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"Future Rural Africa: Future-making and social-ecological transformation" Collaborative Research Center 228

Africa´s future is the object of expectations, dreams, fears and contestations. It emerges from the present, but it is not completely contingent. This is the starting point of the collaborative research center (CRC): Future-making, the CRC´s key concept, means that ideas of the future are envisioned and translated into plans, policies, and spatial transformations. They materialize along newly emerging development corridors, shifting bio-cultural frontiers and large-scale land-use changes.

The CRC addresses the intricate relationship between future-making and social-ecological transformation. It combines expertise from different academic disciplines, ranging from geography, anthropology, and agronomy to political science, vegetation ecology and virology.

With their focus on “future-making”, the members of this large-scale project adopt a perspective that is different from previous approaches to social-ecological research: priority will be given to African actors and their ideas, wishes and expectations in respect of the shaping of future-oriented developments. The general concept of the project is inspired by recent debates in future theory. It distinguishes between concepts of the future based on probabilities, forecasts and models, and concepts which consider future in the form of visions, imaginations and aspirations. While the former approach is common in the natural sciences, the latter is preferred by researchers in the social sciences. For any enquiry into “future-making” in the field of tension between probabilities and possibilities, both approaches are important.

CRC 228 focuses on three growth corridors: the Kenyan Rift Valley, the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), and the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) in southern Africa. The researchers examine how the apparently contrary processes of agricultural intensification, on the one hand, and extension of nature reserves, on the other hand, affect land use, people, and future prospects.

Research Questions of "Future Rural Africa"

The central research questions of the CRC address the relationship between large-scale land use change, social-ecological transformation, and future-making. They serve as guidelines for interdisciplinary cooperation.

  1. How can we understand and research future-making in rural Africa from different disciplinary perspectives?
  2. How and by whom are rural African futures made probable and/or possible?
  3. What are the main challenges and consequences of future-making in rural Africa?
  4. In which way are conflicting visions of future expressed, negotiated and translated into large-scale land-use change and ensuing social-ecological transformation?