CARAM - Centre for Anthropological Research on Affect and Materiality

Department of Languages and Cultures



Specialist doctoral course: How to Study Affect? Anthropological Engagements with Materiality

Organising committee

Prof. Dr. Rozita Dimova (Ghent Centre for Slavic and East-European Studies / Centre for Anthropological Research on Affect and Materiality)

Dr. Carine Plancke (Centre for Research on Culture and Gender / Centre for Anthropological Research on Affect and Materiality)

Dr. Marlene Schäfers (Middle East and North Africa Research Group / Centre for Anthropological Research on Affect and Materiality)

Prof. Dr. Koen Stroeken (Centre for Anthropological Research on Affect and Materiality)

Scientific committee

Prof. Dr. Ann Heirman (Ghent Centre for Buddhist Studies, Ghent University)

Prof. Dr. Iman Lechkar (Expertisecentrum Gender, Diversiteit en Intersectionaliteit, VUB)

Prof. Dr. Chia Longman (Centre for Research on Culture and Gender, Ghent University)

Prof. Dr. Sasha Newell (Laboratoire d’anthropologie des mondes contemporains, ULB)

Prof. Dr. Chris Parker (Middle East and North Africa Research Group, Ghent University)

Prof. Dr. Katrien Pype (Institute for Anthropological Research on Africa, KU Leuven)


Over the last two decades, affect has become a key concept in the humanities and social sciences in order to address experiences that defy capture through dominant modes of representation. The so-called ‘affective turn’ seeks to overcome dualistic divisions between body and mind, the social and the material, the human and the non-human by focusing on different bodies’ capacity to affect and be affected. The course will introduce PhD students to this cutting-edge scholarship, which opens new pathways for describing and theorizing the role of embodied feelings, sentiments and intensities in cultural, social, and political life. Affect theory has been critiqued, however, for being overly abstract and vague, remaining confined to a highly specific jargon. How, then, to study affect? This course proposes anthropological engagements with materiality through ethnographic research methods as a fruitful avenue for exploring the pathways and workings of affect in empirical and grounded ways.


The course will consist of four public lectures and four masterclasses by prominent scholars who have extensively engaged with the topic of affect. Students will prepare reading assignments before each masterclass. During the masterclass, the lecturers will discuss the readings in exchange with students. Each student will choose one masterclass for giving a presentation on their own PhD research and on how they have dealt with or intend to deal with the topics of affect and materiality.


The course is open to PhD students from a variety of disciplines (including anthropology, area studies, geography, history, economics, sociology, political studies, gender studies, education). No prior knowledge is requested.


Session 1: 8 November 2018 - Affect, landscape and the politics of heritage - Prof. Dr. Joost Fontein, Respondent: Prof. Dr. Katrien Pype (KU Leuven)

Venue: Faculty Room, Campus Boekentoren, Blandijnberg 2, 9000 Gent

Joost Fontein is a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Johannesburg. He did his doctoral fieldwork in southern Zimbabwe, exploring the political materialities of land and water and the politics of heritage and landscape in the context of ongoing contests over sovereignty, belonging and the reconfiguration of postcolonial stateness. His thesis won the ASA UK Audrey Richards Prize and a monograph entitled The Silence of Great Zimbabwe: Contested Landscapes & the Power of Heritage was released by UCL Press in 2006. More recently, he published the book Remaking Mutirikwi: Landscape, Water and Belonging in Southern Zimbabwe (Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2015). Currently, he is involved in collaborative research exploring the affective presence and emotive materiality of human remains. With Cara Krmpotich and John Harries, he edited a special issue on this topic in the Journal of Material Culture.

10.00-12.30: Masterclass: Bones, bodies and human substances: Towards an understanding of the politics of human corporeality

14:00-16:00: Public lecture: Damming Mutirikwi: Planning, perception and imagination in late Colonial Rhodesia

This lecture draws from a chapter in my 2015 book, Remaking Mutirikwi. It comes from archival research on the building of the Mutirikwi (Kyle) dam on the Mutirikwi river in Masvingo (then Victoria) district in the late 1950s. It begins by focusing on the debates of the 1950s about which dams (Popotekwe, Kyle and Bangala) to build on the Mutirikwi river system. Engaging with Ingold’s efforts to close the gap between imagining and perceiving landscape - what I term the materialities of imagination - it explores how minute material engagements with the affordances of soil, topography and hydrology were caught up in the divergent demands of local white Rhodesians (residents of Fort Victoria) and the lowveld sugar industries downstream in Chiredzi, who had all long been lobbying, for very different reasons, for a dam on that river system. 

