Events Calendar

Anthropology in Austria
Tuesday 08 November 2016, 09:00am - 08:00pm
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Anthropology in Austria  

From the “Blue Danube“ to studying the diversity of the world    

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Venue: Wolfson Room, British Academy, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH

09:00-09:50 – Registration and Coffee & tea service
10:00-10:30 - Opening remarks
10:30-11:30 – Presentations
11:30-12:00 – Coffee & tea break
12:00-13:00 - Presentations
13:00-14:00 - Lunch
14:00-15:30 – Presentations
15:30-16:00 – Coffee & tea break
16:00-17:30 – Presentations
18:00 – Reception

Anthropology in Austria has long entertained lively, fairly continuous, and multi-facetted interactions with the UK. These have ranged from Habsburg Empire citizen Bronislaw Malinowski’s odyssey through London to the Trobriand Islanders, Siegfried Nadel’s emigration to England from Vienna through Berlin, Christoph Fürer-Haimendorf’s dissociation from Nazi-occupied Austria in moving to British India and later to SOAS; Vienna-born Scarlett Epstein’s affiliation with Max Gluckmann and the Manchester school, to Ernest Gellner’s engagement with those intellectual legacies of Central Europe in which his parents had grown up. Many of those past interactions in fact were related to Austrian movements of intellectual and political thought.

Yet Anthropology in Austria has completely re-organized itself in recent decades, and has opened up to the world more than ever before. Today it represents a major branch in German-speaking and European social anthropology. The RAI’s day of anthropology in Austria strives to take stock of these recent developments by presenting and discussing major trends, advances, and insights in the fields of regional studies, qualitative methodologies, and topical areas of interest. Several of anthropology’s key representatives in the Austrian Academy of Sciences and at the University of Vienna will reflect critically upon the directions anthropology in Austria is taking in the early 21st century. This will focus on studies in Eurasia, Africa, and the Americas, on comparative and historical methods, and on fields ranging from mobility and refugee studies to the anthropology of art and of the environment, and medical anthropology. Contributors will include several mid-career scholars as well as Ayşe Çağlar, Thomas Fillitz, Andre Gingrich, and Peter Schweitzer.  H.E. Dr. Martin Eichtinger, Ambassador of the Republic of Austria to the United Kingdom, will give the "Welcome Address".

This event is free, but tickets must be booked.  To book tickets please go to http://austriananthropology.eventbrite.co.uk

Speakers

Welcome & Opening, Representative of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Welcome Address, HE Martin Eichtinger, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Austria to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Heinz Fassmann, Deputy Rector of the University of Vienna & Chair of the Austrian Academy of Sciences Academy Council

Morning Session

Andre Gingrich, A First Overview: Introducing Anthropology from Austria

Ayşe Çağlar, Migrants and City Making in a Multiscalar Perspective: Space and Time in Anthropology of Migration

Peter Schweitzer, Remote Connections: Human Entanglements with Built and Natural Environments in the Arctic and Elsewhere

Eva-Maria Knoll, In Motion: Genes, Identities and Mediated Lives in Small Scale Contexts

Discussant 1 Chris Hann, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Halle/Saale, G)

Lunch Break

Afternoon Session

Thomas Fillitz, Visual Research in Social Sciences, and an Anthropology of Contemporary Art

Stephan Kloos, From Buddhist Deities to the Spirit of Capitalism: Tibetan Medicine and the Remaking of Inner Asia

Maria Six-Hohenbalken, On Violence and Displacement: Memories after Extreme Violent Experiences in Kurdish Society

Andre Gingrich, Critical Re-Assessments: Historical Anthropology and the History of Anthropology

Discussant 2 João de Pina-Cabral, School of Anthropology & Conservation, Univ. of Kent

Abstracts

Morning Session

A First Overview: Introducing Anthropology from Austria
Andre Gingrich, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Anthropology in Austria has long entertained lively, fairly continuous, and multi-facetted interactions with the UK. These have ranged from Habsburg Empire citizen Bronislaw Malinowski’s odyssey through London to the Trobriand Islanders, Siegfried Nadel’s emigration to England from Vienna through Berlin, Christoph Fürer-Haimendorf’s dissociation from Nazi-occupied Austria in moving to British India and later to SOAS; Vienna-born Scarlett Epstein’s affiliation with Max Gluckmann and the Manchester school, to Ernest Gellner’s engagement with those intellectual legacies of Central Europe in which his parents had grown up. Many of those past interactions in fact were related to Austrian movements of intellectual and political thought.

