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Head of Chair of Visual and Media Anthropology at the Karl Jaspers Centre for Transcultural Studies, Member of the Institute of Anthropology
My current research includes the anthropology of ritual, media and emotions; the field of contemporary art production and issues of gender and protest in urban public space. All projects are set in Delhi and in Kathmandu.
'Beaming Love across the Globe' traces the controversial role of Valentine’s Day in urban South Asia. The ethnography or ritualised emotions, about to be completed, explores Valentine's Day greeting cards and other paraphernalia, locating them in a highly mediatised and conflict-loaded space of personal aspirations, spatial contestation and moral censorhip as well as physical violence. Another interest of mine is mirrored in 'The Tunes of Love', a study of the performance and visuality of wedding bands, videos and photography in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal.
In the project 'Rethinking art and anthropology', the fields of art production and circulation in Delhi and Kathmandu are considered, and here I study how art events such as fairs and festivals, artist networks and art education can be seen as a soundboard for the shaping of discourses on globality, contemporaneity and locality.
The last arena of research is best mirrored in a newly approved project conducted with partners in the UK and the Netherlands, entitled 'Creating the 'New' Asian Woman. Entanglements of Urban Space, Cultural Encounters and Gendered Identities in Shanghai and Delhi", funded by HERA - Humanities in the European Research Area (2013-16). Here, I will particularly explore the role of middle class women in urban public space. The project is also based on collaborations with the Goethe Institut (New Delhi and Shanghai) and the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam.
Postgraduate researchers/ faculty
Faculty and coordination at the Chair of Visual and Media Anthropology
The project explores the visual culture of contemporary photography as central medium of socio-political expression in the light of ongoing political restriction and repression. With a focus on professional artistic and documentary photographers from Iran who have migrated to Europe, the aim of the project is an anthropological investigation of photography as cultural production in times of political crises, change and transnational migration. Protests against totalitarian politics in Iran have been going on since the revolution in 1979, whereas in 2009 the “Green Revolution” protests responding to the presidential elections reached another peak. The remarkable political oppression that followed the protest, forced numerous Iranians to leave the country. Among them were many professional photographers who established a transnational visual culture of critique. This project will investigate photography by migrant Iranians as an emancipatory tool for a culture of critique across geo-political borders and as an important source for alternate narratives in contrast to a national and international state-controlled media presentation. With its focus on transnational migration and artistic intervention of photographic practice, the study will challenge and push the theoretical and methodological boundaries of anthropology. Following ethnographic methodologies of multi-sited fieldwork in both the migration contexts as well as in Iran, the project seeks to investigate the cultural practice of photography outside the mainstream media discourse and with particular consideration of biographic studies.
Coordinator RA B, HERA- Project (Creating the "New" Asian Woman) and Forum 'Urban Spaces' (ForUS)
Golden Times: Fashion and Body in Neoliberal India
Laila's dissertation examines changing beauty ideals and fashion practices in neoliberal urban India. Seeing ideals of body and dress as inseparable and interdependent media of communication, she aims at understanding middle class sartorial choices and grooming practices by investigating their contemporary status as well as their historical roots.
Her research focuses on the institutionalization of Indian fashion design and related changing modes of dress and body practices. She is writing about how new notions of adequate dress and beauty are connected to processes of modernisation and how a network of key actors had an impact on the localization of global lifestyle and fashion media. She takes a closer look on how these actors translated transnational flows of images into local visual practices and how these are negotiated and performatively represented in the Indian public sphere.
During her fieldwork in the Indian mega-cities Mumbai and Delhi she gathered narratives of people involved in India’s emerging fashion and beauty business. She interviewed fashion designers, photographers, stylists, editors, models, model agents and attended fashion shows and photo shootings. Methodologically, Laila combines classical ethnographic methods such as participant observation with a historical focus on transcultural exchange processes, methods of visual anthropology and media analyses. Central to her argument is the concept of intervisuality (Mirzoeff 2000) in order to show how images of ideal bodies and dresses travel across time and through different geographical and medial spaces.
The dissertation is completed and defended (July 2015).
Counseling for doctoral candidates
ProUB Graduate Center
University of Bremen
Marie Sander was coordinator of the Forum 'Urban Spaces' and member of the research project 'Mobile Spaces' from September 2013 to December 2014.
A New Cosmopolitan Elite? An Ethnographic Study of Privileged Western Youth in Shanghai
Building up on former research on privileged migration (e.g. Coles and Fechter 2008), this project specifically examines the experiences of adolescents. It focuses on teenagers who have moved to Shanghai with their parents for a period of usually three to five years. These adolescents try to establish their new temporary home among international schools, privileged housing areas, expatriate luxury, and Chinese culture. Parents and experts on international education alike relate to these children - who grow up in different cultures due to their parents’ mobility - as ‘Third Culture Kids’ (TCKs) (D.C. Pollock and Van Reken 2001).
Based on ethnographic fieldwork at international schools and sites of preferred leisure activities, this project examines the everyday practices of ‚western’ teenagers in Shanghai. It investigates 1) their coping with a new situation/family life at their homes, 2) their adaptation to international schools and the expatriate communitie(s) as well as 3) their contact to, and view of, Chinese culture in Shanghai and its influence on them. By capturing the youths’ own perspective this project firstly gives new empirical data on teenagers’ practices and strategies of coping with high mobility, and arising questions of identity and identification, e.g. with the concepts of TCKs or cosmopolitanism. Secondly, these concepts will be examined, maybe challenged and linked with the new insights on transnational social spaces and their cultural flows and boundaries in the mega-city of Shanghai.
The value of work in white-collar China: changing meanings of success among young Chinese professionals
A discourse of aspirational modernity has dominated our understanding of work practices amongst China’s new middle class, and in particular in an ambitious city such as Shanghai. Yet, recent economic and cultural trends have transformed the landscape of careers. While the narratives of post-socialist modernity and their cosmopolitan variants still produce dreams premised upon the elegant life of material modernity, they are also providing platforms for a much more critical and pluralistic contribution to social change in China. As imaginations of the global have allowed more diversity in local practice, there are likely to be more opportunities for pursuing difference, for resisting the pressure to conform and for opting out of the narrow trajectories of legitimate middle-class biographies.
At the same time, it is less clear to what degree these new opportunities are actually lived and desired, and how they are balanced against both uncertain rewards and persisting social demands. From the perspectives of political sociology and cultural anthropology, I enquire in what ways new work practices reflect a changing discourse on the meaning of success in China, and how they relate to new expectations about biographical paths and career attainment. Qualitative research, including ethnographies and interviews, will identify the sites, moments and environments where young urban Chinese are making decisions about their own professional futures, and where they formulate their understanding of the role of work for their belonging in urban society.
I am interested in work practices both within, around and beyond mainstream career trajectories, including for example philanthropic involvement, career changes and life-long learning, practices of part-time and temporary work, patterns of leisure and the organisation of caring arrangements, as well as radical or creative alternatives to corporate engagement. They serve as case studies for local negotiations of class entitlement, individualized life plans and family commitment, as well as of current domestic debates about social responsibility. An analysis of the changing world of work can enrich our understanding of global city ethics amidst China’s contested development directions, and can contribute to the research on how post-modern work biographies finds new formats in the global South.
Since April 2013, Tina Schilbach has taken up a position in science management at the University of Göttingen. She is an associate member of the Cluster of Excellence.
Cluster Film Portraits
The Cluster Film Portraits supervised by Prof. Dr. Christiane Brosius give a broader audience an insight view of the multi-faceted work of Heidelberg University's Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context".