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PhD Candidates

Senior woman and younger friend discussing urban changes in the Kathmandu Valley (photo: R. Mandoki, 2014)

Roberta Mandoki, M.A.

PhD candidate, B19. Project start 04/2013

Ageing in Urban Nepal – Perspectives of Senior Citizens on Migration, Urbanization and Social Change

This subproject explores the changing perspectives on ageing in the middle-class in Kathmandu, emphasizing the rapid urban changes as well as shifting family structures as intergenerational relations are strongly influenced by the increasing migration within Nepal and abroad. Since a national social security scheme for senior citizens was introduced in the mid-1990’s age-related issues have entered the political agenda and have also become more visible in public discourse.

How do middle-class senior citizens perceive ageing in a developing, post-civil war country where poverty is a ubiquitous issue and politics continue to be unsteady? And in which ways are they influenced by the presence of international development organizations in Kathmandu and their long-term commitment in Nepal?

The research looks into how traditional notions of family and ageing as well as religious concepts on the life course meet with social change and ongoing migration. In Nepal, families have traditionally been living in a joint family system, and intergenerational relations have been shaped by patrilinearity and filial piety. Since many young Nepalese seek for better work or study prospects abroad, transnational family structures are on the rise, and alternative institutions for long-distance care such as old-age homes or day-care centers may increasingly be needed. Using ethnographic methods, the changes in the everyday life of the senior citizens and the increasing role of alternative social networks will be investigated.

The subproject also focuses on the specific situation of older persons in the urban environment of the Kathmandu Valley, and the influences of urbanization on their perspectives on ageing. Like many other urban areas in Asia, the Kathmandu Valley has changed dramatically during the last decades. The mainly unplanned growth and establishment of numerous new settlements has led to poor infrastructure and severe pollution. In the traditional Newari architecture of the Kathmandu Valley, public spaces such as open squares, temples and meeting places were an important part of town planning. These public spaces in the ancient Newari city centers are still widely used by the local population, but there is no equivalent common space to strengthen social ties in the later-built settlements. Using the example of a recently established Senior Citizens Day-Care Center, this subproject highlights the creation of new social institutions and the role of social commitment in the life of middle-class senior citizens.

This ethnographic case study will thus give insights on transcultural flows of age concepts and imaginaries exchanged between the Nepali society, international development agencies and the Nepali diaspora. Through its focus on migration and urbanization effects, it will add to a more diverse picture on ageing in Nepal.

© Machleetank 2007. Participants of the ‘Blank Noise’ project intervene to be idle in public. The action is done simultaneously across cities in India.

Lucie Bernroider, M.Phil.

PhD candidate. Project start 10/2013

Young, single women’s pursuits of an autonomous lifestyle in Delhi

Lucie’s PhD research is part of the HERA project SINGLE “Creating the ‘new Asian woman’: entanglements of urban space, cultural encounters and gendered identities in Shanghai and Delhi”. She traces young single women’s pursuits of an independent lifestyle in India’s rapidly changing capital city. Focusing primarily on young (upper) middle class women working in creative and media related fields and living apart from their families, her research explores the way gendered identities and inner city life are negotiated among a growing and diversifying urban middle-class. In a marriage centred society, that does not easily accommodate single women living outside of the parental household, gendered social expectations and norms are written into urban fabrics and come to shape everyday space use. The research project therefore further engages with the politics of urban space and looks at changes within Delhi’s cityscape. Some of Delhi’s urban villages - formerly rural settlements that have been incorporated into city limits in the course of ongoing urban expansion – hereby serve as empirical case studies, as they have emerged as cultural hubs, where low rents, a high degree of flexibility and resources from localised economies draw in a diverse crowd of newcomers, many of them single working women. Studying neighbourhood changes in these increasingly gentrifying spaces through the urban imaginaries and daily lifeworlds of women, recognizes them as creative forces within the city and offers a unique insight into the relations between urban development, cultural discourses and female subjectivities. As these women simultaneously represent a desired category in aspirational images of the World Class City (Phadke 2013, Srivastava 2014), their experiences and visions of urban life have to be further considered alongside other claims to space within Delhi’s contentious social landscape. Hence, the study presents a careful examination of the city’s affective geography and situates it within broader trans-local imaginaries as well as shifting notions of urban modernity. Lucie conducts her fieldwork in Delhi using a range of methods including participatory observation, sensory and visual ethnographic methods.

