Social and Cultural Anthropology

… is devoted to the study of societies worldwide, with a central focus on the human being (anthropos) in her/his cultural environment.

In research and teaching, the department provides contemporary and historical perspectives on social phenomena as processes and expressions of varied dynamics. Non-European societies have long been a focus of research at the Frankfurt Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology; today, the emphasis has largely shifted to those global interconnections of people that are the result of migration, (neo)colonial and transnational relations, global economies, and the social impact of worldwide processes of profound change.

The department‘s regional expertise is based on anthropological fieldwork in Africa, Central and South Asia (India), South-East Asia, the Americas, Oceania, as well as the Islamic world. The empirical and comparative research particularly studies the close interconnections – but also the lines of demarcation – between religion, kinship, economy, politics and law, culinary culture, material culture and museums, and migration. Another field of research is the history of the discipline.

The Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Goethe University Frankfurt focuses on four major fields of research and teaching:

Social Orders & Social Practices

Based on empirical research on human actions, the department engages in studies of culturally specific ideas and values that form the foundation of social orders.

For example, acts of exchange depend on the moral concepts of a society while at the same time revealing social equality or inequality and shedding light on individual strategies and practices. One research focus is the interplay between social orders created by humans on the basis of kinship ties, gender relations, and bureaucratic or state-based orders. In that context, the so-called “new kinship studies” are an important field of research because they look into the impact of state legislation and new reproduction technologies on concepts and practices of “being relatives”.

Global as well as local processes of change pose a challenge to existing social orders and social practices whose dynamics (emergence, establishment, and abandonment or disintegration) are studied at the department. This includes, for example, research on cultural and political actors throughout the world who use the “invention of traditions”, the adaption of global discourses, or the spread of – usually religion-based – expectations of salvation for their visions of statehood, society, or community.

Materiality & Representation

The study of “materiality” focuses on ways of dealing with objects, goods, or technological aspects, as well as on the diverse manners in which they are culturally appropriated.

The qualities, properties, and meanings that are attributed to everyday objects due to their specific materiality are a major research focus. “Representation”, in turn, includes the use of material culture – for example, in and by museums as well as in the social environment – as a means of inward and outward (self-)representation. This includes contemporary non-European art, tourism, and representation in the media. An important field of research is the study of the immaterial aspects of material culture. For example, the department not only engages in research on the impact of intellectual property rights, particularly in the global and (post-)colonial context, but also on the production of knowledge and impacts of, and on, indigeneity and ethnicity. In many respects, these studies require close cooperation with archaeologists and historians.

Mobility, Development & Plural Societies

This field of research results from the observation that the increasing mobility both of humans and of the social networks surrounding them gives rise to a translocal, or transnational, movement of things, capital, knowledge, ideas, and practices.

These complex phenomena, their causes and their impact on the patterns of action and diversity of contemporary societies, are studied at the department. This is done, for example, on the basis of socio-cultural practices and biographies of migrants, or by looking at competing world orders or at discourses on changes caused by environmental, political, or economic factors. This also spawns research on the various types of transnationalism, development work, and the effect, or impact, of migration both on people themselves and on their living together in increasingly plural societies. This ethnic and cultural diversity cannot be separated from other dimensions of social difference, such as gender, sexuality, class, and racialized identities.

Religion & Ritual

In many societies religious, or cosmological, concepts are closely interconnected with social, economic, and political aspects, as well as with people’s definitions of their identity.

Studies in this field of research address the social meaning of rituals and performances, the relationship between state and religion, as well as the currently observable “resurgence” of religion(s). Hence, the focus of research is on concrete phenomena such as pilgrimages, religious (mega-)events, and discourses on sacral practices, as well as on global conflicts that are associated with the vigorous emergence and politicization of religious identity (e.g., Islamism, Hindutva, Zionism). Another particular emphasis of research is on the economic preconditions for ritual practice, as well as on the impact of rituals on economic concepts and actions.


Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology
Room IG 551
Norbert-Wollheim-Platz 1
60629 Frankfurt/Main

Mon–Wed: 11–12.30, Thu: 12-14
(office hours)

Phone:  +49 69/798-33064
Fax:  +49 69/798-33065
E-Mail:  ethnologie (at)