At our institute, we enable young researchers to pursue a doctorate under comprehensive supervision. The current PhD projects deal with topics in different regions as South Asia, Africa, Europe, as well as South America und Australia.

Two Indian women walk through a narrow street with shops
Colourful flowers and fruit on a table
A man takes the fingerprint of a woman with a digital device
Häuserdächer und im Hintergrund Berge. Eine Frau schaut aus einem Fenster

Current PhD Projects

Food and Tasting in the Andes - Body, Person and Cultural Change

In Peru, as in many regions, people live their own cuisines. They maintain long lasting culinary traditions and invent new local traditions, importing recipes or adopting foreign food products. This project deals with Andean cuisine, which like the cuisines of many conquered peoples has long been stigmatized within the country. It is based on extensive research in the Colca Valley at the southern Peruvian Andes and the observation of daily, festive and ritual meals. It theorizes the relation between food, tasting, conception of the body and cultural change. How is the identity of local inhabitants entangled with their nutritional habits? How are conceptions of food and taste related to an understanding of the person, the individual and collective body? What roles do taste and tasting play in normative assessments about the need to conserve culinary traditions or change them? What conflicts emerge in this process and how are they negotiated? This study contributes to debates of cultural appropriation and to the anthropology of food and the senses.

Journalistic Practices: The Emergence of Public Media and the Transformation of Political News in Ecuador

This PhD project draws on recent debates within the field of media anthropology and aims at understanding of journalistic practices modification in the context of the recent emergence of public media in Ecuador, a country with a long tradition of privately owned media market. By adopting an anthropological point of view, this study observes the modification of the practice of journalists and their relationships with the political field in order to ask how journalists embody, negotiate, prevent and produce institutional transformations. This research will contribute to current academic and political debates. It will provide an understanding of the experience of journalists, the construction of their subjectivities and the decision-making to the academic anthropological debates about news production. Through this, it will also postulate useful insights to the political discussion about the meaning of free speech, free press, and the role of public service media and market-oriented media in democracy.

The Discontinuous Spaces of Santa Muerte in Los Angeles

This ethnographic research project engages with the negotiation of continuities and discontinuities of plural religious practices and narratives within a complex urban setting. It examines the devotion to the controversial folk saint Santa Muerte in Los Angeles in the mirror of political, economic, and religious fields of tension. The thesis will investigate how dynamic religious practices intertwine with processes of social spatialization and the local as well as translocal entanglements of migrant communities. Due to the contentious reputation of this folk saint and her adherents and the increasingly contested role of migrant communities in the United States, this research will contribute to current academic as well as political debates.

The Role of Reciprocity in Anonymous Urban Gifting Practices

Reciprocity is widely recognized as a social dynamic in human relations and an important component of community and economic life. This project examines the role of reciprocity in anonymous distribution of second-hand consumer goods in Leipzig. Anthropological debates on gift-giving and reciprocal exchange practices have primarily focused on the role of direct (person-to-person) reciprocity between individuals and groups, and more recently, in the workings of markets, organizations and social politics. This study contributes to the literature by exploring “the anonymous gift” as a particular case of reciprocity within a capitalist market economy. The study asks how obligations to give, receive, and reciprocate are perceived in an anonymous gift; does anonymous gift-giving represent an attempt to restore and maintain, or rather shirk, certain aspects of social solidarity; how are such gifts related to understandings of local, regional and international environmental concerns and the lack of fair inclusion in the economy; and how does the perception of not having equal access to economic security in the community affect our motivation to give and receive directly.

Care Work and the Fate of Underaged Refugees in Germany

This research project studies the ways in which youth welfare staff supervise and care for unaccompanied refugee minors. The resarch explores the consequences of emotional framings of these refugees as young, vulnerable persons in need of protection, and asks how categories as “URM” (unaccompanied refugee minors) or “trauma” render intelligible complex emotional and psychological consequences of migration and life in Germany. Second, it engages with the fantasies and longing of young people for their future. The project aims at describing how refugees and social workers deal with opportunities and constraints in shaping the future, which triggers stress and anxiety as well as promises opportunities.

