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Workshop IV: Stories that matter: exploring (re)presentation and communication of hydrosocial research

Cologne, 25.-27.09.2019


Workshop Report


The Stories that Matter workshop explored different ways of (re)presentation and communication and reflected on their possible role in hydrosocial research. It assembled anthropologists, writers, performance artists, journalists, filmmakers, curators and stage directors as well as a number of guests for two days of discussions and three vespertine experimentations – a performance evening, an intervention/exhibition opening and a film screening. The variety of participants – many of us wore different hats – as well as the combination of practice-based talks and actual artistic-scientific practice proved itself highly fruitful and inspirational. The workshop underlined the power and necessity of cross-disciplinary storytelling, understood as a form of art and committed to human and more-than-human diversity, care and alterity; a storytelling for earthly survival.

You will find sound recordings of some lectures linked below under the respective names or lecture titles.


25. October, evening programme

The public event "AnthropoScenes: Crossing Boundaries of Artistic and Scientific Storytelling" in the former factory Rufffactory Ehrenfeld, jointly organised with the Cologne Summer School of Interdisciplinary Anthropology, showcased artistic takes on multispecies correspondences and transgressions in times of the Anthropocene. It interrogated the boundaries, and aimed at building bridges, between representational forms and disciplines and turned out to be a sometimes embracing, sometimes unsettling, but always thought-provoking and respectful confrontation with literature and performance, carefully crafted by the means of language, gesture, movement, sound, and imaginary. 

The evening started with a reading by Anna Badkhen from her book "Fisherman's Blues" on a Senegalese fishing community. As the fish gets rarer and the soil drier, the coastal lives between wet and dry, between the ocean and the land, are undergoing fundamental changes. With rich language and through meticulous observations and engaged participation, Badkhen assembled intriguing, deeply emphatic and tightly interwoven stories that include humans, materials, spirits and animals and highlight the universal relevance of ethnographically based storytelling. The reading was followed by a Q&A led by the writer and academic Mithu Sanyal and was framed by a video-scenery by Sandro Simon. 

Marina Guzzo's performance "IARA - Dance for a Multitude of Fishes" neatly tied on to Badkhen's work and led us into a metamorphosis between fisher and fished and between spectator and participant. Her performance turned into a personal, sensuous experience of crossing the boundaries between human and animal and between subject and object. 

In her performance "Between Dog and Wolf", Anastasia Guevel took up the animal-human trope and literally carried Deleuze and the “Animal” part of his “ABC,” with her across the stony ground of the Rufffactory. While Deleuze was speaking to us via a mobile bluetooth speaker about animals and humans, Guevel was animal and human.   

Sina Seifee’s performance-lecture "Critical Bestiaries" was based in his ongoing research on an Iranian literature corpus from the Middle Ages. Seated on a table and in the form of show-and-tell, Seifee drew lines between contemporary and past monstrosities and led us to questions our own humanness in times of the Anthropocene. 


26. October, day program

In line with the aim to explore ways of representing and communicating anthropological insights beyond the academy, the workshop took place outside the university, in the premises of a Cologne-based, NGO-run "intercultural community centre", the Allerweltshaus. Due to a last-minute cancellation, we had more time in the morning than planned, which we used for an extended round of introductions that did not follow any pre-defined order. Instead, after one person had introduced herself, whoever found a parallel between this person’s work or biography and their own, had the opportunity to take a turn to introduce himself, beginning with the parallel, and expanding to other details. After the group had thus created a continuous narrative with all participants’ background, we delved into the remainder of the program.

Werner Krauss, from the University of Bremen, juxtaposed the "writing culture" debate from the anthropology of the 1980s with current attempts at formulating an anthropological approach to climate change that engages with lived experiences of the phenomena that are commonly reduced to abstract models. In his presentation entitled "Writing Climate Change", he suggested that the writing culture debate may offer lessons for representing climate change and "bringing climate change into democracy." Anthropological writing about hydrosociality should thereby become less a means to convince "the public(s)", but a way of participating in shaping – or "designing" – the field of discussion on climate change and the options and necessities for pathways of adaptation. This on-going intervention is necessary to counter the "hard science" tendencies to pretend that only a limited number of trajectories are available for a sustainable future, and to ignore basic social processes and differentiations in their approaches to climate change adaptation. 

