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Then Bergh, M.A. Sarah

st874 [at]
Areas of research:
Critical and postcolonial theories of international relations, Africana Studies, Cultural Studies, German Foreign Policy and Development in Africa
Regional focus:
West Africa (esp. Mali); Europe (esp. Germany)
since 2017
PhD. Candidate Africana Studies, Cornell University (Ithaca NY; USA)
M.A. International Relations, Aberystwyth University (Wales, UK)
BSc. Econ. International Politics, Aberystwyth University (Wales, UK)
Professional experience:
since Sep. 2022
ALMA-Fellow at the Arnold Bergstraesser Institut, Freiburg im Breisgau
University Teaching Assistant at the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University
Instructor of Record for the Freshman Writing Seminar, ‘Race and Colonialism in Modern Germany’, at the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University
Editorial Assistant at Oxford University Press
Research Assistant for Prof. Siba N. Grovogui, Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University
Research Stay at Yeredon Center for the Malian Arts, Bamako, Mali
Editorial Internship at Zubaan Publishing House, New Delhi, India
Editorial Assistant at Oxford University Press
Editorial and Research Intern at the David Davies Memorial Institute, Aberystwyth University
Research Assistant for Prof. Milja Kurki, Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University

‘Diasporic Music: Sounding the Connection Between Sedimented Histories,’ International Studies Association (ISA) (Nashville (USA)), March 31, 2022.

‘Between Non-place and Good Place: Utopian Imaginaries in Parliament’s Mothership Connection,’ ISA Northeast (Virtual), November 4, 2021.

Discussant. ‘Race Matter: Research Questions in International Relations’, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies (Cornell University), May 20, 2021.

Chair. ‘Frantz Fanon and International Relations: A Cross-Disciplinary Examination of his Life and Work’, ISA (Virtual), April 6, 2021.

‘“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution”: Fanonian Aesthetics as Decolonizing Rhythm’, ISA (Virtual), April 6, 2021.

‘Between the Visual and the Aural: Music and Processes of Racialization in a Bundeswehr Recruitment Ad’, Cornell Department of German Studies Graduate Student Conference (Cornell University), March 6, 2020.

‘‘Agency’ as Social Death: Unpacking International Relations’ Theoretical Framework’, ISA International Conference (Accra (Ghana)), August 1, 2019.

‘Music and Intersubjectivity: Reconceptualizing International Relations’ Conceptual Encounter’, ISA (Toronto (Canada)), March 30, 2019.

‘Between the Visual and the Aural: Music and Processes of Racialization in a Bundeswehr Recruitment Ad’, ISA (Toronto (Canada)), March 29, 2019.


Ph.D. Thesis
Working title:
The Sounds that Nations Play: Musical Phenomenology and Subjectivity in International Relations

A grammatical reading of the relationship between the discipline of international relations and Africa would find that Africa continues to be imagined to hold a position of its own, such that we are faced with a severing of Africa from the world. The symptoms of this severing include the relative absence of the former as a site, driver and actor of international relations, beyond its links to development, humanitarian and aid politics, state building, or conflict resolution case studies. The structure of this narrative is problematic on both methodological and epistemological levels, and deserves a second look. To do so, I propose to examine music as a mode of political communication and perception that highlights the structure of international relations’ narratives around Africa.

I explore this in light of two site-specific research endeavours. First, I focus on German-African foreign policy, particularly its use of music as an affective mode of cognition and interpellation that dispositions German responsibility toward Africa. In this context, I probe music as a mechanism for political mobilization by examining its use for semantic representations of post-colonial Mali in the context of contemporary German foreign policy marketing. I extrapolate this from the aesthetic inception of a German army recruitment series entitled Mali, with particular focus on the series’ soundtrack as a vehicle to promote German foreign policy qua military involvement in Northeastern Mali.

Against this, I engage in ethnographic research on the sociological surroundings of Mande and Bambara musical aesthetics performed at the Yeredon Center for the Malian Arts in contemporary Bamako. Situated as a central nodal point of exchange between local and global artists, I examine the particular practices of spatial, temporal and dialogical relationality that Mande, and particularly Bambara, musical aesthetics require and enact through their production at the Center. Reading these elements alongside each other reveals music as a site and driver for affective constructions of political and social communities. Sounding a representation and/or invocation of these communities’ spatio-temporal configurations in relation to imaginaries of the international, music emerges as a fruitful sensory mode through which to engage considerations of subjectivity formation within the context of international relations.

Prof. Dr. Siba N. Grovogui (Chair); Prof. Dr. Catherine Appert; Prof. Dr. Patchen Markell.

Then Bergh, Sarah (2022). ‘Subverting Colonial Aesthetics: Frantz Fanon, W.E.B. Du Bois and Janelle Monáe.’ In: Grant Farred (ed.). Africana Studies: Theoretical Futures (PA: Temple University Press).

Then Bergh, Sarah (2021). Review of: Amy Niang, 2018. The Postcolonial African State in Transition. E-International Relations (12 Aug. 2021), <>.