From North–South to East–West: The Remnant of Cold War Dynamics in the Global Community of Vietnamese Migrants

This project engages with the Vietnamese community in Eastern Europe which amasses to one of the largest migrant communities in the Eastern European countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia. Yet, scholarly engagements with Vietnamese communities in Eastern Europe are scarce and tend to concentrate on the integration and adaptation of migrants (in)to the majority society. Based on multi-sited ethnography in Moscow and Berlin, the project employs concepts of transnationalism, transnational social field, and transnational social space to study processes of spatialisation. I focus on the ways in which transnational dimensions such as economic strategies and transnational family life affect the formation of Vietnamese communities in post-socialist contexts, their positioning within the global Vietnamese migrant community as well as the reimagination of Eastern Europe by these migrants. My research is dedicated to broaden the scope of academic discussions concerning Vietnamese migrant communities which tends to be western-centric by focusing on the "stateless diaspora" (Sheffer, 2003) of boat people. Expanding this area, the research sheds new light onto post-socialist migration discourses among Vietnamese migrants in Eastern Europe.

Healing Between Biomedicine and Religion in a Christian Health Center in Niger

This PhD project contributes to debates about the role of FBOs (faith-based organizations) for health care in the Global South by providing an ethnographic case study of a Christian health center in Niger. Adopting an anthropological perspective, I conduct hospital ethnography to examine which specific proposition of healing the hospital makes for patients and how Christian ideas and practices are implicated in this proposition. The research aims to reveal: (1) how ‘healing’ is imagined in the health center drawing on religious and biomedical conceptions, (2) how the health center is organized to realize this particular conception of healing, (3) how the proposition of healing familiarizes patients with Christian ideas and engages them in Christian practices, (4) the dynamics between the health center’s proposition of healing and counter-propositions of patients. The project draws on concepts and theories from medical anthropology and the anthropology of religion to provide insights into the specificities of faith-based health care.

The Future of Food: Reimagining Agriculture Technology in the United Arab Emirates

Digital and ‘smart’ technologies are transforming the way the future of food and farming are being imagined. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), an oil-rich country that has historically not been suitable for farming given its environmental context, agriculture technology(ies) projects are developing at a rapid pace. These are defended as a means to produce more food using less land, water, and chemicals, and as a solution to increase local food production in response to food-import dependency and associated challenges. Yet, similar visions of agrarian futures (and their technological ramifications) have dominated the geopolitical discourse there since the 1950s. This research project provides empirical insights on how and why agriculture technology is (re-)emerging in the UAE. Based on theories from environmental history, socio-technical imaginaries, critical agrarian studies, and political economy, it addresses the increasing role of technological innovations and digital agriculture in tackling the challenges of the food production, food security, and the environment. It investigates how current imaginations of digital agrarian futures are embedded within the agrarian history of the area on the one hand, and how they relate to food security visions on the other. It further examines the mechanisms in places for implementing such projects, as well as the actors involved and their motivation. In trying to understand the UAE’s endeavours to position itself as a driver in the global movement toward the promotion of agriculture technology, and as a testing ground for the future of food, it highlights the tension and paradoxes that emerge between agriculture technology, food security, environmental challenges, capital, and space.

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Togetherness and Resistance: A Multispecies Ethnography of Organic Tea Plantations in India

