The role of knowledge and epistemology – between colonial reproduction and social alternatives. An analysis based on Afro-Colombian women's movements in North Cauca Region

Afro-descendant communities on North-Cauca Colombia face complex socio-ecological conflicts: their territories have been historically affected by mining and dam projects. The favourable situation of international markets for the sale of raw materials since 2000 has led to an increase in mining projects. At the same time, social and political organization have gained force. Afro Colombian population aim the recognition as legal, political and knowledge subjects. In a context of  ethnic minorities rights demands and the peace process, this research project focusses on the analysis of afro women groups strategies to respond to environmental and social-historical circumstances. Particularly, the role of knowledge expressed in the understanding of socio-ecological interactions, communal dynamics, and the role of women in social and political processes, is explored. Participatory observation and visual anthropology are methodological pillars of this research project.

Hard Facts

project duration: October 2020 – December 2023

funding: ÖAW DOC-Team

project by: Jenny Marcela Torres Heredia

supervisor: Patricia Zuckerhut

Aging and care in rural Latvia

The research project studies institutional eldercare as a relational practice and a resource for social reproduction in rural Latvia. Theoretically, this dissertation is inspired by anthropological studies of aging, current debates of care, as well as contextually built upon emptying rural Latvia. In the last decade, more than ten regional schools have been transformed into nursing homes for older adults, locally known as social care centers. Social care centers provide not only care for older adults but also jobs, income, and a possibility to stay for other local people in times and places marked by precarity. Thus, eldercare circulates across community shaping various experiences and consequences of life for different people. The objective of this dissertation is through care practices to observe and analyze the conjunction of aging as personally and socially meaningful transitions, a sense of (un)belonging among older adults and other local people, and possible (re)creation of imagined futures in and of rural Latvia.

Hard Facts

project duration: October 2019 – September 2022

funding: uni:docs (Universität Wien)

project by: Anna Zabicka

supervisor: Tatjana Thelen

(Re-)Production of Social Identities: An Anthropological Approach to Cultural Adaptation Processes of Migrated Youth in Finnish Lapland

This dissertation addresses the challenges and strategies of cultural identity forming processes in Finnish Lapland from the perspective of immigrated youth, aged between thirteen and sixteen. The shared experiences of inclusion and exclusion into the local community are central elements of this dissertation and will become apparent by applying child- centered qualitative research methods. Including the voices of youth to research is of significance for the outcome, as is the examination of how identities are being formed. The theoretical approach of this work is embedded in anthropological discourses of identity, ethnicity and migration. The objective is to analyse a specific, social phenomenon through the lens of anthropology and thereby contribute to the interdisciplinary discourse of youth migration in the Arctic region. Furthermore, it adds to the discussion of sustainable communities with the focus on youth wellbeing and shows aspirations of young people living in Finnish Lapland.

Hard Facts

project duration: October 2018 – September 2021

funding: uni:docs (Universität Wien)

project by: Ria-Maria Adams

supervisors: Peter Schweitzer, Florian Stammler

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.

Hard Facts

project duration: October 2017 - March 2021

funding: uni:docs (Universität Wien)

project by: Brigitte Möller

supervisor: Tatjana Thelen

Auflösungsprozesse von Verwandtschaftsbeziehungen im nördlichen Tansania

Trennung, Ausgrenzung oder gar die Auflösung von Verwandtschaftsbeziehungen passen nicht in allgemeine Vorstellungen afrikanischer Verwandtschaftsverhältnisse. Diese werden häufig in Form von generationenübergreifender Reziprozität auf der einen oder sogenannter „Vetternwirtschaft” auf der anderen Seite dargestellt. Beiden Bildern wohnt die Vorstellung einer Omnipräsenz von Verwandtschaft in Afrika inne. Da Verwandtschaft aber auch im afrikanischen Kontext gleichermaßen von Inklusion und Solidarität wie von Ausgrenzung, Diskriminierung und Konkurrenz geprägt ist, widmet sich das Dissertationsprojekt Auflösungsprozessen von Verwandtschaftsbeziehungen im ländlichen Tansania. Denn obwohl in den letzten Jahren mehrfach auf die Notwendigkeit verwiesen wurde, Verwandtschaftsauflösungen ebenfalls in den Blick zu nehmen und über Prozesse des undoing kinship nachzudenken, ist dies noch nicht systematisch angewendet worden. Der zentrale Fokus des Forschungsprojektes richtet sich auf Prozesse von Verwandtschaftsauflösungen, die sich auf einer alltagspraktischen Ebene vollziehen, und fragt, wie diese Prozesse mit anderen gesellschaftlichen Entwicklungen verbunden sind. Der Blick auf die entgegengesetzten Prozesse des Verwandtmachens kann so nicht nur neue Erkenntnisse über die zugrundeliegenden Prozesse von Verwandtschaft und den Einfluss von politischen und ökonomischen Prozessen auf diese bringen, sondern auch die Rückwirkungen verwandtschaftsauflösender Prozesse auf gesellschaftlichen Wandel aufzeigen.

