The East / Central Europe Research Group

Institute of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen


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About the group


The "Østgruppe" in Copenhagen was started by Steven Sampson in the mid-1990's. It comprised, at its height, about 10 students, one of whom has since gone on to take a Ph.D. at the Institute. In 1997, it hosted the Second Nordic Conference on the Anthropology of Post-Socialism for MA students and Ph.D.'s with about 30 participants. After a short period of inactivity, the group was reconstituted in 1999 and renamed the "East / Central Europe Group". In April 2002, the group organized the Fourth Nordic Conference on the Anthropology of Post-Socialism.

Several teachers at the institute have been or are directly involved with the region. Steven Sampson (now at Lund University), who has done extensive work in Romania, and later on aid projects, especially in the Balkans, originally started the ECEG in the mid-1990's. Jonathan Schwartz (retired 2003) has worked in the Balkans for many years, taught regional courses concerned with the Balkans, and supervised student and research projects in the area. Åke Norborg (retired 2003) has conducted research and held regional courses on the post-communist societies with emphasis on the Baltic states, and been instrumental in establishing cooperation and network activity between the anthropological institutes in Copenhagen, Lund and Vilnius (see below).

In 1999, Finn Sivert Nielsen was brought in from Tromsø (Norway) with the purpose of keeping up work on the region at the Institute. In 2003, Morten Axel Pedersen was added to the Institute's staff and joined the group. Today, Pedersen and Nielsen share responsibility for coordinating the ECEG's work and giving courses with relevance for the East / Central European region.

Group members
(Updated May 2003)
Students and teachers at the Institute of Anthropology in Copenhagen have their names marked in red.

Name Research location Research theme Status Thesis
(full text or abstract online)
Dorte Hougaard Andersen Estonia, Russia   Student, Univesity of Aarhus  
Tilde Rye Andersen Russia      
Mark Asbøe        
Ann Fenger Benwell Mongolia Gender and development    
Kristin Bielke        
Henriette Borg Henriksen Russia, Kazakhstan   BA student, University of Århus  
Lisbeth Dons        
Mads Engholm        
Signe Gundersen Mongolia      
Line Hillersdal        
Pernille Hohnen Litauen The Gariuniai market Ph.D.  
Maja Hojer St. Petersburg, Russia The Soldiers' Mothers Association in St. Petersburg Cand. Scient. Anth.  
Jakob Høgel        
Morten Høyrup     BA student  
Dorthe Bjerregaard Jensen St. Petersburg, Russia Female entrepreneurs MA (Cand.Scient.Ant.)  
Lisbeth Jensen        
Mette Jensen Mongolia Politics, the state, history, discourse, landscape Ph.D. student, Cambridge University  
Katrin Jonsdottir        
Suzanna Knudsen Vilnius, Lithuania NGOs, The Catholic Church MA student  
Oleg Kofoed Russia History, philosophy, communication, mentality studies Ph.D. (philosophy)  
Benedikte Møller Kristensen Duha Tuvinians, Mongolia
Kyzil, Siberia
Traditional and urban shamanism MA (Cand.Scient.Ant.) The Living Landscape of Knowledge (2004) [shamanism among Duha Tuvinians of Mongolia]
Signe Mimi Larsson Hungary   Mag.Art (Århus) Political Action in a Post-Socialist Society (2004) [the Hungarian Telecottage Movement]
Jeppe Linnet Riga, Latvia Pro-EU youth NGO, political culture MA (Cand.Scient.Ant.) EU Accession and Personal Enlightenment (2002) [youth NGO Riga]
Mari-Ann Herloff Mortensen Latvia   MA (Cand.Scient.Ant.)  
Katja Murray Beograd, Serbia Media MA (Cand.Scient.Ant.)  
Henrik Møller        
Finn Sivert Nielsen
Russia, St. Petersburg Identity, nation-building, informal organization, intelligentsia Associate professor The Eye of the Whirlwind (1987) [public and private in Soviet Union]
Jette Nielsen Georgia   MA student  
Tinna Christiansen Nielsen        
Kari Helene Partapuoli
Estonia Business culture, globalization, design MA (Cand.Polit.) A Place of Globalization (1999) [cross-cultural business in Tallinn]
Anne Sofie Pedersen Kosovo Peace keeping MA student  
Morten Axel Pedersen East Siberia, Mongolia Religion, urban and political culture, esthetics, visual anthropology Assistant professor  
Vibe Hjelholdt Pedersen St. Petersburg, Russia Professional identity among family physicians MA (Cand.Scient.Ant.) Den gode læge (2003) [the creation of professional identity among family doctors in St.Petersburg.]
Kristin Rande Vilnius, Lituania Nouveaux riches Ph.D. student  
Mattias Borg Rasmussen     BA student  
Steven Sampson Romania, Balkans Corruption, the state, anthropolology of projects Associate professor, University of Lund, Sweden  
Anders Sejerøe
Smolensk, Russia Agricultural cooperation MA (Cand.Scient.Ant.) Imagine what Danish Farmers could do with this Land! (2003) [a Danish rural development aid project in Smolensk]
Jan Espen Simonsen     MA student, University of Bergen, Norway  
Lenka Skodova Denmark and Czechia Czech emigres to Denmark and returnees to Czechia MA (Cand.Scient.Ant.)  
Vera Skvirskaja Yamal Nenets, Siberia   Ph.D. student, Cambridge University  
Mette Christina Wang Halle, Former East Germany Generation differences MA (Cand.Scient.Ant.)  

