Aktuelle Meldungen / en-gb Uni Köln Mon, 18 Feb 2019 11:41:52 +0100 Mon, 18 Feb 2019 11:41:52 +0100 TYPO3 EXT:news news-968 Mon, 11 Feb 2019 15:30:13 +0100 Beyond mosaics and matryoshkas. Thinking about indigeneity and decolonisation in the Circumpolar North. And beyond. http://delta.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/index.php?id=26791&tx_news_pi1%5Bnews%5D=968&tx_news_pi1%5Bcontroller%5D=News&tx_news_pi1%5Baction%5D=detail&cHash=5b776ea9116cfc5bf73672b60b7009b7 Some thoughts on indigeneity and decolonisation in the Circumpolar North, from an inspiring workshop at the Universität Hamburg. Postcolonialism is a misleading term. It pretends that colonial relations belong to the pasts. But obviously the configurations of racism, exploitation, subjugation and inequality did not end with the establishment of independent countries. In the successor states of British settler colonies like Australia, Canada and the USA, a multidimensional set of discussions has emerged that engages with some of the fundamental, unresolved questions that these ongoing colonial relations imply politically, philosophically and in legal terms. These questions go beyond the standard concerns of liberal justice, economic (re-)distribution, and appropriate policy tools. Indeed, they involve the radical rethinking of many of the assumptions, on which such concerns are based. 

Should indigenous people fight for recognition of their identities, histories and legal traditions? Or does recognition involve an implicit subjugation under the authority of the colonial state, and therefore defeats its purpose? Is the appropriate strategy the outright refusal of the colonial state’s governance conventions? Should colonial subjects strive for sovereignty to achieve equal status with the colonizer’s claim to sovereignty? Or is sovereignty a concept specific to European political history and incompatible with indigenous political traditions? What are the potentials and pitfalls of concepts like territory, pluralism and nation in these political debates?

A recent workshop at the Universität Hamburg set out to discuss some of these questions and their implications for anthropological research with indigenous people. The workshop was organized by Andreas Womelsdorf, Gertrude Saxinger and the local host Otto Habeck in the name of the German Anthropology Association (DGSKA)’s Regional Working Group "Circumpolar and Siberia". In two days of dense discussion, we attempted to understand the key debates, concepts and relations of a collection of readings and thinkers (masterfully selected by Andreas Womelsdorf), mostly from a North American context, but with some forays also into discussions relating to Siberia and Fennoscandia. Without aiming at summarizing the readings, let alone the discussions, I will reflect on some of my take-home messages from this workshop. 

What makes research with indigenous people different?

In anthropological research, we must treat all research participants with respect, no matter whether or not they are indigenous. Whoever we work with, who share their time and knowledge with us, and whose lives we strive to understand – we owe them gratitude as well as a fair and uncompromising representation. Ethnographic knowledge is necessarily co-produced, so that research participants have a right to claim ownership or control over some of our research output. The respect we owe to our research participants also implies that we must consider our projects in the context of specific colonial histories, and experiences of marginalization and dispossession. These contexts, which habitually structure the lifeworlds of indigenous people today, do require different research than work with people who do not share these current and historical predicaments.

Who and what defines indigeneity?

Indigeneity is often treated as a taken-for-grated term. But in fact both its meanings and attribution are highly diverse. In different national contexts, indigeneity is defined differently, confers different legal status, and has different political implications. Our brief look into Russian and Finnish indigeneity discourses alongside the North American ones already made this very clear; and we didn’t even begin to consider related concepts from other parts of the world, including ethnicity, autochthony and tribalism. The main parallel in most definitions of indigeneity seems to be that all conceive it in relation to a state that is understood as external to the indigenous population.

In Russia, as we learned from Donahoe and colleagues, the equivalent of “indigenous group” is an administrative, state-sanctioned category based on the combination of four attributes: “small” population size (of less than 50 000 members), peripheral place (in relation to the Russian centres of power), traditional livelihoods (like hunting), and a self-identification as a particular group. People who tick all these boxes are eligible to receive particular social benefits. Indigenous people who move to an urban centre or pursue professional careers lose their eligibility. The “smallness” in the designation of indigenous groups reflects the state’s overall paternalistic framing of indigenous groups; and the kinds of eligible livelihood reflects an evolutionist ordering of people. 

In Finland, as Junka-Aikio writes, Saami people find their indigenous status endangered through the academic and political practice of deconstruction that may point to continuities between Saami and Finnish populations to a detriment of their distinctiveness. Therefore the Saami employ a “strategic essentialism” to emphasise their distinctiveness from the mainstream population. This means claiming certain intrinsic properties of particular people’s Saaminess that they know might well be deconstructed away, but must be maintained for the greater good of articulating their specific history of the Saami as a people, and addressing historical and ongoing injustices.

In Canada, indigeneity is defined differently for First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. Until 1985, the state considered only those people as “Indians” who were descendants of other men with “Indian status”. Women lost their Indian status if they married a man without status. This rule paid no heed to indigenous people’s kinship systems. Moreover, once this rule was finally repealed, it continued to cause rifts among indigenous people, some of whom had adopted the colonial logic of indigenous membership into their sense of authenticity. In the Mackenzie Delta, the state definition of “status Indians” continues to cause confusion and grief, as the children of mixed Dene-Inuit ancestry run the risk of losing their membership in the treaty community. 