Hard Facts

project duration: March 2017 – February 2021

funding: Universität Wien

project by: Nina Haberland

supervisor: Tatjana Thelen

Optimization of the Emotional Self – in the Digital Age

Digital technology and smartphones, in particular, are becoming increasingly embodied and interlinked with the very core of the person we construct online and offline. Particularly, young people - the so called generation of “digital natives” - are frequently portrayed as a symbol of a new anthropological subject, usually at the extreme ends of either digital political activism or narcissism.

How do we take a more nuanced anthropological approach and avoid separating the digital from the social, cultural and political? How do we read between the lines of the seemingly power- and ideology-free technology, becoming an invisible and intransparent part of everyday life? And what are the ways in which we construct personhood and “optimize” ourselves as “neoliberal” subjects negotiating digital media narratives and dynamics?

Given the complexity of technological infrastructure, as well as the increasingly intricate usage of big data in conjunction with psychological expertise, an interdisciplinary approach was selected. In this project, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Cognitive Science and Media Informatics are joining efforts in order to understand the multiple layers of the interplay between social, cultural and psychological actors – and the digital, framed as an extended social space of practice. The research includes an ethnographic and a phenomenological study among groups of adolescents in Vienna, as well as a digital project in co-creation with the youth.

Hard Facts

project duration: September 2017 - January 2021

funding: DOC-team – Austrian Academy of Sciences

project from: Suzana Jovicic

supervisors: Univ.-Doz. Dr. Marie-France Chevron (Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna), Prof. Dr. Thomas Stodulka (Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Freie University Berlin)


Households at the Dawn of the Bronze Age – Contextualizing Local Social Organization in the Eastern Mediterranean from Anthropological Perspectives

Sabina Cveček’s PhD project focuses on studying households as a primary source for discussing the emergence of social structures in Early Bronze Age (3 rd Millennium BC), underlining the importance of bottom-up studies for classifying and studying prehistoric societies. The planned dissertation project deals with households and household activities, the social structure, and the settlement organization within the geographic frame of the Aegean and Western Anatolia, namely at the site of Çukuriçi Höyük (Turkey) and Platia Magoula Zarkou (Greece). These sets of topics will be addressed through the applicant’s own investigations, but also by research cooperation between two archaeologists, one archaeozoologist and one anthropologist, thus linking both humanities and natural sciences.

Within this dissertation project, focused on households and domestic mode and specialization of craft production within a settlement (e.g. textile production, metal processing), information about “everyday” life in the Early Bronze Age Aegean and Western Anatolia will be investigated. The main question to be answered is about the social organization of Early Bronze Age societies (i.e. pre-scriptural and pre- state), more precisely in how far there was some hierarchical social differentiation comprehensible within these societies or whether these societies were organized in a more egalitarian fashion. Further questions concern possible processes of proto- urbanization within the chronological frame and beyond, and if the social structure of Bronze Age differed from earlier periods, like the Neolithic or Late Chalcolithic in the region.

