Institute of Historical and Cultural Anthropology

Collaborative Research Center 1070: Resource Cultures

The focus of the CRC 1070 is the socio-cultural dynamics deriving from the use of resources. Resources are defined as the tangible and intangible means by which actors create, sustain or alter social relations, units or identities. This definition does away with the opposition between ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ resources because even raw materials extracted from nature are subject to cultural constructions. It is further assumed that resources are normally not used as individual elements, but as part of ‘resource complexes’ which are often combinations of things, persons, knowledge and practices. Based on this approach, ‘resource use’ here refers to the accessing and exploitation as well as the processing, distribution and utilization of socially relevant resource (complexes). It leads to certain dynamics, i.e. multidimensional processes of change, which may affect individual parts or even the whole of society. Three socio-cultural dynamics are the focus of the CRC: DEVELOPMENTS, MOVEMENTS and VALUATIONS. Resources, the use of resources, and the resulting dynamics strongly depend on cultural ideas and practices. These cultural preconditions are variable and define what resources are and how they are used. Therefore, from a comparative perspective, we can identify different RESOURCE CULTURES. The main aims of the CRC are the re-conceptualization of the notion of resources in cultural studies, the identification of diachronic socio-cultural and political developments, the comprehension of the formation of identities in relation to human migrations and a better understanding of the symbolic dimension of resources. These aims are to be achieved through close cooperation between archaeologies (Prehistoric Archaeology, Mediaeval Archaeology, Scientific Archaeology, Classical Archaeology, Near Eastern Archaeology, Biblical Archaeology), philologies (Classic Studies, Ancient Near Eastern Studies), historical sciences (Ancient History, Medieval History, Economic History), geography (Human Geography, Physical Geography and Pedology) and Social and Cultural Anthropology.

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Doctoral research group ‘Resource Complexes and Networks’

This group of PhD students within the CRC 1070 represents an expansion of and complement to the range of topics covered in the project areas A to C. Networks are understood as a set of actors connected by at least one kind of relationship to each other. The actions and social position of individual actors is influenced by their embeddedness in networks of social relations. These social relations can serve as resources in certain contexts. The doctoral researchers in this group will also explore the potential of expanding the notion of ‘actor’ to non-human entities and their role in the emergence and significance of relational networks. Resource complexes are understood as combinations of material, cultural, and social resources, which are set in relation to one another and given different values. The term ‘resource ensemble’ makes perhaps more clear that this concept refers to specific combinations and constellations of practices, objects, people, etc. in order to achieve certain valuations and social dynamics which unfold spatially as well as temporally.
The contribution of the doctoral research group to the CRC as a whole is therefore the examination of resource complexes as starting points for developments, movements, and value-making from the different disciplinary perspectives from which the PhD students come: sociology, economic history, social anthropology, geography (pedology) and historical and cultural anthropology.

Research Project: On ‘doing it yourself’ – Resource Usage in the Creation of Urban Lifestyles between Nature, Culture, and Technology

Timeframe October 2013 to June 2017
Supervisor Prof. Dr. Monique Scheer
Researcher Pia Hilsberg, M.A.

This research project explores ‘doing it yourself’ in urban contexts in Germany, asking which ‘natural’ resources (e.g. wool, grain, soil) and other material resources (urban spaces, tools) must be acquired in order to ‘do things oneself’, and which immaterial resources play a role (social networks, knowledge transfer). Particularly interesting in the urban context are practices involving the learning of old crafts and handiwork as well as the negotiation of what is ‘natural’ (about humans and their social life, about nature itself), and how this contributes to certain forms of urban identity. The city can be understood here as a kind of catalyst: it offers an extraordinarily wide range of goods for purchase in large quantities, but the raw materials needed to produce goods oneself, as well as space and arable land seem to be among the few goods which are rare in the city and whose acquisition demands more planning and knowledge. Declining to take advantage of more typical resources of the city means that social networks, barter and exchange, and making spaces accessible and usable are necessary in order to uphold the lifestyle choice.
‘Doing it yourself’ is understood here as consumers’ own production of consumer goods for their own everyday use, i.e. for subsistence, not for sale.
The research project aims to find answers to questions such as: How does the phenomenon of ‘doing it yourself’ in cities come into being? Who ‘does it’ themselves? How is it done? Which human and non-human actors are involved? How is ‘nature’ and ‘naturalness’ constructed and negotiated in this network? Are nostalgia and a longing for the ‘primordial’ or ‘original’ the main drive behind this activity (with forerunners in the Romantic period, Idealism, or the arts and crafts movement) or is it rather a forward-looking, culturally innovative vision of urban life, which blurs distinctions between ‘urban’ and ‘rural’?
Actor network theory offers a promising framework for this research, as it links things, ideas, creatures, and materials together (as actants) and examines their interdependence. Tim Ingold has also provided an interesting approach: He ascribes social capacities to things and materials in the shaping of cultural practices and meaning-making. That is to say, it is not only people who simply give things meanings, but the materiality of things and the way they are used play an central role in determining what kinds of meanings they can acquire. Both of these thinkers seek to bridge conventional dichotomies between nature and culture, humans and the environment, body and mind, ideas and their execution, theory and practice, and to bring them into a new relationship to each other or to show how they are simultaneous, mutually constitutive and unified.