These sketches of three different renderings of “indigenous” illustrate the tensions between, on the one hand, indigenous subjectivities and self-identification and, on the other, indigeneity as a state-sanctioned category. They also indicate that colonial indigeneity definitions are likely to support particular elites and to undermine political participation for other indigenous people. Finally, this overview demonstrates the possibility that state understandings of indigeneity may seep into those of some indigenous people themselves, which displaces the confrontations between indigenous group and colonial state to internal tensions within the group.

Since its inception in the 1970s, the United Nations’ definitions of Indigenous Peoples has added yet another layer to the various national definitions and practices of indigeneity. Sometimes, this has helped indigenous people to assert themselves vis-à-vis the state, but in other cases, the alliance with an international organisation has been held against the indigenous groups. In Russia, for example, funding from sources abroad makes the receiving organizations into suspect “foreign agents”. 

Another interesting observation was that while in the US context, indigeneity is primarily a legal category, which evolves through laws and court decisions, in Russia, indigeneity is mostly a policy category and the subjects of programs and administration. This implies that the political content of the category can be changed much more easily in the Russian context, where it depends to a large degree solely on the ruling government.

Is the Canadian North a settler colony?

Colonialism is not a singular process, but takes many different forms. The colonialisms of European origins differ from those of other geographical and historical origins; and Spanish colonialism differs from French colonialism, which in turn differs from British colonialism. In the North American context, it is evident how the British (including Canadian and US), French, Spanish and Russian colonialisms implied rather different relations with peoples and territories. The phenomenon that we call settler colonialism today seems to be predominantly a British tradition. 

Settler colonialism, unlike other colonial practices like mercantile colonialism, is based on the systematic replacement of indigenous populations by incoming populations. This replacement can take many forms, from assimilation, legal marginalization to other kinds of structural violence and elimination, including genocide. These processes are not a matter of the past, but are perpetuated today, as settler colonialism is a structure rather than an event, as Wolfe and Sturm remind us.

At first glance, the Canadian North, where there has not been a major and permanent influx of settlers, and where indigenous people constitute the majority of the population, does not look like a settler colony. Taking a closer look, however, it becomes clear that this region must still be considered a settler colony for two reasons. First of all, simply because it is part of a larger state that is, indeed, a settler colony in the strict sense. The laws and regulations in Canada are that of a settler state, and they affect people in the North just as much as in the rest of the country. Second, the extractivist projects that characterise a large part of the region’s economic history – gold rushes and whaling booms, fur trade and hydrocarbon industries – have created landscapes that displace and eliminate indigenous livelihoods in a very settler colonial manner.

Are indigenous peoples sovereign polities? 

The idea that indigenous peoples have political sovereignty has a long history in Canada, at least since the Royal Proclamation in the 18th century. Here, the colonial government refers to indigenous people explicitly as nations, and confirms the idea that colonial and indigenous leaders are to negotiate “nation to nation”. 

In Russia, the sovereignty of indigenous people is not an option, as the ongoing violence in the context of the Chechen struggle for independence amply illustrates. Instead, the relations between different polities and nationalities in Russia is sometimes referred to through a metaphor of the Russian dolls, the matryoshka, where one figure is contained within another, while containing yet another. In the Siberian Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), for example, Sakha people – who do not qualify as indigenous according to the state because of their large population size – are said to form their own nation within the Russian nation. Smaller indigenous groups in the Republic of Sakha, like Evenks and Yukaghir, are seen, in turn, as forming their own unit contained within the Sakha “doll”. 

Contrasting Russia and Canada may also bring out some interesting shades of the idea sovereignty, by juxtaposing it with the translation of terms used in Russia in relation to indigenous people. Especially the term “autonomy” plays an important role in Soviet administration (not only of indigenous people) and is also used by Denmark to describe the partial sovereignty of Greenland. In North America, the term autonomy does not figure prominently in relation to indigenous politics.

Whereas some see the idea of indigenous sovereignty as the key to decolonisation, others are more critical of this direction. Alfred, for example, sees the struggle for sovereignty as – at most – a means in the process towards decolonisation, but not as the end goal. On the contrary, he warns that with the wholesale adoption of the idea of sovereignty as the basis of political independence come too many European-derived institutions and expectations that may run counter to indigenous political traditions. For instance, the totalised authority that is part of the sovereignty concept, embodied in the sovereign and the monopoly of violence dictum, may have no parallel in indigenous order based on relationality and respect. Alfred cautions that operating under the banner of sovereignty may cause the replacement of indigenous political orders with foreign ideas.

What role does recognition have in decolonization?

Some discussions around indigenous people centre on recognition: the colonial state must recognise not only the existence of particular indigenous peoples, but also recognize their claims to land, water and resources, their legal traditions and their other distinguishing characteristics. However, some scholars have argued that striving for recognition not only does not go far enough, but it even inflicts harm on those hoping to be recognised. Based on Sartre’s thoughts on anti-Semitism and Fanon’s discussions on négritude, Coulthart writes that struggling for recognition is necessarily an act of submission, not only to the terms and conditions defined by the person or group by whom one tries to become recognised, but also to this person or group itself.

Therefore, recognition might be a step in a dialectic towards decolonisation, but it must not be equated with the real thing. This is similar to Alfred’s thoughts on sovereignty, noted above. Scholars like Simpson have proposed that refusal, rather than recognition, is the only viable strategy to get rid of colonial dominance. They argue that refusing to participate, to accept or to negotiate – all on terms that have proved detrimental to indigenous people time and again – may lead to more beneficial outcomes in a colonial context. 

Can indigenous legal traditions be integrated in the legal system of the colonial state?