Learn to become a better self in Love Club, a love training course in Shanghai. Photo by Pi Chenying, 2014.

PI Chenying, M.A.

PhD candidate. Project start 12/2013

Subjectivities of Single Professional Women in Contemporary Shanghai

Chenying’s PhD research is part of the HERA project SINGLE “Creating the ‘new Asian woman’: entanglements of urban space, cultural encounters and gendered identities in Shanghai and Delhi”. In her project she will be exploring how young professional single women negotiate their subjectivities in contemporary Shanghai. Amid China’s multilayered and fast-paced social transformations, the emergence of large numbers of well-educated professional women delaying marriage in mega cities like Shanghai is firstly a disruption of deep-rooted conceptualizations of proper femininities and gender roles. At the same time, those single professional women also (imagine to) constitute the rising middle class in globalizing Shanghai/China. Therefore, this study will foreground the intersection of gender, class and ethnicity (Chineseness) in the negotiations of subjectivities among those single professional women through combining the methods of media analysis and ethnographic research. Their subjectivities will be untangled in four dimensions: 1) how they negotiate the self, i.e. what kind of self they aspire to be; 2) how they negotiate masculinities, i.e. what kind of men they desire; 3) how they negotiate their being in Shanghai, i.e. what the city means to them; 4) and how they negotiate their position in the society, i.e. what kind of citizen they are (to be). Through examining this particular social group’s perspectives, this project aims not to generalize the consequences of China’s economic developments, urbanization, and global entanglements, but rather to complex the picture and draw more attention to the ambiguities, contingencies, inconsistences and contradictions within.

Entrance to the Bangladesh Pavilion (Venice Biennale 2011), Photo by Marlène Harles

Marlène Harles, M.A. 

PhD candidate, GPTS, B20

Collectives, localities and networks in the emerging contemporary art scenes of Nepal and Bangladesh

In my PhD project, I focus on the transcultural relations between the contemporary art fields of Nepal and Bangladesh. My initial research highlights the recent mushrooming of artist-initiated groups and collectives in both countries as transcultural phenomenon that can be compared with and discussed in relation to more established groups in countries like India. I aim at understanding how these collectives shape the local contemporary art scenes. And more precisely, what role do collective effort and collaborative actions play in the development of a new generation of contemporary artists that is able to put a local landscape on a global map?

Compared to their economically emerging neighbors India and China, Bangladesh and Nepal have gained little attention within the contemporary art market and the academic disciplines, including the Anthropology of Art. Both countries have however, over the last couple of years, shown remarkable dynamics as emerging fields of art production. In 2011, the artist group ‘Britto’ secured Bangladesh’s first presence at the Venice Biennale. In collaboration with the Shilpakala Academy (an established national institutions for art in Bangladesh), the Samdani Art Foundation (a new non-profit art institution) organized the country’s first Art Summit in 2012, in response to Delhi’s annual India Art Fair, and translocally connected to the Kathmandu International Art Festival (KIAF). Alongside these ‘international’ events, local artist initiatives increasingly foster exchange within and between national borders through regular artist talks, workshops and residencies, in sometimes intensely intertwined, sometimes disconnected realms. 

My project tries to both open up the methodological and theoretical scope of Art and Anthropology and to acknowledge the new, vibrant efforts in an emerging inner-Asian field. In order to achieve my research aim, I focus on five concepts: localities, institutions, events, networks and agents. The latter will constitute the red thread that ties the other concepts together. Each locality consists of a distinct set of characteristics that influences and is constantly renegotiated by its inhabitants; artists are no exception. In Bangladesh and Nepal, the historical background, and mostly the fight for independence and self-determination are deeply anchored in the everyday life. It is a topic frequently addressed by artist in their work. In fact, the incorporation of socio-cultural issues has become an intrinsic part of contemporary art practice and finds different articulations in each locality; in Nepal for example street art has become a collective tool to claim the city, an attempt to counteract the rapid changing urban landscape.

