Gefördert durch den Schweizerischen Nationalfonds (SNF) 2022-2026, research team: Bettina Beer, Laura Preissler and a PhD student
Intimate relations, defined in terms of mutual commitments (grounded in the care, trust, love and support that characterise them), are a cornerstone of social networks in all societies; social anthropologists of all persuasions have taken account of them to a greater or lesser degree (Fortes’s “axiom of amity” , for example). Intimate social relations are defined by their place on a continuum that marks the degree of commitment between those related, but all social relations involve some mutuality of commitment. With the advent of New Kinship Studies (NKS), the character of intimate relations, and of those they relate, have become a focus for investigation, with a stress on the interactional grounding of relations—and the creativity and choice it presupposes. In this perspective, it is the interactions between agents that create and sustain social relations, including those previously brought under the rubric of kin relations; accordingly, such relations are taken to manifest a specificity that cannot be captured by any genealogical or other universalist model (Carsten 2000a, 2004; Franklin & McKinnon 2001; Strathern 2005). Hence, the widespread replacement of ‘kinship’ (grounded in procreative connections) by ‘relatedness’ (grounded in interaction) as the term most apt to capture the grounds of intimacy. The theoretical inspiration for this turn is typically traced back to David Schneider’s works (Schneider 1984); from its perspective, what matters to, and even constitutes, kinship, is not the biographical facts that define ego’s place in a given network of kin, but the ‘kinning’ of others through interaction and the cultural conceptions that underpin these behaviours.
he main concern within NKS has, for the most part, been to show how relations that manifest some degree of intimacy are created and sustained (often under novel circumstances made possible by the advent of new reproductive technologies, e.g., Bühler & König 2015; Hoerbst 2009; Levine 2008; Mohr 2015; Thompson 2001). Our proposed research, by contrast, will focus on the ending, breaking and unmaking of intimate relations. We will take a comparative approach to these transformations of kin networks through three empirical research projects across different sites: 1.) estrangement between parents and adult children (Switzerland), 2.) separation, divorce, and annulment of marriages (Philippines), and 3.) first parents’ experiences of separation following the adoption of their children (Russia). Given the mutuality of intimate relations, it follows that they are vulnerable to disruption and breakage through the actions of one party, a possibility that has been increasingly actualised in the marriages of the West (which have been ending in divorce at seemingly ever-increasing rates). Under contemporary circumstances, there are many forces that act to put intimate relations under some degree of stress, and which can lead to their ‘unmaking’ (cf. Boehm 2019). In the terms of NKS, our focus will be on the ‘de-kinning’ (and sometimes ‘re-kinning’) of intimates rather than ‘kinning’.
Our empirical focus is motivated by an interest in interrogating much that is taken for granted within the NKS paradigm. For instance, in seeking to refute dominant genealogical and biological paradigms, NKS has tended to downplay the social facticity of biographical circumstances and their historical nature. For us, the historically given character of a person’s procreation, and the demanding productive efforts of primary caregivers, are the foundations of that person’s intimate relations—and, usually, their personhood—and it is against this background that work to reposition that person –the work of ‘(de- or re-)kinning’—has to begin. Even US children who seek legal ‘emancipation’ from their parents must accommodate the facts of their biographies—in their feelings, attitudes and actions. (And, of course, the facticity of such relations is presupposed by the very possibility of such laws.) Thus, the proposed research aims to enrich the empirical base of the anthropology of intimate relations and to address issues fundamental to contemporary arguments about their character.
University Research Priority Group under the direction of Prof. Dr. Bettina Beer, Prof. Dr. Martina Caroni and Prof. Dr. Stephanie Klein, 2016-2021
Migration and globalization often reconfigure lives and relationships in ways that present challenges to established conceptions of the
family and to legislative, policy and church discourses. The research focus shared by the Theology, Law and Social Science faculties of the
University of Luzern aims to forge a transdisciplinary perspective on the pluralisation of understandings of “family” associated with processes
of migration and globalisation.