Hard Facts

Politics of Silence: Unraveling Neoliberal Governmentality and Voices of Dissent in an Urban Renewal Project in Eskişehir, Turkey

Why do some urban projects across the globe trigger resistance movements while others do not? To answer this question, my ethnographic study scrutinizes The Risk Zone Urban Renewal Project in the city center of Eskişehir, Turkey, where political voices and legal claims were once vocal. I study influences of neoliberal techniques of governance and calls of state of emergency on populations. In particular, I study the continuing policy-making and planning process of the Risk Zone Project within which narratives of emergency and earthquake risks have been doubled with participatory planning and social democracy. The planning stages of the project have been secretive, renewal policies have been uncertain, and the local population will need to make payments of undetermined amounts, facing risks of dispossession and displacement. Although there were lawsuits against the same municipality’s renewal initiatives on the same zone previously, the Risk Zone Project has neither inspired collective movements nor legal claims. By conducting participant observation and in-depth interviews and mapping the zone geographically, I trace the heterogeneity of the local population and variations of positionalities in order to deconstruct a “silent mass”. I explore various forms of dissent, unease, and anxieties to ask whether local forms of contestation and spaces for voices are emerging that are different from classic social movements.

Hard Facts

project duration: January 2016 - March 2020

funding: uni:docs (Universität Wien) & Marietta Blau Fellowship (ÖAD)

project by: Cansu Civelek

supervisor: Ayse Caglar

Daheimgeblieben. Männer, Kinder und Alte im Kontext weiblicher Arbeitsmigration in der Westukraine.

Seit den beginnenden 2000er Jahren verlassen im Zuge zunehmender Armut und Arbeitslosigkeit im Zusammenhang mit einer vermeintlichen „Care-Krise“ im Westen immer mehr Frauen aus ländlichen Gebieten die Westukraine, um als Pflegekräfte und Haushaltshelferinnen in Mittel- und Südeuropa zu arbeiten und so zum Lebensunterhalt ihrer Familien beizutragen. Ihre Kinder und Familien lassen sie dabei häufig in der Ukraine zurück. Während die Situation von Arbeitsmigrantinnen in den Empfängerländern und deren Bemühungen, transnationale Care-Beziehungen mittels unterschiedlicher Formen des Austausches aufrecht zu erhalten, ethnografisch relativ gut erforscht sind, wissen wir bislang noch sehr wenig darüber, wie sich die (Arbeits)-Migration von Frauen und ihre Abwesenheit in ihren Rollen als Mütter, Ehefrauen und Töchter auf die daheimgebliebenen Familienangehörigen auswirken. Aufbauend auf anthropologischen Ansätzen im Schnittfeld von Care, Kinship und Gender steht daher die ethnografische Untersuchung der Situation der daheimgebliebenen Väter, Kinder und Großeltern, deren Beziehungen zu den emigrierten Frauen und den Effekten der Emigration von Frauen und deren (neue) Rolle als Versorgerinnen ihrer Familien auf Care-Praktiken, lokale Vorstellungen von Verwandtschaft und Familie, Geschlechterverantwortlich-keiten und Zugehörigkeiten im Mittelpunkt meines Dissertationsvorhabens.

Hard Facts

project duration: March 2016 - December 2019

funding: Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (FWF)

project by: Ilona Grabmaier

supervisor: Tatjana Thelen

Changing consumption practices and consumption policies of the state in Russia: socio-political subjectivities and modes of citizenship of the new middle classes

The research project focuses on the new middle classes, their consumption practices, and consumption politics and policies of the Russian state. It addresses the broader topic of relationships between the state and citizens in the context of the post-Soviet development of Russia. The thesis investigates the impact of the new state regulations of and on consumption (the introduction of the embargo on food imports in 2014 and the policy of import substitution) at the background of the economic crisis. I suggest that the ways the new middle classes react and adapt to these changes are embedded and shaped by their broader relationships with the Russian state. I approach the process of adjusting consumption practices as an entry point to explore how the new middle classes relate to, imagine, and position themselves vis-à-vis the state.

The fieldwork is conducted in two Russian cities - Moscow and Smolensk. The data are gathered through in-depth interviews with the representatives of the new middle classes and the participants of relevant industries, participant observation, analysis of state and media discourses, and study of other sources (statistics and policy documents).

