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Olivia Klimm

Olivia Klimm



Academic Qualification

  • Since 2017 PhD Student. Thesis working title "Last kasie ya Musina: The afterlives of mining in a South African borderland with Zimbabwe, c. 1986-2016"
  • 2013 - 2018 Doctoral student fellow within the research project “Constraint and Creativity on African State Boundaries” ( led by Prof. Dr. Gregor Dobler and funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG); member of research staff at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Freiburg University, Germany.
  • 2010 - 2011 Master’s thesis on the political ecology of competing territorial statehood of India and Pakistan, its negotiations along the Sir Creek border zone on the Arabian Sea, its impacts on the lives of fishworkers and “small-scale” fishing communities and the role of “big capital-high state alliances” on the Gujarati coastline; based on 2 months’ exploratory fieldwork in Saurashtra and Kuchch, Gujarat, India (German, unpublished); Department of Geography at the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University, Germany.
  • 2004 - 2011 Diploma studies (≈ B.Sc. + B.A., M.A. Research) in Human and Physical Geography, Heidelberg University, Germany; Social Anthropology, Sociology and Urban Design as subsidiaries; several accompanying internships as a research assistant in environmental protection, urban planning and INGOs (Komotiní, Caen, Berlin, Frankfurt/Main etc.).


Current Research

Looking at how different actors in Musina, the northernmost municipality of South Africa, characterized by game and crop farming, copper and diamond mining and the border economy with neighbouring Zimbabwe, create and deal with material, discursive and temporal borders – the interstate boundary, private fences, collective identities and death and dying, etc. – provides valuable phenomenological entry points into understanding social transformation. Here it can be described and analysed for its specific (re-)production of the borderlands between the two present-day countries but can as well be interpreted as a case study of the (dis-)continuities in societal ordering that have shaped South Africa since the early 1990s. This PhD project pursues an empirical approach grounded in archival sources and long-term ethnographic research aiming at “thick participation” in the everyday experiences of different social groups in and around Musina. The regional insights gained in this way may also contribute to a provincialized and more precise and thus more comprehensive picture of the pervasive and increasingly violent processes of othering and bordering globally at work.

Bordering and fencing; nature and space; inequality, identity and violence; social afterlives of mining; ways of dying, ways of living …

Southern Africa (Northern Limpopo Province of South Africa, Southern Zimbabwe)

Time spent in the field:
South Africa 16 months (11/2013 - 03/2014, 08/2015 - 08/2016)

Papers and Presentations

  • 2018 Klimm, Olivia: How Germany externalises its border to south Africa. Pambazuka News, 2/8/2018.
  • 2018 The seeming paradox of lawlessness despite intense executive state presence at two South African borders. Panel "Controlling Mobilities: Border Policing in Africa", Biennial Conference of the African Studies Association in Germany, 27-30/6/2018, Leipzig University, Germany.
  • 2017 "The Regime of Double Confinement": A Tentative Comparison of Mobile Control and Arbitrariness at Two Borders of South Africa. Panel "Foreign and International Institutions and Peace and Conflict in Africa", 60th African Studies Association Annual Meeting, 16-18/11/2017, Chicago, USA.
  • 2017 Good fences make worthy neighbours: Fencing and social transformation in Musina, South Africa. Panel "Lines of Control - Lines of Desire: Towards an Integrated History of Fencing in Southern Africa", 7th European Conference on African Studies, 29/6-1/7/2017, University of Basel, Switzerland.
  • 2017 Bribery and belonging: The case of South African officials at the border with Zimbabwe. Panel "Contested Possibilities: The South Africa-Zimbabwe Border and Movements within and Across it", 26th Southern African Historical Society Biennial Conference, 21-23/6/2017, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • 2017 Ways of burying, ways of living: Funerals and cemeteries as sites of social differentiation in Musina, South Africa. Panel "Geographies of Death: Place-making, mobilities, diversity and sustainability", 7th Nordic Geographers Meeting, 18-21/6/2017, Stockholm University, Sweden.
  • 2016 Social differentiation in the Musina borderlands of South Africa with Zimbabwe. Elements of a tentative conceptual frame. Research Colloquium, 8/11/2016, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Freiburg, Germany.
  • 2016 Inequality in ethnographic research: embracing privilege. Panel “Why are we (t)here? Radical challenges to privilege and presence in the North-South encounter”, American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, 29/3-2/4/2016, San Francisco, USA.
  • 2015 Klimm, Olivia / Hossain, Shahadat: L’hypothétique partage du gâteau: De la condition de l’inégalité dans la recherche ethnographique. Pambazuka News, 2/9/2015,
  • 2015 Klimm, Olivia / Hossain, Shahadat: The cake that is (not) shared: On the predicament of inequality in ethnographic research. In: Ulf Engel et al. (eds.): Notes from Within and Without – Research Permits between Requirements and “Realities”. SPP Working Paper Series 16. Leipzig / Halle, 19-22,
  • 2015 Deceptive U-turns: Infrastructure, Control and Creativity at the Beitbridge Border Post, South Africa. SPP Workshop “Technologies of Control and the Limits of Social Creativity”, 18-20/6/2015, Facheinheit Ethnologie, Bayreuth University, Germany.
  • 2014 Rhino and Race: The Use of Space in the Musina Borderlands, South Africa. Cluster V “Spaces”, Second Results Conference of the DFG Priority Programme “Adaptation and Creativity in Africa”, 1-4/10/2014, Saly Portudal, Senegal.
  • 2014 “Stuck in the fence”, stuck with the source: Issues around analyzing narratives of Othering in contemporary audio media. PhD/Post-Doc Workshop “Researching Southern Africa. Archives and Sources”, 27-29/7/2014, Historisches Seminar, University of Zurich / Basler Afrika Bibliographien, Switzerland.
  • Since 2014 Blog accompanying fieldwork:


last updated 07/08/2018