Yet Anthropology in Austria has completely re-organized itself in recent decades, and has opened up to the world more than ever before. An older legacy of “culture circle theory” was abandoned long ago (in the late 1950s), and since more than two decades, the local history of the field is thoroughly being examined in all its dimensions. Ethnographic fieldwork in its versions continues to represent a cornerstone of the field in Austria, in its professional practice as much as in training and teaching.

Today socio-cultural anthropology in Austria represents a major branch in German-speaking and European social anthropology. The RAI’s day of anthropology in Austria strives to take stock of these recent developments by presenting and discussing major trends, advances, and insights in the fields of regional studies, qualitative methodologies, and topical areas of interest. Several of anthropology’s key representatives in the Austrian Academy of Sciences and at the University of Vienna today will reflect critically upon the directions anthropology in Austria is taking in the early 21st century. This will focus on studies in Eurasia, Africa, and the Americas, on comparative and historical methods, and on fields ranging from global interactions through mobility and refugee studies to the anthropology of art and of the environment, and medical anthropology.

Migrants and City Making in a Multiscalar Perspective: Space and Time in Anthropology of Migration
Ayşe Çağlar, University of Vienna

In the context of increased visibility of migratory movements, there has been a renewed interest in migration processes, practices and the challenges migration dynamics pose to the provisioning of social services, the taken for granted “groups of solidarity”, and to scholarship aiming to analyse these processes. However, many of the approaches in migration scholarship fail to capture these dynamics in light of a multiscalar perspective. Such an endeavour requires a radical rethinking of the spatial and temporal frameworks of migration scholarship, as well as the unit of analysis.

Although an increasing number of migration scholars have started to address the spatial frameworks informing migration scholarship and focused on the location of migrants in space, the temporal narratives of migration scholarship have been rather neglected. If they are addressed, the focus is usually on the differential ways migrants experience time rather than the temporal frames informing different conceptualizations of migration scholarship which situate migrants in time in distinctive ways.

In this talk, I suggest that to unravel the spatial and temporal frameworks of migration scholarship we need a multiscalar perspective. Deploying concepts of displacement, emplacement, and historical conjuncture in analysing the interplay between migrants and city-making processes might provide us a venue to come up with the challenges of migration scholarship in 21st century.

Remote Connections: Human Entanglements with Built and Natural Environments in the Arctic and Elsewhere
Peter Schweitzer, University of Vienna

This presentation tries to meld contemporary Austrian approaches in environmental anthropology with those in international scholarship addressing material and infrastructure studies. While human-environmental relations have a long history of being studied in rural areas, human interactions with the built environment have seen their greatest development in urban contexts. This presentation constitutes a call for an integrated approach of studying the world in which humans dwell as both socially constructed, and simultaneously being independent from human agency. The primary examples for such an approach will be climate change processes and the social agency of transportation infrastructures in the circumpolar North. A brief comparative section will also address human entanglements with natural and built environments in the European Alps.

The title references the recent revival of the notion of “remoteness”, following the re-publication of Edwin Ardener’s seminal article on “remote areas” in 2012. While it remains to be seen whether this return is more than a temporary replacement for “periphery” and “marginality”, one of the goals of this presentation is to explore the relationship between remoteness and connectivity. Thus, the entanglements with environments as outlined will be analysed through the lens of remoteness, based on the expectation that this may offer a rather unobstructed view onto these entanglements. This move is not intended to go back to pre-globalisation and pre-transnationalism days of anthropological reasoning, but to highlight the connections of remote places, thereby contributing to a better understanding of the positive characteristics of non-central places and the benefits residents derive from them.
 
In Motion: Genes, Identities and Mediated Lives in Small Scale Contexts
Eva-Maria Knoll, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Unrecognized by the international media, the citizens of the Republic of Maldives are struggling with a pressing health issue – i.e., with one of the world’s highest prevalence of beta-thalassaemia. This inherited single-gene disorder affects the body’s ability to create red blood cells. The most serious form, beta-thalassaemia major, results in severe anaemia within the first months of life and requires lifelong care.