Institutions play an important role in forming artists and framing their work. Universities deliver degrees that qualify the student to create ‘Fine Art’. Institutions like the National Academy of Fine and Performing Arts (Shilpakala) in Bangladesh and the National Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) in Nepal once created to act as public intermediators between the government and the countries’ art scene, but today often criticized for their lack of real support. More and more private initiatives and artist-led groups take up the formation of artists by offering workshops, residencies and platforms for exchange. Exhibition spaces, galleries and museums further frame art within certain categories (contemporary, modern, traditional).

Events (from international festivals to gallery openings and workshops) constitute a place where the global and the local art discourse are negotiated. They illustrate current trends, such as the proliferation of performance art and address critical issues such as the translatability of art and the necessity for ‘visual literacy’ versus the idea of an ‘international language of art’. They further show the importance of digital networks (e.g. facebook) in marketing these events and they indicate processes of urban development, practices of community building and the flow of ideas/objects.

As metaphor and analytical tool, networks offer insights into various levels of exchange. There is a global system connecting galleries, managers, artists, curators, collectors and art writers from different art worlds. There is also a very private network based on daily ‘face-to-face’ interaction and there are formally initiated networks such as SANA, the South Asian Network of Art. Focusing on networks enables me to better grasp ideas of reciprocity, intensity, durability, direction and density between the different nodes of the network in and between Bangladesh and Nepal.

Village Diorama, Indian Museum

Martijn de Rooij,  M.A.

PhD candidate, GPTS

Shifting Art Frames in Kolkata

Kolkata, the capital of West-Bengal, harbors a variety of exhibition spaces for the visual arts. The Indian Museum (1814), the 2014 planned Kolkata Museum of Modern Art (KMOMA), and a variety of smaller museums, galleries, art schools, and private collections form a field of cultural production that frame art into segmented categories. These frames, such as “ethnographic”, “modern”, “contemporary” and “Bengali”, are translations and transformations of Euro-American museological infrastructures that inscribe a hierarchy of value on different kinds of art. Dichotomies between art and artifact have been contested, but institutional framings of different art forms are often taken for granted. Instead of assuming that museums are universal and audiences everywhere think alike, or conversely, making a division between ‘European’ or ‘Indian’ ways of seeing, I want to approach art spaces and practices as open-ended transcultural contact zones. To explore Kolkata’s art frames this PhD project will focus on: (A) A provincialization of Euro-American museum models: This involves treating museum practices as material and ideational transcultural exchanges with particular histories. What were the contexts of collecting, how were objects circulated throughout Europe and Asia, and in what ways did these collections create different spatial and temporal imaginaries? (B) An ethnographic exploration of Kolkata’s art frames: How do Kolkata’s current art frames invite ways of seeing for imagining or debating the past, future, and present? How do different groups experience and interact with different art frames? Do they seek critical contemplation or distraction, self-identification or cultural othering, or simply refuges from everyday life? Where do the artistic intentions or political messages of the artists, curators, and audiences intersect, and where do they diverge? (C) A collaboration with Kolkata’s contemporary artists: The lines drawn by Kolkata’s institutes are relatively sharp and leave little room for formal innovation, while, on the other hand, Kolkata is known for its historical subversive art practices defying institutionalized framings and transcultural asymmetries. Participant observation of contemporary art practices gives me the opportunity to see how the boundaries of exhibition spaces are rejected, accepted, or realigned.

Self-portrait of Juan José de Jesús Yas. © Fototeca Guatemala, CIRMA. Colección: Archivo del Estudio Fotografía Japonesa.

Ping-Heng Chen, M.A.

