Projects of the Research Group
Everyday Histories: Time, Self and the Other in an Austrian Alpine Community
This project explores the role of local, everyday understandings of history, tradition and belonging to place in the municipality of Millstatt in the Austrian state of Carinthia. The communities I work with are located in the Alpe-Adria region, an Alpine border triangle between Austria, Slovenia and Italy. This region has always been linked into a world of movement and interconnection: The centuries-old trading routes between the Mediterranean and Central Europe criss-crossing this region are often described as symbolic of European integration. Yet, throughout the centuries Carinthia has often been depicted as the rural, backward periphery, leading to fractious relationships with the urban centres of power. I take this awkward positioning as a point of departure to interrogate the ways local and global temporalities meet, mingle and clash. Driven by the question of how to methodologically accommodate the tension between local histories and global transformations, village ethnography forms the core methodological approach for my project. While village ethnography has proven to be a useful method for approaching processes of global change “through the looking glass” as Herzfeld (1987) put it, in the last decades the focus of scholars studying globalisation has shifted more towards urban settings. We therefore know very little about the ways people living in rural areas live with and make sense of global transformations in the everyday and how this might be linked to the growing political discontent. To gain a deeper understanding of the paradoxes of globalisation that commentators have invariably written into the domain of the city, I explicitly work with a rural lens. This “rural lens” necessitates both, a sensitivity towards rural-urban divides that have relegated many places in the European countryside to the economic and cultural periphery of a globalised world, and the often deeply exclusionary place-making practices inhabitants of rural places have developed in response. In my project I explore in how far these practices of place-making are linked to local, everyday understandings of history and belonging to place.
On what grounds? Attachment and belonging to contested soils in the alps.
The project “On what grounds? Attachment and belonging to contested soils in the alps,” explores the notion of attachment and belonging through looking at but also beyond reactionary ideas of soil, questioning what it means to be attached to and engage with the ground - both as a living compound and as a concrete experience of people's attachment to the soil they live on/with. The research takes place in German-speaking villages in Italy’s northernmost region Trentino Alto Adige. Taking in consideration the particular historical context of this area, “On what grounds?” tries to give insight into the role of different (historical) narratives on the land. How do these local histories play into the understanding of inclusion and exclusion of individuals and groups that are considered to belong to the soil.
The project is grounded in in-depth ethnographical research (e.g. narrative biographical interviews, participant observation, walking and working with) as well as audio-visual research. Building on my experience as a filmmaker, an ethnographic film will be produced alongside academic texts. Using audio-visual tools to work partly with people whose attachment to soil is linked to conservative, anti-globalist and anti-EU sentiments, the research also aims to explore the value of visual and artistic tools when working with protagonists who challenge the anthropologists’ personal and political and/or ethical convictions in times of societal and political rupture – a challenge that is more than relevant to anthropology and documentary filmmaking.
Depicting Alpine Histories of Global Change
The Alps have for centuries been associated with a particular aesthetic image of the sublime that has been harnessed in order to attract tourists and visitors. This image is also based on a sense of timelessness, of traditional life and majestic nature. As such, Alpine identity and sense of belonging have formed around depictions of people and place that are not only made for local consumption, but that have been produced for a global market. The project aims to explore the role of imaging and imagining pasts, presents, and futures in the Alps through audio/visual means, as well as the tensions between representation for local and global audiences. It will do so by collecting archival material as well as producing film, photos and audio from all the research sites.
(Not) so far and distant: Colonialism in Visual Family Memories in the Alps
The colonial enterprises of European states left behind many traces in their societies - not only in the public space, but also in the private frame of their family memories. Families represent a central mode of collective memory that has hardly been investigated in postcolonial memory research until now. While in recent decades public memory symbols such as street names and monuments as well as institutions such as museums and archives have been decolonized, perceptions about colonial realities, and about the idea of ,white’ supremacy circulated cheerfully and untouched within the family framework. In this context, it is precisely the photographs brought home or sent home by colonial actors decades ago, which - as seemingly authentic testimonies - reproduce and establish racist and colonialist images of a colonial history in the supposedly apolitical framework of the family to this very day. The aim of my ongoing book project is to no longer leave the visual colonial memories uncontradicted nor unchallenged in their families, but to subject them to a critical examination and thus, decolonize them.
The colonial project of fascist Italy against the Empire of Abyssinia (1935-1941) serves as a case study for this project, which focuses on the visual productions of German speaking soldiers and their families from the northernmost province of Italy, Bozen/Bolzano, in order to make the ambivalences of colonial wars visible. For the purpose of decolonizing the colonial pictures, which are still kept in 'South Tyrolean' attics today, they will be embedded in their historical contexts, i.e. their (re-)production, circulation, appropriation/rejection and tradition will be examined, and their essentialist visual meanings deconstructed. This book project is located at the intersection of postcolonial, memory and visual culture studies and uses a methodically combined approach.
Stranger in the Swiss Village: Celebrating and Contesting Globalization
Inspired by James Baldwin’s seminal engagement with ideas of belonging and estrangement in a Swiss Alpine village, the project “Stranger in the Village: Celebrating and Contesting Globalization”, explores how processes linked to globalized tourism or the so-called “business of foreigners” (Fremdenverkehr) are both essential for the survival Swiss Alpine dwellers and met with deep skepticism. The Swiss Alps draw on a long history of touristification, transforming valleys inhabited by mountain farmers into globalized resorts from the 19th century. By looking at everyday understandings of touristification narratives in the village of Grindelwald in the Bernese Highlands, this project questions the contested nature of tourism between its necessity and its abuses and the inequality on which resorts are built. “Stranger in the Village” ethnographically explores the “strange” affective states accompanying tourism development, such as the coexistence of hope and fear and the boundaries separating those who are said to “profit” from tourism - Swiss “native” locals - and those who work in the hospitality industry for lack of a better choice - migrants. Paying attention to the historical narratives of development via touristification, “Stranger in the Village” also focuses on people’s expectations for the future in a touristic resort in unprecedented times following the outbreak of Covid-19.