Dissertationen / PhD Projects

Désirée Kumpf

A Multispecies Study of Indian Tea Plantations

Desiree Kumpf

Monocultures are often imagined as the opposite of (and adversary to) biodiversity. Biodiversity, in turn, is said to be a healthy and original state of ecological conviviality. The history of colonial plantations is thus often told as the loss of biodiverse jungles in favour of lucrative mono-crops. The observation that the tea plantations I studied in Assam, Darjeeling, and the Nilgiri mountains are in fact socially and ecologically diverse spaces led me to re-examine these categories. In my thesis, I conduct multispecies ethnography to portray different ecological actors that comprise tea plantations, focussing especially on plant species (such as camellia sinensis, lantana camara, or diplazium esculentum), but also on insects, microbes, and mammals (such as helopeltis theivora, exobasidium vexans, or panthera tigris). I aim to describe plantations as historically particular multispecies contact zones in which human schemes need to be understood in relation to numerous non-human others. As plantations remain troubled spaces indicative of global socio-ecological problems, my findings inspire a critical discussion of agricultural "diversity management" and contribute to an interdisciplinary discussion of novel ecosystems.

Betreuerin/Supervisor: Ursula Rao

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Karen Silva Torres

Journalistic Practices: The Emergence of Public Media and the Transformation of Political News in Ecuador

Karen PhD FotoThis PhD project draws on recent debates within the field of media anthropology and aims at understanding of journalistic practices modification in the context of the recent emergence of public media in Ecuador, a country with a long tradition of privately owned media market. By adopting an anthropological point of view, this study observes the modification of the practice of journalists and their relationships with the political field in order to ask how journalists embody, negotiate, prevent and produce institutional transformations.

This research will contribute to current academic and political debates. It will provide an understanding of the experience of journalists, the construction of their subjectivities and the decision-making to the academic anthropological debates about news production. Through this, it will also postulate useful insights to the political discussion about the meaning of free speech, free press, and the role of public service media and market-oriented media in democracy.

Betreuerin/Supervisor: Ursula Rao

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Antje Baecker

Food and tasting in the Andes - Body, Person and cultural change

In Peru, as in many regions, people live their own cuisines. They maintain long lasting culinary traditions and invent new local traditions, importing receipts or adopting foreign food products. In this project, I study Andean cuisine, which like the cuisines of many conquered peoples has long been stigmatized within the country. I have conducted extensive research in the Colca Valley at the southern Peruvian Andes and observed daily, festive and ritual meals. I theorize the relation between food, tasting, conception of the body and cultural change. How is the identity of local inhabitants entangled with their nutritional habits? How are conceptions of food and taste related to an understanding of the person, the individual and collective body? What roles do taste and tasting play in normative assessments about the need to conserve culinary traditions or change them? What conflicts emerge in this process and how are they negotiated? This study contributes to debates of cultural appropriation and to the anthropology of food and the senses.

Betreuer/Supervisor: Ursula Rao

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Christoph Graf

 Transnational Spaces and Discontinuous Places: The Auspices of Santa Muerte in Los Angeles

Bild Christoph Graf

This project is an ethnographic study of a Mexican-American religious community in Los Angeles. The study specifically focuses on the narratives and practices of the devotion to Santa Muerte in this urban context. Due to the controversial reputation of this saint of death and her followers and the increasingly contested role of migrant communities in the United States, this research has implications for both current academic as well as political debates. The thesis examines the role of religious identity for both local and translocal entanglements of migrant communities and processes of social spatialization. It aims to understand how these interconnections and processes intertwine with the construction and negotiation of other social, ethnic and national boundaries.
Betreuerin/Supervisor: Ursula Rao
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Jessica Steinman

 From North - South to East - West: the Remnant of Cold War Dynamics in the Global Community of Vietnamese Migrants

20160925 095214This project examine the Vietnamese community in Eastern Europe which amasses one of the largest migrant communities in the Eastern European countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia (Szymanska-Matusiewicz, 2015c). Yet, scholarships about the Vietnamese communities in Eastern Europe are scarce and tend to concentrate on the integration and adaptation of the migrants to the majority society (Górny et al., 2007; Halik and Nowicka, 2002; Halik, 2006; Freidingerova, 2014; Wysieńska, 2012; William & Baláz, 2005; Mazyrin, 2004). Through multi-sited ethnography in Moscow and Berlin, I seek to employ the concepts of transnationalism, transnational social field, and transnational social space to understand how the complex processes of spatialization and the transnational dimensions such as economic strategies and transnational family life affect the formation of the Vietnamese community Eastern Europe and their positioning within the global Vietnamese migrant community as well as the reimagination of Eastern Europe by these migrants. Through this research, I want to broaden the scope of academic discussion concerning the Vietnamese migrant communities which tends to be western-centric focusing on the "stateless diaspora" (Sheffer,2003) of boat people by including the Vietnamese migrants in Eastern Europe as well as the narrative concerning migration, especially post-socialist migration, which tends to focus on the east-west narrative and outward migration of people from the former Socialist countries.

Betreuerin/Supervisor: Ursula Rao

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Damaris Martin

Healing between biomedicine and religion in a Christian health center in Niger

Damaris Martin Profilbild This PhD project contributes to debates about the role of FBOs (faith-based organizations) for health care in the Global South by providing an ethnographic case study of a Christian health center in Niger. Adopting an anthropological perspective, I conduct hospital ethnography to examine which specific proposition of healing the hospital makes for patients and how Christian ideas and practices are implicated in this proposition. The research aims to reveal: (1) how ‘healing’ is imagined in the health center drawing on religious and biomedical conceptions, (2) how the health center is organized to realize this particular conception of healing, (3) how the proposition of healing familiarizes patients with Christian ideas and engages them in Christian practices, (4) the dynamics between the health center’s proposition of healing and counter-propositions of patients. The project draws on concepts and theories from medical anthropology and the anthropology of religion to provide insights into the specificities of faith-based health care.

