Research Projects

• SFB Future Rural Africa - Projekt C04 Smart Futures

• Appraising risk, past and present: Interrogating historical data to enhance understanding of environmental crises in the Indian Ocean World: Contemporary Policy (SSHRC)

• DFG-Projekt Gecko Translocalities. The negotiation of social and ecological values in human-animal relations between Germany and the Indian Ocean

• Communication in times of disaster: Investigating the potential and pitfalls of mobile communication technologies to enhance early warning and disaster preparedness in Zimbabwe

• Future housing: Sustainable Urban Housing Projects in Zanzibar and the role of diaspora investments


Research Focus

  • Digital Geographies

  • Cultural Geographies of the Global South

  • Maritime Geographies

Digital Geographies

Virtuality, Mobility and Space

One research focus is the everyday implication of increasing digitalisation. How is real and virtual space related? Which implications do virtual connections and spaces have in relation to translocal life? What role does digital communication technology play in the context of migration?

Smart Development

Large-scale land use change, particularly in relation to programmes striving for agricultural intensification, often comes along with substantial changes in the organisation of farming practices. Soils only recently converted into agricultural land, newly founded cooperatives, outgrower schemes, a different selection of crops, novel irrigation systems and emerging commodity chains severely alter the setting for small-scalefarmers and bring with it new uncertainties, generally amplified by increasing climatic variability, fluctuating market prices and rather unstable infrastructural and political contexts. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), especially in the form of the ever more ubiquitous mobile phone, are usually perceived as actual or at least potential tools to help farmers tackle these uncertainties.

By providing access to knowledge about future events and developments (weather forecasts, pricedevelopments etc.) they are meant to both increase agricultural productivity and make it more sustainable. The project therefore takes the debate on “Information and Communication Technologies for Development” (ICT4D) as a point of departure to study how future-related knowledge becomes mediated through mobile information services (m-services) and how such m-services, in turn, form a decisive part of future-making in rural Africa today. Focusing on the ways in which m-services in the agricultural sector are generated and inform farming practices, the project addresses three interrelated questions:



1) What visions of (agricultural) development for rural Africa are mediated through mobile information services?

2) How do mobile services, by linking scientists, development actors and users, translate probabilistic futures into risk-mitigating instructions?

3) How do mobile services, by providing a specific kind of knowledge and guidance, transform human-nature relationships, i.e. the way users perceive and act on nature?

By doing so, the project contributes to a more thorough understanding of the ways in which the digital mediation of future-oriented knowledge leads to socio-ecological transformation, for example, by linking previously experience-based forms of knowing and acting with more calculative and probabilistic approaches to the future.

For more insight see Projects:

Cultural Geographies of the Global South

Our research group addresses current dynamics in transregional mobility in the Indian ocean in various research projects. One focus is mobility and appropriation of scientific discourse of Indian Ocean studies in the research project “Post-terrestrial Area Studies? The Indian Ocean, Translocal Histories and Maritime Constructions of Space”, which is part of the BMBF-funded Frankfurt Interinstitutional programme AFRASO. Another area of interest is the development of novel markets by African traders in south-east Asia, and the experience of specific transregional aura and aesthetics (Publication of a themed journal on the Indian Ocean as aesthetic space in CSSAAME).




„Mobility not only challenges the everyday lives of millions of people, it also challenges scientific understandings of society, culture and space. Based on long-term mobile ethnographic research connecting Zanzibar, the Tanzanian mainland, Mombasa, Dubai and London, this volume takes up this challenge by exploring the translocal space emerging around contemporary Swahili trade. Examining translocality as a lived experience, the book succeeds in refining often overly abstract notions of mobile settings and relational space.“ (Julia Verne, Living Translocality, 2012)

 Maritime Geographies

A central theme of research in the Western Indian Ocean is to historically trace mobility within the region and beyond, especially to Southeast Asia. Based primarily on archaeological, palaeontological, linguistic and genetic research, the aim is to find out when, how and from where the region was settled and what conclusions can be drawn from archaeological finds, flora and fauna, languages, (im)material culture and genetic material about mobility in the Indian Ocean. The ocean is not primarily conceptualized as a separating element, but as a relational space, which is essentially characterized by a multitude of exchange processes and connections.
This current research thus, on the one hand, (often unconsciously) follows on from the old idea of cultural circles, which was developed primarily by the geographer Friedrich Ratzel at the end of the 20th century and was pursued in ethnology as German diffusionism. Our research is concerned with uncovering and critically discussing historical continuities and breaks in the debate on mobility in the Indian Ocean. (cf. Verne, J. (2017) The neglected gift of Ratzel: thoughts on mobilities, materialities and relational spaces, Geographica Helvetica 72, 85-92).

On the other hand, this field of research emphasizes the close interconnectedness of human and animal mobility. This results in a second research focus of the working group, in which the technology-supported circulation of reptiles is currently in the foreground.

For more insight see Projects: