Dr. Éva Rozália Hölzle (Fellow, Social Anthropology, Bielefeld University)

Imaginations of Good and Bad across Generations: The Family as a Site of Moral Transformations

1 October 2018 – ­31 March 2019

The aim during the six months of fellowship was to outline the groundwork for my post-doctoral project titled “Imaginations of Good and Bad across Generations: The Family as a site of Moral Transformations”. The objective of the project is to track the transformation of “everyday ethics and morality” by paying attention on intergenerational relations and the covert and overt tensions between different age groups in one particular War-Khasi family living at the Bangladesh-Tripura border.

With an attention on generations my goal is two fold. Firstly, I hope to gain an understanding into: How certain ideas and practices – that are unacceptable or “strange” in one particular moment of time – turn to be regarded as normal? How does the normal harden itself into a norm? How, through the passing of time, the conventional decays again and loses its grip of normativity? In my project I assume from the very beginning that the normal and the normative are not static but instead constantly on move and thus prone to change through everyday negotiations as well as contestations. A focus on intergenerational relationships particularly everyday frictions between different age groups is fruitful sites where such shifts become visible. Secondly, by working out the history of one family through generations, I aim to develop an understanding about how the political and social context, in which the family is embedded, changes over time thus enabling the understanding of historical transformations. Thus, the family is not an isolated social formation. It represents a configuration that compresses major historical, political and social changes. Consequently, the history of a family gives not only insights into family events, but it allows the follow-up of larger social changes that time-to-time glimmer in family portraits. Simultaneously, family members are not passive bystanders of historical transformations but active protagonists. In this sense families are produced and at the same time are producers of history allowing a glimpse into the intersection of structure and agency. While theoretically the project is situated at the intersection of kinship and ethics empirically I am proposing three focuses: (1) (short)circuits of care; (2) succession and (3) discourse of time.

The initial aim for applying for the fellowship was to develop the project so far to be able to apply for third party funding at the German Research Foundation that would make it possible for carrying out a second ethnographic fieldwork in the predetermined research area. This plan has been partially realized since a full project proposal necessitates more time. This means that the submission deadline for funding has been changed from September 2019 to Spring 2020.

In spite of this readjustment of plans three goals became important during the fellowship:

  1. Familiarize with the relevant literature – in particular with the literature focusing on (a) kinship, family and generations;  (b) ethics and morality; (c) normativity – in order to develop a state of the art. Since the literature surrounding these topics is abundant this consultation is on going, but during the fellowship I was able to catch up with the larger part of this literature.
  2. Establishing conceptual clarity in particular in regarding to norm, normal and normative. Here the consultation of specific philosophical literature in dialectic with the anthropological writings became very important in order to see intersections and deviations. This conceptual clarity will feed in not only in future publications, but it has made it easier my teaching of a special course in which these ideas are central.
  3. Writing a paper in order to meet the formal requirements established in the fellowship agreement. During the stay in Delhi I had the opportunity to complete two full papers one which has been submitted to PoLAR and another has been submitted to ICAS:MP but it is committed to a special issue for HAU (see point 4. below). Another paper is being prepared which will take up the topic of normativity in a more focused way.  

In addition to these above-mentioned goals, one public talk at Kamla Nehru College has facilitated the development of another paper that can be submitted soon to publication in a journal. Taking together all these advancements I believe the fellowship has been successful. Its full actualization will be, however, realized through a successful funding application.


Éva Rozália Hölzle is a social anthropologist working as a research associate and lecturer at the Faculty of Sociology, Bielefeld University, Germany since 2011. For her doctoral dissertation titled “Land, Life and Emotional Landscapes: Politics of Survival at the Margins of Bangladesh” she did extensive 24 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Bangladesh along the border of Meghalaya, Assam and Tripura. In her current post-doctoral project „Imaginations of Good and Bad across Generations: The Family as a Site of Moral Transformation“ she focuses on the transformation of “everyday ethics and morality” by paying attention on intergenerational relations in one particular family living at the Bangladesh-Tripura border.

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