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Social and Cultural Anthropology in Freiburg


Anthropology (in English speaking countries it is most commonly referred to as Social or Cultural Anthropology, in Germany as Ethnologie) has its origins in the research of „foreign“ cultures. The subject was established at universities during the second half of the 19th century, in an effort to understand, compare and theorize non-European and non-industrialized societies.

Contemporary anthropology focuses on social and cultural diversity as well as commonalities in human life. The different forms of cultural models, the cultural context of thinking and acting, and societal institutions constitute the focus of anthropological research. In this way it is possible to widen our own culturally framed perspectives. The understanding of the subject is nowadays not only about small, relatively homogeneous and clearly bounded communities, but also about complex social systems and intercultural dynamics.

The main focus of the Freiburg Institute, since 2002 under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Judith Schlehe, is on contemporary anthropology. The Institute encourages methods and points of view within a global framework in which interdisciplinary collaboration pays a contribution to both theoretical and practical matters. Contemporary cultural processes and identities are characterized by the complex dynamics of globalization, transnationalism and (re)localization. The ongoing processses of cultural formation within intercultural encounters, relations and power structures, provide the subject matter for the academic contemplation and analysis of anthropological research and theory.

Fields of research can be human practices and constructions of meaning, but also historical data and contemporary texts and images. They mirror cultural, ethnic, gender and national identities, as well as the hierarchization of differences. Examples would be ethnographies, which document transnational communities, cultural diasporas, or the handling of global influences in diverse local contexts. The Institute also supports and encourages studies concerning indigenous ethnic minorities and specific cultural scenes (e.g. urban subcultures).

The primary focus of the „anthropological perspective“ is the research on everyday culture, the embeddedness of cultural phenomena in structural contexts, and the organization and interconnection of societies and people as bearers and creators of culture. Within this framework, all genders and different social actors are of equal interest.

Within the context of cultural, political and economic globalization, also the research of cultural and local differences has become increasingly important. This can be seen, for example, in the ethnicization of social conflicts worldwide.

At the same time, it is important to take into account the contemporary and historical dynamics of the new transcultural formations (including ones own society). This is important in order to transgress the limiting perspective of exclusively non-European research, while at the same time maintaining an ethnological, comparative and systematic perspective.


It is through ethnographic fieldwork, that the perspective of studied subjects can be identified. Afterwards, these perspectives can be made understandable or "translated" across cultures. Ethnographic description should always be based, just like theory and critical analysis, on empirical data and concrete interpersonal exchange and experience. The Institute encourages innovative methodological approaches like e.g. transcultural, collaborative fieldresearch methods. 


It is the goal of the Institute to provide students with broad ethnographic knowledge and supervise their own fieldwork practice and experiences during their course of study.


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