Author: Friederike Brinker

Summer School – Public Keynotes

The following Keynotes in our Summer School 2023: Telling People Apart: Sorting, Grouping and Distinguishing are public:

June 19th, 6:15 pm:
Theodore Schatzki
Practices and the Digitization of Societies
Linke Aula | Alte Mensa

June 20th, 6:15 pm:
Jürgen Streeck
Caressing and Categorizing Cats
Linke Aula | alte Mensa

June 21st, 6:15 pm:
Rivke Jaffe
Political Animals: An Interspecies Approach to Urban Inequalities
Senatssaal | NatFak


Poster listing the Public Keynotes in the Summer School

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Symbolic Boundaries: Occupational Community, Culture, and Status Dynamics

May 22nd, 6 pm
P106, Philosophicum, Jakob-Welder-Weg 18, Mainz

Diane Vaughans lecture shows the intersection of social and symbolic boundaries in air traffic control. Based on ethnography and interviews in four air traffic control facilities in the US National Airspace System, Diane Vaughan shows the interpretive processes and symbolic meanings by which controllers self-define as members of an occupational community, distinguishing themselves from other occupations. However, they also construct distinctions that separate members of the community, one from the other, based on the criteria of competence and technical skill, thus creating identity, legitimacy and status from their work. In these forms of boundary work, they deploy cultural, social, cognitive, and discursive mechanisms that impose, activate, transform, and suppress social boundaries, creating difference and similarity, cultural membership and group classification, in order to give legitimacy and status to some and marginalize others. Examining the mechanisms by which members of an occupational community construct differences that distinguish themselves from others and among themselves shows status dynamics: stratification as the product of agency, continuing negotiation in social relations to resist inequalities rather than solely an external apparatus acting upon agents.

Diane Vaughan is Professor of Sociology and International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. She received her PhD in Sociology from Ohio State University, 1979, and taught at Boston College from 1984 to 2005. During this time, she was awarded fellowships at Yale, the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at Oxford, the American Bar Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial foundation, and the ASA award for Public Sociology. She came to Columbia in 2005.

You can find information on accessability here.

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Becoming ‘(Ab-)Normal’: Normality, Deviance, and Doing Life Course Transitions.

This chapter examines how a particular kind of life course transitions, those between affiliations to categories of “human distinctions” like gender, ethnicity, or age, are culturally observed in terms of their normality or deviance. It asks how framings and doings of such transitions as (not) ‘normal’ are related to those of individuals in transition. To this end, it introduces the analytical framework of “un/doing differences” as a way of understanding categorizations of humans as the product of drawing distinctions and connects it to the concept of “doing transitions”. It argues that doing transitions can be understood as one mode of un/doing differences. To illustrate this point, the chapter presents reflections on how affiliations to human categories, combinations of affiliations, and of doing transitions between them are linked to cultural definitions of normality and deviance.

Cover: Doing Transitions in the Life Course

Boll, Tobias 2022: Becoming ‘(Ab-)Normal’: Normality, Deviance, and Doing Life Course Transitions. In: Walther, Andreas/Stauber, Barbara/Settersten, Rick (Hg.): Doing Transitions in the Life Course – Processes and Practices. Springer, S. 169-183.

Seeing Like a Border: Automated Vision and Digital Enclosure

May 15th 2023, 6pm
P3, Philosophicum, Jakob-Welder-Weg 18, Mainz

This presentation considers the role played by automated vision in transforming bodies into “operational images” that enable the expansion of borders into enclosures. It expands on Chris Rumford’s invitation to consider what it might mean to “see like a border”. The resulting form of governance might be described, drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, as the deployment of a granular form of biopower – one that requires the milieu, or environment, to become deformable and customisable. This is the mode of power and control anticipated by those who seek to develop and capture the terrains of augmented and virtual reality – or, in more recent terminology, the realm of the “metaverse.”

Mark Andrejevic is Professor in the School of Media, Film, and Journalism at Monash University. He is the author of several books on digital media and surveillance, including, most recently (with Neil Selwyn), Facial Recognition. Andrejevic is also a Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre for Automated Decision Making and Society, where he studies the social, cultural, and political implications of automated decision making systems.

You can find information on accessability here.

Poster: Seeing like a Border: Automated Vision and Digital Enclosure

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The notion of solidarity is, in everyday life, often connected to migration and refugees. But which relationships and actions are actually described with the term is only loosely defined. Heike Drotbohm starts her article with the history of the term and the contradictory dimensions of meaning that emerged from that history. She then analyzes examples of pro-migrant activism in europe and the challenges of variations of solidarity that emerge out of compassion

Drotbohm, Heike (2022): „Solidarität“, in: Inken Bartels, Isabella Löhr, Christiane Reinecke, Philipp Schäfer, Laura Stielike (Hg.), Inventar der Migrationsbegriffe, 07.10.2022.

The article is available in german here.

Care beyond Repair

To care about and for others—that is other people, collectivities, plants, animals, or the climate—is a mundane and ubiquitous act. At some point in life, almost every human being needs to be cared for, encounters care, and eventually provides care. In anthropology, the critical notion of care provides an analytic tool for seriously considering life’s contingencies and for understanding the ways that people ascribe meaning to different kind of acts, attitudes, and values. This chapter argues that the concept’s normative dimension forms part of a cultural binarism that hierarchizes the world according to differently valued spheres of existence. Concentrating on this normativity as inherent to the notion, the chapter distinguishes three complementary empirical fields: care as (globalized) social reproduction, care as institutionalized asymmetry, and care beyond human exceptionalism. It becomes clear that care oscillates between two different perspectives, producing a particular tension. On the one hand, the care concept features a protective and conservative dimension that is congruent with the past. On the other hand, the concept incorporates a transformational dimension through its notions of development, progress, and improvement. To move beyond our own (potentially or inevitably) academic, Eurocentric, or human-centric understanding of the notion, this essay suggests moving “care beyond repair.” We can do so, first, by asking what role research plays in this differentiating ethics and, second, by identifying perspectives and positionalities that, at first glance, appear indistinct or inarticulate and hence do not confirm already-familiar categories of evaluation and distinction. Seen this way, care beyond repair draws attention to the making and unmaking of human existence.

Drotbohm, Heike 2022: Care beyond Repair. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. New York: Oxford University Press.

The text is available in english and, in the journal "Mana", in a portuguese translation.


End of Hell? Brazil’s Election and a Community Kitchen of the MTST

On 30/10/2022, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) of the Workers’ Party won an exceptionally close runoff election against the current far-right president of Brazil, Jair Messias Bolsonaro. For volunteers of a community kitchen (Cozinha Solidária) of the leftist Homeless Workers Movement (MTST), Lula’s victory represents an enormous relief and a hope after the long period of anxiety during the election campaign. Elena Maria Reichl describes the perspective of the kitchens volunteers in a blog post.

Reichl, Elena Maria 2022: End of Hell? Brazil´s Election and a Community Kitchen of the MTST. In: Focaalblog, available under: