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Marie Sander, Dr.

Assoziierte Mitglieder

Marie Sander, Dr.


  • Coordinator Forum 'Urban Spaces'



Über Marie Sander

Marie Sander was coordinator of the Forum 'Urban Spaces' and member of the research project 'Mobile Spaces' from September 2013 to December 2014. She joined the cluster "Asia and Europe" in 2009 as a stipend in the graduate programme for transcultural studies and completed her dissertation "Passing Shanghai: Ethnographic Insights into Expatriate Youths' Mobile Lives" in 2013. Her general research interests include questions of identity, migration, urban culture and youth.

Her dissertation Passing Shanghai explores how children experience international mobility by focusing on the specific, yet heterogeneous group of expatriate youths in contemporary Shanghai. While Shanghai, as one of China’s most thriving metropolises, hosts a considerably large expatriate community, many of these foreigners - or so called ‘expatriates’ - only stay three to five years in the city before moving back ‘home’ or on to new destinations. This highly mobile lifestyle of the families under scrutiny is typically accompanied by a privileged status with high financial benefits. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among expatriate teenagers in Shanghai from 2010 to 2012, this dissertation highlights their age-specific perspectives of growing up abroad. Through participant observation at international schools, homes in gated communities, restaurants, clubs, bars and other leisure sites in Shanghai, it investigates expatriate teenagers’ everyday practices, their engagement with the city, their dreams and aspirations as well as questions of belonging. The ethnographic approach captures the students’ limbo of moving and growing up and explores teenage practices and positioning within this transitory space. In these accounts the tensions between the dependency on parents (and mostly their decisions to move) and youths’ own agency to deal with the realities of moving often become visible. The dissertation consequently highlights how students negotiate issues of home and cultural identity and develop self-reflective transcultural perspectives on their way of living. These processes of making-sense of the stay(s) abroad are accompanied by the retreat to familiar practices and related spaces, which often lead to a division between expatriates and locals. The youths’ perspectives and experiences of living in expatriate communities presented in this dissertation thus also contribute to a larger view on the interdependence and contradictions between the aspired flexibility of twenty-first century identities and the rigidity of cultural divisions, based on nationality, ethnicity, gender, or class.



Marie Sander holds a PhD in Anthropology from Heidelberg University. She studied Cultural Studies with a focus on Cultural Anthropology and English Studies at Bremen University and at the University of Tours (France). She obtained her M.A. in 2008 with a thesis on German "trailing spouses" in Shanghai, based on 7 month fieldwork in 2007. She also successfully completed an associated 2-year-programme in project- and event-management, doing internships at an agency for marketing, a consultant company with a focus on China, and in the EU-financed programme IMES, dealing with issues of integration and migration in Hannover (Germany).

Ausgewählte Publikationen


Sander, Marie. 2013. “Passing Shanghai. Ethnographic Insights into Expatriate Youths’ Mobile Lives.” Doctoral Dissertation, Heidelberg, Germany: Heidelberg University.

Peer-reviewed Articles

Sander, Marie. 2014. Shanghai Suburbia: Expatriate teenagers’ age-specific experiences of gated community living. City Culture and Society. DOI: 10.1016/j.ccs.2014.08.001

Conference Reports

Marquardt, Editha and Marie Sander. 2014. Tagungsbericht Mobile Spaces: Everyday Practices in Indian, North American and European. 01.06.2014–03.06.2014, Heidelberg, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, 25.09.2014, <>.

Conference Papers

2014: ' Passing Shanghai - Ethnographic Insights into Expatriate Youths' Mobile Lives', 7.  Januar 2014, Vortrag am Institut für Ethnologie, Universität Heidelberg

2012: ‘Nächster Halt Shanghai: Geschichten Deutscher Jugendlicher aus Chinas Megastadt’, 29. September 2012, Vortrag am Konfuzius-Institut Heidelberg e.V.

2011: 'Staging youth culture: Expat teens in Shanghai', workshop: Growing up and growing old in Shanghai, Delhi and Tokyo. Inter-generational stories from Asia’s global cities, 7-10 September 2011, Goethe-Institute Shanghai

2010: 'Gated Community Living in Shanghai: Inside, Outside or In-between? The Case of Western Expatriates', workshop: Spaces in-between: from non-place to shared space in developmental cities, 9-23 October 2010, Goethe-Institute Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi

2010: 'Keeping the City Outside? Gated Community Living in Shanghai', conference: 2nd International Congress on Chinese Studies Urban Society: Challenges for the Present and Future, 28-30 June 2010, East China Normal University, Shanghai

2010: 'Desperate Housewives? On the Gendered Experience of Privileged Migration: 'Western' Women in Shanghai', conference: Gender & Difference, May 20-23 2010, Gregynog Hall, Cardiff University

Media Coverage

DRadio Wissen. "Expats: Fremd in der Heimat". Interview mit Marie Sander. 14.04.2014.

Haug, Clemens. "Rastlos". Jetzt Magazin. Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 17.03.2014. 

"Marie Sander explores the lives of expatriate teenagers". Podcast, OpenSpace Research Centre, The Open University's Centre for Geographical and Environmental Research. 2011.