Ongoing Research Projects

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

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

Book Project „Viennese ‚Völkerkunde’ in the Nazi Era, 1938-1945”

Editors: Andre Gingrich and Peter Rohrbacher 

This book is resulting from the completed FWF project „Upheavals – Collaborators, Defectors and Outcasts”, conducted by Prof. Andre Gingrich at University Vienna’s Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology. It is closely linked to the current project „Professional Networking and Connections of the Viennese ‚Völkerkunde’ Institute with the ‚Altreich’ (1933-1945)”, which is headed by Dr. Katja Geisenhainer and has been funded by the FWF as part of the Lise Meitner Program.

More than 20 authors are contributing to this two-volume book project. The book aims to illuminate the entanglements of the Viennese „Völkerkunde" in the Nazi regime system from various angles. 

Date of publication: 2017
Project Staff: Peter Rohrbacher
Project Supervisor: Andre Gingrich

EnMoTe - Environments, Mobilities, Technologies

EnMoTe delineates a field of anthropological inquiry focusing on human-environmental relations, including built environments and infrastructures, as well as on the flows and movements of human and non-human beings, things, and ideas. The two regional focus areas are 1) the circumpolar North and other remote “resource frontiers,” and 2) the former Soviet Union and other post-socialist areas. While our team consists primarily of anthropologists, EnMoTe acknowledges the necessity to work with scholars from other social science disciplines, the humanities, arts and natural sciences in order to properly understand the world we live in.

Scientific Lead: Peter Schweitzer
Staff Members: Gertrude Saxinger (PostDoc Researcher), Sigrid Schiesser (PreDoc Researcher)
Administration: Ilja Steffelbauer

CoRe - Configurations of Remoteness

FWF-Project Configurations of ‘Remoteness’ (CoRe): Entanglements of Humans and Transportation Infrastructure in the Baykal-Amur Mainline (BAM) Region.

The Arctic and Subarctic have gained a surprising amount of attention in recent years. What used to be the ‘remote’ backwaters of global economic and political currents has morphed into a new frontier of geopolitics, resource extraction, and developmental designs. New transportation infrastructure often plays a critical role in the transformation of ‘remoteness’. The effects of new transportation infrastructures – accessibility, the shrinking of social and physical distance, the increased speed of connection – are not uncontested. On the one hand, those for whom ‘remoteness’ has been an asset, are often among the opponents of such developments. New transportation infrastructures are often not built to make the lives of local residents easier but to move cargo from point A to point B. Thus, there are ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of such infrastructural developments.

Project Homepage

Scientific Lead: Peter Schweitzer

Initiative: Mehr als Flucht

Eine der dringensten Herausforderungen unserer Zeit betrifft jene um Flüchtlinge und ihre Integration in Österreich und der gesamten EU. Die Initiative „Mehr als Flucht“, die im Herbst 2015 entstand, will einen Überblick zu Forschungen, Veranstaltungen und Initiativen aus dem Umfeld der Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie in diesem Bereich bieten.

Homepage der Initiative

Remembering Oslo in Transnational Contexts: Young Palestinian migrants and their memories of the Oslo Accords

Among the many essential events of the Palestinian past, the younger history is dominated by the First and the Second Intifada as well as the so-called Oslo Accords in-between. The various arrangements usually subsumed under the term Oslo Accords fundamentally changed the relation between Israel and the Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, deeply influencing local Palestinian society and the Palestinian national movement. The related processes during the 1990s particularly affected those Palestinians who grew up at that time, whereby a part of them have emigrated temporarily or permanently during or after the subsequent Second Intifada. Often their migration is not a process with a clear beginning and a definite end, as a number of them have even already lived in different local and national contexts. Because of that, and also because many Palestinian families are scattered around the globe today, these young Palestinian migrants are usually not only connected to their places of origin in the Occupied Territories and the local communities in their current country of residence. They have often incorporated several national contexts into their everyday lives and are part of transnational flows by crossing borders, sending goods and money or transferring ideas across the globe. This is relevant for memory production insofar as today remembering is not seen as a simple recalling of past events. Rather each act of remembering is treated as a complex process of reconstruction, which takes place in a particular social setting. On the basis of young Palestinians’ memories of the Oslo period, the main aim of this research is to examine how people are reconstructing contents in different transnationally linked spaces. Building on this, the role of transnational networks and flows for these processes of reconstruction should be revealed.

