Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology is one of the world’s leading centres for research in socio-cultural anthropology. It was established in 1999 by Chris Hann (Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia) and Günther Schlee (Integration and Conflict) in Halle/Saale. Marie-Claire Foblets (Law & Anthropology) joined the Institute as its third Director in 2012. Common to all research projects at the Max Planck Institute is the comparative analysis of social change; it is primarily in this domain that its researchers contribute to anthropological theory, though many programmes also have applied significance and political topicality. Fieldwork is an essential part of almost all projects.


Advokatenweg 36
06114 Halle (Saale)
Phone: +49 345 2927-0
Fax: +49 345 2927-502

PhD opportunities

This institute has several International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS):
IMPRS on Retaliation, Mediation and Punishment
IMPRS for the Anthropology, Archaeology and History of Eurasia

In addition, there is the possibility to apply for doctoral research projects in the frame of the different research foci of the Institute. Please consult our website for vacancies.

Department Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia more
Department Integration and Conflict more
New insights into economic and social change
How do moral and ethical convictions affect local economies and impact global capitalism? This is the fundamental question driving the projects of the new Max Planck Cambridge Centre for Ethics, Economy and Social Change. more
How terrorists are made

How terrorists are made

January 29, 2016
Terrorist attacks, such as the shootings and bombings across Paris in November 2015 leave us with fear and loathing, but above all, with incomprehension. We cannot understand what motivates people to indiscriminately kill others; and most often, we don’t want to understand. Our author, however, argues that we should endeavour to understand terrorists – he believes this is the only way we can tackle the causes of violence. more
Ten ERC Advanced Grants for Max Planck scientists
Fifty applications for funding successful in Seventh EU Framework Programme more
Deep in the sediments of integrated culture
At the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Dittmar Schorkowitz studies how the process of cultural transfer unfolded during the encounters of Eurasian populations in the Middle Ages. more
It’s easy to overlook the marginalized. Social exclusion can have very different causes and consequences – also in the context of migration. Six Max Planck Institutes have now joined forces for a cross-institute project focusing on the topic. The project examines, among other things, the question of why immigrants often lose their good health. It explores what prompts Somalis to move from Europe to Kenya, and what consequences the deal between the EU and Turkey might have for the rights of asylum seekers in Greece. Their common aim is to uncover exclusion and develop fair rules to regulate migration.
La Convivencia is viewed as a golden age of tolerance – a period of peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Jews and Christians in medieval Spain. The myth surrounding this period persists to this day. Researchers at the Max Planck Institutes for Social Anthropology in Halle and for the History of Science in Berlin are studying the history of the Convivencia and considering its possible function as a model for today’s world.

Ships were long the fastest means of transportation, capable of carrying people and goods in large quantities. As a result, the seas became a medium through which a variety of nations made contact and carried out trade. To this day, ports serve as hubs and cultural melting pots. Taking the Indian Ocean as their example, Burkhard Schnepel and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology are studying how diverse networks developed across the waters.

Terrorist attacks like those in Paris leave us fearful and horrified, but above all, bewildered. We’re unable – and usually even unwilling – to understand what motivates people to kill others indiscriminately. However, our author believes we should try to understand terrorists. Only then can we combat the causes of violence.

States don’t emerge from a void, but are always the result of political decision-making processes among not only the people who live in them, but also a complex array of external players. The case of South Sudan, the newest member of the international community of sovereign states, is one more example of such a process taking a violent turn, since the divergent interests are far from being balanced, and institutional methods of dealing with conflicts are weak or not generally accepted. Many of the complex patterns of emergence and models involved here strike Katrin Seidel and Timm Sureau from the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology as being extremely familiar.

No Network, No Business

1/2014 Culture & Society
For visiting tourists, market traders and street vendors embody much of the flair of Asian countries, and their stalls and pitches teeming with colorful consumer goods or fresh fruit and vegetables are photographed countless times. Yet Vietnamese markets aren’t just places for goods to change hands; they also comprise complex webs of social relationships and political structures in which power struggles are played out. These aspects are a key focus of Kirsten Endres and her research group at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle.
Many different conceptions of law exist side by side in multicultural societies – a reality that formal legal systems have ignored for far too long, according to Marie-Claire Foblets. As Director of the new Department for Law and Anthropology at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, she hopes to help change this situation.
Forest burial sites are taking the place of cemeteries, urns replacing oak coffins, headstones are now “Made in India” – over the past two decades funerals in Germany have become much more multifaceted; the stolid dignity of old-style interments is out of fashion. These are the findings of a study headed by Dominic Akyel of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne.
How strong are the ties that bind families in Europe? To answer this question, around 30 scientists set out on field studies in eight European countries.
How important are social scientists’ forecasts for political decisions? A critical analysis.
In December 2004, a giant wave hit the coasts of the Gulf of Bengal, wreaking catastrophic damage. But the destruction from this tsunami affected more than just nature: it also threw the economic and social order into disarray.
Ethnologists are studying wedding rituals and family traditions in Kyrgyzstan.
Africa is in motion. Conflict, as in Sudan or Somalia, is not the only thing that forces people to leave their homes. There is, however, almost always confl ict where they arrive. These conflicts and their potential solutions are the subject of research being carried out by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. In the process, they are learning much about the mobile lives that many people lead as a matter of course. And about the opportunities that mobility offers: for the gold diggers in northern Benin, Burkina Faso, for example; or in Mali, for the Fulbe, nomadic herdsmen who crisscross the whole of West Africa; or for the migrants from Ghana, who are seeking a new future in Europe.
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Humans and the Land

