Katharina Schramm

Katharina SchrammNetwork Member

Katharina is professor for the anthropology of global inequalities at the Free University Berlin and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative of the University of Cape Town. Her theoretical focus is on conceptualizing race as an unruly and slippery object in politics and science. She has carried out extensive fieldwork in Ghana and South Africa. Her work in Ghana concentrated on heritage, the memory of slavery and diasporic identity politics. Building on these interests, she began to shift her attention to the articulation of race in contemporary life sciences, and genomics in particular. Her current research in South Africa is situated at the interface of classificatory practices, the materiality of scientific objects and emerging political subjectivities.

Current position
University affiliation
University of Bayreuth


Race/Trouble: Classificatory Violence, Genealogies of Knowledge and the Sciences of Human Origins in Post-Apartheid South Africa

This project discusses race trouble and the reverberations of classificatory violence in contemporary political and scientific practices around human origins. It involves a close analysis of the complex entanglement of physical anthropology (often still associated with hierarchical race science) and human population genetics (associated with a unity in diversity approach). I am interested in race as a slippery and troubling object that cannot be reduced to the realms of either biology or social categorizations. To study race, I therefore suggest a topological approach which allows me to attend to the specific elements and practices by which race is brought into being as a nature/culture assemblage in a specific setting.

Given its long history of political segregation, South Africa is a particularly relevant site for the study of the coproduction of race in science and politics. In order to grasp race/trouble in the post-apartheid era I ask: how is meaning produced around ideas of population and descendant community in relation to race? In what ways are current classificatory practices in the life sciences connected to older racial typologies and how do they differ? How do scientists, research subjects and community activists respectively relate the work of human origins research to the political realm where the legacy of racial classification is a matter of heated debate? How do the various stakeholders negotiate the apparent discrepancy between the celebration of human origins as a way to overcome race and the underlying racialized practices of sampling, classifying and comparing?

To account for these questions, I follow three paths. First, I focus on the materiality of knowledge-objects (e.g. human remains and genetic samples) and their changing interpretations through time and by differently positioned actors. Second, I examine the heritagization of human origins and what it tells us about race in South Africa. Third, I analyze the complex relationship between the political subjectivity of “descendant communities” and their objectification as “research populations” in scientific projects.


