Repositioning Global Thinking




We take experiences and perceptions in the Global South as intellectual resources to analyse global change, rather than just as cases to be investigated. The Global South is the major driving force of change in the world, and not merely an epistemological position that helps us to decolonialise Northern knowledge. Moving beyond post-colonial critiques of the North, we hope to advance a more inclusive and constructive global anthropology.


Social Debates in China as an Intellectual Resource

This project takes social debates - that is, debates among the public, rather than among researchers or policymakers - in China since the 1990s as a source of perspectives that advance global thinking. For instance, the debate on rural-urban relations raises the question of whether the institutional divide between city and countryside could protect peasants from market volatility. This challenges the conventional thinking that takes unified markets and undifferentiated citizenship as unquestionable norms. The debate about state-owned enterprises calls attention to the politics of ownership in a historically specific manner: will privatisation facilitate fair competition, or will it ossify existing inequalities? By curating competing viewpoints on ten critical questions in the format of an annotated reader, we hope to generate research hypotheses with global relevance.


The Question of Questions

There would be no genuine social research without conscious problematisation and question formation: these constitute agenda setting. But how and why do some issues become questions for research and not others: why are questions framed differently in different parts of the world, and what are the consequences of these choices? This project aims to cultivate a critical consciousness among younger scholars in the social sciences and humanities through reflection on the questions they have asked in their prior research, and the ongoing development of their intellectual agenda. We have already held two workshops in China and we will be convening further events in partnership with colleagues in India and Africa.


Mapping PhD Projects in Economic Anthropology

An experiment in the anthropology of knowledge, this project investigates repositioning of global thinking within the discipline of anthropology itself, focusing empirically on content analysis of dissertations produced by PhD students in anthropology over the five years from 2019-2023. Concentrating initially on dissertations produced in China and the United States – in particular, dissertations concerned in some way or other with economic life – this research exploratively maps the thoughts of a new generation of scholars; young thinkers who are at once differently positioned around the world but also differentially repositioning themselves through their anthropological engagements. Substantively, what topics and issues are they worried about? Conceptually, what ideas and analytics do they find a help, or indeed a hindrance? Theoretically, what questions and concerns are driving their work? As we potentially expand this project beyond China and the United States, our abiding aim is to chart the range of intellectual resources that anthropology today affords an emerging generation of thinkers around the world, especially as they seek to describe, analyse, and explain shifting topologies of global change.


项飙、汪晖, 2022 “导论:提问的自觉”,《提问的自觉》(《区域》系列第9辑), 中国社会科学文献出版社,1-28 [Xiang Biao and Wang Hui. “Introduction: The Question Consciousness.” In The Question Consciousness (Vol 9 in the series of Region), Beijing: Social Science Academic Press. 1-28]

项飙,2022 “双向问题化:中国东北劳务输出和‘跨国主义’范式”,《提问的自觉》(《区域》系列第9辑), 中国社会科学文献出版社, 195-218 [Xiang Biao “Two-way Problematization: Labour Outmigration from Northeast China and the “Transnationalism Paradigm”.” In The Question Consciousness (Vol 9 in the series of Region), Beijing: Social Science Academic Press. 195-218]

项飙,2021 “为承认而挣扎:学术发表的现状和未来”《澳门理工学报》(人文社会科学版)2021年第4期 [Struggling for Recognition: The State of Social Science Publishing and Its Future. Journal of Macao Polytechnic Institute (Humanities and Social Sciences Edition), 24 (4): 113-119.]



“The personal is political” revisited (conversation with Professor Hyun Mee Kim and Professor Wondam Paik, South Korea)

1 August 2022; MPI Halle

Post-1960s culture studies and gender studies are two major inspirations for this department. Addressing personal pain through structural analysis, research in these two fields has changed the way in which many people understand and live their lives. Because this research speaks to people’s concerns, its empirical nuance and theoretical sophistication have informed and supported mobilisation for social change. In return, social engagement has fuelled theoretical innovation. What can we learn from these fields? South Korea is an example of a society in which theoretical debates and social movements are closely intertwined, and it is no surprise that culture studies and gender studies are particularly vibrant there. How have critical intellectuals in South Korea managed to foster a generative interaction between public concerns and intellectual inquiry?


Experience, Question, and Scholarship: The Current State and Futures of Chinese Humanities and Social Sciences

11 June 2022; online

Co-organised with Tsinghua Institute for Advanced Study in Humanities and Social Sciences

The workshop reflected on the development of research in humanities in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution and explored how a “questioning consciousness” can be fostered among younger researchers. Workshop participants discussed: (1) What questions have Chinese humanities scholars asked in the last half century, what are the historical origin and real-life contexts of these questions, and how are these questions similar or different to those asked overseas? (2) How have scholars’ life experiences impacted the questions asked? How has the sense of history, social change, career paths, professional norms, and academic fashions influenced our research questions? (3) How can scholars in humanities and social sciences raise new questions together?


Economy and Society: Experiences and Experiments from South Asia

12 May 2022; MPI Halle

The latest policy documents agree that the Indian economy is at least 85 percent buried in what is (for a lack of better term) known as the informal economy. But how exactly does the ‘unorganised’ function? In this roundtable discussion, we tracked current research in economic sociology/anthropology in India, focusing on how the dominant discourse of modernisation through economic formalisation continues to sideline research on the importance of social identities, moral understandings of fairness, and ideologies of calculation for the regulation of economic behaviour and institutions. Our purpose was to circumvent tired debates over the dividing lines between formal/informal economies, approaching all economic institutions as socially regulated, and where caste, family, gender, religion, class, and space/region serve as key concepts of analysis, not as after-thoughts.

This roundtable was organised by Anindita Chakrabarti and Andrew Haxby at the Max Planck Institute. It featured contributions from Barbara Harriss-White, Emeritus Professor of Development Studies, Research Associate OSGA, and coordinator of South Asian Research Cluster, Wolfson College; Anindita Chakrabarti, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences IIT Kanpur; Andrew Haxby, Post-Doctoral Fellow, MPI for Social Anthropology Halle; Isabelle Guérin, IRD, French Institute of Pondicherry; Shriram Ventakaraman, Adjunct Assistant Prof. at IIIT Delhi and at IIM-Kozhikod, India; and Jillet Sarah Sam, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences IIT Kanpur.


The Changing Intellectual Landscape in China

6 October 2021; MPI Halle

Co-organised with Berlin Contemporary China Network (BCCN), a joint initiative by researchers at the Humboldt University of Berlin, the Freie Universität Berlin, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, and the Technische Universität Berlin.

A seminar by David Ownby, Professor of history at the Université de Montréal, in Montréal, Canada; followed by discussions by Sarah Eaton, Professor of Transregional China Studies, Humboldt University of Berlin; Ian Johnson, Author, Journalist, Senior Fellow for Chinese studies at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Biao Xiang.


The Changing Intellectual Landscape in China

A talk by David Ownby (Professor at the University of Montreal)

Biao Xiang and Pulitzer Prize Winner Ian Johnson joined as discussants. Chaired by Sarah Eaton, Professor at the Humboldt University.

Halle (Saale), 6 October 2021
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