Economic Enterprises and their Critics: Efforts to Mitigate the Negative Impact of Large-Scale Agricultural Investments in Africa

Agricultural investments in Africa are under substantial pressure from an international movement of critics that has raised concerns about the negative impact of large-scale land acquisition and commercial agriculture in the Global South. Investors often have to respond to these concerns, to the extent that they may feel pressured to (partly) change their practices. Yet how investors and corporations (i.e. economic enterprises) interact with their critics, such as NGOs, rural populations, social movements, journalists, and (activist) scholars, receives relatively little theoretical or empirical attention in anthropology and to a large extent also in the other social sciences.

Notwithstanding that economic enterprises face more (international) pressure to minimise the negative impact of their practices than seems to be acknowledged, the outcomes of the interactions between them and their critics are highly ambiguous. To better explain this ambiguity the proposed project will focus on a large foreign investment in Zambia. The investment offers a perfect case study for a closer investigation of how economic enterprises balance economic and moral concerns, and whether, why, and how their practices change (or not) as a result of pressure they face.

To better explain the limits and potentials of the interactions between economic enterprises and their critics the project combines two main objectives: The first objective is to obtain an empirical understanding of how the foreign investor balances economic and moral/ethical concerns, in particular in reflection upon the pressure it faces from critics, both directly targeting the investor and within the global arena more generally. The investment offers a welcome case study for analysing how processes and outcomes result from interactions between different scales, i.e. the realities on the ground; logics at the funds headquarters, the role of other relevant actors abroad, such as NGOs, politicians, and development agencies; and global interactions between corporate actors and critics more generally. As such, the project aims to offer an integrated analysis incorporating both what happens on the ground and the global dimensions of a countermovement of critics. The second objective is to build a theoretical argument based upon insights gained through the lens of the empirical case study. Anthropologists have devoted substantial attention to concerns about (global) market society, yet how economic enterprises react to criticism has so far received relatively little attention in (economic) anthropology, notwithstanding the analytical tools Polanyi’s (2001) double movement offers and the attention his ideas continue to receive. Apart from contributing to theory development in (economic) anthropology, the intention is to also speak to debates in other disciplines, such as economics, development studies and geography.

Hard Facts

Project duration: September 2017 - May 2021 (since 2019 at IKSA)

Funding: DFG

Project leader: Tijo Salverda

project member: Eline Castelijns

Interactions in Anthropology: Frankfurt and Vienna before the mid-20th century

By contrast to their rather transitory relations with colleagues at other German universities, Viennese ethnologists’ interactions with their Frankfurt counterparts were quite dense. They encompassed various academics of both cities at different stages between the time after World War I until the late 1940s. On closer inspection, it seems that a shared approach may be one main reason for this. Whereas other ethnologists represented functionalist, psychological or other approaches, which usually were oriented towards the present, in Vienna and in Frankfurt they mainly took a cultural-historical stand. Some of their basic assumptions could differ, however, such as theological or racist premises. The cultural-historical concept often was based on the examination of “culture circles” or “culture-areas” with centres of dissemination (i.e. diffusion)- This was one of the significant directions of Völkerkunde in Austria and Germany and influenced other disciplines such as folklore, archaeology, prehistory or art history.

In particular, the aim of this project is to clarify the importance inherent to very different cultural historical approaches for various contacts between ethnologists from Vienna and Frankfurt during three decades. This question will be examined through a number of issues. To name just a few of them: How did the respective relationships develop when both countries were temporarily adopting different political systems? What happened once the relevance of “racial science” was discussed within the discipline? How did the colonial revisionist stance advocated by most ethnologists influence these relationships? With regard to the Nazi era, it should be investigated how the dictatorship had an impact on the research approaches and to what degree the respective attitudes to the regime influenced relationships between the scholars. To what extent could the cultural historical approach bridge political and ideological differences between individual representatives?

This study is based on documents from a number of archives, and on academic publications such as biographical and historical studies or contributions to the history of this academic field. Individual academics and their works are considered in the contexts of their networks and under the respective influence of social, political, national and international as well as regional circumstances. The project should also make a general contribution towards the question how closely personal relations, academic work and political loyalties were connected and what could be the significance of these connections in times of crisis and of totalitarian regimes.

Hard Facts

Project Duration: February 2019 - February 2023

Funding: Elise-Richter-Programme (FWF)

Project Leader: Katja Geisenhainer

Living right: an anthropological study of far-right activism

This project seeks to investigate new forms of civic engagement pursued by far-right movements and to understand their increasing appeal among “ordinary,” socially established citizens. Instead of studying extreme right political parties or subcultures, the predominant topics in current scholarship, I will look closely at day-to-day activism, using hitherto neglected anthropological methodologies that offer unique insights into the motivations for involvement and the relations between ideas, beliefs and practices. Focusing on far-right groups acting within and between several European countries, the project will investigate the processes of translation between locally grounded and transnational far-right practices and ideologies and the tensions produced as they try to orient themselves around both transnational and local concerns.

Combining participant observation with life stories interviews and a study in the history of ideas, the project aims to explore moral claims and lived experiences of present-day far-right activists. In so doing, it calls into question well-established categorizations (West/East, moral/immoral), emphasizes the importance of emic understandings and motivations of far-right actors, and investigates the different facets of far-right organizations, which, contrary to the common label “hate groups,” increasingly put forward “humanitarian” claims and “positive” visions (of community, society, the future). It aims to bring greater clarity to political discussions within Europe by problematizing a simplistic right-left binary that obscures the nuances of different and overlapping political positions. In addition to making a critical methodological and theoretical contribution to the study of a resurgent European far right, this project will also engage with a set of more enduring issues—the shifting understanding of social solidarity and reciprocity, different means of civic engagement, and the place of morality in politics.