Present activities and plans


Members' meetings

The group meets about once a month, to discuss papers and fieldwork experiences, plan activities, and get to know each other. Specialized workgroups (e.g. the Research planning group) meet as necessary.


Since 1999, we have organized a number of courses on East/Central Europe. These have attracted the students that at present form the Østgruppe. For details, see the course list. We plan to continue with a similar teaching cycle during the next few years, and hope that the result will be a more or less continuous recruitment to the group.

The NORFA mini-network

Åke Norborg, Steven Sampson and Jonathan Friedman have established a NORFA-funded mini-network between Copenhagen, Lund and Vilnius. Activities include exchange of teachers and students, and has later been expanded with a Vilnius-Copenhagen Socrates contract. During the spring semester of 2001, Michael Whyte and Finn Sivert Nielsen sent two 4th-semester fieldwork groups to Vilnius, along with a student who had herself recently returned from MA fieldwork Vilnius. The experiment was not continued in 2002, but we hope to return to it next year (2003).

Later, 10 students and two teachers from Vilnius visited Lund and Copenhagen.

In 2001, we established a bilateral Socrates agreement (involving exchange of students, Ph.D.'s and teachers) between Copenhagen and Vilnius, which allows us to conduct more long-term student exchanges than the NORFA agreement permits. We had our first Lithuanian Socrates exchange student in Copenhagen during the Fall semester of 2001, and have since then had 5 more. We have had several visits to Copenhagen by teachers in Vilnius (Vytis Ciubrinskas, and Kristina Sliavaite, who is studying for her Ph.D. in Lund). While Sliavaite was here in 2001, she conducted her own research, participated in the Østgruppe's activities, and gave lectures at a course on post-communist anthropology, where she gave two lectures.

The anthropological milieu in Lithuania is small, but active. A new institute is being built up in Vilnius by young and enthusiastic teachers, who are cooperating widely with sociologists and ethnologists in their country. We think that our link with Vilnius may be beneficial to their pioneering work, and with an MA student, a Ph.D.-project, the methods course, the Socrates agreement, and a prospective research project (see below), it seems that the link may prove beneficial to us as well.

In 2002, it was decided to take steps to expand the Vilnius-Lund-Copenhagen network to include the University of Riga, and to conclude a Copenhagen-Riga Socrates contract as well. In Riga, the responsible teacher is Klavs Sedlenieks. Also, it has been decided to conclude a Socrates agreement with Bucharest, where the responsible teacher is Professor Vintila Mihailescu. In addition, we have a Socrates agreement with the University of Ljubljana.

In 2003, the anthropology milieu in Vilnius has been going through dramatic changes, due to problems with the established Department of Theory of History  and History of Culture, which has hitherto been the home of the anthropology department. The future of the department is therefore uncertain. Our cooperation will be continued, however, to the extent that this is possible. We hope that a new academic affiliation for anthropology in Lithuania will soon be found.