Franz Krause, from the DELTA team, presented material from social media use in the Canadian Mackenzie Delta to argue that anthropological representations and debates must not be imagined as starting from scratch, but that they should link up with existing and on-going practices of representation and debating among the people we work with. As social media is a very popular means of communication in the delta and beyond, Krause suggested how it could be understood already as a form of representation, a way of communicating to each other and the outside world a selection of activities and events that people consider meaningful and worth sharing. We as anthropologists are therefore tasked with "Representing a Representing World", i.e. inserting ourselves and our writing selectively into an existing, continual stream of statements from the field about the field and the world beyond; to take our interlocutors' self-representations and ideas seriously and craft our writing in conversation them.

The roundtable on "Journalism and Anthropology" facilitated a discussion with two anthropologically inclined professional journalists, Mirjam Kid (Deutschlandfunk radio) and Simon Jäggi (independent journalist and reporter). Having summarised some of their recent work, their discussion with the workshop participants revolved mainly around two issues, facts and formats.

The former, inspired in part by the current worries and experiences around "fake news," centred on the tension between "telling facts" and "telling stories". The discussants seemed to agree that there was no essential difference between the two. First of all, journalism is necessarily an exercise in storytelling, which can be understood as a way of making sense of information. Facts are not necessarily the opposite of fiction, but representation always involves "making up" something that is sufficiently similar to reality. Secondly, both "facts" and "stories" must be truthfully communicated, and the alteration of either yields misleading representations. But it is no more true or wrong to report a fact than it is to tell a story – in either one, it is telling a lie or telling the truth that matters. Because of the nature of both journalistic and anthropological work and material, however, "fact checks" may sometimes be an illusionary appeal to an objectified knowledge that does not play a role in the "facts" and "stories" that we report. Finally, independent of the style of reporting, certain avenues exist to minimise the proliferation of fake news, including demanding transparency of journalistic work and diversifying the media sector beyond the white, male and older elite.

Concerning the format of journalistic work, the discussion centred on the temporal and financial pressures for producing journalistic outputs, and on the expectations for the content and dimensions of these outputs. All agreed that the anthropological time-frames for research were luxurious compared to the much faster speed, at which journalists research and produce their results. The journalists agreed that anthropologists have important contributions to make to their work and highlighted the formats "essay" and "feuilleton" in print media, which may be directly accessible for anthropological writing. Furthermore, while some journalistic formats may restrict writing – due to expectations about combinations of entertainment and information, about news category, or similar – some of these restrictions may even be productive guidelines. Learning to author 850-word blog entries, for example, can turn anthropologists into writers of clearer and more concise ethnography, too. 

We ended the day programme with the "Open Atelier: An Anthropology for the Future", where we discussed, in small groups, a number of questions pertaining to our workshop. These included who the audiences for communicating our research results are (or should be); what messages and inputs we can contribute to specific interlocutors; how we can effectively engage with them; and, more generally, how anthropological practice must change in order to become meaningful in the future. Notwithstanding the diversity of the group assemblages, the outcomes did show some parallels. For example, we should conceive of our "audiences" much more widely than the term "the public" suggests. We ourselves are always our first audience, but also the communities we work with and about whom we write are our audiences. Furthermore, the "general public" is a very heterogeneous group, all of whom may be worthwhile engaging with, depending on our research and intentions. On the one hand, our output thereby also creates and shapes an audience instead of just 'reaching' an audience 'out there'. And on the other hand, different audiences require different ways of communication. As a guiding principle to make an anthropology that keeps its relevance for the future, we could focus on messages that contain those aspects that we find systematically missing from the relevant conversations, such as attention and care, empathy, ethics, complexity, multiplicity, a sensibility for historical processes, a critique of a naturalised worldview, and a furthering of decolonial approaches.


26. October, evening programme

In the early evening, the workshop group set off to the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum Cologne for the opening of the intervention "Delta Worlds: Living in volatile change" ("Delta Welten: Leben im unsteten Wandel"). At 6:30pm, the Museum’s “European Salon” was crowded with museum visitors, friends, family members and colleagues. 

The work the DELTA team had been doing during the last six months together with Marie-Helen Scheid, an exhibition designer, resulted in an intervention providing insight into today’s delta lifeworlds in Brazil, Canada, Myanmar and Senegal. Based on the ethnographic research in the Parnaíba Delta, Mackenzie Delta, Ayeyarwady Delta and Sine-Saloum Delta, the intervention shows how different, but also how similar, everyday life is in the deltas of a networked world. It does so by the means of five thematic stations: "Movement and Rhythm"; "Livelihood and Tradition"; "Postcolonialism and Politics"; "Materiality and Infrastructure" and "Living Together". These five tropes are threaded together via 'wavy' cardboard and include text, photos, a sound- and a video-installation as well as materials and objects that the visitors can touch and smell. 