Project Duration: July 2014­–August 2018
Funding Institution: Austrian Academy of Sciences, DOC
Project Staff: Eva Kössner
Project Supervisor: Andre Gingrich

‘Postdoc Track Pilotprogamme’ grant, project working title: ‘Imagining a “smart” future in Southeast Asia’

The aim of this grant is to enable scholars in the immediate post-doc phase to work on publications, develop project proposals and establish international contacts. The project that is being elaborated aims to explore imaginings and anticipations of the future in urban Southeast Asia. The project builds on previous work on social cognition in a work context in North Africa, where planning and imaginative perspective taking took centre stage in the work process.

Grant Duration: February to July 2017
Funding Institution: Austrian Academy of Sciences (Postdoc Track Pilotprogramme)
Grantee: Barbara Götsch

Gangs, Brands and Intellectual Property Rights: Interdisciplinary Comparative Study of Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs and Luxury Brands

In 2010, Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, the most famous and most powerful outlaw motorcycle club in the world, operating in more than fifty countries across the world, sued Alexander McQueen, the iconic fashion designer, for trademark infringement. This case brought to light the Hells Angels obsession with protection of their intellectual property, an obsession that has since the 70s slowly spread across the world of outlaw motorcycle clubs at large. The fact that the most notorious and self-proclaimed outlaws take recourse to the very law they attempt to disregard raises questions about the nature of the encounters across the legal and illegal as well as of the strategic use of legal protection afforded by, for instance, the trademark law. The project aims at understanding the ways in which outlaw motorcycle clubs use the law and legal businesses to further their interests and acquire power across the spaces of legality and illegality. The project will specifically focus on outlaw motorcycle clubs in central Europe (Austria, Czech republic and parts of Germany) and will utilize ethnographic and historical research, combined with media and legal analysis.

Project Leader: Tereza Kuldova

Diversity and Coexistence in a Peaceful Balkan Border Region: The Shkodra/Skadar region in the forefront of EU-Accession

Austrian Academy of Sciences Central and Eastern European Fellowship (AAS-CEE)
This project explores patterns and dynamics of socio-cultural heterogeneity and coexistence in the Shkodra/Skadar region along the Albanian/Montenegrin border against the background of contemporary European/EU models and policies of multiculturalism and diversity. The chosen region is a fruitful ground for comparison since it includes: two national-state contexts (Albania and Montenegro) with "inverse" minority groups (Serb/Montenegrins and Albanians); pronounced ethnic and religious diversity (including a similar religious "constellation" of the coexistence of Orthodox Christianity, Catholicism and Islam); common and yet different historical legacies (e.g. Ottoman Empire, Venice, Socialism); the present context of EU-accession; similar historical social structures and ideologies (tribes/clans, patriarchy). The first major concern of the project is exploring the contemporary "encounter" between this multiethnic and multi-confessional border region of South-Eastern Europe and European/EU models and policies of multiculturalism and diversity. The second major concern of the project is the inquiry into points of reference people from the region use – with a primary focus on minorities – in their life stories, family histories (and genealogies) and everyday lives to describe and locate their sense of belonging. The third major concern of the project is to illuminate how the Shkodra/Skadar region managed to stay peaceful in spite of violent conflicts in the direct neighbourhood, ethnic tensions and the influx of a large number of refugees. The theoretical reference points relevant for the project are: discourses on the "Balkans"; multiculturalism and diversity; Identity/Ethnicity/Nationalism; anthropology of the state; and anthropological contributions to the study of the region. A multidimensional and multilevel research design will allow for focussing on the dimensions of grammars/regimes, agents and everyday practices of diversity and the levels of the individual, the family and formations of civil society, yet will continuously take into account the national and transnational macro-levels of the state, the region and the EU. The methodology will consist of fieldwork/multi-sited ethnography, regional comparison and qualitative interviews. The project builds on my long-time research on civil society and transformations of value-systems in the context of post-socialism and the paradoxical/ambivalent construction of the "Balkans" and its impact on contemporary socio-political realities in the region. The envisaged outcome of the project is an ethnography which explanatory portrays the dynamics of diversity and coexistence in the Shkodra/Skadar border region against the prospective EU-membership. In the wider sense the proposed project will represent a substantial contribution to comparative studies of multiethnic and multi-confessional border regions in Europe and hence contribute both to anthropological and social science discussions of multiculturalism/diversity and European diversity and minority policies.

