portrait picture Marlene Persch

Marlene Persch, BA MA

sowi:docs fellow

Contact Details

Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology
Universitätsstraße 7, 1010 Vienna
NIG, 4th floor
Room: D0418

E-Mail: marlene.persch@univie.ac.at

Member of the research group CaSt:

Research Focus Areas

  • Anthropology of the State
  • Bureaucracies and state institutions
  • Prison Ethnographies
  • Transformation and state awareness
  • Care
  • Ghana

Short Biography

Marlene Persch studied Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. Since 2020 she is a a sowi:docs fellow at the University of Vienna. Her research interests include the anthropology of the state, anthropological debates on care and prison ethnographies. For her master thesis she carried out fieldwork in a prison in Ghana focusing on care relations. Welfare aspects in the prison have strengthened her interest in bureaucracies and state institutions.
She is currently working on her PhD project “Becoming a State Actor: Prison Officer Training in Accra, Ghana” that focuses on the transformation of non-state actors into state actors in the training of prison staff in Ghana and the production of state awareness.


Dissertation Project

Weberian ideals of the neutrality and loyalty of civil servants are globally widespread images that often form the basis for a deficiency discourse of the civil service in the Global South. Representations from a deficiency perspective often focus on the so-called 'informal' sides of organisations and on how actual practices of civil servants deviate from legal norms. My doctoral project aims to illuminate the production of the self-understanding of state actors and the relationships actors develop with 'the' state in the process of becoming a state actor. While much work has been done on the state consciousness of civil servants in the social sciences, the process of becoming a state actor has not been addressed. When looking at the question on how a unified ethos is produced, Ghana is an interesting case to study as existing research with civil servants (including my own), has shown that despite diverse affiliations (ethnic, religious, linguistic), Ghanaian civil servants have a strong commitment to the 'good of the nation'. Because the prison is an important part of 'the' state, I look at the development of norms and values in the training of Ghanaian prison staff. My project combines anthropological approaches to state, related debates on bureaucracy and the civil service, and prison ethnographies.

Selected Publications

  • 2022     “Der Sorgende Staat? Sorge-Narrative von OffizierInnen im Jugendgefängnis in Accra, Ghana“. Vienna Working Papers in Ethnography, 1-25.(peer review)
  • 2020    “Willkommenskultur und Stacheldraht: Beobachtungen aus der österreichischen Flüchtlingskrise 2015 -2017“. edited by Persch Marlene and Milo Strauss. Wien, 7-11 https://bit.ly/3tsHqCP
  • 2020     “‘Hier gibt es keine Grenze‘ - Grenzpraktiken von Polizei und AnrainerInnen im Grenzraum Brenner“ In Willkommenskultur und Stacheldraht: Beobachtungen aus der österreichischen Flüchtlingskrise 2015 -2017 edited by Persch Marlene and Milo Strauss. Wien, 37 - 44  https://bit.ly/3tsHqCP

Talks and Presentations

  • 2020 (postponed 2021). "Sorge & Staat: Sorge-Narrative von OffizierInnen des Jugendgefängnisses in Accra“. Poster at Frobenius summer symposium, Goethe University. Frankfurt o.M., Germany.
  • 2019. "Anthropologie und Kritik: Müssen SozialanthropologInnen im öffentlichen Diskurs teilnehmen?“. Ethnosymposium, Ludwig-Maximilians University. Munich, Germany, Juni 14th 2019.
  • 2018. "Facetten der österreichischen Grenzproduktion 2015-2017. Brenner – Spielfeld – Bad Radkersburg“ with Chris Kalwei (Vienna) and Milo Strauss (Klagenfurt), DGV, Friedrich-Schiller University. Jena, Germany, June 2nd 2018.
  • 2018. “How the ‘Zillertaler Trachtenwelt’ became a border. Materialization of Border Processes at the Brenner in Tyrol” Presentation invitation from ROR-n network, Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW). Vienna, Austria, March 20th 2018. http://www.ror-n.org/ours.html

Organized Workshops/Presentations: