General information

Course type AMUPIE
Module title Towards an Anthropology of Risk
Language English
Module lecturer dr Hannah Wadle
Lecturer's email
Lecturer position Assistant Professor
Faculty Faculty of Anthropology and Cultural Studies
Semester 2024/2025 (summer)
Duration 30
USOS code 20-AORI-12-EtnC


The course will take place in Supper term 2025, time and hour will be announced before commencing the course. Place: Collegium Historicum, Insitute of Anthropology and Ethnology

Module aim (aims)

Pre-requisites in terms of knowledge, skills and social competences (where relevant)

This course is for students at M.A. level who are in sufficient command of English to read longer academic articles and books, and to participate in discussions in English. While introducing an Anthropological perspective, it is also open to students from outside the discipline area of Anthropology/ Ethnology, as long as they are open to engage with academic resources from the field of Social Anthropology. Individuals who join from an economics, political science, security studies perspective, or from a technical or mathematical background are kindly asked to allow a new and, most likely, notably different understanding of risk and uncertainty to take shape.



Course content: Block modules

Each module runs over 3 weeks



Anthropological perspectives on risk and uncertainty: Introduction

In the first two sessions, we will gain an overview of the areas of risk and uncertainty as forms of knowledge creation for contemporary societies and look at some of their historical legacies. We will look at academic and non-academic fields that emerged as being specifically concerned with knowledge around risk and uncertainty. In the second part of the lecture we will focus on debates in the Social Sciences on risk and uncertainty and discuss works that have shaped our current thinking about these fields in Social Anthropology, notably Mary Douglas’s and Ulrich Beck’s works. We will draw attention to different ways of understanding the concepts of risk and uncertainty.



Module I: Navigations of everyday risk-scapes and uncertainty

In weeks three to five we will be looking at everyday navigations and experiences of uncertainty and risk, as well as at the blurring of knowledges and categories that intertwine as individuals and communities are making sense of the anticipated, unknown, uncertain, feared. We will look at ethnographies in selected places and with different communities, in which ethnographers discuss life with uncertainties or employ the concepts of risk and uncertainty. Questions that we are asking in this modules: Drawing on Tim Ingold’s concept of task- scape, we ask, what risk-scapes do people in different part of the world inhabit and how are they performed? What skills and knowledge are necessary to navigate them, and who possesses those? What global connections are these skill-scapes composed of?



Module II: Empires of Risk and their subjects and “others”: Hegemonies of Risk-reasoning 

In the second module, we discuss risk and uncertainty, both in the literal and in the more indirect sense, as ruling discourses and as technologies of governance and subjugation. The suggestion of this course is to think of such discourses figuratively as “Empires of Risk” and hegemonic forms of reasoning with risk and uncertainty. We look at environments that put global populations in the service of their specific risk discourse, as well as understanding mechanisms, that employ different forms of risk reasoning to often systematically exclude, stigmatise, racialize, colonise and govern groups and individuals.

We will bring debates from economic anthropology about value and debt into conversation with anthropology of the state about citizenship, and post- colonial theory, recognizing mechanisms and principles, by which risk and risk-reasoning becomes infused with power, hegemonic knowledge and different forms of exclusion and exploitation.

Questions we will ask: Can we speak of existing Empires of Risk, and if so - what are they and how do they dominate discourses, govern and impose rules? How do “Empires of Risk” reproduce themselves, how do they expand or manage the “other”, How do they overlap and change shape? What are the cosmopolitical impacts and trajectories of them, what kinds of gains for some, what kinds of suffering and stigma for others come with them?



Module III: Risking change with uncertain outcomes: existential protest

This module continues our thinking about risk and uncertainty from the perspective of resistance and existential protest. We are interested in resistance and revolt against regimes and empires of risk reasoning, in alternative discourses of uncertainty and risk, as well as in the risk that lies in revolting and protesting itself - in the decision to stand up with uncertain outcomes. Inspired by Michael Jackson’s Existential Anthropology and by the voices of protesters, key notions that we will trace and explore throughout this module are the notions of existential risk, rage, and resistance. We are particularly interested in existential protest as a reaction to existential risk or uncertainty and at the question what is at stake, for individuals and groups, in present and future, who find themselves excluded from risk-reasoning, targeted by it, or who are trapped in stifling certainties, and to whom risk and other uncertainties emerge as existentially pressing alternatives. This leads us to questions like: How do acts of resistance address (un)certainty, what are the narratives and plains of risk-reasoning that are mobilized in momentums of small or bigger acts of resistance?