Duration: 3 years
Staff: Jelena Tošić
Funding Institution: Austrian Academy of Sciences

Placing Memories: Ageing labour migrants in Vienna

Austria’s  so-­called  'guest  workers'  (Gastarbeiter),  who  immigrated  from  former  Yugoslavia  and Turkey in the 1960s and 1970s, are now reaching retirement age. In Vienna, where the majority of them  have  settled,  one-‐third  of  the  population  55  years  and  older  will  soon  be  first-­generation migrants. Although these labour migrants have shaped Vienna for more than half a century, they remain politically/socially marginalised and a critically understudied part of the population. This is reflected  in  the  way  their  histories  and  vital  contribution  to  Austria’s  post-­‐WWII  economic  success are not collected and commemorated (e.g. in memorials, street names) and have not become a part of Austria’s national collective memory. By locating and analysing ageing labour migrants’ memory places, this study explores how these histories are remembered outside of national commemoration practices.
This investigation of memory places will reveal  how  Vienna’s  ageing  labour  migrants  locate  themselves in the past and in Vienna’s cityscape, delivering insights into their sense of identity and belonging. This study will probe into the nature  of  mnemonic  practices  in  an  ethnically  diverse  context and will explore the role of place as a mnemonic device in the context of migration, ageing and multi-­‐locality. Thus, this study on ageing migrants facilitates a discussion of memory, migration, and place – three research fields that have not yet been systematically studied in their interrelation. This is achieved via a mix of innovative qualitative methods combining a narrative with a socio‐spatial approach. Memory-­guided city walks (including visual methods),  semi-­structured narrative interviews and participant observation are the key methods of this study. The ageing labour migrants’ memory places are expected to inherit a transnational dimension reflecting the migrants’ mobility  and  their  multi-­locale  past.  In  order  to  capture  this  transnational  dimension  in  its  full capacity, I will accompany a select number of informants to their country of origin. This approach penetrates the still-­persistent concentration on memory and place within a tight national framework.
This study will trigger novel empirical findings on ageing labour migrants and will provide ample opportunity for developing theoretical insights in the interdisciplinary fields of migration studies, memory studies, anthropology of ageing and the intersection of said fields. While this research is first and foremost conducted for academic purposes, its outcomes will certainly be of interest to policy makers. The study also hopes to raise awareness of ageing migrants and their histories among the majority population.

Scientific Lead: Monika Palmberger

Kinship and Politics: Rethinking a Conceptual Split and its Epistemic Implications in the Social Sciences

Research group 2016/2017 at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZIF) at the University of Bielefeld, Germany.

Convenors: Erdmute Alber (Bayreuth, Germany), David Warren Sabean (Los Angeles, USA), Simon Teuscher (Zürich, Switzerland), Tatjana Thelen (Vienna, Austria)

The group will focus on the epistemic implications of the conceptual split between kinship and politics; starting in October 2016.

For more information, see: Center for Interdisciplinary Research, University of Bielefeld (Germany)

Practicing Values in the moral economy of Volos

The project focuses on the political economies of provisioning in Volos, Greece. Most households in the medium sized city have experienced shrinking available incomes due to state austerity and recession in the formal economy after 2009. The research project aims at understanding the repercussions of these changes in the economic lives of participant households. Two levels of analysis are used - the reconfigurations of the material relations and the moral evaluations of these reconfigurations. A special role in fieldwork and analysis is given to two alternative economic networks - a no-middleman network and a complementary currency scheme.
The project aims to raise important questions for economic anthropology, both in the analysis of provisioning paths in a capitalist market society in recession and austerity as well as for an understanding of how people justify their actions and relate them to larger issues, such as the state, captitalism, the Eurozone, and others.