Several different strands of the increased movement of people, practices, and ideas that constitute contemporary migration and globalisation affect local family orthodoxies, in direct and indirect ways. Often, different traditions of family life are brought into physical proximity just as, in some countries receiving migrants and refugees, local discourses of multi-culturalism, international law and human rights de-legitimize earlier mechanisms for stigmatising difference; the regularisation, in some states and jurisdictions, of non-hetero sexual orientations and the drive to acknowledge the legitimacy of desires for family of all couples, also challenge more traditional understandings of familial norms; new reproductive technologies not only make parenthood available to a wider range of couples, but also place in question just what roles in the genesis of children are to be counted as parental. In short, migration and globalization tend to deterritorialize differences in norms and traditions of family life, while new reproductive technologies, in conjunction with the recognition of different sexual orientations of couples, make possible novel kinds of family. At the same time, the migration and globalization of information, possible through extended and ultra-fast media and communications chains, stimulates the discussion and contestation of these heterodox possibilities for families. Such discussion and contestation impact customary, legal and religious conceptions of family life and the values that permeate them. Other basic issues, such as gender and the nature of social justice, are also implicated in these national and international debates about how we should understand kinship and the family.
Accordingly, the organising questions of the research focus revolve around the way family relations (within and between families) and family discourses associated with local, national and international institutions change under conditions that stimulate the circulation of ideas and values as well as the movement of human beings. Further, the project will examine the significance of such changes for general sociocultural, legal and religious institutions. These questions are analysed using case studies in several research projects.
A longitudinal ethnography of the Wampar (Papua New Guinea) under the impact of two large projects (a copper-gold mine and a timber biomass energy plant), funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) 2015-2018, research team: Doris Bacalzo, Bettina Beer, Willem Church
The idea of a "resource curse" whereby resource abundance generates social inequality and injustice, has caused much discussion in academic and political circles. Today, with "corporate social responsibility", it is also of concern to transnational corporations (TNCs). While the precise mechanisms underlying the resource curse are controversial, there is no doubt that extractive industries have been associated with socially significant inequality at local, regional, national and international levels. This association gives rise to vexing moral issues and to political questions that challenge policy-makers, for it exists alongside the economic necessity to increase mineral production, as world demand increases. This association is also apparent to holder of the view, strongly held in some circles, that TNCs, far from being a problem, could be a key part of the solution to poverty.
This general state of affairs poses significant analytical questions to contemporary anthropology and its foundational commitment to ethnographic detail, even in the most conjunctural of local settings. The proliferating linkages entailed by globalization have produced conjunctures that make it ever more apparent that capital is global, while resources, labour power and the administrative institutions that regulate them are not. At the same time, ethnographic analysis of these conjunctures—more or less as a matter of postmodernist principle—has favoured mid-level theory and a moral critique of capitalism’s adverse effects. The proposed research seeks to engage all these issues, in a concrete regional setting, through a deep, longitudinal study of the socio-cultural processes that, in conjunction with existing circumstances, lead to the development of local level inequalities under the effects of contrasting large-scale, capital projects. Through comparison of two contrasting projects, unfolding in almost identical cultural settings, the research aims to make possible a) the analysis of the factors tending to produce transgenerationally consistent inequalities of power and wealth; b) a principled and explicit consideration of the sorts of historical factors productive of such inequalities.
Papua New Guinea is characterised by its prominence in rankings both of mineral wealth and of intra‐national inequality. This fact embarrasses its government and concerns NGOs and the multilateral organisations upon which the state still depends. The proposed research is aimed at uncovering the causal nexus that comprises those linkages in a localised social setting, among the Wampar of the Morobe Province, where both a large gold and copper mine and a timber biomass energy project are planned.
