PhD Defence of Kolar Aparna

Universities are strange places. They are clearly different from other places. They claim to be places of free thought. They claim to be places of us all, and they claim to serve society as a whole. Wilhelm von Humboldt, the brother of the famous geographer, Alexander von Humboldt, is often said to have introduced the idea of the modern university as all universities all over the world nowadays claim to be. These very special places of academic freedom are, however, also clearly demarcated and bordered places. Especially also our university is proud of its campus as a very special and beautiful place, and intellectual meeting place. But as a bordered place and as an institution which poses special requirements to its students and faculty who want to participate in academic life on campus, might actually be less open and free than it claims to be.  What about the accessibility of the university for asylum-seeking intellectuals, scholars and students?

Refugees and asylums seekers do not just have to cross national borders, but to be able to participate in academic life and to integrate also need to cross the borders and ‘fences’ around the university. How can we make the university into a real place for free intellectual encounters? This was the initial research question, with which Kolar Aparna started her PhD research. For creating such a place she participated in the movement and initiative helping Refugees to cross also this border. Kolar, therefore, did not just investigate what was going on from a distance but conducted real Action Research and literally enacted what she calls the ‘Asylum University’, she became part of the politics of borders and encounters, and the Asylum University finally was only one example of a border crossing. Borders are however not just crossed, and also do not just fade away, but are also constantly re-produced, although sometimes in different ways. Irrespective of how one borders a place, these places do stay special places which differ from other places and therefore create and perform differences and borders.

Kolar excelled in continuously questioning all these borders and the related border practices. She managed to make fluid what always seemed to be so firm. Her supervisor, Dr. Joris Schapendonk, accompanied her of this fascinating border crossing journey.

On the 12th of June, in the middle of the Covid-19 crises, which sharpened the edges of many borders and only allowed encounters at a distance, Kolar Aparna successfully defended her PhD thesis in a critical academic encounter with Prof. Alicia Montoya from the Radboud University, Prof. Kirstin Simonsen from the Roskilde University in Danmark, Prof. Shahram Khosravi from Stockholm University, Prof. Derek Gregory of University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Dr. Teresa Piacentini of the University of Glasgow and Dr. Roos Pijpers of the Radboud University.


It fits to the point that Kolar Aparna with her PhD thesis tries to make to note, that a PhD thesis like this can probably only be written, defended and published in the free, while at the same time also not so free space of a university.