Project Leader: Andreas Streinzer

This is a DOC-Team Project

Labour mobility and community participation in the extractive industries: case studies in the Canadian north (LACE)

Funded by SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Canada) and the Yukon Territorial Government through the research program ReSDA (Resources and Sustainable Communities in the Arctic).

Mobility and Mining: Increasing mining and exploration activities in the Yukon Territory since mid of 2000s show that the demand for a mobile workforce is increasing. However, this boom turned 2015 into a bust, but nevertheless people commute for jobs elsewhere. This research project aims to understand the variety of coping strategies, positive and negative effects brought about by mobile and multi-local life-style due to drive-in/drive-out and fly-in/fly-out (DIDO/FIFO) which involves also living in camps. Field sites are Mayo and the territory of the First Nation of Na Cho Nyäk Dun and other communities in the Yukon Territory with experience in mining and FIFO operations to the mines nearby. Furthermore, we look on the local employment situation and the participation of the Yukon communities in the mining industry as well as on the cooperation between First Nations and companies.

Cultural Changes due to mining: The project centers around indigenous/local communities – especially in the First Nation of Na Cho Nyäk Dun in Mayo –  and their involvement in extractive industries in Canada’s North. Livelihood is based in parts on wage labor, subsistence activities and social welfare. Part of the research aim is to understand how mineral resources, their extraction, associated working conditions of mobility and subsistence activities relate. It will look into what role “subsistence” plays in the negotiation of the current development paradigm for northern regions: ‘employment in the extractive industries plus entrepreneurship’ as well as it looks into ‘sustainability’.  Therefore, the project is also interested in cultural changes in the context of the region´s mining activities and contemporary cultural revitalization processes.  It looks also on the history of the last century when mining triggered cultural changes.

One key‐product is a so called Mobile Workers Guide (MWG)– FIFO and rotational shift work in mining, a low threshold hand‐book (for workforce, community‐workers, administration, industry and other stakeholders) in order to understand mobility and its cumulative impacts better as well as to learn how best practice can be achieved. The MWG is a means of communication not only of research results, but of practical challenges to be observed as well as of best practices and benefits from indigenous engagement and knowledge.  The MCG will contain first hand narrations and stories in order to make it an attractive book for reading with pleasure. It will be furthermore a useful tool for information for workers, potential employees, the industry, government bodies and social workers. The MWG should be easily accessible in booklet form and on the internet. This guide should not only be useful for the communities involved but reach out the Yukon and Canada in general.

A final video documentary will be produced during 2017. This film will be made available for the NND community and released to the public upon approval of the FN NND. This short film shows the community of FN NND people and Mayo at large in the context of the development of mining in the region and cultural life of First Nation in the context of post-colonial times, self-government and cultural revival. Elders, youth and people in general – first nation and non-first nation alike – will be interviewed. The film shows the key results of the research project LACE.

Duration: 2014-2017
This project is a collaboration of the Universtiy of Vienna, Yukon College in Whitehorse (CAN) and Lakehead University in Thunderbay (CAN)
project leader: Dr. Gertrude Saxinger
Student collaborator: Mag. Susanna Gartler, PhD cand.

Enactments of participation: Performing state, civil society and family in an ‘ecological village’ in China

Agricultural pollution, food scandals, income inequality and challenges associated with massive outmigration from the countryside regularly hit the headlines in China. Since the early 2000s, the Chinese state and social movements have turned their attention to the countryside again. Christof Lammer’s dissertation project deals with questions of transforming state relations in the context of rural development in China. It is based on one year of ethnographic fieldwork in a self-proclaimed ‘ecological village’ in Sichuan Province and the related food network. The dissertation studies how actors translate globalized ideas of the ‘New Rural Reconstruction movement’, such as participation, community, cooperation and sustainability, as well as the state campaigns to ‘construct a new socialist countryside’ and to ‘build an ecological civilization’ into local practice. In this ‘stategraphy’ – an ethnographic approach to the state – Christof asks how boundaries between ‘the state’ and ‘civil society’ are negotiated, constructed and undone in enactments of ‘participation’. A focus on boundary work in these performances is important to understand how the state is reproduced and transformed when officials and other citizens enact the ecological, care and bureaucracy.

