No, Georgiana Banita is perfectly at ease. The fact that a planned meeting can only take place virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic is hardly even worth a mention. The American Studies scholar is already used to staying in touch with international colleagues via Skype, Zoom, and the like. In fact, she sees creative communication as an integral aspect of her research endeavors. “I want to systematically explore the topics that most inspire and motivate me—and I want to make the results accessible beyond the narrow scope of an academic audience.”
So how does this work? Maybe with an innovative science-fiction radio play that illustrates findings from “Security for All,” her research project on police culture and migration, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. The radio play was scripted and directed by the Munich-based writer Martin Heindel. The project results will also inform a book publication in the Edition Nautilus Flugschriften essay series.
No, Georgiana Banita does not take the well-trodden path. Because she likes to concentrate on her research, thinking and working within a project framework best suits her personal style. “I enjoy the freedom, and I’m in a place where I feel comfortable and receive the institutional support that I need.” With her TRAc project “Security for All: Police Culture in Immigration Societies,” she was associated with the University of Bamberg (see info box) but was nonetheless able to remain independent and flexible in her decisions.
“Security for All” focused on exploring how police work changes in immigration societies, one central aspect of this being the controversial use of predictive policing to fight crime. Because even for the prediction of criminal offences, authorities increasingly rely on algorithms. But what happens when these algorithms reinforce prejudices, and police start viewing all migrants as potential facial composite sketches?
The microanalysis of cultural artefacts from literature, film, photography, police pedagogy, advertising, and social media resulted in a first transdisciplinary and comparative cultural analysis of modern police forces. A conference in Bamberg featuring contributions from police authorities, human rights activists, and creative artists confirmed a sense of urgency on the subject. “The project combines all the elements that inspire me: a topical issue, social relevance, and the opportunity to disseminate my research findings creatively—using a radio play, for example.”
During the turbulent summer of 2020, the topic became even more relevant and explosive. The violent death of African American George Floyd as a result of police brutality in Minneapolis led to worldwide protests and the slogan “Defund the Police.” “Police officers are ultimately there to enforce the human right to security, and not to take it upon themselves to play both judge and executioner. State authority cannot be allowed to become an end in itself.” So is security not the same for everyone?
Once a project is completed, it is best to have already landed the next one, and Georgiana Banita has succeeded in doing this; she is currently examining news media narratives of Germany’s energy transition, particularly wind power. The risk of thinking and working exclusively in (third-party-funded) projects is something Banita is willing to accept. “Of course, you have to find a foothold again after every project, so you lack the security of a traditional permanent position. But good research always involves some level of risk. Besides, whatever the position, I will always be keen to try out new research ideas and formats.”
It is precisely this experimentation she finds appealing—finding the right approaches to react quickly to societal developments. In any case, thinking and working in projects is a practical way for the Americanist to avoid having to force herself into a tighter disciplinary corset, and a way to move through the research landscape with a broader, more inclusive focus.
Path A: For a long time, an academic career in Germany followed a fixed path, closely tied to specific work and institutions until the time of appointment to a professorship: Writing a doctoral dissertation—Writing a habilitation thesis —Appointment to a professorship (usually not at the home university).
Path B: With the introduction of Junior professor positions in 2002, a second major path was established. Beginning in the postdoctoral phase, it sets different focuses and prioritizes other skills—such as managing staff, organizing courses and curricula, and acquiring third-party funding. Another way to qualify for a professorship is to raise funds and establish one’s own research group at a specific chair.
Path C: Currently, as research becomes increasingly reliant on third-party funding, a promising new option for postdocs is emerging: thinking and working in research projects, without a particular departmental affiliation—Georgiana Banita’s path. This creates the opportunity to align one’s career path more closely with personal aptitudes and preferences, albeit at the expense of greater career predictability.
The University of Bamberg has responded to this third possibility by creating TRAc Projects. The program allows researchers to profit from an affiliation with the university and its resources, while at the same time maintaining a high degree of independence and autonomy. Furthermore, the Graduate Center Trimberg Research Academy (TRAc) provides consultation on career issues and funding programs, as the need for advisory services has significantly risen in line with the diversity of options.
Based on Georgiana Banita's example, it should be noted that career paths are also a question of personality, and today they are allowed to be; universities are expanding their institutional support for new approaches to research. Banita certainly does not want to rule out the possibility that she could one day hold a professorship.
Asked about her plans for the future, she answers confidently, but with a barely suppressed smile, that in five years she sees herself at the peak of her publication activity and as the head of a research group with ample third-party funding. “And in ten years, as the coordinator of international research consortia with multi-million budgets—hopefully still in Bamberg.”
No, security is not Georgiana Banita’s top priority. Even if her research project was called “Security for All.”
More about Georgiana Banita and her projects