Borrows posits that a more pluralist understanding and practice of law in Canada would enable not only the acknowledgement, but also the implementation of indigenous law where appropriate. Where current legal practice routinely marginalizes indigenous people further by denying their legal traditions any weight in court, legal pluralism would integrate these tradition into the Canadian system. In fact, Burrows claims that Canadian law already is pluralist, since common law applies in some situations and civil law in others. If Canadians can happily live with two parallel legal systems, what would keep them from living with three, including indigenous law?

For this to be realised, however, some fundamental issues need addressing, including the relationships and hierarchies between these different sets of law. For instance, if someone is found guilty in an indigenous court, can they repeal to a higher court? Under what circumstances would the Supreme Court apply indigenous law? And what difference would it make if the judges are trained in colonial jurisprudence with little understanding of the traditions that feed into indigenous law? Also, what if the formulation of indigenous law (if it can be codified at all) includes non-human legal actors like animals and spirits? 

Part of the underlying problem seems to be in the idea of pluralism itself. If Canada is popularly depicted as a mosaic of different constituent parts, is it enough to say that indigenous people are some mosaic pieces among many others? Probably not. As Turner has made very clear, many misunderstandings about indigeneity are based precisely on the liberal discourse in which many of the “problems” are formulated. A liberal discourse systematically silences colonial histories, which implies that indigenous people are seen as just another minority, that the settler state is taken as the ultimate and naturalised frame of reference, and that non-indigenous experts can make indigenous policies and laws without the participation of indigenous peoples.

news-900 Fri, 09 Nov 2018 15:40:06 +0100 Can something be fluid and still solid? Musings about “solid fluids“ http://delta.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/index.php?id=26791&tx_news_pi1%5Bnews%5D=900&tx_news_pi1%5Bcontroller%5D=News&tx_news_pi1%5Baction%5D=detail&cHash=1159786f737365ad215801e4bd2588c4 A blog post on why it is helpful to approach materials and meanings as "solid fluids", and why "solid" and "fluid" still matter as different, if relational, qualities. In August, I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop titled “Solid Fluids. New Approaches to Materials and Meaning” at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Organised by the anthropologists Cris Simonetti and Tim Ingold, it drew together 15 researchers from likeminded fields (including, alongside anthropology, geography, sociology, archaeology, design and art) to discuss empirical cases where people encountered fluids that were also solid, or solids that were also fluid, how they made sense of these materials, and how these insights may help understand the world not in binaries of solid against fluid, particle against wave, mind against matter, but as something more integrated.

Cris and Tim had been thinking about this tension of solid versus fluid for some time already, as part their project called Solid Fluids in the Anthropocene, and had recently published a short article titled Ice and Concrete: Solid Fluids of Environmental Change in the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology. Here, they review the scientific treatment of two solid fluids – ice and concrete – and observe that fluidity and solidity continue to be presented as opposed qualities. Cris and Tim, instead, suggest starting “with an ontology in which fluidity and solidity are not mutually incompatible properties” (p.28).

At the workshop, we learned how multidimensional the issue of “solid fluids” is, even for the humanities and social sciences. It has structured scientific debates, for instance in glaciology, on whether glaciers behave like solids or fluids, and similarly, in soil science, on whether soil processes are mechanic or fluid. Solid fluids matter in the mobile dynamics within archaeological strata and other human-made soils, including landfills; they relate to earthquakes and the ways in which architecture attempt to address them; and they speak to questions of heat in magma, kilns and manufactured objects. Approaching research topics as solid fluids evidently also changes the things we may find out about them, such as understanding the art of glass-making as the solidification of light; or studying the commodification of sea waves for electricity generation. Moreover, our occasional forays into physics yielded a few through-provoking insights for the physical amateurs, including that there is a whole class of matter called “non-Newtonian fluids” – like ketchup and silly putty – that behave like solids under some circumstances and like fluids in others.

In my own contribution, based on my recent experiences with ice, permafrost, water and mud in the Mackenzie Delta, I was eager to demonstrate that even though we can productively speak materials and meaning as solid fluids, it is very often crucially important whether a phenomenon is actually rather solid or rather fluid in a particular situation. While the solid fluids perspective emphasises that materials and meanings are always at the same time both, solid and fluid, it matters a lot for life in the Mackenzie Delta whether the ground is frozen solid or liquid mud, whether rivers and lakes are covered in ice or open water, and whether the snow is dry or slushy. 

I noted that current manifestations of climate change, including uncertain ice conditions and permafrost erosion, are only among the most recent set of transformations in the delta. Its inhabitants have had to negotiate colonial rule, different boom and bust economies, and the de- and re-valuation of indigenous identity, among other radical changes. While transformations are evidently part of people’s lives, this does not make the distinction between solidity and fluidity arbitrary. Rather, the concerns and strategies of delta inhabitants suggest that fluidity and solidity remain important attributes. They are significant not as exclusive properties, however, but as relational qualities, in the context of particular human projects and activities.

I outlined some of the mobility practices of current Mackenzie Delta inhabitants – e.g. ice road construction and use, snowmobile journeys, and boating trips – and discussed them in relation to the solid fluids in the delta, including permafrost, ice/water and gravel. 

