Research Programme

Background and objectives

The Frankfurt Inter-Centre-Programme on new African-Asian Interactions is based on the premise that regional studies in a globalized world are increasingly confronted with processes of deterritorialization and transregionalization. These processes have to be approached with new innovative concepts and theories in order to keep up with the continuously changing subject matter of African and Asia studies. The Frankfurt Africa-Asia Programme addresses this problem by focussing on new African-Asian interactions and is based on the assumption that these interactions – on the economic, political, social, and cultural level – are not only opening up new opportunities for Asian countries, but also for their African counterparts. In addition to China and India, other countries such as Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam, whose relations to Africa have not received much attention yet, will also move into the focus of research. 

Therefore, the Frankfurt Research Programme AFRASO aims at

  • Analysing and describing the currently developing and increasingly more complex relations between various African and Asian regions within a comparative inter- and transdisciplinary perspective,
  • Providing new and innovative theoretical resources for Area Studies by focussing on transregional interactions between Africa and Asia,
  • Developing enduring networks and cooperation between Area Studies and so-called “systematic” disciplines,
  • Concentrating and disseminating analytical and technical expertise on African and Asian interactions on an international level.

Based on empirical case studies, these findings can then be utilized for a transregional perspective and an innovative approach to Area Studies. Furthermore, AFRASO initiates an interdisciplinary dialogue between predominantly macro-analytic approaches (e.g., economics and political science) and research on lifeworlds and culturally mediated aspects of the new interactions on a micro-level (e.g., ethnology and cultural studies). Thus, AFRASO establishes new forms of institutional cooperation between economics, the social sciences and cultural studies, and research focusing on Africa and Asia.


Structure of the research programme

The AFRASO research programme is being organised in two platforms consisting of two key areas each:

Fig. 1: AFRASO Platforms and Key Areas


Platform A: New Cooperation – New Dependencies?

Platform Coordinators: Prof. Dr. Arndt Graf (Southeast Asian Studies) and Prof. Dr. Marc Boeckler (Human Geography)

New ways of cooperation, especially new economic relations, are the driving force of today’s African-Asian interactions. The increasing complexity of economic relations between Africa and Asia and newly developing South-South-Networks within civil society as a result of economic processes, form the basis for the initial research questions in Platform A: Are the new opportunities of economic development connected to new forms of dependence and exploitation? Do new forms of cooperation generate new social and political opportunities? Do these intersect with or replace older ways of dealing with social and political problems? To what extent do new forms of cooperation contribute to processes of deterritorialization and how can these be utilized for a transregional reconceptualization of Area Studies?  Platform A is divided into two Key Areas: “Markets on the Move” and “Transnational Civic Networks”.


Platform B: New Development Concepts – New Transregional Spaces?

Platform Coordinators: Prof. Dr. Frank Schulze-Engler (English Studies) and Prof. Dr. Uta Ruppert (Political Science)

The new interactions between Africa and Asia do not only change concrete forms and patterns of relationships as considered in Platform A. These interactions also influence the perception of the structure of these relationships and processes of (re)negotiating them. New development concepts aiming at questioning Western values and ideas of society are of special interest in this respect. Based on the assumption that culture and space are central categories of this conceptual transformation, Platform B will examine new culturally transmitted conceptions of development, and new transregional ideas and patterns of spatial orders. Which new horizons of ideas and dynamics in society are created when culture becomes a mode of negotiating concepts of development? Whose interests are served this way or ideologically supported? Which of the hitherto valid orders are challenged and which new spatial imaginations are negotiated? Finally, how do these new conceptions contribute to processes of deterritorialization and transregionalization?


First results

In the first three years, AFRASO has conducted a wide variety of empirical case studies in eight Asian and eleven African countries that have generated internationally recognized results on African-Asian interactions on all levels.

African-Asian interactions are an important feature of the transformation of the bipolar world order that emerged in the wake of World War II and contribute to the emergence of multipolar entanglements or „Afrasian spaces“. These manifold spaces of interaction emerge on the level of international relations, civil society collaboration and land and resource management, but also within the lifeworld experiences of merchants, entrepreneurs, migrants and students, as well as in cultural life in in representations of the respective other, for example in literature and popular culture. Afrasian spaces are dynamic, confusing and contradictory and challenge widespread (academica and popular) notions such as “China’s new colonisation of Africa” or a blinkered view of South-South solidarity as driving force behind African-Asian interactions. AFRASO has clearly shown that the widespread preconception of Chinese dominance in Africa cannot stand critical scrutiny: China neither acts in a classical neo-colonial manner nor is it always the most important Asian actor. What is even more important: AFRASO has shown that cooperation with Asian partners has indeed provided new options for African actors.

Coming to terms with „Afrasian“ spaces of interaction (both in an interdisciplinary working group on the theory and methodology of transregional area studies as well as on the individual project level) represents an important milestone in the development of our research strategy. In the course of the AFRASO project, the original research perspective that had focussed on interactions between two regions (considered as independent entities) has transformed into a transregional research design. This transregional perspective is primarily interested in the manner in which transregional interactions influence and transform regions, in the new transnational and transregional spaces created through these interaction at various levels and in developing new modes of “doing transarea” that will help area studies to produce epistemologically and socially relevant results in a globalised world increasingly shaped by South-South relations.

With “Afrasia” and “Afrasian spaces” AFRASO has coined new concepts that on the one hand mark emerging transregional spaces of interaction and on the other hand provide a heuristics for coming to terms with the reordering of transregional relations in an increasingly multipolar world. The project has produced ample evidence that transregional research situated at the crossroads of area studies and the so-called systematic disciplines can generate important new knowledge through close collaboration of local and disciplinary expertise.