This thesis examines the practice of organic agriculture on Indian tea plantations and is based on six months of fieldwork on three plantations in different tea-growing regions (in the Dibrugarh district of Assam, the Darjeeling region of West Bengal, and the Nilgiri mountains of Tamil Nadu). At the interface of social and ecological issues, this research shows how organic tea plantations integrate alternative cultivation techniques as central elements into industrial production processes. It examines how workers and supervisors as well as non-human beings are resisting against the ecological “togetherness” that plantation managements want to cultivate. The thesis' main finding is that organic tea planters and consultants purposefully use the interactions between tea plants and other species to make tea plants grow productively. They instruct workers and supervisors to strategically implement cows, insects, and fungi into their cultivation processes, thereby co-opting ecological interactions to support tea production. While other research on plantations argues that plantations are “ecological simplifications” (Tsing et al 2019: 186), organic planters and consultants do not try to restrain the influence of other species on their crops, but instead try to influence tea plants through other species. They instruct workers and supervisors to use biodiverse relations to cultivate agricultural monocultures. The thesis elaborates two central aspects of this productive “togetherness” (Münster 2017) of many species: First, it emphasizes that collaborations between nonhumans, while beneficial for agriculture, are dependent on human inequalities. They rely on the practice of exploitative labor organization on Indian tea plantations that has occurred since their colonial origins. Second, the thesis shows that worker and supervisor resistance against labour conditions changes the organic togetherness of other species. Although workers and supervisors sometimes openly protest against their precarious situation – for instance, during the 2017 general strike in Darjeeling – they mostly negotiate their labour conditions through acts of “everyday resistance” (Scott 1985). By combining plantation studies and studies on alternative agricultures, the thesis extends the repertoire of multispecies research and illustrates its critical potential.

Every Village Connected: Digitisation and Respatialisation of the Indian Nation State

The last decade in India has seen an explosion of information technology and digitally enabled citizen services, with a key focus on bringing technologies to rural and typically remote locations. This research takes an anthropological approach to analyse digital service providers in rural India under the aegis of “Digital India”, a large-scale ambitious digitisation project that is rewiring state-citizen interactions. It takes an actor-centred perspective at who drives these digitisation projects, what happens at these points of access, and how state-citizen relationships are imagined and negotiated anew. In privileging the movement of data, over that of persons, papers, and possibilities of negotiations, digitisation projects create new spaces of action and power asymmetries. As databases, government portals and web-based forms are fast becoming the face of the contemporary Indian state, the research provides a timely reflection on the effects of an increasingly ubiquitous technocratic-entrepreneurial mode of development.

Further Information

Kontrolle! Racial Encounters and the Body

In Germany ‘racial profiling’ in all areas of life is pervasive, but this reality is often dismissed as the concept of ‘Race’ has a clouded history in the country and data pertaining to racial discrimination by ethnic group does not exist. How then does one speak from this silent margin and live in a society that systemically marginalizes the lived experience of nonwhites? And what impact does this have? This research project explores the embodied and emotional consequences of living with racial trauma by recognizing the body as an archive. Working within the Black Berlin community it seeks to understand the way space is ‘raced’ and the role of the visual in the formation of the ‘racial imaginary,’ an imaginary which has material consequences in the criminalization of the Black body. It further explores the way in which technology acts within this experience as a mobilizing, protective, oppressive and influential agent.

Politics, Profits, and Premium Foods: Renegotiating China-Australia Agri-Food Relations

Since the global food price crisis of 2007/8, China has been in the spotlight as a key actor in the global rush for land and agricultural resources, particularly in the Global South. While social movements and critical scholars have highlighted the social and ecological risks associated with Chinese “land grabs”, multilateral organizations, politicians, and business actors have promoted Chinese agri-investments as a new form of “win-win” cooperation. This project investigates Chinese agri-investments in Australia, thus providing empirical insights into an underexplored context of South-to-North investments. Drawing upon practices from critical global ethnography in combination with approaches from agri-food studies, I provide a grounded account of the multifaceted ways in which Chinese agri-investments take shape and materialize (or not) in Australian ruralities. Moving beyond a monolithic and unidirectional framing of Chinese agri-food capital as a global force that has local impacts — whether framed as “land grabs” or “win-win” cooperation — I show how these investments constitute new linkages between people, capital, and agri-food spaces that cut across scales and national borders. By highlighting the alliances, interdependencies, forms of accumulation, conflicts, and contradictions that shape the Australia-China agri-food nexus as well as their often-problematic socio-ecological implications, I attempt to develop a more nuanced perspective on China’s integration into contemporary geographies of global agri-food restructuring.

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