Ongoing Research Projects & Supervised PhD Projects

Caring through Electricity

This PhD project researches the role of access to electric energy for the constitution of subjectivities and social organisation. Tracing social relations along access to infrastructure, I argue, reveals negotiations over who provides and ‘cares’ for whom, and for which reasons. Every actor involved in the production, distribution, and use of basic services necessarily engages in an interplay around notions of belonging, responsibility, and deservingness. Electricity, being the basis for an increasing number of everyday activities for people all over the world, plays an exceptional role here. I investigate how infrastructural practices of caring through electricity shape social organisation and subjectivities, understood as structured feelings and perceptions that drive action, while being product of wider circumstances. These practices are particularly visible in situations where there is a multiplicity of infrastructural providers, as in my proposed field site for long-term ethnographic research in northern Pakistan.

Project Begin: October 2021
Funded by: University of Vienna
Project by: Quirin Rieder
Supervised by: Tatjana Thelen

Care in the Prison: Images and Practices of Care in the Juvenile Prison in Accra (Ghana)

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.

Project Begin: 2020
Funded by: sowi:docs (University of Vienna)
Project by: Marlene Persch
Supervised by: Tatjana Thelen

Unproblematic belonging? Practices of community and constructions of difference in institutional day-care in Vienna.

While care for young children in Austria was formerly mostly relegated to the ‚private’ domain and to mothers, in recent years it is hesitantly, yet increasingly defined as a joint task of institutions and families. Institutional day-care is now publicly promoted as a warrantor of ‘equal opportunities’ and constructed as a potent means for the ‘integration’ of children of immigrants. In contrast to this normative conceptualization of institutional day-care, this research project sets out to study subtle, yet powerful processes of inclusion and exclusion in the course of everyday interactions between pedagogues, parents and children. Inspired by recent calls in anthropology for ethnographic inquiries of the complex entanglements of kinship and the state, it aims to read across the naturalized domains of the ‘domestic’ and the ‘public’. The ‘thickening’ and/or ‘thinning’ of relatedness and belonging as well as constructions of difference at the intersection of state and family will be examined by way of long-term ethnographic fieldwork in day-care centers in Vienna.

Project Duration: October 2015 - October 2018
Funded by: uni:docs (University of Vienna)
Project by: Anna Ellmer
Supervised by: Tatjana Thelen

Disrupted Kinship. De-kinning processes in Northern Tanzania.

The research project aims to investigate processes of undoing kinhisp in rural Tanzania. At the core of the project are the everyday interactions of kin and community members and the question of how these processes evolve. By simultaneously analyzing them in a broader context it strives to bring to the fore the intertwining of kinship and other social areas. Accordingly, the project contributes to a better understanding of the shape of kinship and society especially in East Africa and its embeddedness in other social areas as well as the impact of political and economic processes on kinship. Furthermore, it questions stereotypical notions of African kinship and aims to show how processes of kinship in an African country are interconnected with local as well as global changes.

Project Duration: March 2017 – February 2021
Funded by: University of Vienna
Project by: Nina Haberland
Supervised by (First Supervisor): Tatjana Thelen

Translating difference as culture? Care for elderly Turkish migrants in Vienna and Amsterdam

Immigrants are expected to compose an increasingly large part of the ageing population in Europe. Calls from different points in society are made about creating a higher awareness and sensitivity related to cultural differences among those who need care. Accommodating ‘difference’, such as shared culture of groups, within frameworks of universal legal, political and social rights are a complex matter, which needs a mindful consideration. Nevertheless, ideas about health, illness and appropriate care are clearly differently constructed by different social actors, and therefore the services sector is confronted with an increasing variety of illness interpretations and challenged in its capacity to cope with the diversity of the population. This research project aims to explore the ways in which difference is translated as culture by investigating the interactions between first-generation Turkish migrants and the caregivers they meet when the need for care arises. The location for the research will be in two European contexts: Vienna and Amsterdam. Both cities have a large population of Turkish migrants who first came to the countries as guest workers and are now reaching the ‘old age’. Through ethnographic research in health care settings where encounters between elderly migrants and care providers commence, this project tries to unravel the subtle, complex processes of translation in care.

Project Start: October 2017
Financed by: uni:docs (University of Vienna)
Project by: Brigitte Möller
Supervised by: Tatjana Thelen