For the 2022-2023 academic year, The New School for Social Research is excited to welcome Prof. Dr. Katharina Schramm as the Distinguished Theodor Heuss Professor in the Anthropology department. She will give the annual Heuss Lecture on November 2; register here.
Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Bayreuth and Member of the Anthropology of Global Inequalities Working Group, Schramm sees her current research agenda as situated at the interface of political anthropology and critical race studies, science and technology studies (STS), and critical heritage studies. She has worked on diasporic memory and pan-African identity politics (African Homecoming, Left Coast Press 2010); violence and memorial landscapes (“Landscapes of violence”, special issue of History & Memory 2011); race and technologies of belonging in the European border regime (“Technologies of Belonging”, special issue of Science, Technology and Human Values 2014); race and the sciences of human origins, especially population genomics and biological anthropology (special section “Face and Race”, American Anthropologist 2020; “Race, Genealogy, and the Genomic Archive in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Social Analysis 2021) as well as on the multiple articulations of political subjectivities (special issue “Political Subjectivity in Times of Transformation”, Critical African Studies 2018).
The Heuss Professorship is a distinguished visiting professorship that brings a prominent German academic to NSSR each year to conduct research and teach, maintaining a decades-long bond between The New School and the German academic world.
Schramm talked with Matene Toure, NSSR Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA student, about her research interests, the state of anthropology today, and her upcoming Nov. 2 Heuss lecture “Fire Is Good to Think With: Protest as a Mode of Theorizing.”
How did you learn about the Heuss Professorship opportunity? What intrigued you about teaching at The New School for Social Research?
Oh, that’s an interesting question (laughs). I learned about the professorship through my predecessor in anthropology, Richard Rottenburg, who was here I believe seven years ago. I knew he was teaching at NSSR and then later I was nominated for the professorship. I feel very honored to be able to be here and to have this opportunity not only to engage with and teach at The New School, but also to have the time for my own projects. Of course, the history of The New School is an interesting one, the kind of specific connection that The New School has had with German scholars in exile.
So there is the ghost of the past that is fascinating. But I also like the reach out between different disciplines: design, social sciences, music, etc. And I think for anthropologists, this is particularly exciting, because we are also experimenting on methodologies in transdisciplinary fields.
What are your areas of focus within anthropology at the University of Bayreuth? You are part of a working group called Anthropology of Global Inequities. Can you explain more about that?
My own research interests have always been around questions of race and racism in a very broad sense. For the past 10 years or so, I’ve also worked very much at the interface between anthropology and science and technology studies (STS).
The anthropology of global inequalities is a group of PhD students and postdocs that I relate to in various capacities. The title of the group aligns with our shared interests in matters of inequalities on a global scale. We are particularly interested in forms of classifications that underlie hierarchization in multiple ways. This is heavily informed by feminist and postcolonial approaches in STS that look at the material-semiotic practices through which categories come about, but then also at the effects of what they do and how they can be undone. And I think we also have a shared interest in public anthropology in the sense that we also want our work to be relevant and to speak to current issues and problems.
Your upcoming Heuss lecture, “Fire Is Good to Think With: Protest as a Mode of Theorizing,” interrogates the protests prompted by colonial practices entangled in education specifically in humanities and social sciences. Can you discuss what brought you to this topic?
The lecture builds on my research in South Africa, where I’ve been working for almost 15 years. My research in post-apartheid South Africa focused on the ways in which the sciences of human origins were used to contest apartheid racism, while at the same time being haunted by race in many ways. This goes along with a theoretical interest in epistemic practices and in the university as a contested space of knowledge production. In my lecture, I want to explore how to think differently about the connection between activism and scholarship and how we can view protest as a form of knowledge production in its own right.
One of the important insights from STS has been an approach to knowledge not in a hierarchy, but in a symmetrical way, and post-colonial STS has put a heavy focus on that. STS has also helped us to think about messiness in new ways, for example through the notion of “fire objects” that engage us in multiple, and often contradictory, relations. In my lecture, I will extend this discussion to the realm of political protest within the university. During the protests, fire became literally a point of contestation about the modes of conduct and the means of critique. I want to think with fire because it takes us out of the comfort zone of purely academic knowledge production.
At Eugene Lang this fall, you are teaching a course called Race in Science/Tech Studies. How has anthropology perpetuated white supremacist ideologies through race science? How can anthropology also work towards debunking racism?
Big question. I think anthropology is really an interesting field in that sense because anthropology is a colonial science, it grew with colonialism. It has contributed to the “making of the other” while at the same time voices within anthropology have always questioned these narratives. Your question also relates to the title of my lecture, which might make you think of Ryan Jobson’s recent demand to let anthropology burn which has caused a huge stir in U.S. anthropology.
He made an important point in demanding more from anthropology than to rely on its anti-racist, liberal self-understanding. I think this is a very interesting moment for the discipline that also plays out differently in different contexts in Germany, the U.S., Brazil or South Africa. But I do think that anthropology has interesting means through its methodologies and its openness to reinvent itself, to respond to these challenges.
In the class that I’m teaching this term, we look at some of the ways in which race has been conceptualized and discussed within STS and anthropology. We are specifically interested in the ways in which race is produced and relationally articulated in scientific practices and material assemblages, for example in the fields of genomics, forensics or biological anthropology. In these STS studies, race is understood as a troubling problem, a material semiotic object, and a matter of concern that demands our attention.
This spring at NSSR, you will teach a course on the Methodologies of Care. Is there more you can share about that right now?
What I’m interested in is how we can rethink ethnography in this moment when anthropology is under fire? What are different forms of engagement in academia and activism, maybe in the arts as well, and how can we integrate these into our practice? How can we think about methodologies that go beyond the gaze and beyond discourse? I will consider discussions about the senses and around affect to illuminate this.
The care in the methodologies of care comes from discussions that we’ve had with colleagues on how to translate demands or discussions around decoloniality into very concrete empirical research practices. Like fire, care is good to think with, because it’s contradictory. Care also means to cultivate attentiveness. I look forward to exploring this together with the students who will hopefully bring in their own questions and concerns from their various projects.