Hard Facts

Project Duration: September 2018 - August 2021

Funding: Elise Richter Programme (FWF)

Project Leader: Agnieszka Pasieka

REFUGEeICT – Multi-local Care and the Use of Information and Communication Technologies Among Refugees

Since the Arab Spring in 2010 and the subsequent crises and wars, many people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have sought refuge in Austria, with a peak in 2015. By accepting around 89,000 asylum seekers in 2015, Austria became the fourth most important host country in the European Union. Prevailing political discourses and media representations depicting the refugee both as a problem and as a suffering subject accompanied their reception, thereby reducing and restricting them to the roles of “the other” and of “care recipients”. The various care relations refugees foster, including their role as active “care providers,” have generally been left out of focus.

The REFUGEeICT project addresses the urgent need to study the life worlds of recently arrived asylum seekers and refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq in Vienna by investigating the responsibilities and care relations they maintain in this specific urban context and in view of wider national and supra-national refugee policies. In particular this study explores the Internet in connection with the mobile phone and how these new communication technologies are adopted to maintain care relations across distances but also to meet care responsibilities in the new country of residence.

The two central questions of this study are: How can we understand the manifold care relations refugees are involved in? And what are the specific meanings of as well as practices and strategies involving new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as “media of care”? The study will explore refugees’ interpersonal (kin) care relations as well as refugees’ interactions with the state and non-governmental institutions that provide social services and how these realms influence each other. Moreover, it will give detailed insights into the specific role new ICTs play in these care relations.

Hard Facts

Project Duration: August 2018 - July 2021

Funding: Elise Richter Programm (FWF)

Project Leader: Monika Palmberger

entire project abstract

Translating Socio-Cultural Anthropology into Education (TRANSCA)

TRANSCA is a project that will state what social anthropology can do for education as a sustainable response of the European educational sphere to on-going and new societal challenges such as diversity, immigration, socio-economic disparities and exclusionary politic.

TRANSCA is a strategic partnership with the goal of  further developing the cooperation between teacher education and socio-cultural anthropology in order to address the crucial issue of social inclusion in schools by implementing e.g. tools for self-reflexivity and hierarchical positionality.

TRANSCA aims to promote, and in some countries initiate, the process of transferring relevant aspects of socio-cultural anthropological knowledge into teacher education in Europe by building on existing approaches and experiences and adding new and innovative didactic assessments and practices with regard to core societal issues and social science concepts (such as interculturality, diversity, migration, integration, gender, intersectionality etc.).

Hard Facts

Project Duration: September 2018 - August 2020

Funding: Erasmus +

Project Leader: Wolfgang Kraus

Project Staff: Christa Markom, Jelena Tosic



Most human activity in the Arctic takes place along permafrost coasts and these coasts have become one of the most dynamic ecosystems on Earth. Permafrost thaw is exposing these coasts to rapid change, change that threatens the rich biodiversity, puts pressure on communities and contributes to the vulnerability of the global climate system. NUNATARYUK is a HORIZON 2020 project and will determine the impacts of thawing coastal and subsea permafrost on the global climate, and will develop targeted and co-designed adaptation and mitigation strategies for the Arctic coastal population.
The project encompasses 26 institutions from various disciplines - amongst others the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology. Our researchers are involved in the Work Packages 9: Adaptation and Mitigation [] and 7: Natural Resources, Economy and Coastal Community Planning []. WP9’s aim is to integrate the knowledge collected in the other WPs in order to develop adaptation and mitigation strategies at the local, regional and global scales. The WP will also develop indicators of change to monitor the impacts of these strategies in the future. WP7’s aims are to create new datasets on the socio-economical status of the Arctic coastal zone, including the growth of new opportunities associated with climate change and to develop a framework for natural resource management affected by permafrost thaw.

Hard Facts

Project Duration: 2017 - 2022

Funding: EU Horizon 2020, BG-2017-1

Projekt Leader: Peter Schweitzer & Olga Povoroznyuk

Project Staff: Susanna Gartler, Alexandra Meyer


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.

Hard Facts

Project Duration: July 2015 - July 2020

Funding: FWF

Project Leader: Peter Schweitzer (Scientific Lead)

Project Staff: Alexis Sancho-ReinosoOlga Povoroznyuk, Gertrude Saxinger, Sigrid Schiesser, Christoph Fink (nicht mehr aktiv)

Student Collaborators: Gertraud Illmeier, Ilya Krylov


Ethnographische Datenarchivierung

Forschung in der Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie findet meist im engen persönlichen Kontakt mit den Beforschten statt. Die eigene Person und die eigene Biografie sind immer Teil dieses Prozesses. Ethnographische Forschung stellt hohe Ansprüche an methodische Kenntnisse, aber auch an Reziprozität, Reflexivität und Ethik. Aus diesen Gründen bringen die Archivierung und Nachnutzung von ethnographischen Daten große Herausforderungen pragmatischer, ethischer und rechtlicher Art mit sich – Herausforderungen, denen sich das Pilotprojekt stellt, um eine an die Eigenarten ethnographischer Forschung angepassten Archivierungsstrategie zu entwickeln.

Hard Facts

Projektdauer: Februar 2017 - ongoing

Projektleitung: Wolfgang Kraus, Birgit Kramreither, Igor Eberhard