Click the star to add/remove an item to/from your individual schedule.
You need to be logged in to avail of this functionality, and to see the links to virtual rooms.

Accepted Paper:

Socialist solidarity by doing ethnography: Cultural engineers in the GDR and Africa (1960-1990)  
Blanka Koffer (Independent Scholar)

Paper short abstract:

This paper deals with the changing transcontinental cooperation of a particular subgroup of cultural engineers: anthropologists or, following the contemporary socialist self-description, ethnographers.

Paper long abstract:

During the 1960ies, along with the decolonization of the Global South, it became common sense in socialist countries to link anthropology to the struggle for national independance, or in other words: to practice anti-imperialist solidarity by doing ethnography. German scholar Ursula Schlenther, since the late 1950ies employed at the Institute for Anthropology at Berlin´s Humboldt-University, put it like this: The "complex science" ethnography can "serve the liberation movements of the Asiatic-African and Ibero-American peoples as a historical science". Schlenther´s successor as the institute’ s director, Ute Mohrmann, summarized thirty years later: "Ethnography is a politically committed science. It shall apply the new results of ethnic history to the establishment of nations around the world and to scientific policies of nation-building and, in doing this, ethnography shall provide for the success of the "coalition of the rational" and for the solution of practical questions of life of the peoples". Schlenther (1959) and Mohrmann (1990) both underlined the role of social sciences in state socialism as clearly applied research. In fact, GDR scholars went to Africa for fieldwork trips in the framework of linguistic or archaeological or sociological or archival research or as councellors for the transfer of knowledge at universities, schools, and museums. GDR anthropologists cooperated with students and colleagues from and in post-colonial African countries on the grounds of an urgent demand for new master narratives and staff for national historiographies, policies of culture and languages. How did the demand for socialist and anti-imperialist solidarity influence the interaction of European and African anthropologists? Which effects did the experiences gained during thirty years of transcontinental cooperation have on the conceptualization and the popularization of Marxist-Leninist social sciences in general and of ethnography in particular? I will approach these questions by analyzing selected examples of African-German interactions in socialist anthropology as a professional field on the borderline of academia and politics. This paper is based on my postdoctoral research conducted in the frame of the research project No. 92024 "Akteurinnen, Praxen, Theorien", ad personam funded by the Volkswagen-Foundation from March 2017 to February 2019 at Humboldt-University Berlin.

Panel P03a
Collaborations and Confrontations during the Cold War and Into the Future
  Session 1 Thursday 9 June, 2022, -