For example during the winter, when deep snow weighs down the ice of river and lakes and pushes water on top, a phenomenon called “overflow” may develop. The water pushed on top of the ice usually seeps into the snow and creates a treacherous slush, not visible from the snow surface, which can stall snowmobiles. Once trapped in the overflow, travellers can only get out with a lot of effort, and usually soaked snow pants. On my winter trips through the Mackenzie Delta, I got stuck with a snowmobile many times, one of which in the infamous overflow in a long and narrow channel that is known for developing this phenomenon. After my companions had helped me to drive out from the slush and back onto dry snow, and as our boots and snow pants were drying next to a wood stove in a cabin, they explained to me what they had already indicated with a few short shouts during the event. The only way to drive through overflow was to go as fast as possible, “skipping” across it, as they call it. This is the same word that they use for driving a snowmobile across open water in the spring, when the snowmelt overflows and decays the ice on the edges of rivers and lakes, while it is still safe to drive along their centre. When we returned along the same river channel later that night, I was thus prepared to speed through the slush, which worked well. The next time I drove through this stretch was almost a month later, and the slush had frozen solid from all the snowmobile traffic that had passed by since, which made for an extremely bumpy trail.

This illustrates that not only is the materiality of the water/snow/ice relative to contextual dynamics like temperature and the weigh of fresh snow and the frequency of use of a snowmobile trail. But also, the affordance of this material differs with the speed by which someone confronts it. The question of solid fluids thereby becomes an issue of relative tempo, or interlocking and conflicting rhythms.

Based on these discussions, I proposed that Henri Lefebvre’s notion of “tempo” may help to illustrate the predicament of living in a world that is solid and fluid in relation to particular practices. Lefebvre, in his famous essays on rhythmanalysis, had pointed out that tempo is always relative – something can be slow of fast only in relation to something else. For the discussion of solid fluids, this means that solidity and fluidity – whether things appear hard or liquid – is equally a question of a relation to something else, where this something else is the body and activities of the perceiver or practitioner. Lefebvre famously declared that for an aspiring rhythmanalyst, 

“nothing is immobile. He hears the wind, the rain, storms; but if he considers a stone, a wall, a trunk, he understands their slowness, their interminable rhythm. This object is not inert; time is not set aside for the subject. It is only slow in relation to our time, to our body, the measure of rhythms” (p. 20).

Rhythms and their tempos are thus always relative to those of our bodies, and – we may add – to the things we do with our bodies. Lefebvre made this point in order to demystify apparent solidity as actual ‘slowness’, but we can respectively use the same tool to understand fluidity as ‘fastness’.

To sum up, economic cycles, political climate, sociocultural dynamics and physical transformations can all be experienced as both solid and fluid, depending on the degree to which they resonate with what people seek to do or explain. Yes, solid fluids abound once we pay attention to the way that even ostensibly solid things are inherently fluid, and obvious fluids may appear solid. Water is a case in point: it can be fluid for someone swimming in it; solid for someone jumping into it from too high; and sticky – something in between solid and fluid – for an insect touching its surface (thanks to Bron Szerszynski for mentioning this third relation during the workshop). This also brings home the message from the Mackenzie Delta fieldwork, however: things are not just solid fluids in themselves, but emerge as solid and fluid in relation to specific endeavours and processes, like riding a snowmobile. Tempo may be a good term to think about how solid fluids matter, and how it remains significant to what extent they are relatively solid or fluid for particular activities.

In a world where everything seems to be changed and changing, solidity and fluidity may best be seen as indications of gradual differences in tempo. 

news-899 Thu, 08 Nov 2018 14:50:27 +0100 Delta Methoden - Arbeitspapier veröffentlicht http://delta.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/index.php?id=26791&tx_news_pi1%5Bnews%5D=899&tx_news_pi1%5Bcontroller%5D=News&tx_news_pi1%5Baction%5D=detail&cHash=732ff45a10a08634993ced285635ead6 Wir freuen und mitteilen zu können, dass unser Sammelband "Delta Methoden: Überlegungen zur Erforschung hydrosozialer Lebenswelten" als Open Access-Beitrag in Kölner ethnologische Arbeitspapiere veröffentlicht wurde.

Diese Sammlung ist ein direktes Ergebnis unseres Workshops vom Januar 2018 über Forschungsmethoden für unstetige Lebenswelten im hydrosozialen Anthropozän. Nach dem Workshop haben einige der Teilnehmer*innen ihre Präsentationen in kurze Kapitel umgewandelt, wobei der Fokus auf einigen praktischen Aspekten und konzeptionellen Herausforderungen liegt, die bei Feldforschungen in Deltas und mit Bewohnern anderer Feuchtgebiete auftauchen.

Die Sammlung wurde in der Open Access-Reihe der Kölner Arbeitspapiere zur Ethnologie (KAE) veröffentlicht und kann hier direkt vom Online-Archiv der Universität zu Köln heruntergeladen werden.

Die zwei wesentlichen Fragen. die dieses Arbeitspapier behandelt, sind: 

1.        Welche ethnographischen Instrumente können dazu dienen, die Welten der Menschen, die an Flussufern, Küsten und in Deltas wohnen, zu verstehen und zu erfassen? Und

2.        Was ist das Spezielle an fluvialen, Küsten- und deltaischen Lebenswelten, sodass diese Gebiete spezifische Feldforschungsmethoden benötigen?

Bei der Behandlung dieser Fragen, werden Beiträge von acht Forschern zusammengetragen, deren empirische Arbeit in wasserreichen Umgebungen angesiedelt ist, die wiederum durch sozial und ökologisch ungewisse Transformationen gekennzeichnet sind und die wir als ‚hydrosoziale’ Beziehungen beschreiben. Der Begriff ‚hydrosozial’ weist auf die Erkenntnis hin, dass soziale und hydrologische Beziehungen häufig eng miteinander korrespondieren, da Wasserströme möglicherweise politische und wirtschaftliche Macht widerspiegeln und menschliche Subjektivität durch die Qualitäten, Mengen und Zeitabläufe des Wassers geformt werden kann. Durch die Erörterung vergangener und aktueller Forschungsvorhaben, Herausforderungen und Lösungsansätze, werden in den Beiträgen einige Erfahrungen der Wissenschaftler bei der Erforschung hydrosozialer Lebenswelten ausgetauscht.

