Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Europäische Ethnologie


Urban vibrations: How physical waves come to matter in contemporary urbanism


Project start: 01.01.2022
Team: PI Ignacio Farías + 3 Post-Doc Researchers (for hiring process see below)

Cities are critical zones where the intermingling of environmental processes, infrastructural arrangements and human lives is increasingly apparent and disputed. Physical waves, particularly heat radiation, sound waves and radio frequencies, constitute major environmental disturbances that invisibly cross the urban built environment affecting bodies, human and nonhuman, in harmful and uncertain ways. By asking how they come to matter, this project explores how waves become associated to specific bodies and environments, as well as how they become matters of public concern and design intervention.


To answer these questions, this project entails extended ethnographic fieldwork at key locations where urban projects aimed at mitigating the urban heat island effect, abating environmental noise and building 5th generation wireless communication networks are currently unfolding. Following techno-scientific researchers, city officials, professional consultants, affected groups and concerned residents, the project will address two major research problems:

  1. How bodily exposure is done in practice, paying attention to both knowledge production and controversies concerning wave-related exposure, as well as to how individuals learn to be affected by and bodily attune to physical waves.
  2. How waves problematize forms of urban coexistence leading to design interventions that reassemble (and disassemble) urban environments, as well as to practices of imagining other possible urban environments.

The project will engage in these research fields in cities from Europe and North America, specifically Berlin, Brussels, Madrid, Barcelona, Las Vegas and the Bay Area. Other case studies - also from other regions of the world - are possible, but they will be assessed as the project develops and in accordance to team composition.   


A unique feature of this project is its emphasis on expanding conventional ethnographic research by means of multimodal collaborations with actors from the field, thus actively engaging in multimedia forms of knowledge production, prototyping or community building. This is indeed crucial to reassessing the material politics of the Anthropocene as entailing contested practices of materializing abstract or imperceptible environmental disturbances.


The overall aims of this research will be:

  1. To analyse the practices, stories, concepts and things through which different urban actors relate to the problem of exposure and engage in urban design interventions.
  2. To foster, in collaboration with concerned and affected urban actors, multimodal modes of inquiring and representing waves, their effects and alternative futures.
  3. To develop a wave-centred conceptualization of the relationship between bodies and environments and, more generally, of cities as critical zones of the contemporary.

The project will be advised by an international group of scholars including:

  • Marisol de la Cadena (UC Davis)
  • Marina Peterson (U. Texas-Austin)
  • Daniel López & Israel Rodríguez (UOC Barcelona)

Job Openings: 2 Post-Doc Positions (3 years) to begin in January 2022

Your application should include a cover letter (2-3 pages), CV, a writing sample from previous research work (max. 15 pages), as well as relevant certificates (all academic degrees). The application should include the reference number DR/116/21 to Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Philosophische Fakultät, Institut für Europäische Ethnologie, Prof. Dr. Ignacio Farías, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin OR preferably via E-Mail in a single PDF file to 
The project studies how residents, activists and city administrations relate to airborne environmental phenomena, particularly sun radiation/heat island effect, sound waves/environmental noise and EMF/5G networks. The researcher’s tasks include:
- Design and conduct of ethnographic research in two cities abroad
- Individual and collaborative publication work
- Close collaboration with professorship of urban anthropology
- Academic event organisation and communication
- Contribution to project administration
Key requirements include:
- Completed university degree and PhD in social and cultural anthropology, science and technology studies, urban studies or other relevant fields
- Experience in ethnographic research and/or qualitative methods
- Desired is previous experience in collaborative team research, in the use of multimodal and visual research methods, as well as in project administration
- Excellent English language skills (incl. academic writing) as weil as oral proficiency in one of the following languages: Spanish, German or French (for conducting ethnographic research)
- Relocation to Berlin is an essential requirement
The project is based at the professorship for Urban Anthropology and Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology at the Department of European Ethnology (one of Germany’s largest anthropology departments) at HU Berlin. It will run parallel and in dialogue with research projects on microclimate urbanism, the circular economy, planning miseducation, and public-civic partnerships in urban development. The project is affiliated the Georg Simmel Center for Metropolitan Studies and the Interdisciplinary Research Institute for Transformations of Human-Environmental Systems.


Does the application require a project proposal?

No, the application does not require a project proposal. In the cover letter, you might want to dedicate some space to explaining your specific interests in the research questions and fields of the project.

Are there set cities that fieldwork should be carried out in, or is that to be decided later? 

The project has a group of six cities which is set. This does not mean that there might not be good reasons for adding another city or even substituting one of the cities set in the project. 

When is the PhD title/degree needed: at the time of application or at the time of appointment?

A certificate of a completed doctoral defense (viva) will be needed by the time of appointment (ideally January 1st, 2022)  

When and how will the job interviews take place?


The dates for the interviews are not decided yet, but it will surely be early September. 

Interviews will take place over Zoom.