Conference: Paris, July 8-9, 2021   

Like Felix von Luschan, Richard Thurnwald started his career in the Habsburg Empire, before moving to Berlin. He was probably the most well-known German anthropologist outside of Germany between the two World Wars, when he developed what came to be known as historical functionalism. He was well integrated within ethnological research networks and being in contact with sociologists, he also tried to claim recognition in this field. His wife Hilde Thurnwald, who hadn’t been trained as an ethnologist, accompanied him in the field in East Africa (1930-31) and New Guinea (1933), developed her own research, and also began to publish in the 1930s. Although Richard Thurnwald expressed his opposition to the rising national-socialist party in letters, the couple left the USA in 1936 and returned to Germany, adapting to the new regime. After 1945, they both participated in the reorganization of ethnological research in Berlin, Hilde Thurnwald leading in fieldwork in 1946-47 about the situation of families and youth criminality, Richard Thurnwald (re)founding the review Sociologus (which still exists today), and continuing to publish. Their concessions to the Third Reich did not seem to overtly alert the Occupation Authorities, either Soviet or American. One can thus state that after 1945 the Thurnwalds were typical of the thematic and personal continuation of the previous era, a reason why, as with others, they were condemned in the 1960s when a new generation of German ethnologists started to investigate the history of the discipline.    

Taking Hilde and Richard Thurnwald as a starting point, we would like to investigate the following general questions:

 What was the relationship between German and Austrian ethnologists, and how influential was it in structuring German-language ethnology?

What role did functionalism play in German-language ethnology?

What was Richard Thurnwald’s involvement in the debates about the notion of reciprocity (re: Boas, Malinowski, Mauss…)?

How were women able to work their way into German-language ethnology of that period? Did they specialize in issues related to sexuality, the status of women and family?

What was the relation between ethnology, psychology and sociology? What should one make of certain German “idiosyncrasies,” such as Völkerpsychologie or Gesellschaftslehre?

What knowledge did German and Austrian ethnologists have of American cultural anthropology, in particular of Franz Boas and his former disciples?

What sources can help us to understand German and Austrian ethnology under Nazism?

How is the postwar-renewal of the discipline in the FRG, GDR and Austria to be assessed?

Proposals should be sent by the 15th of February 2021 to Laurent Dedryvère (, Roselyne Malpel ( and Céline Trautmann-Waller (

They should include: name and institutional affiliation, title of the paper and an abstract with 500 words maximum and a short biography.

Because of the pandemic and the present travel restrictions we have planned this conference as a mixed conference (on site and online). If the situation in France doesn’t allow any conferences on site in July, it will be completely online.

Answers will be given by the end of February 2021.    


Sarah Pickman: contributions /