Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Europäische Ethnologie

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Institut für Europäische Ethnologie | Forschung | Labore | Anthropology of Environment | Human Relations

Anthropology of Environment | Human Relations

The Laboratory: Anthropology of Environment | Human Relations brings together like-minded scholars with an interest in ethnographically inquiring into and theorising how the multiple entanglements of material worlds and social practices shape the ways ‘we’ live our lives – or processes of socio-material ordering, if you will. Our members’ interests fall, broadly speaking, into two fields: Life sciences, medicine and medical technologies, psychiatry – sustainability, global land use, the role of modelling in human-environment systems, political ecology. The lab bridges the Institute of European Ethnology and the IRI THESys.

What’s in a name?


The lab was founded in 2004 by Stefan Beck and Jörg Niewöhner as the Collaboratory: Social Anthropology and Life Sciences. It has since continuously shifted, but remained true to the idea of co-labor(at)ing with each other and with our various epistemic partners in our fields of research.

We see our approach within the broad and multi-facetted tradition of social and cultural anthropology, including its German-speaking strand of European Ethnology. We have dropped the ‘social and cultural’ to reference our background in science and technology studies, the material turn and our understanding of ‘the social’ as always already entangled with environments, artefacts, infrastructure and bodies.

Environment | Human Relations:
Human-Environment relations or interactions is a term largely occupied with ecological and systemic thinking in the biological and human sciences. While we co-laborate with these thought styles, we are keen to explore ethnographically how these relations are enacted rather than assuming them within a particular epistemological position. We also want to emphasise the environment to avoid its reduction to symbol or metaphor. (cf. Niewöhner & Lock 2018) The vertical bar ‘|’ marks our inquiry into an open, dynamic and often ambivalent and excessive relationship. We take our cue here from Stefan Beck’s inaugural lecture at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin entitled “Nature | Culture: Thoughts on a relational anthropology”. ‘Relations’ summons elective affinities including Gregory Bateson, Marilyn Strathern, Stefan Beck, Annemarie Mol, to name but a few with a lifelong interest in relentlessly relational research and thought.


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