Institut für Volkskunde/ Europäische Ethnologie

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Profile of Subject and Institute (english version)

European Ethnology is an empirical branch of the humanities concerned with examining and analysing the historical and contemporary cultural phenomena of European societies. The key concept Culture represents a system of social behaviour and order that is, however, not rigidly defined, but should be understood as a form of social and symbolic practice, a framework for the continual process in which people develop the rules required for the organisation of their daily and communal life.

As a discipline,  European Ethnology is a typical product of  the modern age. With origins going back to 18th century cameralism, it started to become an established subject in the late 19th century, as a reaction to the turbulent transformation processes in industrial societies that lead to the development of a specific interest in observing and conserving the culture of  “ordinary people”, which was just then dwindling away.

What has remained is an interest in the everyday culture of a wide range of social classes and groups and their ways of life as well as in the processes of change continually taking place in European societies. In the course of time, this spectrum was expanded to include, among other things, a comparative study of European societies – with an increasing focus on global integration. What deserves special attention in this respect is everyday culture –  from the perspective of people who are regarded as active participants; it is studied by means of specific procedures of cultural analysis. Studies of this kind include the analysis of political, economic, medial and academic fields  as well as social inequalities and power relationships – and always refer to the people participating in these fields.

Depending on the field of research, the physical conditions and time frame, as well as the type of subject concerned, European Ethnology uses various methods of empirical and  historical research: e.g. stationary, multi-sited and/or accompanying field research; (participant) observation, qualitative interviews (theme-orientated, autobiographical etc.), source studies and analyses, content analyses, mental maps, card files etc.

Munich offers the complete range of academic subjects in European Ethnology, extending from the analysis of cultural phenomena in our “own” culture to the investigation of cultural phenomena in the other European societies, and including the processes of  Europeanisation, transnationalisation and migration, as well as cultural comparison and transfer.  The time span extends from the Early Modern Period to the present, with the primary focus being on the period from the 19th to the 21st century. In its historical orientation the subject of  European ethnology is therefore concerned with historical anthropology, with special attention given to the social history of regional cultures.

In Munich the main research emphasis is on the following areas/fields (see especially, “Research Projects”):

  • Europeanisation
  • urban society/culture
  • industrial and work cultures
  • Eastern Europe
  • cultural transfer
  • migration
  • tourism
  • transnationalisation
  • regional and cultural phenomena of the alpine countries
  • gender
  • nationalism/national identity constructs
  • rural society
  • family and kinship