PhD candidate, GPTS. Project start 10/2013


Japanese Photography in Guatemala: Transcultural Visuality and the Migrant Life of Yasu Kohei

As social documents and products of a unique history, photographic archives have drawn the attention of recent scholarship. They are the focus of analytic concerns such as the asymmetry of power relations and the usage of visual materials in the context of the construction of a social memory. My project intersects these concerns to study the life and photographic work of Yasu Kohei (屋須弘平 1846-1917, also known by the Spanish name Juan José de Jesús Yas), the first Japanese migrant to Guatemala, and to investigate the politics and aesthetics of the creation and reception of a migrant's photographic archive in both the home and the host societies.

Yasu Kohei’s migrant life was part of the global intellectual network that connected Asia, Europe, and Latin America in the late 19th century. Living a drastic change of socio-political scenery upon arriving in Guatemala, Yasu dedicated himself to Catholicism and photography, yet remained involved in the political affairs of his home country. In the 1980s, his work was collected into the Archivo del Estudio Fotografía Japonesa of the Center for Mesoamerican Research in La Antigua Guatemala. Today, this archive constitutes an important element within the diplomatic and cultural relations between Guatemala and Japan. Based on this collection, I examine Yasu’s work and trace its trajectory into the diverse present venues of which it is a part.

With this project I aim to comprehend the ways in which individual migrants act as nodes within transcultural flows of knowledge and images, and the relevance of migrant photographs in a variety of contexts of knowledge production. The examination of the elements that converge in Yasu’s photographs and its reception throws into relief the understudied connections between Asia and Latin America. The analysis of contemporary contextualizations of his oeuvre will highlight the significant role played by archival photographs in the construction of a social memory of migration.

Film Screenshot of Kathmandu in Dr Strange (2016) /Photograph: Marvel Studios


Dikshya Karki, M.A.

PhD candidate, GPTS. Project B20 Rethinking Art

Cinematic Kathmandu

The project traces the emergence of a 'cinematic Kathmandu' through the study of films made against the backdrop of rapid urbanisation and social change in the Kathmandu Valley. It maps the evolution of an urban space as filmed through the 'affective response' of the film’s characters to the city.  

Despite being a city of failed infrastructures, Kathmandu functions as the central economic joint of Nepal and a viable transit point for migrant workers traveling to the Gulf countries or the 'first world' for employment. While its population meets the metropolitan mark, its resources do not. The repeated promises by Nepali politicians to model it like Singapore and other financial capitals around the world references a certain kind of Asian urbanism and power (Roy & Ong, 2011) that characterizes Nepal’s own state of ‘transition’ and ‘quest for modernity’. 

As ‘tourists’ and ‘western scholars’ continue to admire the city for its medieval architecture, mystic and religious façade, urban sprawl (Sengupta & Bhattarai Upadhyaya, 2016) gives it an everyday physical transformation. While its middle class inhabitants and youth with an exposure to consumer culture and mass media redefine the experience of being modern (Liechty, 2003). The city’s cosmopolitan character also benefits both its residents and filmmakers.  Some work as ‘flexible citizens.’ Their political, social and cultural experiences are feeding into the creation of a cinematic body of work which is a response to and engagement with their urban surroundings. The project then explores this trajectory of Nepali film production through translocal modes that influence it.


Julie Pusch, M.A.

PhD candidate

Indian work migration to Germany

 Julie Pusch studied Geography and Anthropology at the University of Heidelberg and received her M.A. degree in 2014. In her Master thesis, she looked at the professional perspectives of spouses of Indian work migrants having settled in Germany.

Since June 2016, Julie Pusch is a PhD candidate in Anthropology under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Christiane Brosius. In her dissertation, she deepens her research on Indian work migration to Germany and will investigate notions of mobility and embeddedness by looking at digital practices and interactions with the local(e) among Indian migrants settled in Munich.


