©2019 by Andrew Brandel



I am a cultural anthropologist at Harvard University, where I have taught for the past several years as a teaching faculty on the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies. My work is located at the intersection of anthropology and comparative literary theory, and focuses on experiences of migration in contemporary Europe, the politics of language, and post-colonialism. An ethnographer by training, I have conducted long-term fieldwork with refugee artists and cultural intermediaries living and working in Berlin, Germany, in a context in which the discourse of migration “crisis” and mounting ethno-nationalist insurgency are issuing fresh challenges to the freedom of expression. Adjacent my ethnographic work, I regularly publish on ordinary language philosophy, Romanticism, and the relationship between anthropological theory and literature. In addition to a monograph based on my fieldwork, my writing has been published in a number of leading journals and volumes, including Current Anthropology, Anthropological Theory, Ethnos: Journal of Anthropological Theory, the Oxford Handbook on Governance and Limited Statehood, and the new open-access Oxford Encyclopedia of Anthropology. 

Prior to coming to Harvard, I was a Visiting Fellow of the European Institute for Advanced Study in Vienna, the Institute for Human Sciences/Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen. I hold BA, MA, and PhD degrees all in Anthropology from The Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD), where I taught as a Dean's Teaching Fellow and curated the Sidney W. Mintz Collection as the inaugural University Archives Fellow. I have also lectured in the history of European literature at Babson College (Wellsey, MA). 



My current book project, A World of Ciphers: Literature and Migration in Global Berlin, is based on ten years of ethnographic research into efforts to leverage the institutions of world literature in times of migration crisis, in order to make a space for new literatures in German, but also for their authors to make new homes in Germany. While a swell of nationalist, anti-migrant sentiment has spread across the continent, literature’s historically privileged status as one of the most enduring symbols of German national culture has meant that migrant writers have been afforded, at least nominally, rights to the city and even expedited asylum, where others are regularly and visibly excluded. Training close attention on a variety of sites throughout the city - from well-funded, state-sponsored institutions and international festivals to the small-scale, informal networks of bookshops, reading circles, workshops, and poetry salons - I track how in encoded practice of cultural translation (and its limits) unfold in everyday scenes of literary work. Joining a growing body of postcolonial scholarship that has critiqued conventional notions of world literature, my work 


Collaborations are also central to my identity as a scholar. Over the past several years, I've embarked on several writing projects, each of which has re-read the anthropological archive against the grain: with Shalini Randeria (The Graduate Institute, Geneva) on anthropology's approaches to transformations in state power; with Naveeda Khan (Johns Hopkins) on the legacy of romanticism in contemporary social theory; and with Veena Das and Swayam Bagaria (Johns Hopkins) on the ethnographic impulse to "theory." As a member of the International Research Network on Forms of Life (GDRI), I have had the opportunity to work alongside an incredible group of international group of scholars from anthropology, philosophy, political theory, literature, and religious studies on a series of projects of shared concern. Most recently, Marco Motta (Lausanne) and I have co-edited the volume In the Grip of Reality: Anthropology and our Life with Concepts for Fordham University Press' new series Thinking from Elsewhere. 



Selected peer-reviewed articles and chapters


March, 2019


May 2018

January 2018

March 2018

September 2016

November 2015

The Prosody of Social Ties: Poetry and Ephemerality in “Global” Berlin, Current Anthropology

Plotting the Field: Fragments and Narrative in Malinowski’s Stories of the Baloma (with Swayam Bagaria), Anthropological Theory, Vol. 19 (2)

Genres of Witness: Violence, Personhood, Narrative, Generations (with Clara Han) Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology.

Locations and Locutions (with Veena Das and Shalini Randeria), in L. Roulleau-Berger and Li Peilin, eds., Post-Western Sociology. New York, NY: Routledge

A Poet in the Field: The Companionship of Anthropology and Literature, Anthropology of this Century, Issue 21.

Anthropological Perspectives on the Limits of the State (with Shalini Randeria) in T. Risse, A. Börzel, and A. Draude, eds., Oxford Handbook on Governance and Limited Statehood. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press

The Art of Conviviality.’ HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory. Vol. 6 (2)

Triste Romantik: Ruminations on an Ethnographic Encounter with Philosophy,’ in R. Chatterji, ed., Wording the World. Fordham, NY: Fordham University Press, 433-5

*Full list of publications and reprints available upon request.

Current Courses

Introduction to Social Studies (10a)

Fall 2019

This course offers an introduction to the classic texts of social theory of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Our focus will be on the rise of democratic, capitalist societies and the concomitant development of modern moral, political, and economic ideas. Authors we will examine include Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, and Karl Marx.

Introduction to Social Studies (10b)

Spring 2020

This class continues the introduction to the classic texts of social theory begun in Social Studies 10a through the twentieth century. Authors include Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, W.E.B. Du Bois, Sigmund Freud, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, and Michel Foucault.

Politics of "Culture" in Europe (98rc)

Spring 2020

With the birth of “modern Europe”, cultural difference emerged at the center of urgent debates about the organization of society. Even our present political moment seems to be defined by migration “crisis” and globalization. Public discourse appears to be structured by questions about how we might make a place for others in our societies, or whether we should. Does welcoming others require more than the tolerance of their differences? How/should migrants “integrate” into host cultures? Does an increasingly connected and mobile world mean that cultural differences will be replaced by a uniform global culture? By the same token, does integration mean the potential loss of European culture? What does it mean to have a culture in the first place, who belongs to it, and what kinds of boundaries do they have, if they have them at all? Scholars and politicians have proposed a variety of concepts to help us describe this social reality - concepts like multiculturalism, interculturalism, diversity, globalization, cosmopolitanism – each of which comes with its own political projects. In this tutorial, we will ask where these concepts come from, how have they changed, and how do they impact people’s lives?

Ethnographic Methods Workshop

Spring 2020

This workshop will introduce students to the basics of ethnographic fieldwork, with a particular emphasis on forms of participant observation. We will begin by defining ethnography and some of the pragmatic and theoretical issues associated with research of this kind, while asking questions about what it means for the researcher herself to be the instrument of investigation. The workshop will discuss practical issues related to selecting and setting up a field site, gaining access to that site, confronting ethical dilemmas, designing research questions and methods in response to different kinds of data, and how to troubleshoot when issues inevitably arise. We will also discuss how to take field notes and get the most out of short summer research.