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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - IRI THESys

Situating complexity: an ethnography of modelling human-environment relations

Anja is a research associate and doctoral student at IRI THESys and the Department of European Ethnology at Humboldt University Berlin. Her main research interests are anthropological Science and Technology Studies, environmental anthropology and anthropological perspectives on complex systems theory.




Mathematical and computational modeling has become a central knowledge practice in scientific knowledge production across the disciplines. Especially environmental modeling of the climate and the earth system hast gained a certain political attention. My PhD-project takes the modeling of human-environment processes in the environmental sciences as an object of ethnographic inquiry. The central research question is: How are human-environment- relations understood, conceptualized and done in modeling? I will conduct ethnographic fieldwork with working groups of modelers who follow very different approaches in modeling these dynamics, e.g. social-ecological systems, in earth systems modelling, as complex adaptive systems, with dynamical systems and equations or with agent based models.

The aims of this project are disciplinary as well as interdisciplinary. From a perspective in anthropological Science and Technology Studies, I am interested in understanding the ontological assumptions and practices in modeling human agency, collectivity, environmental dynamics, complexity, the social etc. and how these produce frictions with concepts in anthropology. Concerning interdisciplinarity, I am interested in (1) how the working groups practice interdisciplinarity, (2) how translation and communication between modeling and anthropological methods concerning their respective boundaries and benefits might be enhanced and (3) the comparison of the cases aims at operationalizing the notion of “situated knowledges” in order to support our development of a framework of “Situated Modeling” IRI THESys.


Anja Klein received her Master of Arts from the Institute of European Ethnology, HU Berlin, in May 2018 where she since works as a research associate and is part of the  Laboratory: Anthropology of Environment | Human Relations. Before, she studied social and cultural anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin and Aix-Marseille Université. Since October 2018 Anja is also a guest researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research where she will collaborate with the flagship project COPAN.


Photo: Miriam Suari


Anja Klein, Doctoral Researcher
THESys Graduate Program
Tel.: +49 (030) 2093-66326
E-Mail: anja.klein@hu-berlin.de