The opening ceremony opened with the performative reading of the poem "Me njofaa i feembaan buk’mo noowtaa" / "I will feed on shellfish!" by Issa Sarr Damaan, a resident of the Sine-Saloum Delta. Taking turns, Sarr Damaan on video and Sandro Simon in place read the poem together in Serer Niominka and English. 

In the following welcoming speech, Nanette Snoep, the director of the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, acknowledged the great collaboration between the research team and the museum, which already started in February 2019 when, within the scope of the theme day "Water Worlds" the DELTA team shared initial impressions of their fieldwork results via video installations. Snoep emphasized the relevance for the museum of interventions like this, that give current insights of interdependencies, interplays and interactions of humans and their environments and how creatively people face various challenges.

Then, Franz Krause and Sandro Simon outlined some of the basic conceptual ideas of the intervention as well as some of the steps in the making of it and acknowledged the various partners and sponsors. Benoit Ivars, Nora Horisberger and Teresa Cremer came to the front and completed the team of curators to welcome the visitors.

Finally, Thomas Widlok, spokesperson of the Competence Area IV: Cultures and Societies in Transition of the University of Cologne, one of the sponsoring bodies, underlined the importance of the DELTA research group for the wider public. By drawing on his own research on and in deltas in Namibia, Widlok stressed the importance of realising the dimensionality of the environments that influence human lives. He stated that projects like the DELTA project have the potential to provide important impulses for research and the public to re-think how humans and the environment can be linked to each other. The intervention, in his view, is therefore an initial spark for further collaboration between the university and the museum.


27. October, day programme

In his presentation entitled "Slow Anthropology in a Fast World", Paul Stoller, from West Chester University, provided us with an account of his long experience as a storyteller. As he recalled, the anthropologist’s task is to produce knowledge which should serve to make the world a better place, or in his own terms, a "sweeter" place. In doing so, Stoller pledged for engaging in a "slow" anthropology that may enable us to better articulate stories, that is not only the "facts", but that includes emotions, senses and embodiment. A slow epistemology, he argued, can find its place in this fast world. Blogging for instance features well as a way to take advantages of technology in order to reach out.

Paul’s talk was followed by a conversation with Anna Badkhen, a writer and former war correspondent who has written ethnographically researched books of creative non-fiction on Senegalese fishers ("Fisherman's Blues", from which she had read on the first night), Malian pastoralists and Afghan weavers. The discussion centred on the role of storytelling in anthropology and beyond. Stoller emphasised that despite the institutional constraints and limitations upon the anthropologist, there is still space for creative storytelling. Badkhen highlighted in turn the challenge for the writer and the anthropologist to remain open to "other" narratives and stories, to embrace sensibilities in writing with and about research participants. Both agreed that such a sensible storytelling can serve to produce representations that are actually "more representative" and open up spaces for mutual understanding. 

The morning session continued with a presentation by Darcy Alexandra, from the University of Berne, who discussed her experiences in using photo-films, or audiovisual montage, as a mode of enquiry, engagement but also intervention. As she convincingly showed, cooperative photo-films, for example with refugees living in detention centres, that build on a workshop-based process, can be a performative tool for research participants to engage with and create their own ‘mattering stories’ and narratives.

In the afternoon, Bernard Mueller, an independent researcher affiliated to EHESS Paris, continued our exploration of the different ways of (re)presentation and communication of hydrosocial research. In his presentation entitled "The crisis of Anthropology in a Time of Climate Change, or, the Field/Terrain as Epistemic Swamp and Creative Constraint", Mueller reflected on his work that bridges theatre and ethnography. As he stated, theatre can help to create situations of research, i.e. possibilities of communications and exchanges with and between research participants. In this sense, the anthropologist is not so different from the dramaturge: both aim at creating opportunities for significant exchanges.

Michel Massmünster, from the University of Basel, later made us "enthralled by the night". Reflecting on his experience with city tours and art, Michel drew on the challenges of communicating about research at night. ‘Performing nocturnal research’, he demonstrated, can generate more sensualised forms of communication and enable the audience to appropriate stories in a different way. For the anthropologist, in turn, re-performing her/his research bears new epistemological insights and brings forth new questions on their own positionality and role. 

