Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology

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Social and Cultural Anthropology

Anthropology emerged as an independent academic discipline in the mid-nineteenth century with the foundation of ethnographic collections and museums. In Munich this included the opening of the “Ethnographic Collection” in 1868. As a subject at the university, Anthropology (“Völkerkunde”) was first taught in the 1930s, initially by the directors of the Bavarian State Museum of Ethnology. In 1955 a professorship of Anthropology was established. As a result of the personal research interests of the first professor to hold this position, H. Baumann, the department focused its research and teaching on historical anthropology of Africa. The focus continued under Baumann’s successor in Munich, H. Straube. After M. Laubscher took over the position (1985–2008), research on Asia, especially South Asia, developed into a second regional focus. In recent years budgetary restrictions have forced the university largely abandon the focus on Africa while the specialization on South Asia continues. More recently, however, a strong focus on the Americas was added.

Social and cultural anthropology aims at understanding social and cultural dynamics of societies worldwide. While historically anthropology originated as the discipline that researched "other cultures" (meaning "non-western cultures") anthropologists today work also within their own societies. Yet reflection about the construction and deconstruction of Self and Other remains an important focus of anthropological theory and methodology. In contrast with the ever increasing differentiation and specialization of other disciplines, Social and Cultural Anthropology is particularly interested in interconnections between the different dimensions of culture and society and ideally emphasises holistic perspectives. In terms of methodology, anthropology is characterized by ethnographic fieldwork, more often than not meaning long-term participation among those people whose life worlds we strive to understand.