Drei Querschnittsthemen können identifiziert werden:

1.        Die fraktale Geographie von Wasserläufen und ihren Bewohnern erfordert einen multiskalaren Forschungsansatz, der die feinkörnige ethnographische Feldforschung mit räumlichen und zeitlichem Herauszoomen ergänzt.

2.        Um das lokale hydrosoziale Leben zu verstehen, müssen wir den sozialen und materiellen Strömen, die sich in diese Orte hinein und aus ihnen heraus bewegen, einschließlich Gewässern, Ideen, Sedimenten, Praktiken, Menschen und Fischen, besondere Aufmerksamkeit widmen.

3.        Sich mit unseren Gesprächspartnern mitbewegen – z.B. auf Spaziergängen oder Bootsfahrten – ist unerlässlich, um Dinge zu erfahren, die nicht Teil von Gesprächen im Sitzen sind, um etwas über eingebettete Praktiken zu lernen, und um die Flexibilität zu verstehen, die das Leben in volatilen hydrosozialen Kontexten oft erstmals ermöglicht.


Das Inhaltsverzeichnis des Arbeitspapieres ist wie folgt, mit Beiträgen der DELTA-Teammitglieder, die fett gedruckt sind. Viel Spaß beim Lesen!

1. Introducing Delta Methods (Franz Krause)

2. Scaling a River (Mark Harris)

3. From Rivers to Deltas: Some Conceptual and Methodological Routes (Naveeda Khan)

4. River Deltas in the Context of the Anthropocene Debate (Matt Edgeworth)

5. Of Salt and Drought – What Methods for Ethnographic Research in Fluid Places? (Nora Horisberger)

6. Walking the Anthropocene: Exploring Multispecies Relations in Coastal Ecuador (Michael Viña)

7. Around and Around: ‘Kyauk Pyin’, Alluvial Lands and the Challenges of Ethnographing Volatility in the Ayeyarwady River Delta (Benoit Ivars)

8. Trapping Trappers, and Other Challenges of Ethnographic Fieldwork in the Mackenzie Delta (Franz Krause)


9. Fearing Together, Fearing Alone: Fieldwork under the Possibility of Fire (Sandro Simon)



news-605 Fri, 08 Dec 2017 21:32:00 +0100 Workshop: Forschungsmethoden für volatile Lebenswelten im hydrosozialen Anthropozän http://delta.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/index.php?id=26791&tx_news_pi1%5Bnews%5D=605&tx_news_pi1%5Bcontroller%5D=News&tx_news_pi1%5Baction%5D=detail&cHash=5447c244f5754f98f2600db06416ff69 Das DELTA Projekt veranstaltet vom 17.-19. Januar 2018 seinen zweiten Workshop in Köln. Der Schwerpunkt wird auf Forschungsmethoden für das Leben in Flussdeltas liegen. Wir freuen uns, unseren bevorstehenden Workshop zu Forschungsmethoden bekannt geben zu können. Nach einigen Monaten unserer ethnographischen Feldforschungen in vier Flussdeltas rund um die Welt, wollen wir wieder zusammenkommen und Bilanz ziehen über das, was wir getan haben, was gut funktioniert hat und was verbessert werden könnte. Wir werden unsere Erfahrungen und unsere Vorhaben mit Forscher*innen und Wissenschaftler*innen diskutieren, die in verwandten Bereichen arbeiten und deren Hintergrund in verwandten Disziplinen liegen. 

Veranstaltungsort:  Tagungs- und Gästehaus St. Georg, Rolandstraße 61, 50677 Köln

Workshopzeiten: 17. Januar 2018, 13.00 Uhr bis 19. Januar 2018, 13.00 Uhr

Anmeldung: Bitte senden Sie uns bis zum 12.01.2018 eine e-mail, wenn Sie an einer Teilnahme interessiert sind; bitte beachten Sie, dass die Plätze begrenzt sind und entsprechend dem Eingangszeitpunkt Ihrer Mail vergeben werden.

Workshopsprache ist Englisch.


Über den Workshop:

Anpassungen und Feinabstimmungen ethnographischer Methoden sind häufig notwendig, um gegenwärtige Lebenswelten besser zu verstehen und Erkenntnisse hervorzubringen, die zu aktuellen Debatten beitragen können. In unserem Workshop werden wir untersuchen, welche Methoden wir benötigen, um die sozialen, materiellen, kulturellen und ökonomischen Volatilitäten zu studieren, die das menschliche Leben im hydrosozialen Anthropozän charakterisieren. Wenn Veränderung und Ungewissheit die Stabilität und Kontinuität als wesentliche Grundsätze des sozialen Lebens ersetzt haben, welche ethnographischen Werkzeuge könnten dazu dienen, diese Welten zu erfassen und zu verstehen?

'Anthropozän' bezieht sich hier auf die Erkenntnis, dass menschliche Aktivitäten globale geologische Auswirkungen haben können, die mit Plattentektonik und Sonnenstrahlung vergleichbar sind. 'Hydrosozial' weist auf die Feststellung hin, dass soziale und hydrologische Beziehungen oft eng miteinander korrespondieren, da Wasserströmungen politische und wirtschaftliche Macht widerspiegeln und menschliche Subjektivitäten durch die Eigenschaften, Mengen und Zeiten von Wasser geprägt sein können.