2018 Schlee, Günther
Cultural Studies Jurisprudence Social and Behavioural Sciences
The relationships between groups of human beings and the land they occupy have become more heterogeneous and complex than ever. The department “Integration and Conflict” at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology studies the logic of collective identification and group formation and the different forms of possessiveness found in these relationships. The key example is taken from the south of Ethiopia, where agro-pastoralists find their land to be taken over by large-scale sugar cane production in the hands of investors from other parts of the country and international investors. more

Connectivity in Motion: The Indian Ocean as Maritime Contact and Exchange Zone

2017 Schnepel, Burkhard
Cultural Studies Jurisprudence Social and Behavioural Sciences
The Indian Ocean is the third largest Ocean of the world, measuring approximately 69 million square kilometers. It connects Africa, West-, South-, Southeast-, and East Asia among each other. This ocean has been transversed by sailors for more than 5.000 years now, first only in parts, but after the deciphering of the monsoon-code (southwesterly winds in summer, northeasterly winds in winter) at the turn of the common era, also in its entire width. more

Markets in motion. Vietnam’s small-scale traders on the path of the market economy

2016 Endres, Kirsten W.
Cultural Studies Jurisprudence Social and Behavioural Sciences

A team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology focuses on the many facets of small-scale trade in Vietnam today. Their work shows that markets form and transform in uneven ways through the interplay between global processes, local trajectories of economic and social development, and everyday interactions between traders, suppliers, customers, and public officials.


The normative-technological construction of a value chain: Moroccan argan oil

2015 Turner, Bertram
Cultural Studies Jurisprudence Social and Behavioural Sciences
The intertwining and co-production of normative and technological strands in the politics of natural resource extraction are associated with the transformation of local knowledge into capitalizable intellectual property. The emergence of Moroccan argan oil on the world market shows how the integration of a forest resource in the global economy by means of normative and technological appropriation is organized. The ensuing transformation of the local legal configuration and the livelihood conditions of the local population are in the centre of analysis. more
Depending on their social and political contextualization and status in a given society, languages may function as means of inclusion and exclusion, as ways of (re-)constructing and reconciling collective identities and as strategies to display and transcend group boundaries. Where postcolonial societies are concerned, former colonial policies (also) with regard to language ideologies continue to influence the relationship between language and identity. more

UNESCO World Heritage between global institution and local reality

2013 Brumann, Christoph
Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences
In a successful global institution committed to the universal interest of humankind, national states and their demands remain important and have in recent years taken the shape of a North-South conflict. A research group at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology studies the decision-making processes of the UNESCO World Heritage institutions and the local consequences of World Heritage inscriptions in the celebrated historical cities of Kyoto, Istanbul, Melaka and Xiʼan. more

Legal Pluralism as Fight for Culture

2012 Benda-Beckmann, Franz von; Benda-Beckmann, Keebet von
Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences
After the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998 in West Sumatra the political freedom led to a threefold and contradictory revitalisation process of legal, political and ideological principles of social order: democratic principles, the role of Islam in public space, and a wider recognition of tradition (adat) based rights in the local government and natural resource management. This has led to discussions over the „true“ Minangkabau ethnic identity and culture that is a struggle over the new balance between the co-existing legal orders of state law, Islamic law and adat law. more

National unity in weak states

2011 Knörr, Jacqueline
Cultural Studies
Generally, so-called weak states are associated with weak national unity, especially in the postcolonial world. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology have shown that national identities are often much more developed in weak states than generally suggested. Moreover, these national identities can significantly contribute to conflict regulation and foster societal acceptance of processes of post-conflict reintegration and reconciliation. more

