Visiting Faculty Spotlight: Barbara Wolbert
As an anthropologist from Germany and a German Studies scholar, it is my heartfelt concern to honor Daphne Berdahl. On my personal academic map, she became the star of the University’s Department of Anthropology. I am desolate knowing that when I come to the University of Minnesota I will not be seeing Daphne again. I not only enjoyed her warmth; my own research and teaching activities have benefited from
her scholarship. I will hence join your department with an acute sense of loss, but also with joy and a feeling of honor. I will do my best to support Daphne Berdahl’s students in their future scholarly endeavors.
It may sound paradoxical, but my research in Turkey in the early 1980s turned me into a scholar of German studies: motivated by my passion for things visual and for expressive cultures, I studied Turkish weddings. By following Turkish brides on their way to the house of the grooms’ parents, I found myself back in my own country, in migrant communities in Germany. My “outbound" study of first generation Turkish workers’ return migration to Turkey, in which I applied ritual theory to migration processes, compared processes of irreversible return migrations of the 1980s to the mobility of transnational lifestyles of “German Turks" of the 1990s and thus I ended up studying German concepts of citizenship and immigration. Another topic I explored after the fall of the wall were the reasons for the continuation of the East German practice of the Jugendweihe, a socialist coming-of-age ritual. I studied the ritual form and its potential for political transformation. While the results of these studies were published in German, some of my more recent work on art and media appeared in English books and journals such as in Visual Anthropology, Visual Anthropology Review, and New German Critique.
As a consequence of the importance of visual media in the processes of migration and political transformation in a globalizing world, I also focused on photography and video practices as part of migrants’ visual communication. Moreover, I conducted case studies on exhibits and public debates in
Germany, dealing with art, politics, and diversity in Germany and Europe. I am currently observing the developments in the rapidly changing art worlds of Istanbul, where I taught as a visiting professor in the winter of 2006–2007. Thus I am enthusiastic about the prospect to teach courses in visual
anthropology and visual cultural studies at your department—beginning with a class on Art, Politics and
Diversity in Contemporary Culture, cross-listed with German, Scandinavian and Dutch in the fall of 2008. As a DAAD visiting professor to the University, I would, of course, be happy to support the Department of Anthropology and individual faculty and students, in keeping up and developing contacts in Germany and Europe, in and out of anthropology.