Contributions of the MPI for Social Anthropology in the Yearbook of the Max Planck Society


  • Evidence and experiments – new developments in development cooperation

    2023 Schmidt, Mario
    A paradigm shift is changing how development policy is understood: with the help of experimental methods, evidence-based, international development cooperation strives to identify and quantitatively assess the effects of development interventions. My research project looks at what these changes mean for local communities in Western Kenya and examines how actors perceive these experimental methods.


  • Sleep and sleeplessness in Germany: rethinking knowledge, experience, and agency

    2022 Vorhölter, Julia
    Sleep research is booming. With the help of apps and sleep laboratories, sleep seems to have become measurable. New pharmaceuticals and medical technologies promise to give us control over sleep. But how do these new worlds of knowledge affect the experience of sleep, especially for those who yearn for good sleep but fail to achieve it? What is the relationship between subjectively experienced and objectively measured sleep? What happens to sleep at the interface of human and machine? The project draws attention to the dilemmas of sleep knowledge production.


  • Understanding alienation processes

    2021 Lems, Annika
    The refugee crisis, the environmental crisis, the coronavirus crisis – in recent years Europe has found itself in the thrall of transformation processes that are creating enormous rifts within society. But what are the socio-cultural roots that nourish such fragmentation? Why are more and more people choosing to identify with political ideologies that threaten the very foundations of liberal value systems? The research group “Alpine Histories of Global Change” examines these questions as they investigate the origins of ideas of belonging and alienation.


  • Between civilizations: The fate of the Uyghurs

    2020 Hann, Chris
    China’s minorities policy draws no distinction between tiny groups that can be exoticized through folklore and peoples such as Tibetans, Mongols and Uyghurs with long civilizational histories. The condition of the Uyghurs improved in the 1980s, but deteriorated rapidly thereafter. The ”freedoms” of socialist market economy have rendered minority citizens second-class and put them under extreme pressure to assimilate. We document these macro-level developments on the basis of rural field research in the oasis of Qumul/Hami between 2006 and 2013.


  • Intimacy without privacy – being unhoused in Germany

    2019 Schneider, Luisa T.
    More and more people are becoming unhoused and dependent on state support. My research addresses the need to include basic human rights in the development of a tailor-made aid system. Ethnographic research with those affected shows that fundamental rights to privacy and intimacy are linked to tenancy-protected housing and can therefore not be fully enjoyed by people without such housing. This knowledge about the life of unhoused people can be used to ensure respect for fundamental rights and to enhance the effectiveness of the aid system.


  • Ways out of terrorism

    2018 Görzig, Carolin
    Researching learning processes of terrorist groups, we have discovered a logic of deradicalization: groups do not change their objectives but question the means and norms that define those objectives. However, when terrorist groups deradicalize, more radical factions splinter off. Such radicalization, in turn, leads to the radicalization of countermeasures by states. The learning processes of terrorist groups illuminate the logic of (de-)radicalization mechanisms and can be used to break co-radicalization patterns between states and non-state actors.


  • Humans and the Land

    2017 Schlee, Günther
    The relationships between groups of human beings and the land they occupy have become more heterogeneous and complex than ever. The department “Integration and Conflict” at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology studies the logic of collective identification and group formation and the different forms of possessiveness found in these relationships. The key example is taken from the south of Ethiopia, where agro-pastoralists find their land to be taken over by large-scale sugar cane production in the hands of investors from other parts of the country and international investors.


  • Connectivity in Motion: The Indian Ocean as Maritime Contact and Exchange Zone

    2016 Schnepel, Burkhard
    The Indian Ocean is the third largest Ocean of the world, measuring approximately 69 million square kilometers. It connects Africa, West-, South-, Southeast-, and East Asia among each other. This ocean has been transversed by sailors for more than 5.000 years now, first only in parts, but after the deciphering of the monsoon-code (southwesterly winds in summer, northeasterly winds in winter) at the turn of the common era, also in its entire width.


  • Markets in motion. Vietnam’s small-scale traders on the path of the market economy

    2015 Endres, Kirsten W.

    A team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology focuses on the many facets of small-scale trade in Vietnam today. Their work shows that markets form and transform in uneven ways through the interplay between global processes, local trajectories of economic and social development, and everyday interactions between traders, suppliers, customers, and public officials.


  • The normative-technological construction of a value chain: Moroccan argan oil

    2014 Turner, Bertram
    The intertwining and co-production of normative and technological strands in the politics of natural resource extraction are associated with the transformation of local knowledge into capitalizable intellectual property. The emergence of Moroccan argan oil on the world market shows how the integration of a forest resource in the global economy by means of normative and technological appropriation is organized. The ensuing transformation of the local legal configuration and the livelihood conditions of the local population are in the centre of analysis.



  • UNESCO World Heritage between global institution and local reality

    2012 Brumann, Christoph
    In a successful global institution committed to the universal interest of humankind, national states and their demands remain important and have in recent years taken the shape of a North-South conflict. A research group at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology studies the decision-making processes of the UNESCO World Heritage institutions and the local consequences of World Heritage inscriptions in the celebrated historical cities of Kyoto, Istanbul, Melaka and Xiʼan.


  • Legal Pluralism as Fight for Culture

    2011 Benda-Beckmann, Franz von; Benda-Beckmann, Keebet von
    After the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998 in West Sumatra the political freedom led to a threefold and contradictory revitalisation process of legal, political and ideological principles of social order: democratic principles, the role of Islam in public space, and a wider recognition of tradition (adat) based rights in the local government and natural resource management. This has led to discussions over the „true“ Minangkabau ethnic identity and culture that is a struggle over the new balance between the co-existing legal orders of state law, Islamic law and adat law.


