Category Archives: teaching

When in Paris …

As a promise to my host, the Maison Suger, located in the pittoresque St Germain district in a little side street just around my new favorite coffee place, I will submit a short statement about how I spent my time in Paris. So here it is:

Doing being writing — one month in Paris.

entrance to the Maison Suger – a haven for working in peace while living in the middle of Paris


my writing space at Maison Suger.

In this one month in Paris, I managed to get more writing done for my book than in the entire last year! After a full semester of teaching and finishing off a series of articles, reviews and reports, my goal had been to begin my stay in the French capital with nothing else than having to give a series of lectures in the seminars of the people who kindly supported my application to the Fernand Braudel Fellowship at the Fondation Maison de Sciences de l’Homme (FMSH) and, once done, to write.

All in all, I gave three lectures, the first on March 6 in the frame of the general anthropological “Séminaire de l’équipe Anthropologie comparative des sociétés et cultures musulmanes” (LAS) based at the Institute (IISMM) under the direction of the following anthropologists:

This tells you already a bit about the set-up of French academic institutions. It is a bit like the Russian system, to be honest, where you have an Akademia Nauk (an Academy of Science) and the Universities. Teaching takes place at the universities, research gets done in the academy – which in itself consists of myriads of ‘networks’, ‘laboratories’, ‘seminars’, ‘colloqus’, ‘séances’, ‘interventions’, ‘conferences’, and so on. No wonder BrunoLatour came up with ANT.

doors of knowledge at the FMSH / EHSS building (right)

I gave up trying to understand all the acronyms and who belonged where and only memorized the address and who had been inviting me to give a talk! Yazid Ben Hounet, whom I have known from our time together in the project group “Legal Pluralism” at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology took me for lunch to a small Afghan restaurant before my lecture, so I was already happy when I began presenting (can I just say: “Thank you, Paris!” for the amazing variety of foods I have eaten in those few weeks?). The title of my talk was “Being Muslim in contemporary Myanmar. On ‘community’ and the problem with communal violence” and I have written about it already here. The audience consisted mostly of anthropologists with an interest in Islam, but there were two experts on Myanmar who had joined that day as research on this Southeast Asian country is still very rare. I was particularly happy for their feedback, but also positively challenged by the questions of the non-regional experts.

What I found striking and what I have noticed in all my presentations (which all happened to be on Muslims), was how often people in the audience would use my ethnographic material or the arguments I was making in order to think about contemporary French society: veiling, divorce, polygamy, secularism in general … or, to be more precise, laïcité. I attended a roundtable on secularism in Asia which, in my view, was actually about secularism in France by means of reseach in Asia … so the topics of my talks, on Muslims in Myanmar and in Central Asia, raised interesting questions and comments in the audience.

The second talk was on legal pluralism in Central Asia, taking the example of the local funeral economy in northwestern Kyrgyzstan. I have summarized my argument here. This invitation came from Baudouin Dupret, a legal anthropologist and the only other person I know who tries to approach legal anthropology with ethnomethodological tools (as I have been trying to do). The talk took place in the seminar “Transformations de la normativité islamique” and we went out for lunch afterwards in one of the many restaurants in the area around Boulevard Raspail. What I came to cherish were long lunch breaks with colleagues — always accompanied by a glass of wine!

reading in cafés. People actually do it here!

The final talk I gave took place at the FMSH building and it was my favorite one. I had the opportunity to speak in front of an audience who had all been to and carried out fieldwork in Central Asia. It is very rare for me these days to speak to other regional experts as I am based at a sociology department and in a German context where research on Central Asia is only done only sporadically. It wa thus s a pleasure talking about the main arguments of my book “The force of custom. Law and the ordering of everyday life in Kyrgyzstan” — and to see that people actually understood what I was trying to say, and seemed to have enjoyed the presentation, too. Thank you to the organizers of this talk, Stéphane Dudoignon, Carole Ferret and Isabelle Ohayon for inviting me. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my co-presenter that afternoon was Olivier Ferrando, an old friend whom I had not met for several years!

After my lecturing obligations had been met, I was left to my own devices; which meant that I could dive into the books and articles I had brought along. I started writing my historical chapter for my new book on ethno-religious minorities in Myanmar and hope to use the remaining days in Paris to push it as far as possible. The Maison Suger has provided ideal working conditions to make this possible!

an inspirational goddess of writing

Since I am in the lucky position to start a 10-month sabbatical afterwards, my goal is to carry the “French writing spirit” with me back to Konstanz, install myself there and keep up the tradition of meeting colleagues for lunch regularly!

Merci, Paris!






Teaching: Neotraditionalisation, indigeneity, and the problem of authenticity

I will be teaching a MA-seminar within our joint MA-program “Anthropology and Sociology” at the University of Konstanz this coming winter term (course is in German). Here is the announcement:

Scottish kilts, Japanese ninjas, African body painting and Halloween in America: are these traditions genuine?

This question seems to be relevant at first sight, but from an anthropological point of view, it is not the most pressing. When dealing with such ‘traditions’, we should rather seek to understand which actors, in which context, when and for what purpose present a certain practice, a discourse, or an object as ‘traditional’. ‘Tradition’ has been regarded as a counterpart to ‘modernity’ especially from the 19th century onwards. The term was coined negatively, as an obstacle that had to be overcome. Soon, though, ‘tradition’ also came to be romanticized.

Within the framework of colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries, the concept gained new relevance worldwide. By its application, selected practices could be classified as intrinsic parts of people’s ethnic or local identities. Commonly, even practices that only emerged as part of (and in response to) colonization became classified as ‘traditions’. The famous criticism of these processes speaks of the ‘invention of tradition’ (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983).

The subsequent scientific debates were largely concerned with the concept of authenticity, and with it the assumption that traditions had a pure origin and were always at risk of being falsified, mixed, or forgotten. This point of view has also been critically reflected in anthropological debates.

In recent decades, the importance of ‘tradition’ has been examined especially in the context of nation-building processes, as many of the newly emerged post-colonial states are strongly recruiting the idea of ‘traditions’ to promote a stable cultural collective identity. Currently, ‘tradition’ is also being actively promoted in the context of recognition claims by representatives of indigenous groups – but this has at times also been to their disadvantage. In this seminar, under the rubric of ‘neotraditionalisation’, we will focus on the critical reception of the concept of the ‘invention of tradition’, especially the problem of authenticity, on the role of ‘tradition’ in nation-building processes, as well as on current debates on indigenous movements as well as the negotiation of ‘tradition’ at an international level (e.g., non-governmental organizations) and its adjudication by state courts.

Teaching “The romantization of community” (MA course)

This summer term, I am continuing my exploration of the concept of ‘community’ with an MA-course that is aimed at reading whole monographs instead of articles. We are reading Zygmunt Bauman’s “Community. Seeking safety in an insecure world” (2001), Miranda Joseph’s “Against the romance of community” (2002) and Michael Herzfeld’s “Siege of the spirits. Community and polity in Bangkok” (2016).

What makes community? Solidarity, emotional attachment, common interests and practices? Dependence, debt, death? What is it that community asks from its participants, and what does it promise them? The academic discussion of what community really is has long been controversial. In the last few years, however, publications have critically questioned the concept and its often positive connotation without losing sight of its uninterrupted relevance both within and outside academia.

The aim of the seminar is to examine the concept of community in its entire range: from our own everyday understanding to descriptions of a “paradise lost” to its philosophical “unthinkability.”

Summer Term 2017. University of Konstanz. MA-Course as part of the MA in “Anthropology and Sociology”.