Internet-assisted teaching

During the Fall semester of 2002, we held a cooperative, Internet-assisted course of the kind originally suggested by Birgitte Refslund Sørensen: In Copenhagen, Finn Sivert Nielsen had a two-module course similar to the one done by Åke Norborg and Finn Sivert Nielsen in 1999. In Vilnius, Kristina Sliavaite gave a similar course, with a similar reading list and a similar lecture series. During the course, students from both universities worked together in groups of 2-4 (each group ideally including students from both universities), to compose a (fictive) project proposal for fieldwork somewhere in the region. The groups communicated and exchanged documents via the Internet. In renewing our application for the continuation of the Vilnius-Lund-Copenhagen agreement in 2002, we budgeted with a teacher exchange in mid-semester, in which the two student groups literally "exchanged teachers" for a week; and with a small sum to allow the Lithuanian students to rent time at Internet cafés.

Due to the problems experienced by anthropology milieu in Vilnius (see above), there were certain problems recruiting Lithuanian students to the course, and the cooperative aspect of the course was less successful than we had hoped. 2-3 groups did, however, participate in the cooperation. In addition, two Lithuanian and two Polish students, who were in Copenhagen on Socrates exchange agreements, participated in the course along with the Danish students.

Micro-Perspectives on Post-Soviet Transformations

This is an interdisciplinary Nordic network, initiated in Helsinki, with members in all the Nordic countries, the Baltic countries and Russia. The Østgruppe is a collective member of the network, and sent a representative (Jeppe Linnet) to Helsinki for its founding meeting and a workshop. The network has applied for NORFA-money to conduct a number of activities, e.g. a conference bringing micro-oriented social scientists from the entire circum-Baltic region together. Though the first application, in 2002, did not receive funding, a second application has recently achieved a more positive result, including financing for a conference. The contact person for the network i Anna-Maria Salmi, Helsinki.

For the Østgruppe, one of the chief attractions of the network has been that it has brought us into contact with Swedish and particularly Finnish colleagues. Finland has an old and rich tradition in studies of Russia and the Baltic, which is poorly known in the rest of Scandinavia.

In March 2003, a second workshop was carried out in Helsinki, with a number of participants from the Østgruppe. After this workshop the network was discontinued. Some of its functions will be continued by the larger, Nordic and East / Central European Network (NECEN) which the ECEG has initiated.

The 4th Nordic Conference on the Anthropology of Post-Socialism

Nordic Conferences on the Anthropology of Post-Communism have been held in 1994 (in Tromsø), in 1996 (in Copenhagen), and in 1998 (in Bergen). The conferences, which have mainly had Norwegian, Danish, and to some extent Swedish participants, have focused heavily on MA and (to some extent) Ph.D. students. Prominent international scholars (e.g. Piers Vitebsky, Ladislav Holy, Katherine Verdery, Vintila Mihailescu) have lectured at the conferences, given feedback to students presenting papers, and participated in the often lively discussions.

In April 2002, the Østgruppe hosted the fourth conference in this series. The conference - entitled New Socio-Cultural Divisions in East / Central Europe - was held in Copenhagen, and comprised three days of lectures and workshops. Three speakers lectured at the conference:

  • Irmina Matonyte (Kaunas)

  • Vintila Mihailescu (Bucharest)

  • Steven Sampson (Lund)

Eight workshops were held, at which each of the ca. 40 participants presented a paper. The invited lecturers circulated between the workshops, offering advice and giving feedback to the presentations. The 40 participants were mostly MA and Ph.D. students - from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Great Britain.

After the Conference, the senior participants and lecturers met with the leadership of the Institute in Copenhagen to discuss future cooperation.

The Conference received funding from The Social Science Research Council of Denmark, The Humanities Research Council of Denmark, the Institute of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other sources. The main application was signed by Finn Sivert Nielsen, Jonathan Schwartz, Steven Sampson (Lund) and Thomas Hylland Eriksen (Oslo), and accompanied by a recommendation from the Institute.

The 5th Nordic Conference on the Anthropology of Post-Socialism

... will be held in Oslo, Norway, in 2004.

NECEN - (Nordic and East / Central European Network in Qualitative Social Research)

As a result of the conference, it was decided to start a more extensive research network comprising anthropologists and other qualatively oriented social scientists in the Nordic and East / Central European countries. See the network homepage for details.

Research plans

We are in the early stages of planning a collective research project that would bring together the interests of many of the group's participants. Hopefully, the project would serve as an "umbrella" that could include other members of the NECEN network as well. More information will be posted, as our plans become more concrete.