Since 1992 various actors are engaging in activities related to the care and prevention of this chronic and potentially lethal blood disorder: public health institutions, international organizations, local NGO’s, health personnel, patients and relatives, among others contribute to the shaping of a ‘local biology’ (M. Lock). Framed by a National Thalassaemia Program these heterogeneous actors struggle to improve treatment conditions of about 600 thalassaemia patients, and to implement a genetic screening program in order to identify carriers, raise awareness and govern the islanders’ reproductive behaviour with the aim of reducing the number of affected newborns.

Despite these efforts and despite the comparatively fortunate standing of the coral island nation as the only upper middle income country in South Asia, however, the number of newborns being homozygous for thalassaemia has remained constant during the last decade with annually more than 20 new cases, and thalassaemia patients continue to die before their time in their early twenties. Providing and seeking curative and preventive services, indeed, is challenging in this Small Developing Island State with a population of just about 340,000 living in small population pockets dispersed across a vast more-water-than-land territory. An ‘island factor’ seems to be the stumbling block in thalassaemia-related health equity in the Maldives. A much higher share of newborn thalassaemia patients are reported from what is locally known as ‘the (outer) islands’, and the general health of island patients also falls short when compared with patients from the capital island Male’.

By considering dynamics between genetics, public health efforts and the unique environment of an archipelago this presentation scrutinizes the socio-political and spatial foundations of the island factor in the construction of ‘genetic responsibility’ (C. Novas & N. Rose) on the Maldives.

Afternoon Session

Visual Research in Social Sciences, and an Anthropology of Contemporary Art
Thomas Fillitz, University of Vienna

In their recent edition of ‘Visual Methods in Social Research’, Banks and Zeytlin state that “interest in visual analysis seems to be growing widely in social sciences” (2015: 1). Several years ago, a group of researchers succeeded in positioning their research agenda as a major ‘visual studies in social sciences’ group at the Faculty of Social Sciences/University of Vienna. These are scholars from anthropology, sociology, media studies, and political sciences. Yet, it turned out that the topics and scopes of our researches were quite heterogeneous. Researchers of the other disciplines were merely focussing on the use of pictures for representations of power, for social discrimination, and gender issues within European societies. Visual anthropology differs in several respects, the major ones being (a) the ways of seeing of other people, and (b) a thematically wider horizon.

Three fields characterise visual anthropology in Vienna: firstly, the interpretation of films on the bases of anthropological concepts and empirical data. In this field, Elke Mader for instance specialised on topics of Bollywood in close cooperation with colleagues from theatre/film studies as well as from European anthropology, both Univ. of Vienna. Second, for many years by now our colleagues Werner Zips and his wife Manuela Zips-Mairitsch are most successfully producing ethnographic films for broadcasting in TV channels such as ORF (Austria), RAI Uno (Italy), ARTE (France/Germany), and many others. One film on the fifty years throne jubilee of the king of Mankon was done in close collaboration with Jean-Pierre Warnier. Trailers are shown at the Metropolitan Museum/New York and the Musée Dapper/Paris.

Thirdly, I would like to mention the anthropology of art, the area I specialised in. Regarding contemporary art, connections to some colleagues at the Academy of Fine Arts, and to a recently appointed art historian, Noit Banai, Dept. of Art History/Univ. of Vienna, have been productive. The most important connection, however, was to Barbara Plankensteiner of the ‘World Museum Vienna,’ its former vice-director and curator of the African Dept. Barbara’s special field are the so-called Benin bronze collections in Vienna, while she also has worked on the collection of the king’s family in South-eastern Nigeria. Following the troubles and the cultural scandal about the previous Minister of Culture’s request of ‘re-designing’ the museum’s exhibition spaces (implying a space loss of around fifty percent), Plankensteiner left for her new position at the Yale Peabody Museum. The hall on art subsequently was removed from the World Museum’s exhibition concept.
In the following, my contribution will deal with some questions related to my research on contemporary art of Africa. When I started in this field in 1993, I was mostly interested in questions of art and modernity, which art is/is not exhibited in Europe and North America, and the different meanings of contemporary African art in Europe and in African locations. Moreover, I have adopted two research trajectories, (1) the work with artists and their practices in Ivory Coast and Benin, and (2) my ongoing work on a cultural institution, the Biennale of Dakar/Senegal.