Finally, four members of the DELTA research team (Nora Horisberger, Teresa Cremer, Sandro Simon and Benoit Ivars) gave a presentation building on their collective experience in making the Delta Welten intervention, currently hosted at the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum (RJM) in Cologne. The presentation was also an occasion to exchange with Oliver Lueb, who chaired the session and represented the RJM, on different aspects, from the genealogy of the project, the collaboration with the museum team as well as conceptual choices. The questions thereby revolved around how far interventions (should) align or oppose the permanent exhibition in which they take place, around their role in the decolonialisation of the museum, and around which forms interventions can or should have, i.e., how artistic vs. documentary they can or should be.


27. October, evening programme

The last of three public events was the screening of "5 Times Chico – The São Francisco River and His People" in the Turistarama movie theatre in the centre of Cologne. It was followed by a Q&A with Izabella Faya, producer and screenwriter of the documentary. A special characteristic of the film, to which also the title refers, is that five different directors with their specific approaches and cinematographic techniques filmed it. Despite this division into five different stories from five Brazilian states along the river, there is no sense of fragmentation but rather of flow and relation.

5 Times Chico took us on a sensuous journey along the São Francisco River, on which we learned about people’s lives, struggles and hopes through various personal stories and their entanglements with the river, rather than through facts and numbers. In this way, 5 Times Chico nicely wrapped up the workshop by providing us with a concrete and practical example of some of the points raised during the previous panel discussions. It made, for instance, graspable how a more sensuous anthropology could look like and how multivocality is a powerful tool in storytelling.

After the screening, Izabella Faya gave us some insights into the making of the documentary and elucidated some of the conceptual choices. She explained how for each story she had thought of a different part of the river’s body, if it were. The fishermen’s creative storytelling in the state of Minas Gerais would be the mind. The section from the state of Bahia would be the heart focusing on stories of passion and faith. The episode in the hinterlands of Pernambuco would be like the guts of the film, it would show the region’s dryness, struggles and the lack of perspective. Sergipe would be the legs by remembering the cangaço – a form of social banditry with gangs wandering through the Northeastern hinterlands in protest against the government and in quest of justice. The last part, in Alagoas, would represent the feet, the ending but also blending of the river with the sea. Izabella Faya further pointed out some of the practical challenges, in particular due to the collaboration with the five different directors and finally, given the current political situation in Brazil, she expressed her concern about the future of such documentaries on one hand and the Brazilian rivers and river dwellers on the other hand.


The workshop was generously supported by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, the exhibition by the Competence Area IV of the University of Cologne (CA IV) and the film screening by the Global South Studies Centre of the University of Cologne (GSSC). Katharina Diederichs, Luzia Heinzelmann and Anna Schreiber of the GSSC and Julian Pieper of The a.r.t.e.s Graduate School for the Humanities kindly helped with the organisation of the events.  

The Delta project is trying to be sensitive to its carbon footprint. Our invited guests largely came by train. The remaining air travels amounted to 7.3 tonnes of CO2, which we aim to offset. 

The intervention "Delta Welten – Leben im unsteten Wandel" is running until January 5th 2020 in the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum Cologne. The curators are giving some public tours. Dates can be found at



Stories that Matter | 25.-27.9.| Program and Participant List 

Wednesday 25.9.19 
AnthropoScenes: Crossing Boundaries of Artistic and Scientific Storytelling 

Jointly organized with the Cologne Summer School of Interdisciplinary Anthropology (CSIA) 

Anna Badkhen         Fisherman's Blues (Reading), moderated by Mithu Sanyal
Anastasia Guevel    Between Dog and Wolf (Performance)
Marina Guzzo          IARA - Dance for a Multitude of Fishes (Performance) 
Sina Seifee              Critical Bestiaries (Installation/Performance Lecture) 

Thursday 26.9.19 
Publicizing and Politicizing Anthropology 

09:00 Opening Address 

09:15      Kirsten Hastrup 
               Waterworlds: Looking Back – Thinking Ahead 
               Chair: Franz Krause 

10:00       Werner Krauss 
                Writing Climate Change 
                Chair: Michael Bollig 10:45 Coffee Break 

11:00        Franz Krause 
                 Representing a Representing World: Observations from Arctic Hunter-Gatherers on  
                 Social Media

                 Chair: Manon Diederich 

11:45      Lunch 

13:30     Input and Open Roundtable: Journalism and Anthropology Simon Jäggi and Mirjam Kid
              Chair: Julian Schmischke 15:00 Coffee Break 

