Geographien | doing geography

Räumlichkeiten & Zeitlichkeiten, Personen, Dinge & Tun | Notes on the creation of social space

Archive of Transition

The project „Geographien | doing geography“ explores in various spaces the question of how people shape space as a social reality. I am particularly interested in spaces in which there are conflicts of interpretation. These result from the fact that different groups compete for the sovereignty of interpretation over space. In other words, they want to determine how all the subjects and objects that appear in it are to be understood. In doing so, the gaze is necessarily always turned simultaneously to the past, present and future.

Der Blick durch Gardinen hindurch aus einem Plattenbau-Wohnblock in Chisinau (Republik Moldau) erweckt den Eindruck, dass man in einen Garten schaut.
View from an apartment in Chisinau. The owner, a Russian engineer from Siberia, had moved to the Moldavian SSR in the early 1960s to plan and supervise the construction of a Soviet showcase district. After 1990, she suddenly became a citizen of the new Republic of Moldova. So she was cut off from her country of origin.


The aim here is to follow the traces in space, to sift through them, and also to secure the legacies of past generations. The findings that are brought to light, captured in photographs and stories, are to be put together in a mosaic, which is commonly referred to as history.

„Expose the objects, recover them, make them speak – that is the path of archaeology proposed here. (…) The world is viewed and readable through the history of things, through the analysis of signs and forms of transport, places and routines (…).

(Schloegel 2017, 21f.)

The path leads deep into the present and past of the people visited. By talking about the objects, one can discover much about what is constitutive for their lives. These objects are perhaps only conspicuous to the visitor because they are simply part of the peoples‘ world which is always present. In this way, one can learn something about what they want to be acknowledged.

„Everywhere homes are programs of culture in which the individual must find his image. Cultural deviance is nowhere more clearly reflected than in the selection and arrangement of material objects in a home. Acculturation (…) can be seen in the home setting.“ (Collier 1973, 240)

Thus, even if the uncovered things were already unobtrusively visible, they inevitably lead to the people. For their doing is nothing other than dealing with things. Thus, if it succeeds, „the whole emerges from the detail and the world of the other may become a little more readable, or at least recognizable, through the communicated history of things“ (Schlögel 2017, 21).


People distance themselves from the outside world whenever they give descriptions of themselves. No self-assurance can be given without judgement about the other. The invention of who we are is necessarily connected with a designing of the other.

„Kulturen und Ethnien sind nicht deckungsgleich, auch wenn ‚kulturell‘ und ‚ethnisch‘ oft synonym verwendet werden.“

(Beer 2013, 68)

ETHNOGRAPHIES are contained in narratives in which people refer to notions of ethnically based otherness. They are therefore always also narratives of the own & of the foreign. Ethnographically, the approach pursued here is to the extent that descriptions and justifications of ethnicity are reproduced.

A young woman in front of the ruins of a building in Upper Svaneti: when viewed, the photograph creates a bundle of stereotypical ideas of the other and the alien.

This reproduction takes place via photographs and texts, which are repThis reproduction takes place via photographs and texts, which are reproduced in a bundled form to represent social worlds. The descriptions are not always analysed; if they are, however, the results are not evaluated ethnologically, since the person evaluating them is a geographer and, as such, seeks access to the social worlds or fields associated with various scientific disciplines.

„The human sense of a community is how people use space, how they distribute themselves, and how and where they flow together in sense of time and motion. The human mapping of a town would realisticaly appear as a scheme in time and space.“

(Collier 1973, 242)

What unites people in ETHNIA? First of all, the social fact that groups of people claim to be different from other communities. For example, they explain their togetherness through a common, even assumed, history, refer to a common, even assumed, region of origin and constitute a core of cultural similarities in values, norms and cultural practices. The similarities expressed in this way can usually only be regarded as exclusive or typical through strong generalisations.

The creation of community is inevitably linked to the creation of a distinction from other people. At the same time, the so-called others also produce demarcation by creating an ethnic group as such, e.g. through attributions of characteristics such as traditions, ways of life or appearance. Demarcation practices almost inevitably reinforce each other, since they are carried out from within and without. The ideal of endogamy usually prevails within collectives with strong ethnic identification: marriage partners are predominantly sought within the community.

Collectives that see themselves as ethnic or define themselves through common culture never share all spheres in which they perceive themselves as equal and thus different from others.

„‚The starting point is not structure, but activity. That which gives a community the character of a society is not structure, but its capacity to act together‘ (Park 1927, 15), and life consists of people who are acting (Prus 1994, 16)“.

(Dwelling & Prus 2012, 19)

CULTURE is here and in the following understood as the traditional knowledge & behaviour of a collective, consisting of explicit and implicit patterns of and for behaviour. Such patterns find their expression in the practices of people. Action is culturally never completely closed, but in principle open and dynamic in dealing with things, people, space and time of so-called „other cultures“. Here, too, the production of cultural peculiarities is quite inevitably connected with the production of cultural otherness or alienation. The principle of openness takes into account the always available choice between separation or belonging.

The contributions under the keyword ETHNOGRAPHIES pursue the question of which cultural practices are used to produce (ethnic) collectives and against which collectives these production processes are directed.

Text: © Stefan Applis (2020)

Photography: © Stefan Applis (2018)


Beer, B. (2013): Kultur und Ethnizität. In: Bettina Beer & Hans Fischer (Hrsg.): Ethnologie. Einführung und Überblick (53-74). Reimer: Berlin. Online verfügbar unter: (Letzter Aufruf 30.6.2020)

Collier, J. (2003): Photography and Visula Anthropology. In: Paul Hockings (Ed.). Principles of Visual Anthropology (235-245). De Gruyter: Berlin, New York.

Dwelling, M. & Prus, R. (2012): Einführung in die interaktionistische Ethnografie. Soziologie im Außendienst. Springer VS: Wiesbaden.

Schloegel, K. (2017). Das sowjetische Jahrhundert. Archäologie einer untergegangenen Welt. C.H. Beck: München.

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