As a preparation for the following module, we are sharpening our interest also to another domain – questions that concern the kinds of imagination (reasoning, hoping, feeling, narratives, sensory bearings) that comes with existential acts of rebellion. What role does the imagination play in these counter- moves, how are alternative discourses of certainty and uncertainty, and of futures brought forward, expressed and, very often, endured? And with what consequences?



Module IV: Pedagogies of uncertainty

In the final block we revisit the potential of thinking risk and uncertainty anthropologically. We discuss its possible contributions to existing conversations and practices in the academy and beyond. What are the horizons and perspectives to be learnt and taught from anthropological observation, critique and engagement around global discourses and experiences of risk and uncertainty? What themes and methods do we have to our disposition to enter global academic and non-academic discourses around risk and uncertainty with competency and confidence?

And we consider the engaged and applied anthropological perspective:

Which imaginations, practices, relationalities and knowledge are necessary to position oneself towards risk discourses and towards local and translocal uncertainties? How can we stay and act in conversation with each other - empathetically and consciously - in face of contemporary empires of risk and existential struggles through which we are connected, legally, bodily, economically? What can responsibility, solidarity, education and activism mean in different contexts of uncertainty?


Reading list


  1. Douglas, Mary (1992): Risk and Blame, pp. 3-21.

  2. Beck, Ulrich (2008) World Risk Society (Ch. 11) Critical Theory of World Risk Society pp. 187-211.

  3. B. Świtek, A. Abramson, H. Sween: Extraordinary Risks, Ordinary Lives (2022): Introduction, pp. 1-35 .

  4. Bubandt, Nils (2014). The empty seashell : witchcraft and doubt on an Indonesian island. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

  5. Calkins, Sandra (2019). Who Knows Tomorrow? Uncertainty in North-Eastern Sudan, Berghahn Books.

  6. Ingold, Tim (1993). "The Temporality of Landscape." World Archeology 25(2): 152-174.

  7. Zonabend, Francoise (1993). The Nuclear Peninsula. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

  8. Stoler, Ann Laura (2016). Duress imperial durabilities in our times. Durham: Duke University Press. Ch. 10: Imperial

    Debris and ruination, pp. 336-381.

  9. Orta, Andrew. Making Global MBAs : the Culture of Business and the Business of Culture. Oakland, California: University

    of California Press, 2019. Ch. 5: Managing the Margins, pp. 127-160.

  10. Feldman, Gregory. The Migration Apparatus : Security, Labor, and Policymaking in the European Union. Stanford, Calif:

    Stanford University Press, 2012. Ch. 3: Making things simple, pp. 56-77.

  11. Tsing, Anna (2014). Ordinary Catastrophe: Outsourcing Risk in Supply-Chain Capitalism. In Futures of Modernity.

    Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, pp. 51–64.

  12. Billaud, Jean (2012). Suicidal Performances: Voicing Discontent in a Girls’ Dormitory in Kabul. Culture, medicine and

    psychiatry 36(2): 264-285.

  13. Echchaibi, Nabil (2022). In praise of Arab ‘Defeat’: another reading of Arab struggle. Cultural Studies 36(1): 1-20.

  14. Stierl, Maurice (2019). Migrant Resistance in Contemporary Europe. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. (Chapter Migrant


  15. Irving, Andrew (2017).New York Stories. Ethnos 82, no. 3 (2017): 437–.

  16. Ingold, Tim (2010). Footprints through the Weather-World: Walking, Breathing, Knowing. Journal of the Royal

    Anthropological Institute 16, no. s1, pp.121–139.

  17. Pink, Sarah (2015). Doing Sensory Ethnography. 2nd edition. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.


  1. Petryna, A. (2013). Life exposed biological citizens after Chernobyl (New ed. / with a new introduction by the author. ed.). Princeton, N.J. ;: Princeton University Press.

  2. Povinelli, Elizabeth A. (2016). Geontologies a requiem to late liberalism. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

  3. Voyles, Traci B. (2015). Wastelanding : legacies of uranium mining in Navajo country. University of Minnesota Press.