Caucasian Boundaries and Citizenship

2010 PD Dr. Lale Yalç¿n-Heckmann
Social and Behavioural Sciences
The Caucasus has too often been reduced to ethno-nationalist conflicts. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology analyse how civil, political, and social components interact and how citizenship is compared between historical and contemporary notions and practices. Social citizenship continues to be relevant, especially for citizens who are detrimentally affected by migration, whether forced or voluntary. more
The House of Culture is so ubiquitous in Russian towns and villages that whoever has lived or been there for some time thinks to know what its function is. However, there is surprisingly little research about its past and present condition. In five small towns of Russia, researchers of the MPI for Social Anthropology have explored the role of the House of Culture, the sphere of culture work, and current changes in education and leisure. more

Biomedicine in Africa

2008 Rottenburg, Richard
Cultural Studies Medicine Social and Behavioural Sciences
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology examine how biomedicine is shaped through its engagements in Africa. Biomedicine is regarded as a circulating set of technologies, practices, and ideas that – as a by-product of prevention and healing – links individual bodies to the political order. Africa is central for understanding global shifts in the making of social, political, and juridical forms of governance because the continent is marginalised in the global political economy and thus represents a site of intense conflict and experimentation. more
In social anthropology cultural heritage is mainly seen as cultural production, which connects present interests with the past. This article analyses constructions of cultural heritage against the background of changing nation-state affiliations in the case of the UNESCO World Heritage Site „Curonian Spit“. The social practice of the actors involved is characterised by normative imaginaries that have their origins in different time-related and spatially defined systems of law, which continue to have effects and are even newly mobilised in present times. more
In the early days after the disintegration of the Soviet Union many observers expected violent conflicts to shatter the region as people saw themselves faced with radically decaying living standards and highly artificial political boundaries. Studies of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology challenge this view. The construction of ethnic and national identity among two ethnic groups in Central Asia, the Uzbeks and the Kazaks, show that this relationship may better be understood as a dialectical process in which credit has to be given to historical parameters and social configurations to achieve plausibility and legitimacy. more
After decades of Soviet militant secularism religion re-emerges in the public. It is often assumed that religious revival in Central Asia was an effect of the spiritual or ideological vacuum that accompanied the Soviet collapse. Research at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology suggests that the thriving of “religious nationalism” in the 1990s presented in many ways a continuation of Soviet ideas. However, the failures of transition made these “national” religions increasingly vulnerable to religious groups that defined themselves along supranational lines. The successes of the latter provide new challenges to local ideas about the relation between religion and culture. more
Nation-states worldwide, both new and old, have to develop systems of law, governance and social control which can incorporate peoples of minority groups. A research project at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology investigates the contrasting ways Tibetan groups have experienced state control in India and China. It concludes that indigenous concepts of order are powerful factors influencing the groups’ reactions and responses to the legal regimes in each state. more

Siberia as a culturescape

2005 Habeck, Joachim Otto
Cultural Studies
This research report captures a project examining the different meanings and dimensions of “culture” using the example of Siberia. This region is usually associated with a lack or absence of “cultivatedness”, yet it is also seen as a homeland of an amazing diversity of “cultures”. more

Property relations: Open access to land, knowledge and culture?

2004 Hann, Christopher
Cultural Studies Jurisprudence Social and Behavioural Sciences
The research team "Property Relations" of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology has focused primarily on the both economically and socially disappointing outcomes of decollectivisation processes in the postsocialist countryside. In terms of theory, the work moves beyond the dichotomy of private and collective property that has traditionally characterised European concepts of property and continues to play an ideological role. Instead, the group makes use of an analytic model, developed by colleagues in legal anthropology, which brings out the plurality of property arrangements and their multi-functionality. This model proves useful in analysing the property relations of all human societies, including those with "simpler" technologies. It can also be applied in the field of intellectual property, for example when indigenous groups stake claims to unique "cultural property". Recent calls for scientific knowledge to be made available under "open access" raise similar issues: the enunciation of categorical principles of property must always be complemented by careful attention to institutions and practices. more

Integration through conflict: intergroup relations and resource management in sub-Saharan Africa

2004 Dafinger, Andreas
Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences
Many parts of sub-Saharan Africa are characterised by a high frequency of intergroup conflicts along ethnic and economic lines. Tensions between farmers and herders are amongst the most prominent examples. One way national and international institutions try to cope with these emerging conflicts is by a policy of avoidance, by separating groups, promoting individual land rights, at the same time attempting to increase economic productivity. However, comparative anthropological research between two West African States, Burkina Faso and Cameroon, shows that conflicts are not necessarily negative, but may actually serve the groups’ integration and create a framework for social coexistence and economic cooperation. As the example of the Cameroonian Grasslands demonstrates, segregation may even have adverse consequences and aggravate existing tensions. more
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