Building on decades of ethnographic research among the Wampar, our research aims to identify the micro-level interactions that define the networks constituting local, district and regional sociality. By tracing the processes of differentiation as they relate to these interactions, we aim to understand the development of inequalities that tend to become inter‐generationally reproduced, out of a field of sociality in which they were once unknown. In addition, the project aims to contribute to recent efforts to establish an anthropology of corporate forms by showing how asymmetric linkages—across what were formerly largely separate social fields—are involved in the encompassment and reconfiguration of local cultures by wider national and international institutions. That such encompassment occurs and is consequential for future trajectories, is undeniable; how it achieves its effects in terms that are relevant to the scale of a human life, in a setting like Morobe Province, is less clear. The task of clarifying such processes is at the heart of the proposed research.
An in-depth case study of the City of Vigan, Philippines, funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS) 2014-2016, project coordinator: Peter Bille Larsen, research team Philippines: Doris Bacalzo, Bettina Beer, Sara Dürr, Malot Ingel
This study of Vigan is one component of a research project that addresses a major knowledge gap in the international governance field: the conditions under which human rights are perceived and implemented in the World Heritage system. It encompasses key players in the World Heritage system, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and specialist researchers in Switzerland, Nepal, Vietnam, the Philippines and Australia. Through the analysis of particular field realities in the Asia-Pacific region, the project aims to provide building blocks for informed policy discussions on human rights and World Heritage at national, regional and global levels.
What are the major factors affecting the implementation of rights within the World Heritage system in general and in the Asia-Pacific regions in particular? An answer to this question requires empirical documentation of the factors shaping the articulation and adoption of human rights in particular settings within the World Heritage system, at different levels. Here the focus is on the Asia-Pacific region. The project is thematized by a set of inter-related assumptions and hypotheses, which, in turn, give rise to a series of setting-specific research questions. The project will encompass international, national and site-level dimensions within the Asia-Pacific context, examining issues in their legal and extra-legal aspects.
The Philippine case study: Three cultural and two natural world heritage sites are located in the Philippines. In 1999, UNESCO designated Vigan, which is one of the oldest Spanish colonial cities in the Philippines, a world heritage cultural site. It is the capital of the Province of Ilocos Sur, and lies some 400 km north of Manila. The case is particularly apt for a consideration of the fate of human rights in discourse, policy formation and implementation. The nomination process, which included an extensive consultation process between local government officials and stakeholders and a comprehensive, heritage-based development plan, is generally perceived as exemplary. Vigan’s nomination was, thus, a model of political cooperation; nevertheless, it poses questions concerning human rights. In 2012, Vigan received a UNESCO award for best practice in world heritage site management, yet the fulfilment of the Vigan Master Plan’s human rights goals is a continuing challenge. As the office of the city mayor acknowledged, the "best practice" award offers Vigan an opportunity to build on its strengths and face the huge task of tackling specific issues of health, education, and environment. These are concerns that the research team will review across all locally defined social groups. We begin with an overall question about the extent to which these vital issues are beingaddressed through meaningful processes of governance.
We will focus on the implementation process and participation of different stakeholders, exploring in particular frictions arising over concepts, positions and interests that involve or implicate rights issues. We are committed to the importance of an anthropological approach to local meanings and the varying perspectives they implicate for any project that aims at inclusivity. Therefore, mapping the social and economic positions of local stakeholders in relation to Vigan society in general, and to the specificities its listing as a heritage site entails, will form the basis for our understanding of the articulation of rights and duties in policy discourses and governance. The emphasis of the World Heritage system on inclusivity, and on decision-making that expresses this, requires an understanding that is accurate and available to all those involved in the process, at various different levels. The Vigan project is informed by the conviction that an anthropologically-informed ethnographic approach to these matters can facilitate the expression of the local communities' perspectives in terms understandable to national and international institutions and that can provide the basis for their translation into policy frameworks and guidelines for their effective implementation in World Heritage.
