Becoming a State Actor. Prison Officer Training in Accra, Ghana

Weberian ideals of the neutrality and loyalty to the office of civil servants are globally widespread notions that often form the basis for a deficiency discourse of the civil service in the Global South. 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 training of Ghanaian prison staff. Focusing on the process of creating a state awareness gives an insight beyond preconceived notions and questions global (western) ideals of a ‘functioning state’. 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/ in the centre of ‘the’ state, I look at the development of norms and values in the training of Ghanaian prison staff. The transformation process of recruits into state actors is made visible by applying long-term ethnographic research in the Prison Officer Training School (POTS) in Accra. My project combines anthropological theory to state, related debates on bureaucracy and the civil service, and prison ethnographies. It contributes to the literature on prisons by providing insight into prison staff training that has received little attention so far.

Hard Facts

Projektdauer: November 2020 – Oktober 2023

Fördergeber: sowi:docs fellowship

Projekt von: Marlene Persch

Supervisor: Tatjana Thelen


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

Projektdauer: Oktober 2020 – September 2023

Fördergeber: ÖAW DOC-Team

Projekt von: Jenny Marcela Torres Heredia

Supervisor: Patricia Zuckerhut


Rose-colored glasses of urban renewal: Vienna’s branding vs. doing policy

The city of Vienna, Austria, proudly positions itself as a forerunner when it comes to participatory policy in the domain of urban renewal. The city’s self-representation is lent international legitimacy through practitioners of other places looking up at Viennese policy, as well as through the most prestigious UN Habitat prize “Scroll of Honour”. My work aims to understand the relation of involved governance arrangements with inclusiveness: whom are the policy practices serving in what ways? I look at how values drive everyday practices of urban renewal through the vantage point of a public service facility endowed with participatory tasks in this context. Ironically, at times inclusion as a value held by practitioners does not drive inclusiveness. In part, barriers to inclusiveness arise from local governance arrangements but in part from larger globalized processes. Public renewal projects commonly have the goal of providing the public good of public space “to all”. However, new public goods such as transparency or decentralization sometimes get in its way.

Hard Facts

Projektdauer: April 2020 – März 2023

Fördergeber: ÖAW DOC fellowship

Projekt von: Catherine Raya Polishchuk Clivaz

Supervisor: Ayse Caglar


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

Projektdauer: Oktober 2019 – September 2022

Fördergeber: uni:docs (Universität Wien)

Projekt von: 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

Projektdauer: Oktober 2018 – September 2021

Fördergeber: uni:docs (Universität Wien)

Projekt von: 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

Projektdauer: Oktober 2017 - März 2021

Fördergeber: uni:docs (Universität Wien)

Projekt von: 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

Projektdauer: März 2017 – Februar 2021

Fördergeber: Universität Wien

Projekt von: Nina Haberland

Supervisor: Tatjana Thelen