Funded by: University of Vienna (February 2013 – July 2017), Marietta-Blau-Grant (September 2014 – September 2015), China Scholarship Council (September 2014 – June 2015)
Project by: Christof Lammer
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

Stayed at home. Men, children and the elderly within the context of female labour migration in Western Ukraine.

Since the early 2000s, due to increasing poverty and unemployment in connection with a supposed ‘care crisis’ in the West, more and more women from rural areas in western Ukraine leave their homes to work as caregivers or domestic aid in central or southern Europe in order to contribute to the livelihood of their families. Frequently, they leave their children and families behind. While both the situation of female labour migrants in receiving countries and their efforts to maintain transnational care relations with relatives via different forms of exchange are ethnographically relatively well studied, we still know very little about how the (labour)migration of women and especially their absence in their roles as mothers, wives and daughters affects the family members who stay at home. Thus, based on current anthropological approaches at the intersection of care, kinship and gender, the research project sets out to study ethnographically the situation of ‘left-behind’ fathers, children and grandparents. Previous research on the effects of female labour migration has primarily focused on the absence of women and mothers and the central role ascribed to them regarding emotional and material care for their children, husbands and parents. Analytically, I consider this focus on the perspectives of women and mothers insofar as problematic, as the ‘naturalisation’ of motherhood and related care expectations and responsibilities overshadow other actors who might be equally important in the provision of care. At the same time, care responsibilities are predominantly located in the realm of kinship and the consequences of care practices and kinship are considered essentially positive. My research project thus emphasises re-arrangements of care practices, local notions of kinship and family, gender responsibilities and the construction of belonging within the context of female labour migration, taking concrete care practices and consequential relations as a starting point for the production, maintenance or dissolution of different forms of ‘relatedness’.

Project Start: March 2016
Funded by: Austrian Science Fund (FWF)
Project by: Ilona Grabmaier
Supervised by (First Supervisor): Tatjana Thelen

The workings of corporate social responsibility in the (re)configuration of contemporary societies

Corporate Social Responsibility as a case of moral transformation has been celebrated as the solution to world problems. CSR departments that are officially in charge of establishing morality in businesses organizations have been implemented into upper management. The CSR managers claim, that the ability to cross-cut between the seemingly different institutional contexts of modern society (economy, politics, society) is a prerequisite to be able to do this work and push CSR forward.

This PhD project draws on ethnographic research within a major business corporation in Turkey, operating in a particularly contested and criticized business sector. It deals with the translation of these societal and moral values into practices in business organizations and the role individual CSR practitioners play in these practices. CSR is therefore conceptualized as a moral economy to reflect the continuous (re)negotiation of meanings, moralities and interests within organizations  across contradicting and manifold institutional contexts. The boundary work of actors at top management level, in supply chain audits, international project meetings and other internal CSR activities serves as a lens through which the conceptualization of society at large can be explored. The project is located the disciplinary intersection of organizational, business, economic and political anthropology, with a special focus on value studies, moral economies, gifts & rights and care studies.

The PhD project is part of the DOC-team project "Practicing Values - Valuing Practices" funded by the Austrian Academy of Sciences. In this project, Deniz Seebacher, Barbara Stefan and Andreas Streinzer are researching renegotiations of so-called economic and moral values in three contexts (the others being the effects of austerity measures in Greece and Social Movements for Democracy and Distributional Justice in Austria) and from the perspective of three disciplines (social and cultural anthropology, business anthropology, political sciences).

Project Duration: Oktober 2014 – Oktober 2017
Financed by: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften (ÖAW), DOC-team
Project by: Deniz Seebacher
Supervised by: Tatjana Thelen (Co-Supervisor: Ståle Knudsen, University of Bergen)