The countries of Melanesia have a long history of mineral exploration by outsiders lured by the promise of gold and other valuable metals. Papua New Guinea and other Melanesian nation states brought into being by 20th century decolonization have remained a target for large-scale multinational mining operations. The search for gold, copper, and nickel has been a significant part of the hopes and plans of governments and the extraction of these and other minerals has dominated the national economy of Papua New Guinea. Because mining has a disproportionately large impact on the national economy of PNG (it provides 80% of foreign earnings), it impacts significantly on national politics and the state’s international relations. In such small, vulnerable states, where the reach of government across its territory is restricted, the mining industry also has a drastic impact on the physical environment, as well as deep, complex effects on the livelihoods and lives of the peoples located in areas (and surrounding regions) in which it operates. These impacts first begin with the transformation of expectations and cultural values that attend the exploration phase and continue across the generations, to produce long-term, permanent transformations of ways of life.
Recent advances in technology have intensified exploration in PNG, which has resulted in the identification of large prospects that previoussurveys were unable to identify.
Our project aims at investigating the various effects of recently proposed large-scale mining operations on local and regional populations in two specific localities in PNG, one with access to urban centers and one in a remote location: respectively, the Markham valley (Morobe Province) and Frieda River (Sandaun Province). Since neither project has yet gone beyond the exploration and feasibility study stage, our aim is to follow developments and changes in these communities and regional populations before actual mining starts. The research team has research experience in both areas and can use existing data and local networks to launch the new project. On the basis of the existing anthropological literature, we expect to focus on local processes and strategies of engagement and changes in social organisation, gender relations, the transformation of land rights and access to resources, inward migration and the intensification of such community problems as drug abuse, prostitution, STDs and health services. The research is aimed to be long-term and it is expected that the definition of central problems will evolve as the analysis and evaluation of data proceeds.
The research is also aimed to assess the impact of the study of large-scale multinational mining operations on anthropological work in PNG. Anthropologists have produced important research on the local effects of particular projects, but anthropologists and other social scientists have also conducted research as consultants for mining projects and for those opposing such projects and the developers. Important, if sometimes in-house, discussions concerning empirical and theoretical issues have begun to develop around the differences between academic and applied research in this field. It is an important part of the proposed research that it maintains a reflexive posture that might yield results on the processes impacting upon a socially engaged discipline and its intellectual orientations, as well as results on the impact of mining developments, in all their dimensions, in contemporary PNG.
Interdisziplinäres Projekt mit dem Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenökologie (ZMT, Bremen), 2012-2015
Takuu, also referred to as Mortlock Islands, is an atoll located approximately 250 kilometres northeast of the island of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. With a population of around 600, the people of this remote Polynesian outlier are said to be among the most vulnerable to the detrimental effects of anthropogenic climate change. These impacts include erosion of shorelines, salination of the water table affecting swamp taro (Cyrtosperma merkusii) cultivation, increased flooding from ‘king tides’ and changing weather patterns. Supposed plans by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) to relocate the atoll’s population as ‘climate refugees’ by 2015 have not been implemented. While some researchers claim Takuu could prove uninhabitable within the next decade, the islanders’ resource use patterns and potential adaptive capacity have received little attention. The failure to include local knowledge and socio-cultural practices in these studies has led to conceivably unreliable and alarmist predictions for the future of Takuu and its inhabitants.
The proposed ethnographic research investigates the nexus between scientific and local ecological knowledge on Takuu Atoll in the context of debates about climate change. Qualitative research will seek to interpret understanding and awareness of a rapidly changing environment as well as Takuu Islanders’ perceptions of its cause. Attitudes of the local population towards perceived risks and developments with regards to relocation plans will be central to the inquiry. Despite its remote location, Takuu is not isolated from the global flow of discourses concerning climate; the construction and evaluation of the island’s risk profile, and the measures that should be taken, are a central feature of local life. The research will be conducted through participant observation augmented by semi-structured interviews, free listing, oral histories, social mapping and land/ resource use mapping. One main aim of the research is to gain knowledge of how previous scientists, missionaries, a documentary film crew (“There Once Was an Island”) and community members who have returned after living abroad have interacted in shaping locals’ understandings of their changing environment.