Session 2: 7-8 February 2019 - Decay and meaninglessness: Intersections of affect and temporality - Dr. Martin Demant Frederiksen, Respondent: Prof. Dr. Sasha Newell (ULB)

Venue: Room 160.015, Campus Boekentoren, Blandijnberg 2, 9000 Gent

Martin Demant Frederiksen is postdoctoral fellow at the Department for Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo. His research interests concern questions of disengagement among youth and the role of decay, meaninglessness and the existence of Nothing in social life. Related research interests and areas include nihilism, crime and corruption, urban development and infrastructures, time and materiality. He has conducted ethnographic research in the Republic of Georgia since 2006, mainly in the cities of Batumi, Ambrolauri and Tbilisi, and more recently in Bulgaria and Croatia. Currently he is working on a comparative monograph about vacancy and transcience in southeastern Europe. His book Young Men, Time, and Boredom in the Republic of Georgia was published in 2013 by Temple University Press.

7 February 14.00-16.00: Public lecture: Last Resorts – Secondhand Architecture and Uncanny Valleys in Southeastern Europe

The lecture will depart from Masahiro Mori’s (1970) description of human responses to robots in which he observed that people respond positively to robots that either look barely human or completely human. But when those humanoid objects come to appear almost but not quite real, they elicit feelings of a different sort: extreme eeriness and discomfort. This, in Jasia Reichardt’s (1978) rendering of Mori’s work, is the “uncanny valley,” the revulsion that people feel in looking at a human facsimile or look-alike. But how does this principle of uncanniness apply to subjective relations to and experiences of the built environment? Drawing on ethnographic examples from Armenia, Georgia and Croatia, I will examine how senses of eeriness come to surround architectural forms that are almost, but not quite, ruins. The cases in point concern the use and re-use of modernist resorts that over time have fluctuated between potentially falling into complete decay and potentially being re-used or renovated.

8 February 10.00-12.30: Masterclass: Decay, Surfaces and Temporality​

Session 3: 7 March 2019 – Affective states - Dr. Madeleine Reeves, Respondent: Prof. Dr. Rozita Dimova (UGent)

Venue: Faculty Room, Campus Boekentoren, Blandijnberg 2, 9000 Gent

Dr. Madeleine Reeves is Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology in the University of Manchester, UK, and the Editor of Central Asian Survey. Her research focuses on the way in which state space and state categories (of legal and illegal residence; of citizen and non-citizen; of ‘titular’ ethnic group and national minority) are produced and ruptured in everyday life. She has been particularly keen to explore these questions in sites where the authority of the state has been open to contestation. This has led her, since 1999, to conduct research in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and more recently with Kyrgyzstani migrant workers in Russia. In particular, her work has focused on the affective dimensions of bureaucratic encounters and in the relationship between political disillusion and state-desire. She is author of Border Work: Spatial Lives of the State in Rural Central Asia (Cornell University Press) and (co)editor of the volumes Movement, Power and Place in Central Asia and Beyond (Routledge 2012) and Ethnographies of the State in Central Asia: Performing Politics (Indiana University Press 2014). With Mateusz Laszczkowski she also edited a special issue in Social Analysis entitled Affective States: Entanglements, Suspensions, Suspicions. 

10.00-12.30: Masterclass: Beyond enchantment: On infrastructure, inequality, and affect

This masterclass explores debates around infrastructure, inequality and affect.  Infrastructural projects would seem to have an exceptional capacity to enchant through their capacity to transform and remake the social by bringing new relations into being.  But the very fragility of infrastructural forms can also make them liable to disillusion and critique, or the awareness of getting ‘stuck behind’.  How do infrastructural forms include and exclude?  And what consequences does this have for the way that we think about the relationship between infrastructure, politics and affect?