Unser Workshop zielt darauf ab, einen Gedankenaustausch zu den Möglichkeiten und Grenzen alter und neuer Feldmethoden im hydrosozialen Anthropozän aufzubauen und die praktischen und ethischen Aspekte ihrer Anwendung zu diskutieren. Dies kann uns dabei helfen, unsere Aufmerksamkeit auf die Fragen zu richten, die für unsere Gesprächspartner im Feld vor Ort von Bedeutung sind, und Wissen zu erzeugen, das aktuelle Debatten in der Wissenschaft und im öffentlichen Diskurs anspricht. 


Für weitere Informationen und ein vorläufiges Programm klicken Sie bitte hier.


news-56 Fri, 04 Nov 2016 09:38:13 +0100 Storifying and storytelling http://delta.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/index.php?id=26791&tx_news_pi1%5Bnews%5D=56&tx_news_pi1%5Bcontroller%5D=News&tx_news_pi1%5Baction%5D=detail&cHash=28388af83d198e55fa35c0d5f5a1d634 Does Storify tell stories? A critical appraisal inspired by our first workshop storyline.

Not long ago, after our first project workshop, we noticed that we had so many social media posts documenting some of the presentations and discussions there, that it made sense to preserve them in some form. This form we found when the wonderful Rachel recommended Storify, a social network service designed to collect online content, especially from social media, and form a storyline out of the collected posts.

We went ahead and arranged the various online content that related to our workshop onto Storify’s storyboard, which resulted in this


While this is undoubtedly a neat resource and handy archive of 140-character notes from the workshop, there also remained a nagging unease with this storyline as a representation of the workshop. First of all, we only tweeted during orderly presentations and discussions, not during the more disorderly – but at least as insightful – World Café and Open Space exercises, when we sat around flip charts and moved between groups to exchange ideas on several questions.

A second source of unease was probably more fundamental. Here we had, as an accessible archive of our workshop, a series of snapshots, all interesting in themselves, but their only connection seemed to lie in their sharing of a hashtag, or, indeed in their having been arranged on this storyline. Was this a story, after all?

The collection of snapshots on a timeline seemed to contradict much of what we have learned about the nature of narrative. Narrative means that events or expressions do not exist as isolated givens, but come into being in relation to particular developments, past and future. Environmental historian William Cronon, for instance, has argued that narrative creates direction and purpose, and is therefore a moral commentary with political implications. He writes that while it is near impossible to recount the past without telling a story (even the list-like chronicle implies one), the choice of story is crucial, since it can suggest very different understandings of past events and future outlooks or options.

Cronon emphasises that these stories must conform to a set of norms, including their congruence with other historical and ecological facts, but it is also clear that the logic of the narrative itself delineates which aspects of an always excessive reality are selected into the story, and which ones are left out. Rather than direct copies of a steam of events, a story is therefore selective and biased in non-random ways, perhaps, as Marilyn Strathern suggested, similar to the non-linear, but structured patterns of Cantor Dust.    

Nevertheless, the story is a continuous process that exists in its development and expansion, rather than in the summation of a series of facts or expressions. Tim Ingold has famously illustrated this with a line, reproduced from Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, which represents the movement of the tip of a Corporal’s stick that he waves about to elucidate the freedom in a man’s life:



Ingold uses this line to illuminate differences in approaches to travelling, mapping and textuality. If we take it as representing a story(line), then we don’t get around to first mention the wonderful collection of various version of this same line, in different renditions of Tristram Shandy, collated by Craig Conley.



Conley comments: “It would seem that even a squiggle isn’t immune to the corruption inherent in transliteration.  Like a curl of smoke, Sterne’s squiggle changes shape as it traverses edition after edition of Tristram Shandy.” This means that the story inevitably changes from one retelling to the next; however, it does remain a story – a line, in this visual metaphor – throughout the different versions (unless it is re-rendered in words, as in one of Conley’s examples).

Ingold, however, takes his illustration into a different direction, or into an experiment, as he calls it. He renders the squiggle through a series of dots that represent the points of cutting the line into equal segments:


He then proceeds to link these dots by straight connecting lines, ending up in a travesty of the original squiggle, which is also the point of his experiment:


Whereas Ingold uses this experiment to support his argument about the fragmentation of lines of dwelling in modern conceptions of assembly, it also serves well to illustrate the unease with a virtual storyline as a representation of a continuous thinking-listening-discussing process. Even though arranged consecutively as if a story, the online content in our workshop storyline remains a series of snapshots – (presumably) interesting and (hopefully) insightful points, but points after all. The story behind them has to be inferred by the reader and is not necessarily obvious at all. Connecting the dots does not add up to an equivalent of a narrative, just as the connected points in Ingold’s illustrations cannot reproduce the Corporal’s squiggle.

This is not to declare Storify useless; quite the opposite, it is a very useful tool to collect and keep in one place selected social media content that otherwise can prove all too ephemeral. What this does say, however, is that a Storify archive should not be mistaken for a narrative. For the latter, you better read our workshop report.

news-33 Tue, 20 Sep 2016 15:51:11 +0200 Approaching memory in fluid landscapes http://delta.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/index.php?id=26791&tx_news_pi1%5Bnews%5D=33&tx_news_pi1%5Bcontroller%5D=News&tx_news_pi1%5Baction%5D=detail&cHash=4b961e7b59810ef5b363cc7e117135f3 Some reflections on memory after the Workshop “Anthropology of and for river deltas”, University of Cologne, August 23 -24th 2016 If memory had long been a neglected and marginal concept in anthropological research, it has recently become so popular that it has been characterised as a “memory boom”. This trend leads to some problems that become obvious when doing research on memory. Berliner (2005) points out that rarely is memory clearly defined, so that the concept loses precise meaning in a way that everything becomes memory. This might be a source of confusion, as in some studies memory is no longer differentiated from the concepts of identity or culture, for example.

