Professorial Chair Prof. Dr. Annuska Derks



The team under the chair of Annuska Derks is concerned with the anthropological research of social transformation processes.

Social change in today's societies is often described with abstract terms such as neo-liberalisation, modernisation, urbanisation or globalisation. However, these abstractions say very little about how transformation processes are concretely reflected in the everyday lives of people: how, where and with whom they live, eat, marry, and form social relations; if and when they have children; how and where they work and which boundaries they cross; how they identify, organize and communicate; what they know, believe and strive for.

At the chair, we examine social transformation processes and their effects through detailed ethnographic field research. We incorporate multiple places, times, and perspectives in our analysis, as well as theoretical reflection on key concepts such as ‘change’, ‘development’ or ‘globalisation’. Our main areas of research and teaching are focused around three related topics:

  • In research on transformation and development we not only examine the impact of transformation processes and evolving discourses of progress and development on everyday life, but also aim to highlight how social inequalities are created and reproduced as a result of development processes and policies, and the extent to which people can affect these processes or are merely affected by them.
  • The thematic focus on globalisation, transnationalism and migration is concerned with the global mobility of people, things and ideas. From the exploration of rural-to-urban migration and national migration regimes to ethnographies of 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.
  • A third major theme is the anthropology of social relations and is concerned with change and continuity in relation to 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 and discourses on the family? 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 various ways in teaching and research, in close connection with the above-mentioned topics.

Current Research Projects

Completed Projects

  • In a completed project on ‘Contemporary Forms Of Bonded Labour In Southeast Asia’, Annuska Derks, Olivia Killias, and other colleagues followed the pathways of transnational migrant workers in Southeast Asia and examined current discourses on ‘new forms of slavery’ and ‘human trafficking’. Through this multi-sited research, they investigated the historical continuities and colonial entanglements of current regimes of labour migration.
  • Annuska Derks’ ethnographic study ‘Khmer Women on the Move: Exploring Work and Life in Urban Cambodia’ focused on the migration of young women from the countryside to the city to work in garment factories, prostitution and street trade, in the context of Cambodia’s transition from a closed socialist system to an open market economy.

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 and doctoral students who would like to conduct research relating to one of the above mentioned topics.

Doctoral students

MSc. Molly Fitzpatrick
Catching Babies: Encounters across Difference at Maternity Clinics in Bali, Indonesia

Mag. Ursina Jaeger
Alltägliche Vielfalt. Eine ethnographische Studie zum Umgang mit Heterogenität im Kindergarten

M.A. Wahyu Kuncoro
Contesting the Margins: Tablighi Jama’at and the [re]Islamization of Cham Muslims of Cambodia 

M.A. Matthew Parsfield
Spice Chains: Star Anise, Global Markets and the Making of an Indigenous Commodity

lic. phil. Mathias Rickenbach
Strukturfolgen des Europäischen Migrationsregimes. Eine ethnographische Untersuchung der Migration-Industrie im Grenzraum zwischen Marokko und der EU

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

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

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