The name of the Institute for Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology at Goethe University Frankfurt indicates that the Institute is joining two scholarly traditions in its teaching and research program: Its focus is on doing European Ethnology with an anthropological perspective, and also, on doing Cultural Anthropology in European research fields. Both traditions center on the question of how people organize their coexistence in complex, modern societies, how they relate to their social as well as their natural environments, and the meanings people ascribe to these relationships.
Our research at the institute focuses on cultural and social processes of transformation that trigger new developments: Migration and other forms of mobility multiply the potential for contacts as well as conflicts; digitized media for communication and storage change the way people communicate with each other, how they generate new ideas or how they remember the past; the rapid advancement of knowledge production and the diffusion of scientific knowledge into all areas of life, work and politics bring new opportunities for action as well as new uncertainties and risks in dealing with health, bodies, environments and ways of living.
To investigate these processes of social transformation, we engage with micro-level, often intensely local research which consistently links ethnography and other empirical approaches with in-depth theorizing and conceptual development. Overall, the aim of anthropological research is not to produce generalizing explanations, but to problematize sweeping claims and instead, to offer interpretations and recommendations attuned to specific situations and settings.
In our analytical work, we employ an anthropological concept of culture, which conceives culture as a process and product of the everyday life of social actors. The focus on everyday practice is also informed by approaches developed in recent years in Science and Technology Studies (STS), an interdisciplinary field of research that is concerned with the production of scientific knowledge, its dissemination into different spheres of society, as well as the use of technology and its effects on sociality, political processes, and forms of human and nonhuman coexistence in contemporary societies.
In line with the focal points described above, the institute offers two study programs: a BA in Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology and an English-language MA program in Science and Technology Studies. Economies, Governance, Life.
In 1974, sixty years after the founding of Frankfurt's Goethe University, a new name appeared on the list of institutes of the university: "Institute for Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology". The former „Lehrstuhl für Volkskunde“ (Chair of Folklore Studies was not simply renamed, but the new designationwas accompanied by profound and innovative changes initiated by the newly appointed Professor Ina-Maria Greverus at that time. She introduced a new teaching and research program inspired by state-of-the-art research in international Social and Cultural Anthropology and proceeded to develop the comparative analysis of modern societies, both within Europe and beyond the European context. In addition to explicitly departing from conventional folklore studies, an emphasis on reflexivity and cultural critique situated within the own society became the institute's hallmark, dedicated as Greverus stated, to analysing "the cultural opportunities of people in relation to their cultural capability as well as dependence, with regard to a social-historical dimension and specific spaces of action."
With the appointment of Gisela Welz as successor to Greverus in 1998, the innovative program of the institute was further developed and also resulted in an expansion of international cooperation in research and teaching. In 2000, when Manfred Faßler was appointed as second professor at the institute, this created the opportunity to introduce a new focus on media cultures, both in teaching and research.
A focal element of teaching at the institute has been, from its very beginning, the concept of „forschendes Lernen“ („research-drivenlearning"). „Forschendes Lernen“ introduces students into ongoing research projects as early as possible and allows for developing research questions jointly in small research courses. Within a project framework, that extends over several semesters, students are encouraged to generate independent fieldwork-based case studies while receiving support and guidance from teaching staff. Over the years, the idea and practice of „Forschendes Lernen“ resulted in the development a whole array of didactic tools, in order to steer students through all the steps of the research process, from the initial problem definition up to the final report published as a scientific article. The institute also integrated new research topics in its teaching program and addressed emerging societal issues, such as globalization, migration, urban development, European integration or the use of digital media and the information practices of medical laypersons.
The results of these teaching projects and individual student's papers were published in the institute's publication series "Kulturanthropologie Notizen", to be accessible both for academic audiences and the public. The publications series now comprises more than 80 volumes, many of them resulting from the more than one hundred „Lehrforschungsprojekte“ (teaching research projects), as the format of „forschendes Lernen“ is called today. Since 2021, the „Kulturanthropologie Notizen“ are published under conditions of open access and focus on cutting-edge research topics, especially at the interface between Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology with the interdisciplinary research field of Science and Technology Studies.
Besides the opportunity for students and staff to publish their research findings in the institute's own publication series, the institute consequently encourages the transfer of knowledge between the university and the public. This includes panel discussions, lecture series, exhibitions, and radio broadcasts. The engagement of the institute with a wider public has been central since its beginning and has recently gained momentum again with the university's so-called "third mission".
In 2017, the institute introduced a new English-language MA program "Science and Technology Studies. Economies, Governance, Life" and thereby further strengthened its innovative teaching profile, attracting students worldwide. The interdisciplinary MA program was developed and continues to be offered in collaboration with colleagues from Human Geography and Sociology but is anchored in the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology. With this unique teaching focus on interdisciplinary research, addressing scientific knowledge production and dissemination as well as technology development and its use, it was possible, on the one hand, to build on the Institute's existing long-standing expertise in these areas; and, on the other hand, to take up important international impulses that currently emerge at the interface of Science and Technology Studies and Anthropology.