Neues Masterprogramm “Ethnologie und Soziologie” an der Universität Konstanz

Aus der aktuellen Pressemitteilung der Universität Konstanz:

Lange wurden Berührungspunkte zwischen Ethnologie und Soziologie vorwiegend in Fragen nach Entwicklung, Modernisierung, Globalisierung und Migration gesehen. In jüngerer Zeit kam es vermehrt auch zu methodischen Diskussionen, die durch ein gemeinsames Interesse am Forschungsstil der Ethnographie gekennzeichnet sind. Doch oft bleibt es bei einem kurzen Verweis auf Konstellationen der Wissenschaftsgeschichte, in denen die Unterscheidung zwischen den beiden Fächern keine zentrale Rolle spielte, so etwa in der „Chicago School“ oder bei Bezügen auf Gründerväter der Sozialtheorie wie Marcel Mauss oder Émile Durkheim und neuere Grenzgänger wie Pierre Bourdieu oder Bruno Latour, die mitunter von Vertretern beider Disziplinen für sich beansprucht werden. Insgesamt bleibt die systematische Zusammenführung von Allgemeiner Ethnologie und Allgemeiner Soziologie in der deutschen Wissenschaftslandschaft allerdings weiterhin ein Desiderat”
(der vollständige Text ist unter einsehbar).

Zusammen mit Prof. Dr. Thomas Kirsch habe ich im vergangenen Jahr an dem neuen Masterprogramm “Ethnologie und Soziologie” gearbeitet – im kommenden Wintersemester 2016/2017 kann es endlich losgehen.

Der Master richtet sich an alle Studierende der Ethnologie, Soziologie oder benachbarter Fächer, die kleine Seminare mögen, selbst forschen wollen und in einer der schönsten Gegenden Deutschlands – im Dreiländereck angrenzend zu Österreich und der Schweiz (Bodensee! Zürichnah!) studieren wollen.

Ethnologie und Soziologie – Un amour fou.

In dem zweijährigen Studium ist eine Lehrforschung, die sich über zwei Semester erstreckt, fest eingeplant. Diese kann sowohl in Deutschland als auch im Ausland stattfinden. Die Ethnologie Konstanz hat mittlerweile Expertise in Afrika (Südafrika, Zambia) und Asien (Kirgistan, Myanmar) vorzuweisen und betreut deutsch- wie englischsprachige Abschlussarbeiten.

Anmeldungsfrist ist der 15. Juli 2016. Hier geht es zur website:


Doing Fieldwork in Myanmar

On April 1, 2016 I co-organized a one-day research workshop on “Doing fieldwork in Myanmar”  with Dr. Felix Girke and the anthropology department of the University of Yangon. The event brought together 24 participants from Myanmar and German-speaking countries. Eleven PhD and MA students presented first findings from their on-going anthropological fieldwork in the country. The topics ranged from labour and migration to religion, livelihood, and cultural heritage ( see the final programme ). A major focus rested on questions of method and fieldwork practice. The students debated challenges and obstacles that they experienced while carrying out their research. More senior scholars guided them in further developing the conceptual frameworks of their studies.

After fifty years of authoritarianism, Myanmar has only recently become accessible for foreign researchers again. These students are thus on the forefront of a new generation of anthropologists carrying out long-time qualitative research in this Southeast Asian country. The University of Yangon itself had been off limits for most foreigners until 2014.

In our effort to bring about a Memorandum of Understanding between the University of Konstanz in Germany and the University of Yangon in Myanmar, this workshop was an important first step towards  more institutionalized collaboration and academic exchange.

Teaching this Winter Term 2015: Milestones and New Horizons: Theories in Anthropology

MA-Seminar Winter term 2015 / 2015 at the University of Konstanz

The seminar introduces theoretical concepts that have sparked debates in anthropology and sociology in recent years. We will examine these new approaches in the seminar by drawing on the milestones of theoretical development already achieved. Furthermore, in the interests of grounded theory we will examine and discuss concrete case studies in each seminar class, and what advantages and disadvantages these current concepts have in comparison to the more established approaches. Can we understand central themes such as society, state, social organisations, history, temporality, gender, identity or ethnicity better than before with these new theories? In addition to an in-depth examination of each approach, the seminar will thus at the same time keep a sharp eye on ‘progress’ and innovation in the social and cultural sciences.

All students enrolled in the Masters Programme “Anthropology and Sociology” or related disciplines at the University of Konstanz are eligible to attend.