Alena Thiel

Alena Thiel

After receiving a SPP1448 Start Up grant in 2017, I have recently been awarded a DAAD PRIME fellowship at Bayreuth University (2018-2019). My postdoctoral research focuses on the production of Ghana’s biometric identity registration project. I hold a PhD in Political Research from the University of Aberdeen (2016), an MPhil in African Studies from Leiden University (2010) and a B.A. in Social Anthropology from Berlin’s Free University (2008). Alongside my PhD, I have been a junior member of the SPP1448, working in the project “Translating urban modernities” (2011-2017).

Current position
DAAD PRIME Post-Doctoral Fellow, University Bayreuth


I received my PhD in 2016 from the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law at the University of Aberdeen. My doctoral dissertation focuses on travelling concepts of citizenship in urban Ghanaian activism. The theoretical starting point of my dissertation is the problem that, stemming from a widespread homochronist world view, orders of social interaction are routinely inscribed with dissimilar temporal values, such that some societies ‘lag behind’ others. Critical theorists, such as Harootunian or Mbembe, refer to Benjamin’s theory of history when they suggest an alternative, heterotemporal perception of history with multiple yet coeval strands of time repeatedly converging and diverging from one another and, thereby, producing transformations. My argument emphasises the creative work of translation in these convergences. My work is inspired by the theoretical advancements of the SPP1448, of which I have been a member since 2011. As a junior member of the SPP1448, my research traced the translation of business models in the mobilities of transnational entrepreneurs between China and Ghana, a topic on which I have published in a range of disciplinary and area studies journals. In 2017, I received funding for my post-doctoral project on the production of biometric measurement policies in Ghana. In the course of two consecutive international fellowships at Sciences Po, Paris, and WISER, Johannesburg, I will explore how categories, practices and material infrastructures for measuring and authenticating identity are brought into existence in the circulation (and ultimately, translation) of expert knowledge between global development agendas, international “card cartels” (Lyon 2003), the institutional settings of “biometric capital” (Breckenridge 2014), and local political environments in Ghana.


  • Thiel, Alena (2017) "Entangled temporalities: Ghana's national biometric identity registration project." in Anthropology Today 33 (1):3-5
  • Thiel, Alena and Jan Beek (2017) "Orders of Trade: Regulating Accra’s Makola Market." in Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law 49 (1):34-53
  • Thiel, Alena and Michael Stasik (2017) "Market men and station women: changing significations of gendered space in Accra, Ghana." in Journal of Contemporary African Studies 34 (4):459-478.
  • Marfaing, Laurence, Karsten Giese and Alena Thiel (2016) "Introduction. Du rejet des autres à leur implication dans les dynamiques de changement social." in Entrepreneurs africains et chinois. Les impacts sociaux d’une rencontre particulière, 7-29 , edited by Karsten Giese and Laurence Marfaing. Paris: Karthala
  • Giese, Karsten and Alena Thiel (2015) "Chinese factor in the space, place and agency of female head porters in urban Ghana." in Social and Cultural Geography 16 (4):444-464.
  • Marfaing, Laurence and Alena Thiel (2013) "The Impact of Chinese Business on Market Entry in Ghana and Senegal." in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 83 (4):646-669.
  • Giese, Karsten and Alena Thiel (2012) "The vulnerable other ‐ distorted equity in Chinese‐Ghanaian employment relations." in Ethnic and Racial Studies 37 (6):1101‐1120.