14:00-16:00: Public lecture: On Edge: Towards an Affective Geopolitcs of Bordering

Session 4: 28-29 March 2019 - Affect, subjectivity and the body Dr. Victor Igreja, Respondent: Prof. Dr. Koen Stroeken (UGent)

Venue: Faculty Room, Campus Boekentoren, Blandijnberg 2, 9000 Gent

Victor Igreja is Senior Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Southern Queensland and a Research Fellow at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) and Fritz Thyssen Foundation. He did his PhD at the University of Leiden (2007) on processes of healing, reconciliation and justice in the aftermath of the Mozambican civil war. In 2008-2009 he was a fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS) where he worked on different forms of mediations of experiences of violence in Africa. Further research at the African Studies Centre led him to explore the role of post-colonial politics on processes of religious transformation in Mozambique and religious strategies of talk to convey experiences of post-colonial pain. Currently, he is part of a research project that investigates guilt as a culturally productive force. He is the author of numerous articles published in international journals such as Transcultural Psychiatry, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Social Science & Medicine, Anthropological Quarterly, Current Anthropology and International Journal of Transitional Justice.

28 March 14:00-16:00: Public Lecture: Negotiating relationships in transition: Approaches to unconventional evidence of serious violations perpetrated in famine crisis

In conflict-ridden communities, justice specialists gather evidence through factual verbal accounts and material vestiges of serious violations, perpetrated during repressive regimes and warfare, to eventually lay legal charges against alleged perpetrators. Anthropologists and sociologists also engage with similar contexts, but have included conventional bodily rituals and routinized and commemoration practices as sources of knowledge of violent pasts and struggles for historical justice, although without legal accountability intent. This article shifts the prevailing focus on repressive regimes and warfare to analyze the famine continuum and expands the conventional procedures of gathering evidence of serious violations. It shows how a contingent combination of singular bodily actions, collective imagination and negotiations, and kinship norms evolved and became instrumental in two ways: In refining contested fragments of evidence of serious violations perpetrated during the 1980s’ experiences of severe famine in Mozambique, and, in sustaining local struggles for accountability conveyed through bodily actions. The ensuing embodied accountability reshaped relationships by changing the prominence of silence and denial, exposing ordinary perpetrators of serious violations and cementing memories of the guilt in the landscape. Thus, comprehensive approaches to capture the diversity of legacies of serious violations marred by fragile evidence should not disregard the versatility of singular bodily actions, while seriously considering the multiplicity of meanings, contexts and perpetrators of serious violations and embodied accountability struggles in conflict zones.

29 March 10:00-12:30: Masterclass: Affect and imagination in breaking and remaking social relationships 

Evaluation criteria

100% attendance to all sessions (lectures and masterclasses) is required. Students choose one Masterclass for giving a presentation.

Info and registration

For further information and registration, send an email to and (before 1 November 2018)


The course is co-funded by the doctoral schools of UGent and KULeuven (Junior Researchers Support Platform - OJO).



CARAM - meaning ‘generosity’ (karam) in Arabic - brings together researchers in the humanities and social sciences who work in the fields of materiality, affect, the body, religion and/or ethnicity. Operating from the perspective of critical area studies and versed in anthropological theory, these researchers rely on historicized ethnographic fieldwork as one of their methods. To overcome classic divides (nature and culture, body and mind, matter and idea, technology and culture, politics and religion) CARAM opts for the complementary pair of materiality and affect as research thematic. The thematic is inclusively defined. Materiality, replacing the obsolete ‘material culture’, focuses on the relation between objects and users, in light of social and cultural dynamics. To account for agency and creativity in those dynamics, affect has emerged as an interdisciplinary concept. Affect and subjectivity are not only articulated in art, religion, and ritual, but also constitute the pivot in anthropological studies of cultural identity and ethnicity.

CARAM joins the postcolonial and post-imperialist turn in critical area studies, material culture studies, and the anthropology of practices at the nexus between materiality and affect. These practices comprise among others ritual, embodiment, medicine, sensory/sensual imaginaries, (digital) technology, and power.