Maybe because it is used in everyday language, the notion is easily appropriated by different actors in various contexts, assigning – voluntarily or not – their own meaning on it. Thus, it is not surprising that its meaning is getting blurred. Working with memory, as other concepts, then requires a critical reflection on the concept and its uses.

One focus of studies of memory is its link to the physical environment. Landscape is frequently described as a store and record of memory. Certainly, the imprints of the past in the present landscape are not to be denied. For Ingold (1993: 152), “the landscape tells – or rather is – a story”. He argues that the environment itself is “pregnant” with the past. Over generations people have moved in it, left their marks and contributed to its formation and therefore, perceiving the landscape is always an act of remembrance, where remembering is not equal to recalling an internal image, stored in the mind, but a perceptual engagement with this “pregnant” environment.

For many societies, landscapes play a vital role in remembering the past; it connects peoples to their history. However, this perspective of landscape as material record of history and memory, and in addition the importance to remember the past – where preserving it appears to be a problem – may be specific to some cultures, for instance to Western societies. Referring to Forty and Küchler (1999), Harrison (2004: 135) notes that for those societies that use objects to remember the past, “a problem history can appear to pose […] is how to preserve it. To them, it is as if the past dissolves unless it is saved in archives, commemorated with monuments or given other durable physical forms.”

In fluid and watery landscapes such as deltas, where water dynamics shape social life and environment, this framework of memory practice is probably inadequate. In a highly dynamic environment, people’s mobility might blur the past, and imprints of past lives and works disappear with an ever changing environment. It would, in this context, make little sense to use fixed geographic references to remember the past.

In this way, some recent studies show evidence, that there is a necessity to find other ways to approach memory in fluid landscapes. Harris (2012: 743) calls for a different approach in a context “where the work of past generations does not lie layered like geological strata.” In an article about memorious and forgetful landscapes, Harrison (2004) challenges general and dominant assumptions by showing that people’s material interaction with the landscape may also enhance processes of forgetting. He suggests that there is a link between watery, fluid and forgetful landscapes. By comparing his findings from the middle Sepik in Papua New Guinea to research about English landscapes, Harrison argues that if the English landscape is described as a book in which successive authors have written, it can be considered as a memourios landscape. In comparison, the landscape of the middle Sepik appears as an actively forgetful one, with water as a main means of unremembering. However, the processes of historical erasure are not entirely natural but enhanced by people’s activities. So, people are actively engaged in the forgetting of their landscapes by fashioning the land in ways that makes their own traces disappears.

Lima and Alencar (2001) show that instead of associating memory with particular places – which is usually done in fixed environments – the memories of floodplain communities in Brazil are continuously disconnected from fixed references as the floodplain changes and reforms. The frequency of people’s moving also complicates a construction of a collective history and memory of the place, as people do not share the same pasts. The authors conclude that in this environment the time period of most interest is the present: people are restarting each year, after each flood, and so their narratives and memories are not linear and chronological but cyclic.



Before and after the flood - Community of Aranha, NE Brazil (Photo Nora Horisberger)

These studies suggest that dominant approaches to memory and landscape can be inappropriate in some contexts. This leads us to ask whether there are other forms of memory: How would memories look like that are not linked to a chronological, historical past? Memories that do not build on fixed references in the physical environment? – In short we should critically rethink dominant approaches to memory and landscapes and consider that especially in fluid environments there might be other forms and appreciations of memory.

Studies of this kind are also important in contrast to a vision that over a long time has been dominant and is still present in Brazil: the description of ribeirinhos (river dwellers) as culturally poor and “without history,” which contributed to their marginal position and invisibility, as much from public policies as from the depictions by anthropologists, who tended to be more interested in the “culturally rich” indigenous Amerindian societies.

As mentioned above, memory is used and appropriated by diverse actors today. For example, in 2014 the NGO “Commissão Ilha Ativa” (Active Island Commission) conducted a project on oral history and memory of a community in the Brazilian Parnaíba Delta, concerned with safeguarding and rescuing of memory and collective history (Galeno, 2014). To cite just one example, the unfamiliarity of some inhabitants with certain parts of the history told by other community members led them to the conclusion that currently there is a detachment between the community and its own history, and therefore it is necessary to maintain it. But what if there has never been a shared collective history in this community?



Berliner, D. C. (2005). The abuses of memory: reflections on the memory boom in anthropology. Anthropological Quarterly, 78(1), 197-211.

Galeno, L.S. (2014). Comunidade da Pedra do Sal: Contando Histórias, Relembrando Memórias. Online publication http://comissaoilhaativa.org.br/publicacoes/ (access 12.09.2016).

Harris, M. (2012). The Rhythm of Wetlandlife: Seasonality and Sociality. In: Menotti, F., & O'Sullivan, A. (Eds.). The Oxford handbook of wetland archaeology. OUP Oxford.

Harrison, S. (2004). Forgetful and memorious landscapes. Social anthropology,12(02), 135-151.

Ingold, T. (1993). The temporality of the landscape. World archaeology, 25(2), 152-174.

