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ISEK - Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies Social and Cultural Anthropology

Chair ‘Social Transformation Processes’

How do societies change and how do people deal with those changes? The team under the chair of Annuska Derks is concerned with the anthropological research of social transformation processes. We analyse what these processes of change mean for people on the ground, through detailed ethnographic field research, the incorporation of multiple places, times, and perspectives, and a critical theoretical reflection on key concepts such as ‘development’, ‘globalisation’ or ‘innovation’. Our main areas of research and teaching are focused around three related topics:

  • transformation and development: by examining the impact of transformation processes and evolving discourses of innovation, progress and development on everyday life, we explore the extent to which people are affected by processes of change as well as how people shape change through their actions and aspirations, and ask how social inequalities are created and reproduced in the process.
  • globalisation, transnationalism and migration: we seek to shed new light on the global mobility of people, things and ideas by tracing the trajectories of people and things in time and place. From the exploration of rural-to-urban migration and national migration regimes to ethnographies of transnational religious movements and global commodity chains, we are concerned with connections, shifts in meaning, and ruptures between different actors and places, while examining the interplay between local, national, and global configurations.
  • anthropology of social relations: we are interested in changes and continuities in social organisation, gender and kinship. How are the boundaries of belonging defined and negotiated in times of globalisation? How do new reproductive technologies or transnational practices change family life or discourses of parenthood? What are the effects of new forms of labour migration on gender relations and the ideals of masculinity and femininity? These and other questions are addressed in close connection with the above-mentioned topics.

The Chair is primarily devoted to teaching and research in and across Southeast Asia, but we also work in other regions (Europe, Switzerland) as well as on transnational entanglements.

Prof. Dr. Annuska Derks and her team look forward to hearing from students who would like to conduct research relating to one of the above mentioned topics.


Annuska Derks, Associate Professor
Rivka Eisner, Senior Researcher
Kathrin Eitel, Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer
Molly Fitzpatrick, Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer
Esther Horat, Postdoctoral Researcher
Peter Larsen, Senior Researcher
Nadja Kempter, Doctoral Researcher
Wahyu Kuncoro, Doctoral Researcher and Lecturer
Anina Meier, Doctoral Researcher
Phuong Nguyen, Doctoral Researcher
Mathias Rickenbach, Doctoral Researcher

Completed dissertation projects

Nolwenn Bühler*
Reproductive technologies, biological clock discourses and the extension of fertility time: gender, kinship and biopolitics of reproductive aging in Switzerland

Molly Fitzpatrick
Moral Becomings: The Affective Politics of Care in Midwifery Clinics in Bali, Indonesia

Esther Horat*
Market Transformation and Trade Dynamics in Northern Vietnam: The Case of Ninh Hiep

Ursina Jaeger
Children’s Pathways of Belonging: An Ethnography of a Kindergarten Class in a Diversified Swiss Neighborhood

Lena Kaufmann*
Skills in migration: Everyday life strategies of Chinese rice farmers

Carola Mantel*
Lehrperson, Migration und Differenz. Lebens- und berufsgeschichtliche Erfahrungen und Umgangsweisen mit Differenz und Zugehörigkeit bei Lehrpersonen der zweiten Einwanderungsgeneration

* = Co-supervision