Former PhD Candidates

Dr. Cathrine Bublatzky

Faculty and coordination at the Chair of Visual and Media Anthropology  

Along the 'Indian Highway': An Ethnography of an International Travelling Exhibition

Subodh Gupta or Bharti Kher are only two of a number of Indian artists celebrated by international connoisseurs and representing an Indian contemporary art that witnesses a remarkable boom on the global art market in the new millennium of high capitalism.
Curatory shows like 'Indian Highway' (Serpentine Gallery/London and Astrup Fearnley Museum/Oslo April 2009) or the ‘Empire strikes back’ (Saatchi-Gallery/London 2010), art-expositions with a focus on India and auction-houses like OSIAN’s generate an increasing scene/infrastructure of Indian-art-experts and audiences in non-South Asian countries. The research project seeks to place Indian contemporary art in relation to transcultural discourses on cultural identity and a globalised trend of Indian contemporary art linked to a growing global commercialization of 'Indianess'. Focusing on the circulation of artworks, concepts of modernity, people and public spheres in a global context, the project investigates the exhibits of Indian Highway as striking examples of various cultural (and economic) global flows. Here a major aspect of analysis lays on the processes in which art influences and creates transcultural production-networks, motivating the imagination of cultural otherness (e.g. consumerism of the exotic other) and challenging identity-creation, hence the artworks will be approached as a medium for transnational flows of cultural concepts and knowledge-production.


Blenders Pride Fashion Show September 2011, Delhi. © Laila Abu-Er-Rub

Dr. des. Laila Abu-Er-Rub

Coordination of RA B, HERA- Project (Creating the "New" Asian Woman) and Forum 'Urban Spaces' (ForUS)

"Golden Times: Fashion and Body in Neoliberal India"

Abu-Er-Rub's dissertation examined changing beauty ideals and fashion practices in neoliberal urban India. Seeing ideals of body and dress as inseparable and interdependent media of communication, she aimed at understanding middle class sartorial choices and grooming practices by investigating their contemporary status as well as their historical roots.

Her research focused on the institutionalization of Indian fashion design and related changing modes of dress and body practices. She wrote about how new notions of adequate dress and beauty were 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 took a closer look on how these actors translated transnational flows of images into local visual practices and how these were negotiated and performatively represented in the Indian public sphere.

During her fieldwork in the Indian mega-cities Mumbai and Delhi, Abu-Er-Rub 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, Abu-Er-Rub combines classical ethnographic methods such as participant observation with a historical focus on transcultural exchange processes, methods of visual anthropology and media analyses. 

The dissertation is completed and defended (July 2015).

Dr. 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.

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.






'A sari offered to a deity', New York, USA. Photo by Sinah Kloß

Sinah Kloß, PhD

Senior Researcher

Global South Studies Center Cologne

From November 2010 to December 2013 Sinah Kloß was a research associate and a PhD candidate in the junior research group "From the Caribbean to North America and Back", Transcultural Studies. In October 2014 she completed her dissertation project “Fabrics of Indianness: The Exchange and Consumption of Clothing in Transnational Guyanese Hindu Communities”

Fabrics of Indianness: The Exchange and Consumption of Clothing in
Transnational Guyanese Hindu Communities

The project analyzes how Guyanese Hindus recreate Indian ethnic identity in
contemporary Guyana and examines how Hindu traditions have been transformed in this multi-religious and multi-ethnic society. It demonstrates how
processes of sanskritization and standardization have led to the development
of the so-called Sanatan, Madras, and Arya traditions and how this is reflected and created through clothing and sartorial practices. By illustrating the exchange and consumption of clothing, the project discusses
that the practices of wearing and gifting clothes materizalize and visualize
relationships among people as well as among people and deities. This becomes
particularly relevant when people are separated as a result of migration, a
situation that is common in most Guyanese families and communities today.

The significant outward migration of Guyanese to North America since the
1980s, especially to Queens in New York City, has resulted in the
development of transnational networks and the greater availability of
clothing, amongst other things, due to the substantial international gift
exchange and transnational rituals. This exchange is facilitated for example
by the socio-cultural practice of barrel-sending, which is defined as a
joint action of transnational families and communities and is usually
referred to in terms of thrift and the maintenance of relations by
Hindu-Guyanese. Applying recent theories of translocality, this study also
draws attention to the fact that all transnational actions are situated in
specific local contexts and demonstrates how different localities influence
transnational networks and their socio-cultural practices.
It analyzes migration by emphasizing various aspects of material, visual,
and geographical ‘closeness,’ taking into account that migration is usually
referred to in terms of distance. It theorizes the notion of touch, applying
recent theories of Visual Anthropology and Material Culture Studies. It
addresses questions such as: how is intimacy created and maintained when
families and communities are geographically dispersed? What is the role of
materiality in the process of maintaining closeness and contact? How are
social closeness and distance displayed and (re)created through clothing?