Lima D. & Alencar, E. (2001). A lembrança da História: Memó́riasocial, ambiente e identidade na várzea do médio Solimões. Lusotopie, 27–48.

news-47 Tue, 16 Aug 2016 16:40:00 +0200 Workshop-Programm veröffentlicht http://delta.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/index.php?id=26791&tx_news_pi1%5Bnews%5D=47&tx_news_pi1%5Bcontroller%5D=News&tx_news_pi1%5Baction%5D=detail&cHash=d400a751b071523f7dbf85c1f279302d Das Programm des Workshops 'Anthropologie von und für Flussdeltas' ist nun verfügbar. Eine allgemeine Einführung in den Workshop finden Sie hier.


Anthropologie von und für Flussdeltas

23. August

 09.00 Eröffnung und Überblick (Franz Krause)

09.30 Revisiting Multispecies Infrastructure: Änderung der Multispecies-Rhythmen im Chao Phraya Delta (Atsuro Morita), mit Q&A

10.30 Kaffeepause 30'

11.00 Perspektiven zu den Methoden und Auswirkungen der Infrastrukturierung des Irrawaddy Delta (Benoit Ivars)

11.20 Kommentar (Tanya Richardson) und Diskussion

11.40 Behandlung und Repräsentation der Ströme im Tana Delta (Sandro Simon)

12.00 Kommentar (Jean-Philippe Venot) und Diskussion

12.20 Rhythmus, Beziehung and Erinnerung im Parnaíba Delta (Nora Horisberger)

12.40 Kommentar (Atsuro Morita) und Diskussion 

13.00 Mittagspause

14.00       Existenzgrundlagen, Identitäten und Hydrologie: zu einem holistischen Ansatz zu multiplen Volatilitäten im Mackenzie Delta, Kanada (Franz Krause)

14.20 Diskussion

14.35 Delta Open Space

15.35 Kaffeepause

16.10 Das Chao Phraya Delta - Amphibische, urbane Morphologie (Benjamin Casper) und Diskussion

16.40 GlobE - Feuchtgebiete in Ostafrika: Chancen und Herausforderungen von Landwirtschaft in Feuchtgebieten (Matian van Soest) und Diskussion

17.10 Confluences and distributaries I (Franz Krause)

18.30 Abendessen

24. August

09.00 Sedimental Journeys: Politik, Poetik, und Orte im Danube Delta, Ukraine (Tanya Richardson), mit Q&A 

10.00 Deltas Umgang mit Unsicherheit: Multiple Praktiken und Kenntnisse über Delta-Governance (DoUbT) (Jean-Philippe Venot), mit Q&A

11.00 Kaffeepause

11.30 Delta Word Café

12.30 Confluences and distributaries II (Nora Horisberger, Sandro Simon, Benoit Ivars) 

13.00 Mittagspause 

14.00       Exkursion

18.00 Abendessen

news-44 Wed, 10 Aug 2016 14:52:00 +0200 Workshop: Anthropologie von und für Flussdeltas http://delta.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/index.php?id=26791&tx_news_pi1%5Bnews%5D=44&tx_news_pi1%5Bcontroller%5D=News&tx_news_pi1%5Baction%5D=detail&cHash=5d6f9dc72e2e41954397c893a328dc9c Wir organisieren unseren diesjährigen Workshop, um die theoretischen Grundlagen einer Anthropologie in Flussgebieten zu diskutieren. Unser diesjähriger Workshop findet vom 23.08-24.08.2016 an der Universität zu Köln statt. Wir werden einige der theoretischen Grundlagen einer Anthropologie diskutieren, die sich mit dem Leben in einem Delta-Gebiet befasst.

Bei Interesse an Teilnahme am Workshop kontaktieren Sie bitte Sandro Simon.


Beschreibung des Workshops

Welches konzeptionelle Werkzeug ist am besten geeignet, um sich dem Leben in einem Delta anzunähern? Wie kann ethnologische Theorie dabei helfen, die besonderen Herausforderungen und das alltägliche Leben der Menschen in großen Flussdeltas zu verstehen? Dieser Workshop wird untersuchen, wie eine Anthropologie aussehen würde, die sich mit den spezifischen sozialen, hydrologischen, ökonomischen und kulturellen Beziehungen auseinandersetzt, die das ‚Deltaleben‘ in verschiedenen Teilen der Welt ausmacht. Dabei zielt der Workshop darauf ab, eine Anthropologie von Flussdeltas auszuarbeiten – d.h. eine Reihe von Konzepten und Rahmenbedingungen für die Untersuchung vom ‚Deltaleben‘ – sowie die Formulierung einer Anthropologie für Flussdeltas – d.h. ein Ansatz, der geeignet ist, um die Bedenken, Hoffnungen, Herausforderungen und Chancen der Delta-Bewohner herauszufinden und zu vermitteln.

In diesem Workshop werden wir die möglichen Beiträge klassischer und neuerer ethnologischer Ansätze zur Untersuchung von ‚Deltaleben‘ diskutieren. Dazu gehören u.a. bestimmte Aspekte der ökologischen Ethnologie, Multi-Spezies Ethnographie, der Anthropologie der Infrastruktur, der Anthropozän-Diskurse, Ideen von Hydrosozialität und materieller Semiotik. Anstatt diese Ansätze lediglich in auf einer abstrakten Ebene zu untersuchen, werden wir ihre Nützlichkeit und ihre Reichweite in Bezug auf spezifische ethnographische Forschungsprojekte in Flussdeltas und darüber hinaus betrachten.


Das Workshop-Programm finden Sie hier.