Kick-off meeting: DFG Scientific Network “Anthropology and China(s)” in Cologne, November 5-6, 2021

Christof Lammer, Marco Lazzarotti, Jean-Baptiste Pettier

The image shows 19 people positioned for a group photo in a conference room. All are wearing face masks.
Members of the DFG network at Cologne University, November 6, 2021. Photo: Christof Lammer

More than twenty scholars participated in the first of six conferences of our network “Anthropology and China(s)” at the University of Cologne to start exploring the first of three themes: “Anthropology and the Study of China(s).” In her welcome address, Prof. Dr. Susanne Brandtstädter, network chair and host of the kick-off meeting emphasized that a good anthropology of China should start by asking what we can learn from China to understand the general human condition. The network convenors Dr. Christof Lammer, Dr. Marco Lazzarotti, and Dr. Jean-Baptiste Pettier then introduced the research program for the upcoming three years.

The scientific network “Anthropology and China(s)” aims at establishing the anthropology of China as a reflexive, pluralist, and relational project in the German-speaking academic world. Rather than writing the history of the anthropology of China by combining the mainstream approach of writing about national schools or world anthropologies with the heterodox approach of writing about the localized topics and thematized places of regional anthropologies, the network looks at how ethnographic regions (where anthropologists do ethnographic fieldwork) and academic markets (where anthropologists write ethnographies and compete for positions and funding) are co-constructed. Inspired by “object lessons” from science and technology studies, the project aims at deepening critiques of essentializing notions of culture areas by asking what kind of object China is. The network thus sets out to examine how multiple versions of China are enacted in past and contemporary practices of anthropologists of China. In particular, the research programme will explore the relations of anthropologies of China to area studies, politics, and general anthropology.

After a lively discussion of the set readings about the multifaceted relation between the anthropology of China and sinology in the West, Prof. Dr. Mareile Flitsch pointed to an invisible gap in our debate. In her impulse lecture, she started to uncover the hidden history of sino-ethnography in the German Democratic Republic, highlighting how historically- and philologically-trained ethnologists produced ethnographies of China as they engaged with the political walls between capitalist West and socialist East, as well as the shifting relations within the socialist camp. On the second day, texts about the future of culture areas, regional anthropologies, and area studies decentered our discussions. They moved us beyond China and the Chinese heartland to consider alternative regions, borderlands, and process geographies but also invited us to reflect on how sinology and Chinese studies shaped localized topics that functioned as gatekeeping or exporting concepts in anthropology. Finally, after intensive discussions in the plenary and in groups, several of our members proposed to co-author contributions on the relation between China anthropology and area studies for the first part of our edited volume on the network topic.

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