Vulnerabilities at work

The bafflement is apparent in the headline already:

An international charity had put Hannah Beech, author of the referenced NY Times article, in contact with minors who had arrived at a refugee camp in Bangladesh without family members. There, she had spoken to many young girls and boys and if possible, to their relatives. After a couple of days, she realized that she had not always been presented with the truth. The uncle of three orphaned kids turned out to be their very much alive father, the girls’ mother still being in Myanmar.

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Caught in the middle

There’s no use in beating around the bush: today’s post falls under the category of ‘shameless advertising’ – a clever term coined by one of my colleagues. The sole purpose is to announce that I’ll be discussing my research as part of the Department of Anthropology & Archaeology’s seminar series at the University of Pretoria on March 15th. Needless to say I’m quite excited (and busy finishing the power point slides…)!

Ironically, the title ‘caught in the middle’ is a rather accurate description of my own situation at the moment: preparing tonight’s presentation at PAM – the students’ anthropology association at UP – and finishing the upcoming department lecture, organizing meetings with people I have worked with during research, spending time with friends and trying not to fall behind on all other obligations. So many people I still want to meet, so many places I still want to go. My one-month stay in Pretoria for teaching at UP and doing some follow-up fieldwork passed way too quickly. With only one week left, there are some tough decisions to make. Time seems even more precious than usual. That’s why I’ll leave it at that. Shameless advertising ensues:


The screaming of Hadidas, James writing «Melanie, I’m outside», robots, laughter, a Savannah on the stoop, the warmth of the sun, biltong salad, people chatting in a familiar language I don’t understand, «Good morning, how are you», mosquitoes soaring through the air, Peter playing his guitar in the garden, stars shining brightly in the sky, a visit to the doctor, running out of airtime, Read More…

Loving the Process – Thinking about Writing with the Help of John Irving

Being in what is called the “writing-up-phase” of my project, I spend most of my days writing about what I or other people think or once thought. I feel, it’s time to pause for a moment and – instead – to spend some time with thinking about writing.

Towards the beginning of my project, I participated in a seminar on academic writing in English because after all, that’s what I do, trying to produce insightful and enjoyable texts using the English language. The seminar started with a mantra. “I am a writer. I am a writer.” the group of slightly embarrassed PhD students repeatedly mumbled into the void that was part of the hollow square seating arrangement and forcing us to awkwardly observe each other murmuring our newly found identities to ourselves. Read More…

In Memory of Thomas Luckmann. A Personal Anecdote.

On May 10th, the influential sociologist Thomas Luckmann who had been Professor of Sociology at the University of Konstanz for almost 25 years passed away at the age of 88.  In his obituary published on, sociologist Dr. Jochen Dreher summarises Thomas Luckmann’s biography and outstanding scientific contribution that went well beyond the realm of academia (excerpt):

Thomas Luckmann is one of the most significant representatives of German after-war Sociology and already during his lifetime has been considered one of classical thinkers of the sociological discipline. His major publications are The Social Construction of Reality (1966) together with Peter L. Berger, establishing a new sociology of knowledge; The Invisible Religion (1967), which refounded the sociology of religion, and the standard work The Structures of the Life-World (1975/1984), initiated by his teacher Alfred Schutz and completed by Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality is one of the most influential publications of the sociological discipline; the American Sociological Association considers it to be one of the ten most important books in Sociology and it was translated into thirteen different languages.

With the death of Thomas Luckmann, we lose an outstanding and exceptional thinker of the human sciences and one of its finest persons.


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The Emotional Costs and Rewards of Helping Others

Kolb_ohneASToday, we have a special guest at our anthropological colloquium: Ken Kolb, Associate Professor of Sociology, Furman University (South Carolina), will mark the start of the colloquium’s summer term with a talk titled “The Emotional Costs and Rewards of Helping Others”.
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Of Paper Bags, Domestic Violence and Vagina Warriors

I have to admit it: the title is a bit of a clickbait. And in order to go along with the theme, I want to begin the article by stating that there is no way you could ever possibly believe the connection between bakery paper bags and vagina warriors! If you are hooked, you are warmly invited to follow my line of thoughts:

Some time ago when queuing at the university’s canteen, I noticed that the former greyish paper bags lying next to the counter for wrapping sandwiches had been replaced by a more colorful version.

Upon closer inspection, I was quite surprised to find out that this paper bag had way higher ambitions than just keeping your lunch clean: it featured an awareness raising campaign regarding violence against women.

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The Other Side of the Table, or: Teaching Research Ethics

This year’s summer term, for the first time, I gave an undergraduate seminar – just after having come back from my last phase of fieldwork in South Africa. Hence, on top of the challenges of finding my way back into what I like to think of as ‘my German life’, I also had to come to terms with my new professional role and all the strings and joys attached to it.

In this post, I discuss my experiences of switching to the other side of the table, of becoming a lecturer. And that’s already where the uncertainty began that came with my new role: I definitely don’t think of myself as lecturing people and I truly hope I didn’t do it to the small group of students who joined my seminar on research ethics in the last term. Inspired by the legendary character of Mr. John Keating (“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way”) and admittedly overtly romanticized and probably naively idealized, I’d like to picture myself as a facilitator or moderator on a mission to organize joint excursions of the mind. Read More…

Shelter from the Storm

2:00 a.m., one Thursday night, somewhere in a bar in South Africa. Despite the early morning hours and the remote location of the place, the bar is well frequented by both men and women of different ages and ethnic backgrounds (this is noteworthy as in South Africa places of leisure and gastronomy are usually not as socially diverse). The atmosphere at the bar is lively as people are chatting to each other, engaged in pool billiard or relaxing in the lounge area next to the spacious bar.

A smart-looking guy in his early fifties, casual clothes, round spectacles resting in his curly hair, sits on his bar stool sipping from his double scotch, puffing a cigarette, chatting to the bar lady and to the young woman sitting next to him, looking at ease. Amidst the casual, lively and animated atmosphere, the young woman in her late twenties wearing a light greyish dress and a pink cardigan – giving her overall appearance a rather conservative touch – looks somewhat out-of-place. As she carefully observes her surroundings she meets the one or other curious and quizzical gaze directed at her. After some time, a woman in probably her late thirties wearing a tight black dress approaches the two. With a big smile and raising her hand to greet, she faces the young woman and introduces herself: “Hi, my name is Laury*. Sorry, I’m new here and I don’t know you. Are you working here too?” Obviously uncomfortable and caught by surprise, the young woman laughs and denies the question that presumably was posed to make sense of her out-of-place presence. She was just visiting and having a drink with a friend, she replies awkwardly.

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The Postcards that I’ll never Write

So here it is – boom – the last day of my research stay in South Africa. And I haven’t found the time yet to properly reflect upon and write about my workshop, but I will soon.

However, this was not only a research stay, I spent one year of my life in South Africa, in total. Right now I am sitting on the veranda of the commune that for the past three months formed my basis, my home, looking at a bunch of postcards that I bought a week ago. I know now that I will never send them. What could I possibly write?
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