I am a Professor in the Global Studies Program and faculty affiliate in the department of Anthropology at The New School in New York. My research examines how social change is experienced and negotiated on the ground following rapid economic, political, and cultural disruption, approaching it ethnographically through the lens of everyday life, material culture, and urban space.
I first came to the Institute for European Ethnology as a visitor in 2013 to conduct ethnographic research into museums of everyday life under socialism as part of my project on GDR-era material culture. In 2019 as a visitor at CARMAH I delved into my current project on how colonial reckoning is changing Germany’s memory landscape. This current research seeks to understand what it means for colonial-era questions to acquire the status of a new phase of coming to terms with the past alongside—and sometimes in tension with—the debates over the memory of the National Socialist and East German pasts. I examine how institutions as diverse as the federal government, museum collections such as the Humboldt Forum, and civil society organisations navigate contentious issues arising from the colonial past, from the return of human remains and artefacts to demands for compensation and apology.
This current project, together with my previous books, will have explored three distinct phases of reckoning with difficult pasts in re-unified Germany. My first book, Between Sovereignty and Integration: German Foreign Policy and National Identity after 1989 (St. Martin’s Press 1999), showed how the NS past haunted politicians, experts, and intellectuals debating what it meant for the German state to be ‘normal,’ ‘responsible’ or ‘moral’ as they argued over whether to deploy combat troops to stop the genocide in Bosnia in the 1990s. My most recent book, What Remains: Everyday Encounters with the Socialist Past in Germany (Columbia University Press 2017) examined the consequences of the rapid disappearance of the GDR by charting how socialist everyday material culture became a contested site for remembering the recent past. The German edition, Die Spuren der DDR: Von Ostprodukten bis zu den Resten der Berliner Mauer (Reclam 2019), won a book of the year award from Damals magazines in the ‘thought provoking’ (Denkanstöße) category, and was adopted by the Landeszentrale für politische Bildung in Saxony.
Parallel to my work on Germany I have explored social and cultural changes in China since the introduction of economic reforms. Together with Mary Ann O’Donnell and Winnie Wong I co-edited the volume Learning from Shenzhen: China’s Post-Mao Experiment from Special Zone to Model City (University of Chicago Press, 2017) which ethnographically examines two legacies from the Maoist era—rural collectives and urban work units—in China’s contemporary urbanisation. In 2020 I co-edited with Michal Murawski the volume Re-Centring the City: Urban Mutations, Socialist Afterlives, and the Global East (UCL Press, 2020), which brings together scholars, journalists, architects, activists and artists to rethink dominant conceptions of world urbanism through urban inheritances of socialist modernity across the “Global East”—from Crimea to Cairo, Moscow to Mumbai.
My academic work has developed at the intersection of anthropology, sociology, and politics. I received a PhD in political science from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, and held post-doctoral fellowships at Harvard and Columbia University and visiting positions at Brown and Columbia Universities and the Center for Literature and Cultural Studies in Berlin, in addition to being a visitor at CARMAH. At The New School, where I have taught since 2002, I served as the founding chair of the Global Studies Program and as associate director of the Graduate Program in International Affairs. I am also an active member of the memory studies community, having served on the inaugural Executive Committee of the Memory Studies Association. In 2020-2021 I am a Visiting Scholar at the Council on European Studies at Yale University.
For more information please visit my personal website.