  • Schramm, Katharina (2020) "Stuck in the Tearoom: Facial Reconstruction and Postapartheid Headache." in American Anthropologist 122 (2): 342-355. → https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13384
  • Schramm, Katharina (2017) "Einführung: Postkoloniale STS." in Science and Technology Studies: Ein Überblick über klassische Positionen und aktuelle Perspektiven , edited by Susanne Bauer, Torsten Heinemann and Thomas Lemke, 471-494. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2017) "Review. Nash, Catherine: 'Genetic Geographies. The Trouble with Ancestry.'" in Anthropos 112 (1): 343-344.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2017) "'Das Humboldt-Forum sollte viel proaktiver werden': Interview with Susanne Memarnia." in Die Tageszeitung 07.10.2017. → https://www.taz.de/!5452183/
  • Schramm, Katharina (2017) "Die Kontroversen liegen auf der Straße." in 'Multikultureller Musterschüler oder Erbe des Kolonialismus? Das Berliner Humboldt Forum im Kreuzfeuer der Kritik', Kunstzeitung Oktober 2017, p. 12.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2016) "Casts, Bones and DNA: Interrogating the Relationship between Science and Postcolonial Indigeneity in Contemporary South Africa." in Anthropology Southern Africa 39 (2): 131-144.
  • Schramm, Katharina, Sabine Netz, and Regina Sarreiter (2016) "Die Vermessung des Unmenschen: Zur Darstellung von Rasse und Rassismus in einer Dresdner Ausstellung." in Blog Medizinethnologie.http://www.medizinethnologie.net/vermessung-des-unmenschen/
  • Schramm, Katharina (2015) "Thinking About Race in an Age of Diversity." in Routledge International Handbook of Diversity Studies , edited by Steven Vertovec, 52-59. London, New York: Routledge.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2015) "Heritage, Power and Ideology." in A Companion to Contemporary Heritage Research , edited by Emma Waterton and Steve Watson, 442-457. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2015) "Vom Horror des Hybriden und der Zelebrierung genetischer Vielfalt: Zur Darstellung von 'Rasse' und Genealogie im neuen Südafrika." in Medienethnographie: Ein Handbuch , edited by Cora Bender and Martin Zillinger, 319-341. Berlin: Reimer.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2015) "Wie Phönix aus der Asche: Klassifikation, Erinnerungspolitik und Populationsgenetik in Südafrika." in Sociologus 65 (2): 201-224.
  • M'charek, Amade, Katharina Schramm, and David Skinner (eds.) (2014) "Race and Technologies of Belonging (Special issue)." in Science, Technology & Human Values 39 (4).
  • M'charek, Amade, Katharina Schramm, and David Skinner (2014) "Introduction. Technologies of Belonging: The Absent Presence of Race in Europe." in Science, Technology and Human Values 39 (4): 459-467.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2014) "Review. Holger Stoecker et al.: 'Sammeln, erforschen, zurückgeben? Menschliche Gebeine aus der Kolonialzeit in akademischen und musealen Sammlungen'." in H-Soz-u-Kult 04.12.2014. → http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/rezbuecher-22414.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2014) "Review. Peter Probst: 'Osogbo and the art of heritage'." in Journal of Religion in Africa 44: 127-128.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2014) "Neue Technologien - alte Kategorien? Ethnologische Forschung an der Schnittstelle von Wissenschaft und Politik." in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 139 (2): 233-252.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2014) "Comment on Peter Wade et al.: 'Nation and the absent presence of race in Latin American genomics'." in Current Anthropology 55 (5): 515.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2014) "Commentary. Leipzig 100 Years: The Future of Anthropology / Die Zukunft der Ethnologie." in ALLEGRA: A Virtual Lab of Legal Anthropology.http://allegralaboratory.net/leipzig-100-years-commentary-on-the-future-of-anthropology/
  • Schramm, Katharina (2014) "Claims of descent: Race and science in contemporary South Africa." in Vienna Working Papers in Ethnography, No. 3.
  • Schramm, Katharina, Amade M'charek, and David Skinner (2014) "Topologies of Race: Doing Territory, Population, and Identity in Europe." in Science, Technology and Human Values 39 (4): 468-487.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2013) "Ethnographische Positionierungen: Situiertes Wissen und die Politik der Intervention." in Eingreifen, Kritisieren, Verändern? Ethnographische und genderkritische Perspektiven auf Interventionen , edited by Beate Binder, Katrin Ebell, Sabine Hess, Anika Keinz and Fred von Bose, 220-225. Münster: Westfälisches Dampfboot.
  • Schramm, Katharina (ed.) (2011) "Landscapes of Violence: Memory and Sacred Space (Special issue)." in History and Memory 23 (1).
  • Schramm, Katharina, and Kristine Krause (eds.) (2011) "States, Diasporas, Citizenship: New Forms of Political Subjectivity in Africa." in African Diaspora Journal of Transnational Africa in a Global World 4 (2).
  • Schramm, Katharina, David Skinner, and Richard Rottenburg (eds.) (2011) "Identity Politics and the New Genetics: Re/Creating Categories of Difference and Belonging." Oxford: Berghahn.
  • Krause, Kristine, and Katharina Schramm (2011) "Thinking Through Political Subjectivity." in African Diaspora: Journal of Transnational Africa in a Global World 4 (2): 115-134.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2011) "Genomics en Route: Ancestry, Heritage and the Politics of Identity Across the Black Atlantic." in Identity Politics and the New Genetics: Re/Creating Categories of Difference and Belonging , edited by Katharina Schramm, David Skinner and Richard Rottenburg, 167-192. Oxford: Berghahn.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2011) "Introduction. Landscapes of Violence: Memory and Sacred Space." in History and Memory 23 (1): 5-22.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2011) "The Slaves of Pikworo: Local Histories, Transatlantic Perspectives." in History and Memory 23 (1): 96-130.
  • Schramm, Katharina, David Skinner, and Richard Rottenburg (2011) "Introduction. Ideas in Motion: Making Sense of Identity and the New Genetics." in Identity Politics and the New Genetics: Re/Creating Categories of Difference and Belonging , edited by Katharina Schramm, David Skinner and Richard Rottenburg, 1-29. Oxford: Berghahn.
  • Argenti, Nicolas, and Katharina Schramm (eds.) (2010) "Remembering Violence: Anthropological Perspectives on Intergenerational Transmission." Oxford: Berghahn.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2010) "African Homecoming: Pan-African Ideology and Contested Heritage." Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.
  • Argenti, Nicolas, and Katharina Schramm (2010) "Introduction." in Remembering Violence: Anthropological Perspectives on Intergenerational Transmission , edited by Nicholas Argenti and Katharina Schramm, 1-40. Oxford: Berghahn.
  • Schramm, Katharina (2010) "Sankɔfa-Interpretationen: Schwarze Selbst(er)findung zwischen Vergangenheitsbezug und Zukunftsorientierung." in Sociologus 60 (2): 191-217.