Both these research directions led to reflecting about the theory of ‘art world,’ both in its sociological meaning (Becker), and in its art theoretical sense (e.g. Danto, Bydler, Groys). As a consequence, I was invited by art historian Hans Belting to contribute to the research project ‘Global Art and the Museum’ at ZKM/Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe/Germany. Although based in two disciplines with very different narratives, often referred to as antagonistic, I appropriated his concept of ‘global art’ for placing my research findings within a wider horizon. Regarding the ‘art world,’ Belting and I came to similar insights, he arguing from an art historical perspective, I from an anthropological one: the notion of ‘the’ art world (singular), or the one of ‘the’ global art world (still in the singular) belong to one of the last strongholds of the European/North American art world’s hegemonic discourses (paraphrasing Belting). I shall argue that engaging in such a trans-disciplinary discourse is not only cross-fertilizing for anthropology, but more so, to position anthropological knowledge within a wider discussion on art and present-day issues within which art is a major thematic.

From Buddhist Deities to the Spirit of Capitalism: Tibetan Medicine and the Remaking of Inner Asia
Stephan Kloos, Austrian Academy of Sciences

The Tibetan world has long been a major site of Austrian anthropological research, significantly contributing to the discipline’s advancement in Austria until today. Combining this long regional expertise with cutting-edge developments in medical anthropology and the wider field, Vienna is the leading centre for anthropological research on Sowa Rigpa (Tibetan medicine), as represented by the ERC project RATIMED. Besides generating a crucial understanding of traditional medicine industries more generally, such innovative research also helps to trace the remaking of contemporary Inner Asia and map its new contours.

This paper suggests that while the physical, political and moral landscapes of the Tibetan world may still be governed by the Buddhist deities studied by previous generations of anthropologists, in today’s context of massive economic growth they are also radically transformed by a powerful spirit of capitalism. Ethnographic material on Sowa Rigpa’s ongoing industrialisation not only illustrates this point, but also offers insights into how this transformation takes place, and what kind of new sociocultural, political, and economic terrains emerge in its wake.

Both a placeholder of Tibetan Buddhist identity and an innovative pillar industry to the whole region, Sowa Rigpa appears as a prime domain through which “savage capitalism” is being domesticated in the Tibetan world, while simultaneously transforming it from within. As such, it offers us the opportunity to reconnect Tibet and traditional medicine to some of current anthropology’s wider concerns, and gain a fresh perspective on contemporary Inner Asia.
 
On Violence and Displacement: Memories after Extreme Violent Experiences in Kurdish Society
Maria Six-Hohenbalken, Austrian Academy of Sciences

The establishment of an ‘anthropology of violence’ as a relatively new field within our discipline tackles the ‘new wars’ or ‘wars of the fourth generation’, in which the civilian population has become a strategic target. Its focus, alongside the ontological understanding of violence, is on group self-representation in post-war situations, social suffering or coping strategies related to displacement. Similarly, the interdisciplinary field of memory studies has experienced a boom in the last decade with its focus on the formation of memory in its visual, material, narrative, and ritual aspects.

Based on both these approaches, my work analyzes the persecution of the Êzîdî in the Ottoman Empire during WWI, the Dersim mass killings (Turkey) during 1937/38, and the Anfal Operation (Iraq) in 1988-89. I shall outline how these violent incidents have been coped with, expressed, and remembered within both the Kurdish homelands and its heterogeneous transnational communities. A common thread in these acts of genocidal persecutions is a policy of denial by the involved states and their present governments. Victims were marginalised or displaced, and, as a result, the development of (counter-) discourses or a historiography of the events was made almost impossible. By consequence, the politics of silencing and denial enforced ‘the unspeakable’ and ‘the inexpressible’ of the horrible experiences upon individual levels. Furthermore, what is crucial is that the experiences of extreme violence continue to maintain a presence as ‘deep’ memories or ‘tacit knowledge’, which is stored in narratives or rituals in the lives of subsequent generations. This implies that victims’ fates were transmitted to the next generation through ‘lived memories’, metaphorical language or bodily habits. Thus, the next generations tend to express an ‘emotional remembering’ and still cope with their ancestors’ traumatic experiences. Today, due to transnationalisation and New Media, these respective communities elaborate on identity processes in which the genocidal persecutions continue to have a core significance.

