I am a cultural and social anthropologist, whose ethnographic research grapples with the tensions between art, migration, public institutions, and difficult heritage in Europe. I have conducted fieldwork in Germany, France, and Italy on institutionalised forms of cultural production (esp. theatres, museums, cultural centres, libraries, and art spaces), focusing on the reflexive agency of artistic and curatorial work. His research is multimodal and extends into public, instigative, and multimodal fieldwork formats, such as curation, publishing, or public programming.
I studied British and American Studies as well as Cultural and Social Anthropology at the University of Münster (Germany) before completing the Archaeology and Anthropology Tripos with a focus on Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge (2012) and a PhD in Social Anthropology in 2016. During my time in Cambridge, I was founding co-convenor of the Mellon-Newton-funded Cambridge Interdisciplinary Performance Network at the Centre for Research on the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH), and a research fellow at the theatre studies collection on Schloss Wahn, Institute of Theatre and Media, University of Cologne (Germany).
From 2016-2020, I was a postdoctoral research fellow at CARMAH. I collaborated with artists and curators of art spaces and galleries in Berlin (among them SAVVY Contemporary, the ifa-gallery and the Berlin-Wedding district gallery) to study and think about curatorial practices as forms of troubling of national, universal, and hegemonic narratives, especially against the backdrop of major museum transformations such as the Humboldt Forum in the Berlin City Castle. As part of CARMAH’s “Transforming the Ethnographic” research area within its major Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation funded project Making Differences in Berlin: Transforming Museums and Heritage in the 21st century, my research followed the exhibition making and curatorial planning in these spaces to explore the boundaries and productive intersections of ethnographic, artistic, and curatorial work and the relations between art and anthropology more generally. This entailed investigating how contemporary artists and curators generate and can contribute to new ways of addressing some of the contentious issues facing heritage projects like the Humboldt Forum today, and how curatorial practices and artistic spaces mobilise critical theories and position themselves within Berlin to address the contested future of German and European identity and heritage in the face of rising nationalisms and migration movements. These issues included, but were not limited to, artistic research methods and alternative forms of knowledge production, the relation of the ‘West’ to the ‘non-West’, participatory and relational visitor engagement, institutional critique, postcolonial perspectives on shared heritage and cosmopolitanism.
My approach was collaborative and recursive, since I consider artistic practices and institutions to be sites for kinds of reflexive theorising that are pertinent to core anthropological debates about subjectivity, political agency, alterity, and ethics. Among the central aims of my research at CARMAH were therefore, first, a rethinking of institutions as reflexive sites and public theorisers of difference and diversity in Berlin and Germany. Second, I sought to reposition contemporary art practices and communities as fields of expertise for the negotiation of Germany’s relation to European and non-European art and cultural heritage. In the process of working through these relations ethnographically, it evidently turned out to be fruitful, and indeed necessary, to interrogate and find alternative concepts to the very categories of analysis that underlied the project, such as ‘contemporary’, ‘expertise’, or ‘anthropological/ethnological/ethnographic’. Related to this research, from 2017-2020, I acted as founding convenor of the Anthropology and the Arts Network of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) together with Roger Sansi (Barcelona).
In 2020, I took up a position as postdoctoral researcher and scientific coordinator of the ERC project Minor Universality. Narrative World Productions After Western Universality (PI: Prof Markus Messling) at Saarland University, as part of which I curated a residency, research, and exhibition programme in collaboration with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin, entitled The Pregnant Oyster – Doubts on Universalism (June-July 2022). The multilingual research project investigates forms of world-making narratives that emerge out of and after the critique of the violent articulations of Western Universality. The project goes beyond narratives that resort to relativistic or identitarian claims, and focuses instead on concrete, situated narratives of humanity, world, justice, freedom that articulate themselves in “minor” forms of literature, architecture, curating, publishing and so on. The project publishes the open-access book series Beyond Universalism / Partager l’universel and entertains a Youtube series of conversations with scholars, thinkers, and writers.
I remain an associate member of CARMAH and teach at the Department of European Ethnology of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. As part of this, I am completing a second book manuscript and Habilitation on minor forms of curation against the backdrop of the European universal museum, based on his postdoctoral research, and teaches across anthropology, art, museums, and heritage at the Department of European Ethnology.
I am author of State of the Arts. An Ethnography of German Theatre and Migration (Cambridge University Press, 2023, and editor of several collections, among them the open-access volume Minor Universality. Rethinking Humanity After Western Universalism (with Markus Messling, 2023, Boston: de Gruyter), Across Anthropology. Troubling Colonial Legacies, Museums, and Heritage (with Margareta von Oswald, Leuven University Press, 2020), the open-access teaching workbook Awkward Archives. Ethnographic drafts for a modular curriculum (with Margareta von Oswald, 2022, Archive books), the two-volume reference book Der Fremde Blick. Roberto Ciulli und das Theater an der Ruhr (2020, with Alexander Wewerka, Alexander Verlag), the edited volume Otherwise. Rethinking Museums and Heritage (2018, with Sharon Macdonald et al), the special issue Micro-utopias (with Ruy Blanes, Maïté Maskens, and Alex Flynn, 2016), and the book Anthropology, Theatre, and Development (with Alex Flynn, 2015, Palgrave).
State of the Arts. An Ethnography of German Theatre and Migration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (link)
Minor Universality. Rethinking Humanity After Western Universalism (with Markus Messling). Boston / Berlin: de Gruyter. (open-access link)
Awkward Archives. Ethnographic Drafts for a Modular Curriculum (with Margareta von Oswald). Berlin / Milan / Dakar: Archive books. (open-access link)
Der fremde Blick. Roberto Ciulli und das Theater an der Ruhr (two volumes, edited with Alexander Wewerka). Berlin: Alexander Verlag. (link)
Across Anthropology: Troubling Colonial Legacies, Museums, and the Curatorial. (with Margareta von Oswald).Open-access and certified peer-reviewed edited volume with Leuven University Press Prefaces by Arjun Appadurai and Sharon Macdonald, with an afterword by Roger Sansi. Funding for open-access publication secured through the University of Leuven Open-Access Fund, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and the Humboldt-University Berlin Open-Access Initiative. 450 pages with over 70 colour illustrations. (link)