Funded by the Swiss National Sience Foundation 2011-2014
The project focuses on the land-use practices of the Tau't Batu people of highlands Palawan, who are seasonally mobile hunter-gatherers and cultivators. Half of Palawan is covered with primary rainforest characterized by an extremely high biodiversity; however, the island’s ecosystems are increasingly threatened by illegal logging, the uncontrolled slash-and-burn agriculture of immigrants from coastal areas, as well as by the local impacts of climate change. Against this background of recent environmental challenges, the vulnerability of the previously unstudied Tau't Batu grows steadily, as their available food resources become more and more limited. The question at the heart of this project is how the Tau’t Batu have responded to these circumstances: adaptive patterns of mobility and on strategies, implemented at levels from the household to the regional, aimed at minimizing the effects of natural and anthropogenic crises upon the security of essential resources. The research seeks to interpret contemporary environmental responses to challenges and threats in terms of Tau’t Batu cultural understandings and traditional environmental knowledge, as these are embedded in local religious conceptions. By this means, the research aims to provide a rich, comprehensive account of how the Tau’t Batu perceive the natural environment and formulate their responses to the socio-economic conditions confronting them.
Doctoral stipend from the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Lucerne (GSL) 2010-2013
Gefördert durch den Schweizerischen Nationalfonds seit 2009-2012
This research project focuses on interethnic relations, kinship and transcultural kinship among the Wampar in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. A good deal of anthropological research has been conducted on interethnic marriages, but few projects have examined in depth the bi- or multicultural kinship usually entailed by such marriages. We will research not only the relations between interethnic couples and their affines, but also the social situations of their offspring and the organisation of relations they maintain with distant kin: What notions of kinship do such couples and their children have? How do they relate to their kindreds and use their kinship relations? Interethnic offspring often grow up with different kinship systems, including different terminologies, which organise rights and obligations across descent lines (patri-/ matrilineal or cognatic) in contrasting, perhaps conflicting, ways. Individual decisions about which side and which relations to emphasize or intensify can be expected to be contingent on a range of factors, but the opportunities and difficulties of meeting the expectations of, and obligations to, the different sides are clear. The sometimes complicated situation of transcultural kindreds has consequences for the inheritance of goods, land rights, and group membership – and may be important for the accommodation of pre-existing legal systems to contemporary settings.
Wampar lands are close to town, and parts of the population live in a semiurban setting; They have many and varied social relations with members of other ethnic groups. Extended anthropological fieldwork, carried out in several different villages, has provided substantial longitudinal data on interethnic marriages upon which the current research will expand; it includes three interrelated sub-projects:
Kinship is central to individual and group identities as well as to boundaries between social collectives. Kin relations that transgress such boundaries have the potential to change them. Transcultural kinship will be investigated not only as the sum of individual relations but also in its relevance to political and legal issues relating to the maintenance or dissolution of social boundaries. Conflict between established legal principles is planned to be the focus of a follow-up project. Transcultural kinship is not only relevant for legal systems of societies like the Wampar, but also in industrialized societies, for example in conflicts about alimony, immigration laws, naming practices, adoption and inheritance law.
Since the early 1990s, interest in the formation, use and meanings of the senses (as well as relations among them) has grown in anthropology. Talk of a 'sensory revolution' (Howes 2006) might, however, be thought premature given how little substantive empirical work has so far been done. Of the influential publications that have appeared in this literature, several have focused on Melanesia, notably, Steven Feld's Kaluli acoustemology (1990) and David Howes' comparison between Massim and Middle Sepik ways of sensing the world (2003). David Howes and The Concordia Sensoria Research Team have focused on variations in the sense hierarchies of different societies. This approach has been criticized by Tim Ingold (among others) for “its naturalisation of the properties of seeing, hearing and other sensory modalities, leading to the mistaken belief that differences between cultures in the ways people perceive the world around them may be attributed to the relative balance, in each, of a certain sense or senses over others.” (Ingold, The Perception of the Environment: Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill p. 281 [London, New York: Routledge. 2000]).