Betreuerin/Supervisor: Ursula Rao

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Marah Brenneman

Changing Value Systems and the Negotiation of Social Relations in Solidarity-Based Communities in East Germany

Marah Brenneman There is a need to understand societally and ecologically sustainable practises, e.g. commoning. Commoning takes place in activist communities which are growing in membership numbers but are often not discussed or not seen as economically relevant within the predominantly neoliberal paradigm. This project investigates the social processes of adapting value systems and restructuring social relations in semi-urban solidarity-based agricultural communities in Eastern Germany. It ask how the attitudes, perceptions, motivation, and values involved in socially and ecologically regenerative practices inform models of cultural and social cohesion and disengagement. The aim is to understand local and cross-cultural experiences and motivations of inclusion and exclusion within communities that function on principles of collaboration and mutualism, and how diverging opinions are mediated in group decision-making processes. This study contributes to the Commons Debate with a discussion of culturally specific codes of behavior and the individual variability of people engaging in community and future-oriented practices within a changing ecosystem environment and global political atmosphere.

Betreuerin/Supervisor: Ursula Rao

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Sri Balasubramanian

Every Village Connected: Digitization and Re-spatialization of the Indian Nation-state

SriThe last decade in India has seen an explosion of information technology and digitally enabled citizen services, with a key focus on bringing technologies to rural and typically remote locations. In my research, I take an anthropological approach to analyse digital service providers in rural India under the aegis of “Digital India”, a large-scale ambitious digitization project that is rewiring state-citizen interactions. I take an actor-centred perspective at who drives these digitization projects, what happens at these points of access, and how state-citizen relationships are imagined and negotiated anew. In privileging the movement of data, over that of persons, papers, and possibilities of negotiations, digitization projects create new spaces of action and power asymmetries. As databases, government portals and web-based forms are fast becoming the face of the contemporary Indian state, the research provides a timely reflection on the effects of an increasingly ubiquitous technocratic-entrepreneurial mode of development.

Betreuerin/Supervisor: Ursula Rao

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Melody Howse

Kontrolle! Racial encounters and the body

MelodyBW2 1
In Germany ‘racial profiling’ in all areas of life is pervasive, but this reality is often dismissed as the concept of ‘Race’ has a clouded history in the country and data pertaining to racial discrimination by ethnic group does not exist. How then does one speak from this silent margin and live in a society that systemically marginalizes the lived experience of nonwhites? And what impact does this have? This research project explores the embodied and emotional consequences of living with racial trauma by recognizing the body as an archive. Working within the Black Berlin community it seeks to understand the way space is ‘raced’ and the role of the visual in the formation of the ‘racial imaginary,’ an imaginary which has material consequences in the criminalization of the Black body. It further explores the way in which technology acts within this experience as a mobilizing, protective, oppressive and influential agent.

Betreuerin/Supervisor: Ursula Rao

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Kürzlich abgeschlossene Promotionen / Completed Theses (seit/since 2012)

Lesley Brenegan (2019) Health Seeking Practices in Urban India

Pablo Holwitt (2018) Inhabiting ideologies - Accommodating people, ideas and lifeworlds in Mumbai´s redeveloping chawls.

Fan Zhang (2018) Warlord, Emperor and Manjusri. Qing’s Cosmopolitics, Tibetan Subjectivity and Power Translation in the late Eighteenth Century.

Márcio Vilar (2017) 'A Vida do Cigano': Trauerrituale, Person und Tauschkreisläufe bei Calon-Zigeunern im Nordosten Brasiliens.

David Zemanek  (2016) Der Handel mit afrikanischer Kunst in Deutschland nach 1945.

Jürgen Gispert (2016) "Die Aschen der Opfer schlagen in unseren Herzen". Zu einer Theorie Memorialkultur in Armenien.

Theresa Elze(2014) "Die gefeierte Linie" – Rituelle Komplizenschaften im urbanen Grenzgebiet von Tijuana und San Diego. (Erschienen bei: transcript)

Sandra Calkins (2014) Survival at the Margins: Processing Uncertainties in Sudan. (Erschienen bei: Berghahn)

Mäßig, Danny (2013) Wir bitten Großvater Berg um Regen. Regenbittrituale und Ritualgemeinschaften der Otomí der Sierra Madre Oriental von Hidalgo. (Erschienen bei: LIT)

Riedel, Franziska (2013) Von Geistern, Steinen und anderen Leuten. Das Weltbild der Baure im bolivianischen Tiefland. (Erschienen bei: LIT)

Marx, Tobias (2012) ,Modellzigeuner' und ,Romaschablone'. Im Gespräch mit ,Roma-/Zigeuner-Eliten' in Bulgarien und Mazedonien über Organisationsgeschichte, Machtkonstellationen und Prestigewandel. (Erschienen bei: transcript)

Pfeifer, Kristin (2012) "Wir sind keine Araber!" Amazhigische Identitätskonstruktion in Marokko - Im Spannungsfeld von internationalen Einflüssen und lokalen Ansprüchen. (Erschienen bei: transcript)


Annette Veit
 Tel + 49 341 97 37 220
Fax + 49 341 97 37 229
Office Hours:
10 am - 11 am
1 pm - 2 pm


Ursula Rao
 +49 341 97 37 221
Institut für Ethnologie
Schillerstraße 6
04109 Leipzig