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Department of Social Anthropology


Conduct, Culture, and Critique: Anthropologies of Ethico-Aesthetic Traditions

Lecture and book presentation by Dr Jonas Tinius (ERC Minor Universality, Saarland University), with a response by Dr Martin Ruehl (Senior Lecturer in German Intellectual History, Cambridge)


Theatre critic and playwright Eric Bentley once formulated a “minimal definition” of theatre: “A impersonates B while C looks on” (The Life of Drama, 1964). Few art forms constitute, even at their simplest, such a theatrical sociality that enacts and simultaneously reflects on the constitution of social relations. As part of this roundtable conversation, anthropologist Jonas Tinius will present his book State of the Arts. An Ethnography of German Theatre and Migration (Cambridge University Press, 2023), which draws on a decade of engagement with the unique German public theatre tradition through the prism of a migrant artistic institution in the western post-industrial Ruhr region. In this book, Tinius analyses how the formalisation of the German cultural tradition of Bildung (self-formation through culture) as a governmental principle of the modern Prussian state has institutionalised public theatres as sites for moral and state-formation and thus helped co-constitute modern German governmentality and the idea of Germany as a state of Kultur and the arts. He unpacks how this idiosyncratic institutionalised governmental tradition has facilitated the development of “extra-ordinary” forms of critical conduct through which a professional political, social, and aesthetic subjectivity emerges. The theatre at the heart of his fieldwork understood itself as a place for and of the bastardo—those without father-land and mother-tongue—and as such exemplified both a culmination of the German logic of state patronage and its starkest rebuttal in a post-migrant logic of transnational becoming.

Jonas Tinius is a sociocultural anthropologist, and currently scientific coordinator and post-doctoral researcher in cultural anthropology in the European Research Council project Minor Universality: Narrative World Productions after Western Universalism based at Saarland University. He studied and completed his PhD in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge (2016). Subsequently, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at Sharon Macdonald‘s Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage (CARMAH) of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. His publications include Across Anthropology. Troubling Colonial Legacies, Museums, and the Curatorial (with Margareta von Oswald, 2020), Der fremde Blick. Roberto Ciulli und das Theater an der Ruhr (two volumes, with Alexander Wewerka, 2020), and Minor Universality. Rethinking Humanity After Western Universalism (with Markus Messling, 2023). More info:


Thursday, 7 March, 2024 - 16:00 to 17:30