Professor of Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology, University of Mainz, Germany

Email: brkovicc[at]uni-mainz.de



My name is Čarna Brković (pronounced as Charna Brkovitj). I am a cultural anthropologist and Professor of Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology at the University of Mainz.

I am finishing a book manuscript “Realigning Humanitarianism: Worldmaking from Yugoslav Socialism to Neoliberal Capitalism in the Balkans”. This is an account of how Red Cross humanitarians in Montenegro pursued worldmaking differently within the Non-Aligned Movement and, forty years later, during the Europeanization process. Realigning Red Cross humanitarianism in Southeast Europe meant changing the vision of the world advocated by this organization away from the imaginary produced during the Non-Aligned Movement and toward the one epitomized in the liberal humanitarian tradition. Looking at local humanitarian staff and Red Cross outside the West/Global North, I explore links between morality and imagination.

I am a PI on a research project Redigim studying new redistributive imaginaries in Europe. Our consortium won CHANSE funding for this research.

My first monograph Managing Ambiguity is an ethnographic study of how neoliberal reforms in healthcare and social welfare in Bosnia and Herzegovina encouraged clientelism. In the book, I show how the neoliberal emphasis on local community and self-responsibility was translated into clientelist modes of relating and back. I also ethnographically trace how some people managed to get into official political positions by managing ambiguity between social welfare as a civic right and a personal gift. It is based on my PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester.

My research was published in peer-reviewed articles focusing on humanitarianism (Ethnos), freedom (Social Anthropology), favours ( Social Anthropology, Focaal), and anthropological epistemology (Anthropological Theory), among other topics. I co-curated a conversation on peer-review for the POLAR journal.

Theoretical concerns that have motivated many of my works address how people deal with the situations when their agency is suspended; how people navigate ambiguity, uncertainty, and failure; and how power and inequality are structured in such ambivalent and complex conditions that abound in Southeast Europe as a region undergoing multiple and simultaneous socio-political transformations.

My work combines a focus on inequalities and power with a focus on social complexity and ambiguity. I am particularly interested in developing concepts that help us to understand how differently positioned people pursue their projects of the good life within structural inequality. I also work towards understanding fractured, fragmented, and ambiguous forms of governance. I wrote about IDPs living in refugee camps, LGBT activists, and grassroots attempts to raise money for healthcare in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Montenegro.

For me, (South) Eastern Europe figures as a region that poses unexpected theoretical challenges to conventional directions of anthropological analysis. I am deeply critical of hegemonic visions of the region as a poor copyist of theory produced elsewhere – in the former colonial centres, or peripheries. To counteract such visions, I strive to test and develop new concepts that reflect the ethnographic realities of the region but also help understand socio-political entanglements throughout the globe.

As a scholar with a Montenegrin passport and a PhD from the UK, I work towards transforming anthropology into a decentered global discipline. This is reflected in my service roles:

Research Interests and PhD supervision:

  • anthropology of humanitarianism, borders, refugee camps
  • clientelism, favors, the gift
  • nationalism, the state, policy
  • gender and sexuality
  • political imagination, activism, citizenship
  • histories of ethnology and anthropology
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Germany, Europe

I would supervise doctoral students interested in what has been happening with political imagination after the fall of socialism in Europe and elsewhere, especially in humanitarianism, activism, gender, and sexuality.