15:15     Open Atelier: An Anthropology for the Future
16:30     Transfer to Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum and Dinner
18:30     Opening Intervention/Exhibition 'Delta Welten' (Delta Worlds) 


Friday 27.9.19

Sensualizing Anthropology

09:00    Review and Outlook

09:15   Paul Stoller
            Slow Anthropology in a Fast World
            Followed by a Conversation with Anna Badkhen Chair: Sandro Simon

10:30   Coffee Break

10:45    Darcy Alexandra
             Mattering Stories
             Chair: Sandro Simon

11:30    Artist Talk: Theater and Anthropology Nuran David Calis
             Chair: Bernard Müller

12:15 Lunch

13:30   Bernard Müller
            The crisis of Anthropology in a Time of Climate Change, or, the Field/Terrain as
            Epistemic Swamp and Creative Constraint
            Chair: Benoit Ivars

14:15.    Michel Massmünster
              Enthralled by the Night: Performing Nocturnal Research
              Chair: Nora Horisberger 15:00 Coffee Break

15:15     Teresa Cremer, Nora Horisberger, Benoit Ivars, Sandro Simon and Marie-Helen Scheid
We say 'Delta', you see what? On making the exhibition/intervention 'Delta Welten' Chair: Oliver Lueb

16:00   Final Plenum

17:30   Transfer to Touristarama and Dinner

20:00     Film Screening and Q&A with Izabella Faya
              5 Vezes Chico – O Velho e sua Gente (5 Times Chico – The São Francisco River and his People) (Brazil 2015, 90min)


Stories that Matter | 25.-27.9.| Program and Participant List

Organized by the DELTA Team, in cooperation with and the support of:
Katharina Diederichs       PhD Student and Graduate Research Assistant, GSSC, UoC
Luzia Heinzelmann          Research Assistant, GSSC, University of Cologne
Christoph Lange (CSIA)  PhD Student and Assistant Researcher, Anthropology Department, UoC
Julian Pieper (CSIA)        Research Assistant, a.r.t.e.s Graduate School, UoC

Presenters and Discussants
Darcy Alexandra      Assistant Researcher and Lecturer, Anthropology Department, University of Berne
Anna Badkhen          Writer, Former War Correspondent
Nuran David Calis    Theater Director
Teresa Cremer          Research Assistant DELTA Project, Anthropology Department, UoC
Izabella Faya            Film Producer and Screenwriter
Kirsten Hastrup         Professor Emeritus, Anthropology Department, University of Copenhagen
Nora Horisberger       PhD Student DELTA Project, Anthropology Department, UoC
Benoit Ivars               PhD Student DELTA Project, Anthropology Department, UoC
Simon Jäggi              Independent Journalist and Reporter
Mirjam Kid                 Journalist Deutschlandfunk, Anthropologist
Franz Krause             Principal Investigator DELTA Project, Anthropology Department, UoC
Werner Krauss           Senior Researcher, artec Centre for Sustainability, University of Bremen
Michel Massmünster  Assistant Researcher and Lecturer, Cultural Anthropology Department, University of Basel
Bernard Müller            Independent Researcher and Dramaturg, Member of IRIS, EHESS Paris
Marie-Helen Scheid    Exhibition Designer
Sandro Simon             PhD Student DELTA Project, Anthropology Department, UoC
Paul Stoller                 Professor, Anthropology Department, West Chester University

Writers and Performers
Anna Badkhen
Anastasia Guevel
Marina Guzzo
Sina Seifee

Chairs and Moderators
Michael Bollig         Professor, Anthropology Department, University of Cologne
Manon Diederich    PhD Student, a.r.t.e.s Graduate School, Anthropology Department, UoC
Oliver Lueb             Deputy Director, Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum Cologne
Bernard Müller        Independent Researcher and Dramaturg, Member of EHESS Paris
Mithu Sanyal           Cultural Scientist, Journalist, Writer
Julian Schmischke  PhD Student, a.r.t.e.s Graduate School, Anthropology Department, UoC
and the DELTA Team

Funders and Partners
Emmy-Noether Program Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG),
Global South Studies Centre (GSSC),
Cultures and Societies in Trans- formation (CA IV),
Fritz-Thyssen Stiftung,
Stadt Köln und Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum,
University of Cologne,
Cologne Summer School of Interdisciplinary Anthropology (CSIA)