  • National unity in weak states

    2010 Knörr, Jacqueline
    Generally, so-called weak states are associated with weak national unity, especially in the postcolonial world. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology have shown that national identities are often much more developed in weak states than generally suggested. Moreover, these national identities can significantly contribute to conflict regulation and foster societal acceptance of processes of post-conflict reintegration and reconciliation.


  • Caucasian Boundaries and Citizenship

    2009 PD Dr. Lale Yalç¿n-Heckmann
    The Caucasus has too often been reduced to ethno-nationalist conflicts. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology analyse how civil, political, and social components interact and how citizenship is compared between historical and contemporary notions and practices. Social citizenship continues to be relevant, especially for citizens who are detrimentally affected by migration, whether forced or voluntary.


  • The Social Significance of the House of Culture in Russia

    2008 Habeck, Joachim Otto
    The House of Culture is so ubiquitous in Russian towns and villages that whoever has lived or been there for some time thinks to know what its function is. However, there is surprisingly little research about its past and present condition. In five small towns of Russia, researchers of the MPI for Social Anthropology have explored the role of the House of Culture, the sphere of culture work, and current changes in education and leisure.


  • Biomedicine in Africa

    2007 Rottenburg, Richard
    Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology examine how biomedicine is shaped through its engagements in Africa. Biomedicine is regarded as a circulating set of technologies, practices, and ideas that – as a by-product of prevention and healing – links individual bodies to the political order. Africa is central for understanding global shifts in the making of social, political, and juridical forms of governance because the continent is marginalised in the global political economy and thus represents a site of intense conflict and experimentation.


  • Law and the construction of cultural heritage: The case of the Curonian Spit (Lithuania)

    2006 Peleikis, Anja
    In social anthropology cultural heritage is mainly seen as cultural production, which connects present interests with the past. This article analyses constructions of cultural heritage against the background of changing nation-state affiliations in the case of the UNESCO World Heritage Site „Curonian Spit“. The social practice of the actors involved is characterised by normative imaginaries that have their origins in different time-related and spatially defined systems of law, which continue to have effects and are even newly mobilised in present times.


  • Integration and conflict in Central Asia

    2005 Finke, Peter
    In the early days after the disintegration of the Soviet Union many observers expected violent conflicts to shatter the region as people saw themselves faced with radically decaying living standards and highly artificial political boundaries. Studies of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology challenge this view. The construction of ethnic and national identity among two ethnic groups in Central Asia, the Uzbeks and the Kazaks, show that this relationship may better be understood as a dialectical process in which credit has to be given to historical parameters and social configurations to achieve plausibility and legitimacy.
  • Religion and culture in Central Asia: Soviet legacies and new challenges

    2005 Mathijs Pelkmans
    After decades of Soviet militant secularism religion re-emerges in the public. It is often assumed that religious revival in Central Asia was an effect of the spiritual or ideological vacuum that accompanied the Soviet collapse. Research at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology suggests that the thriving of “religious nationalism” in the 1990s presented in many ways a continuation of Soviet ideas. However, the failures of transition made these “national” religions increasingly vulnerable to religious groups that defined themselves along supranational lines. The successes of the latter provide new challenges to local ideas about the relation between religion and culture.


  • Siberia as a culturescape

    2004 Habeck, Joachim Otto
    This research report captures a project examining the different meanings and dimensions of “culture” using the example of Siberia. This region is usually associated with a lack or absence of “cultivatedness”, yet it is also seen as a homeland of an amazing diversity of “cultures”.
  • Legal processes in new state configurations: incorporating peoples of minority groups in India and China

    2004 Pirie, Fernanda
    Nation-states worldwide, both new and old, have to develop systems of law, governance and social control which can incorporate peoples of minority groups. A research project at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology investigates the contrasting ways Tibetan groups have experienced state control in India and China. It concludes that indigenous concepts of order are powerful factors influencing the groups’ reactions and responses to the legal regimes in each state.


  • Property relations: Open access to land, knowledge and culture?

    2003 Hann, Christopher
    The research team "Property Relations" of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology has focused primarily on the both economically and socially disappointing outcomes of decollectivisation processes in the postsocialist countryside. In terms of theory, the work moves beyond the dichotomy of private and collective property that has traditionally characterised European concepts of property and continues to play an ideological role. Instead, the group makes use of an analytic model, developed by colleagues in legal anthropology, which brings out the plurality of property arrangements and their multi-functionality. This model proves useful in analysing the property relations of all human societies, including those with "simpler" technologies. It can also be applied in the field of intellectual property, for example when indigenous groups stake claims to unique "cultural property". Recent calls for scientific knowledge to be made available under "open access" raise similar issues: the enunciation of categorical principles of property must always be complemented by careful attention to institutions and practices.
  • Integration through conflict: intergroup relations and resource management in sub-Saharan Africa

    2003 Dafinger, Andreas
    Many parts of sub-Saharan Africa are characterised by a high frequency of intergroup conflicts along ethnic and economic lines. Tensions between farmers and herders are amongst the most prominent examples. One way national and international institutions try to cope with these emerging conflicts is by a policy of avoidance, by separating groups, promoting individual land rights, at the same time attempting to increase economic productivity. However, comparative anthropological research between two West African States, Burkina Faso and Cameroon, shows that conflicts are not necessarily negative, but may actually serve the groups’ integration and create a framework for social coexistence and economic cooperation. As the example of the Cameroonian Grasslands demonstrates, segregation may even have adverse consequences and aggravate existing tensions.
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