm Amo. It entails collaborative engagement in thinking about what the situated production of anthropological knowledge about belonging and the past may mean, what an engaged public anthropology can look like, and critical reflection on the social, political and epistemological dynamics that arise in the process of active participation in public debate about the past.