Critical Re-Assessments: Historical Anthropology and the History of Anthropology
Andre Gingrich, Austrian Academy of Sciences

The postmodern and postcolonial moments certainly had their methodological and epistemological impact upon anthropology in Austria, as in most other parts of central and continental European branches of our field. Still, I would argue that these moments merely helped to speed up ongoing processes toward disentangling local anthropology from any national or larger German-language limitations. Between the early 1980s and the last turn of the century, the field in Austria thereby transformed itself as the local branch of a wider, European and transnational academic endeavour without abandoning certain local specificities.

At present, the provisional results of these processes of self-transformation indicate a certain amount of creative pragmatism when it comes to conceptualizing and theorizing, with a preference for critically assembling and re-assembling valuable elements from our joint British, Francophone, US American, or Spanish-speaking legacies in dialogue with native and regional intellectual approaches. If there is any remaining, “particularly German-speaking” strength in how anthropology in Austria is being carried out, then this is best displayed in a continuing appreciation for local languages, and in a specific care for historical factors.

As far as historical approaches are concerned, these today are elaborated as anthropology’s third main element in our methodological tool kit, after ethnographic field work and anthropological comparisons yet interacting with these first two main elements. Historical approaches in anthropology as practiced in Austria embrace both the realms of historical anthropology and the history of anthropology. My presentation outlines one project for each of these two subfields.

First, a long-term project concerns the history of anthropology in, and from, Vienna during the Nazi years. Throughout the past decade or so, this project has scrutinized archival materials in Vienna, Berlin, Rome, Washington, London, and Moscow about the activities of Vienna-based or Vienna trained socio-cultural anthropologists either inside the so-called “Third Reich”, or in exile (Switzerland, USA, British Empire). Together with a network of participating local anthropologists led by Peter Rohrbacher and Katja Geisenhainer, we shall demonstrate in the up-coming main publication the dense networks of active collaboration, of passive acceptance and of persecution, but also of sabotage and resistance against Hitler’s regime. Bizarre combinations of “basic research under the Nazis” with a wide spectrum of “applied” versions – ranging from “embedded” activities in North Africa and in Polish ghettos to entertainment for the German public and army – will highlight Nazism’s twisted and murderous quest for modernity.   

Second, an Austrian Science Fund interdisciplinary project (now in its sixth of nine years) about “Visions of Community” (VISCOM) in medieval Tibet, South Arabia, and Central Europe will be briefly outlined. Vienna-based anthropologists such as Daniel Mahoney, Magdalena Kloss, Eirik Hovden, Odile Kommer or Guntram Hazod play decisive parts in the Tibetan and South Arabian elements of this endeavour. This project offers the challenge and opportunity to apply, revise, and develop our field’s concepts and some of our methodologies to archival manuscripts and to archaeological materials. We focus on three main topical fields, namely first on spiritual communities (including the non-existence of monasteries in medieval South Arabia), second on tribal and ethnic groups (including the complicated question of what European historians mean by these terms, and how anthropologists continue to discuss them), and third on urban settings, which opens up another set of interesting puzzles, ranging from Asian approaches to writing and printing skills on to testing out Roland Fletcher’s theories about “mural” and “garden” cities. This project definitely includes a strong theoretical challenge, through the necessity to carefully revise and question social historian Max Weber’s thoughts about the allegedly unique role of Europe in global historical developments. 

Yet I shall conclude with a number of methodological remarks that are relevant for anthropology’s approaches in both subfields. For a long time, institutional history and genealogy of ideas have been the best established methods in historical anthropology. Both these projects demonstrate how that portfolio may be enriched and diversified through biographical research, kinship studies, and last but not least, qualitative network analysis. New impulses from anthropology for other historical fields thus may be coming up soon.