Building on the notion of a sensorium, understood as a set of senses inflected by and used within contexts defined by specific cultural meanings, the following central problems, topics and questions emerge as foci for further discussions:
The project includes research on the senses in the Philippines (Visayas) and among the Wampar in Papua New Guinea (B. Beer) and ongoing research by Yi Chen, "Taste and food classification among Chinese living in Germany".
The Wampar (neighbours call them "Laewomba") are a language group occupying the area of the middle Markham River in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. They were first mentioned in reports of German gold miners and colonial officers in the beginning of the 20th century. After peaceful initial contacts with the medic-ethnographer, Richard Neuhauss, and missionaries of the “Neuendettelsauer Mission” in 1909, a mission station (Gabmadzung) was built in 1910/11. Richard Neuhauss' „Deutsch-Neu-Guinea“ (1911) contains early photographs and some ethnographic information on the Wampar. The missionaries wrote reports, printed story books on Wampar (Panzer 1917) and left several unpublished texts written in the 1930s. The last-mentioned stimulated Hans Fischer’s interest and led to his conducting anthropological fieldwork among them from 1958 to the present.
The usual pattern in ethnographic research has involved a single anthropologist investigating a specific problem in one ethnic group for
a limited time. “Research Focus Wampar” has been developed as a reaction to this ethnographic approach. Our research does not pose one
overarching question, theoretical orientation or definite time frame. Several anthropologists conduct research in different villages of one
language group over a long time period. Results complement and control each other by revealing cultural continuity and similarities as well
as differences between villages and local groups. Some of these, such as the extent of interethnic relations local groups are involved in,
are relevant to longer and short term relevant processes.
The intention is for anthropologists differentiated by gender, age, and anthropological education, with a broad range of research questions to work in the same or different villages, so that different – sometimes contradictory – conclusions can emerge. Restudies and long-term research mean that time is also a dimension of comparison. This approach encourages discussion of research results and a better understanding of methods, sources and local heterogeneity. The Wampar, like most other ethnic groups, were and are not isolated, and interethnic contacts and relations, and integration into the state and church organisations are taken into account. Sociocultural change, including the disintegration of aspects of culture as well as continuities can be understood and explained.
Hans Fischer, as mentioned, began fieldwork in Papua New Guinea in 1958, when he visited several Wampar villages, but conducted fieldwork at that time mainly in villages in the lower Watut, where Wampar went as missionaries. He conducted his first long bout of fieldwork in Wampar territory in Gabmadzung in 1965, and then again in 1971/72, 1976, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1997, 1999/2000, 2003/04 and 2009. He also made short term visits to Gabsongkeg village. His research was on various topics such as settlement and household organization, kinship, language and oral traditions, and material culture including, for example, string figures.
Heide Lienert did fieldwork as MA student in Ngasawapum village on marriage and kinship. She returned for short time periods to Ngasawapum in 1984, 1994, and 2002.
Christiana Lütkes, together with her husband Piotr, did fieldwork in Tararan village in 1993. Her PhD research on cultural and social organisation of work has been published along with several articles on related topics.
Accompanied by her daughter, Rita Kramp did a PhD research on family planning in Gabantsidz village in 1994/95, the results are published in a monograph (Kramp 1999)
Bettina Beer did (for part of the time together with her husband Hans Fischer) research on interethnic relations and the senses in 1997, 1999/2000, 2002, 2003/04 and 2009 in Gabsongkeg village.
The student Paulina Reimann studied children’s play and games in context of a fieldwork practice in 2002.
In 2002 Juliane Neuhaus did research for her PhD on village courts and legal pluralism in Munun village, she returned for a short period of fieldwork in 2009. She is in the final process of writing up results for her thesis "Legal Pluralism and the challenges of state efficiency: Ethnography of the Local State in the Markham Valley, Papua New Guinea."