Hard Facts

project duration: February 2018–January 2019

funding: Marietta Blau Fellowship (ÖAD)

project by: Volha Biziukova

supervisor: Ayse Caglar

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

Während Kinderbetreuung in Österreich historisch primär als ‚private’ Angelegenheit von Müttern galt, wird sie heute zögerlich, aber zunehmend als gemeinsame Aufgabe von Institutionen und Familien definiert. Vor allem seit der Einführung des verpflichtenden Kindergartenjahres 2010 wird der Kindergarten in der Öffentlichkeit verstärkt als Garant für Chancengleichheit und als wirksames Mittel zur ‚Integration’ von Kindern von MigrantInnen konstruiert. In Kontrast zu dieser normativen Konzeptualisierung der öffentlichen Kinderbetreuung werden in meinem Dissertationsprojekt subtile, aber wirkmächtige Prozesse der Inklusion und Exklusion in alltäglichen Interaktionen zwischen PädagogInnen, Eltern und Kindern untersucht. Inspiriert ist dieses Vorhaben von aktuellen Beiträgen in der Anthropologie, die vorschlagen die komplexen Verstrickungen zwischen scheinbar ‚privaten’ verwandtschaftlichen Beziehungen und dem Staat in den Fokus zu nehmen. Auf Basis umfassender ethnographischer Feldforschungen werden Kindergärten als Institutionen erforscht, die in die Verdichtung oder auch Schwächung von Zugehörigkeit wie auch die Konstruktion von Differenz involviert sind.

Hard Facts

project duration: October 2015 - October 2018

funding: uni:docs (Universität Wien)

project by: Anna Ellmer

supervisor: Tatjana Thelen

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 raises questions on the arrangements in which provisioning becomes possible under circumstances of austerity and especially so concerning (1) the reversal of economic growth, (2) changing social roles among kin, friends, and (3) the moral implications of having to cope with less.

Hard Facts

project duration: October 2014 - June 2018

funding: Marietta Blau Grant, DOC-team - Austrian Academy of Sciences

project by: Andreas Streinzer

supervisor: Thomas Fillitz


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.

Hard Facts

project duration: July 2014­–August 2018

funding: DOC - Austrian Academy of Sciences

project by: Eva Kössner

supervisor: Andre Gingrich

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).

Hard Facts

project duration: October 2014 - October 2017

funding: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften (ÖAW), DOC-team

project by: Deniz Seebacher

supervisor: Tatjana Thelen (co-supervisor: Ståle Knudsen, Universität Bergen)


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

Verschmutzung durch Landwirtschaft, Lebensmittelskandale, Einkommensungleichheit und Herausforderungen mit Bezug auf die massive Abwanderung aus dem ländlichen Raum schaffen es derzeit regemäßig in die Schlagzeilen in China. Seit den 2000er Jahren richten der chinesische Staat und soziale Bewegungen die Aufmerksamkeit wieder vermehrt auf das Ländliche. Das Dissertationsprojekt von Christof Lammer befasst sich mit Prozessen der Staatstransformation im Kontext ländlicher Entwicklung. Die Arbeit beruht auf einer einjährigen ethnographischen Feldforschung in einem selbsternannten ‘ökologischen Dorf’ in der Provinz Sichuan und dem verbundenen Lebensmittelnetzwerk. Die Dissertation untersucht wie Akteure globalisierte Ideen der ‘Neuen Bewegung zum ländlichen Aufbau’ wie Partizipation, Gemeinschaft, Kooperation und Nachhaltigkeit, sowie staatliche Kampagnen zum ‘Aufbau neuer sozialistischer Dörfer’ und zum ‘Aufbau einer ökologischen Zivilisation’ in lokale Praktiken übersetzen. In dieser ‘Stategraphy’ – einem ethnographischen Zugang zum Staat – wird die Frage bearbeitet, wie Grenzen zwischen ‘Staat’ und ‘Zivilgesellschaft’ in Performances von ‚Partizipation’ ausgehandelt, konstruiert und aufgelöst werden. Ein Fokus auf diese Grenzziehungsprozesse in diesen Performances ist wichtig um zu verstehen, wie der Staat reproduziert und transformiert wird, wenn Beamte und andere Bürger*innen das Ökologische, Sorge/care und Bürokratie in China inszenieren.

Hard Facts

project duration: February 2013 - July 2017

funding: Universität Wien (February 2013 – July 2017), Marietta-Blau-Stipendium (September 2014 – September 2015), China Scholarship Council (September 2014 – June 2015)

project by: Christof Lammer

supervisor: Tatjana Thelen