Photo by Lisa Caviglia, 2010
Photo by Lisa Caviglia, 2010

Lisa Caviglia, PhD

Global Studies Programme Coordinator
Institute of Asian and African Studies
Humboldt University Berlin

Between 2008 and 2011 Lisa Caviglia was a PhD canditate and scholarship holder of the Graduate Programme for Transcultural Studies of the Cluster of Excellence Asia and Europe. In April 2014 she defended her thesis, titled "Sex [at] work in Kathmandu. Discourses around sexuality, self-perception and society".

Sex [at] work in Kathmandu. Discourses around sexuality, self-perception and society

The institutional arrangements for the exchange of sexual services in the Nepalese context, especially in the capital city Kathmandu, stand out in number and form, partly fashioned by a pervasive network of market forces and information flows.
In dealing with the relationship between sex and consumer culture, perceptions of the body, womanhood, gender and sexuality will be emphasised in this project. In addition to this, the potential transitions of what are deemed to be appropriate, inappropriate and tolerable behaviours will be considered, hence allowing the unravelling of subtle negotiations in adjusting moral standards. Sex work is taken as an "optic" for investigation (a term borrowed from Appadurai’s analytical approach) rather than "a reified social fact" (Appadurai, 1996, p.18), and intends to include sexual titillation performances, thereby not being limited to the two-party exchange of money for sexual intercourse. The attempt is to follow and draw a picture of the changes and continuities characterising local sexual norms and perceptions in the context of sexual consumption, as well as to understand, how discourses, pragmatic factors and emerging lifestyles may structure notions of sexuality and erotic aesthetics.   

Eva Ambos, PhD

Research Fellow, Research Cluster "Asia and Europe in a Global Context"

Department of Anthropology
South Asia Institute

In 2009, Eva Ambos received a PhD sponsorship from the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context". She finished her PhD thesis, entitled "Dancing at the Edge: Ritual, Heritage and Politics in Post-War Sri Lanka" in October 2015.

"Dancing at the Edge: Ritual, Heritage and Politics in Post-War Sri Lanka"

 In her thesis PhD thesis, Eva Ambos compared two complex ritual systems in Sri Lanka – the kohoḿbā kankāriya and the yaktovil tradition - that had both become part of national heritage. Both ritual traditions, performed by and for Sinhalese Buddhists, constitute originally the cultural monopoly of the same caste group, the beravā (lit. drummer) caste. Yet the comparison of their ‘heritagization’ (Polit 2010) alludes to an asymmetry: Presented as Buddhist heritage that goes back to Sinhalese kings, the kohoḿbā kankāriya tradition as heritage is embraced as living tradition to identify with. The yaktovil tradition in contrast, stamped as hybrid and ‘magic’, is staged as a relic of a past that has been overcome.

Her research has further shown that while hardly performed as healing rituals nowadays, the dominant form of kohoḿbā kankāriyas is that of heritage rituals on the national stage. This is diametrically opposed to the place of yaktovils conducted as healing rituals at the edge. What is presented on the national stage of the yaktovil is usually divested of any ritual dimension and exposes instead a show or exhibition character. Yet even fragments of the kohoḿbā kankāriya tradition as heritage such as dance reveal in contrast a ritual dimension on the national stage.

This asymmetrical heritagization is also indicated by the distinctive role performer lineages assume on the national stage. As Ambos have argued, kohoḿbā kankāriya lineages have a stake in the field of heritage, even more, they are needed to authenticate and render the heritagization of the ritual tradition efficacious. In contrast, the yaktovil ritual practitioners that Ambos worked with are not called upon the national stage to perform yaktovils. Instead, they shape a vibrant healing tradition off the national stage.


