Past activities

The study group, which gathered for the very first time in December 2014, is led by anthropologist Prof. Ger Duijzings and historian Prof. Rainer Liedtke. The group explores concepts of ‘social sorting’, discussing relevant seminal theoretical texts and applying the notion of social sorting to the research projects carried out by members of the study group, including doctoral students and post-docs.

Social sorting is understood as a key aspect of modernity, comprising bureaucratic and automated processes of categorisation that are routinely applied to ‘sort out’ large sets of people. Although sorting processes can be observed in many contexts, involving the management of complicated flows, when applied to people, these processes decide about their inclusion or exclusion regarding citizenship rights, entitlements to public services, humanitarian aid and charity, to name just a few relevant areas​. These practices are instrumental in sustaining the legal and political order: they emerge from judicial norms and their application, which are translated into protocols, facilitated, enhanced and co-produced by certain technologies that help to define, identify, profile, and channel relevant categories and groups of people.

Sorting practices are diverse and change over time, from the paper-based and mechanical forms of the past to the sophisticated digitised, algorithmic and biometrical techniques of today. They are employed in different political contexts (the colonial state, nation-state, welfare and neoliberal ‘deregulated’ state), recurrently functioning as technologies of control, entailing discriminatory, exclusionary, and discretionary practices of authorities who have the power to decide. The rise of sorting practices is also linked to processes of globalisation and the increase in flows of goods, people, and information, gaining ground in other sectors as well (retailing, banking, security). Here we discuss the origins and development of these practices, their social and political implications, technological basis and material and spatial repercussions. 

At the first meeting of the year in February 2016 we discussed Christopher R. Browning’s and Lewis H. Siegelbaum's text "Frameworks for social engineering: Stalinist schema of identification and the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft" (2008). In May, Katalin Tóth presented her Ph.D. research under the working title „I love Budapest. I bike Budapest?”, an ethnography of urban cycling. In June, Maren Hachmeister continued with a presentation of her Ph.D. project on “Self organisation in socialism: the organisation of welfare in Pilsen and Cracow in comparison”.

From 8 to 9 July, the study group met for a two-day intensive workshop at the Akademie Schloss Spindlhof in Regenstauf on the topic of “Property in the Balkans”, looking at it from an anthropological and historical perspective. Two guest speakers were invited: the historian Elisaveth Kontogiorgi from the Academy of Athens who spoke about “The politics of settlement of refugees in Greece, 1914-1930” and the anthropologist Stefan Dorondel from the Romanian Academy who talked about “Environmental aspects of post-socialist land relations: case studies from the Lower Danube Floodplain”. Maria Zarifi, the Greek Guest Professor at the Chair of European History at the University of Regensburg for the academic year 2015/16 offered comments on both papers; the participants of the study group related aspects of their own work to the topic of the workshop by giving brief statements. In the evening a Romanian feature film, Dogs (2016), dealing with property restitution in the Romanian countryside, by director Bogdan Mirică, was screened.

In October, Oana Sorescu presented her Ph.D. work on the “Evolution of testamentary behaviour in eighteenth-century Sibiu”. Finally in December, another workshop on “Spatial segregation in post- socialist societies” took place in Regensburg, for which two guest speakers were invited, Bakar Berekashvili, University of Tiblisi, Georgia, who spoke about the evolution of the Georgian education system in relation to forms of spatial segregation in the capital Tbilisi, and Yulia Oreshina, Warsaw University, who discussed her work on urban transformations, ghettoisation and zoning of post-socialist cities, mostly drawing on the examples of Lviv and Tbilisi.

Ger Duijzings