Poster for a "transcultural" concert at Heidelberg University in 2011.

Hsin-Yi Li, PhD

GPTS. Project finished 01/2016

Associate member

 Between 2010 and 2016 was a PhD canditate and scholarship holder of the Graduate Programme for Transcultural Studies of the Cluster of Excellence Asia and Europe. In January 2016 she defended her thesis, entitled "Educational Pilgrims. A Multi-Sited Ethnography of Taiwanese Music Students in Germany".

Educational Pilgrims. A Multi-Sited Ethnography of Taiwanese Music Students in Germany

The main topic of my dissertation project addresses the transcultural practice of internationally mobile university students, taking Taiwanese students of music as a case-in-point. Its starting point is the current phenomenon that many students from Eastern Asia (Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan) study in German conservatories (Musikhochschulen). Investigating this complex form of transnational mobility, this project draws upon research debates about the motivation of student mobility. Many studies on student mobility present Asian students as a more or less homogeneous group for which economic considerations are the main incentive for action (e.g. Ong, flexible citizenship). However, by exploring the life stories of Taiwanese music students – arranged in a multi-sited ethnography – I highlight that the issue of cultural identity can also be a dominating motive which drives these Taiwanese students in taking their decisions to study abroad in Europe. By focusing on the socioeconomic developments in Taiwan, I illustrate how learning Western classical music has become a crucial cultural capital in the process of modernization in Taiwanese society. Western classical music is the music which many Taiwanese students practice since they were children. Studying music in Europe means therefore for many of them to study in the place where their music came from. By using pilgrimage as metaphor, I furthermore demonstrate how this transcultural context forms different expectations and everyday practices of these foreign students, which can often conflict with the expectations of the host society. Moreover, studying abroad means for these young students an individual internal journey – through their ‘pilgrimage’ they experience, rethink, and reform their own cultural identities.

Grandfather with granddaughter watching a wedding ceremony in Delhi 2013 (photo: A. Mayer)

Annika Mayer, M.A.

PhD candidate, B19. Project start 04/2013

Old age – Home?: New perspectives and representations of aging in urban India

In Indian public discourses the emergence of 'old age homes' generally symbolizes the disintegration of the joint family and therefore the country's social and moral decline.  Indeed, several residences for older persons have rapidly emerged throughout India’s urban and suburban neighbourhoods in the last decades, primarily for the Hindu middle and upper-middle classes. While many narratives still stigmatize living in old age homes, quite a few recent newspaper articles emphasize the potentials of “senior citizens' retirement communities”, which are - amongst other things - seen as golden business opportunity considering the changing dynamics of Indian society and demographics.


Although media discourses centre on this new phenomenon, the absolute number of (middle class) older persons cared for in old age homes remains fractional. The vast majority of India’s elderly population still lives with their (extended) family. However, this joint-family living is undergoing severe changes, as children (as well as daughters-in-law) are either facing long working hours or are busy with their children's education. Job offers, school admission or new ideas of nuclear family living are some of the reasons for children to move within or out of the city or to migrate abroad. Nevertheless, ethnographic studies have underlined that filial obligations of care have not been eroded but rather are being renegotiated by both generations.


This project studies how older persons (and their families) deal with recent urban and social developments. How do they reinterpret familial bonds and sociality? How is growing old influenced by urban processes such as urban planning and property development? And how do the elderly themselves shape localities?


Looking at ageing in a middle-class neighbourhood, an upper middle-class old age home and a residential community in Delhi the project takes into consideration the multiple, recently created or changing spaces and living arrangements in urban India. It therefore contributes to the much needed but still marginal research on ageing within mega-cities which are subject to intense global change. Ageing will be used as a means of gaining perspective on notions of urban space, family, gender, migration, and sociality. While examining the perspectives of a variety of mainstream and marginalised media sources, the ethnographic field study will particularly focus on the ways elderly people consume, perform, validate or contest normative discourses in their everyday lives and relationships.