Current Research Projects

Endangered Languages, Oral Traditions and Contextualising Research


Researching and documenting endangered languages of Kinnaur (Himachal Pradesh, India)

Contact: Christian Huber

The project continues the research on, and documentation of, a number of endangered languages of Kinnaur (Shumcho, Kinnauri-Harijan and Jangshung/Jangrami) that was begun in the course of the project “Documentation of oral traditions in Spiti and Upper Kinnaur” (FWF-Projekt P15046). Three field trips have been undertaken so far (in 2007, 2009 and 2011). In 2007, also first investigations on the language of Sunnam were carried out.
Current research focuses on the hitherto undocumented Shumcho language, which is spoken mainly in three villages of the Shumcho region. Research activities include investigations of phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and lexicon. These investigations are complemented by recording texts of various kinds (folk tales, narratives, interviews on socio-cultural or historical issues, etc.) that are transcribed, translated, and analysed with the help of and in collaboration with local informants.


Death & Life: Local Conceptions of Reincarnation Among the Druzes in the Middle East

FWF Stand Alone Project, April 1st 2016 – March 31st 2019
Contact: Gebhard Fartacek, Lorenz Nigst
Project Website...

This project is dedicated to the Druze belief in the transmigration of the souls (taqammus). According to the Druze belief-system, every human soul migrates to a new body at the moment of death. More specifically, Druze souls migrate to new Druze bodies (i.e. Druzes are ‘reborn’ as Druzes). While the abstract assertion that ‘souls migrate’ permeates the Druze belief-system in manifold ways, this idea furthermore surfaces more specifically: Druzes have many stories to tell about concrete living individuals into whom the soul of a concrete deceased individual is claimed to have migrated – i.e. about children, who are reborn into a new family and (often based on physical or behaviour-related pecularities) are ‘recognized’ as the concrete deceased person.

From an anthropological point of view such ‘empirical’ cases of taqammus require processes of social recognition and the development of a plot. Our preliminary research suggests that such discursive processes are potentially rife with conflict: to which family does such a re-born child actually and genealogically belong (to the ‘old’ one or to the ‘new’ one)? Are there any obligations, financial benefits (inheritance), or restrictions (marriage)?

The research team, however, not only seeks to investigate taqammus as an ‘ethno-sociological problem’ but furthermore focusses on the epistemological foundations which enable taqammus to function the way it does (time and space conceptions, models of reality/viability, gender, etc.). Considering that ‘empirical’ cases of taqammus usually involve unexpected (‘unnatural’?) causes of death such as tragic accidents or homicide, the research team will address the question how taqammus contributes to dealing with critical life events and contingency. Given that according to their belief-system Druzes are always reborn as Druzes, the research team will further address questions of group cohesion and ethnic boundaries.

Data collection and analysis will follow the approach of case-reconstructive-research. The ethnological fieldwork shall be carried out in different national contexts, in different social strata, and among both initiated (uqqal) and non-initiated (juhhal) Druzes. In total, between seven months of fieldwork over a period of three years are scheduled in ‘Druze areas’ of Lebanon and Israel/Palestine. While no fieldwork can be conducted in Syria under the present conditions, Syrian Druzes nevertheless form an important group for the present study: Given the strong connection between taqammus and violent events of death, research into taqammus is highly topical in times of war and trauma. Therefore, the present research project seeks to specifically interview Syrian Druze refugees in Lebanon and other countries.


The personal backgrounds of and prospects for Syrian war refugees in Austria: an interview project

Contact: Gebhard Fartacek

Austria and other European countries are currently facing a particularly difficult challenge. Thousands of people are taking their lives in their hands to escape the conflicts in the region of Syria and are reaching the borders of Austria daily; many of these have the intention to move on to Germany or another European state while others prefer to remain for longer periods within Austria itself. The objective of this survey is to focus on these individuals and to explore their motives for fleeing their homes, their experiences and the possible trauma that they have suffered. With the aid of a narrative interview technique, they are to be invited to recount their own stories and to speculate on what forms of social coexistence they would like to see where they now hope to settle as well as in the region of Syria.

The interviews with Syrian refugees are also to be conducted in order to further develop anthropological theories relating to the factors of flight, migration and ethnicity, whereby the specific characteristics of the current refugee situation in Austria are to be systematically delineated (Syrian refugees: ethic and religious aspects, public attitudes, language barriers, spontaneous bottom-up initiatives designed to settle Syrian refugees in rural communities, etc.)

Hypotheses with regard to the following topics are to be generated using a grounded theory approach:

  1. The 'previous' everyday environments of the refugees in Syria with particular reference to their ethnic/religious integration: What were the personal circumstances of interview partners on the outbreak of the civil war and before that? How do they view the socio-political developments associated with the so-called 'Arab Spring' and how do they consider that the ethnic and religious tensions arose? What levels of escalation and radicalisation are interviewees able to identify?
  2. Phases of the refugee experience: To what extent is this displacement phenomenon a reflection of the ethnic and religious segmentation of Syria? What role do family and other support networks play when it comes to the decision to flee Syria, take a specific route or with regard to the choice of target country? What form do the collective and personal identity constructs of the refugees take and how are these evolving?
  3. Current situation in Austria: How do Syrian refugees perceive the various native population groups in Austria? Do refugees have specific normative expectations with regard to their host society/societies? To what extent is the ethnic and religious segmentation of Syrian society mirrored in the way that refugees chose to settle in Austria and in their interactions with fellow refugees? What 'integration strategies' do interviewees have and what are their plans for the future?

The interviews will be conducted in Arabic – i.e. the Levantine Arabic dialect used in Syria. For the purposes of reconstructive social research, the techniques of narrative, thematically focused, and receptive interview will be employed. Assuming that interviewees consent to this, interviews will be taped and stored at the Phonogrammarchiv.

In view of the difficult situation in which the refugees find themselves, the interviews will need to be conducted with a considerable degree of tact and sensitivity. Of particular advantage is the fact that the project manager, Dr. Gebhard Fartacek, already has significant background knowledge and also specific practical experience of research in this area (extensive ethnological field researches in various regions of Syria). He also works voluntarily for Austrian refugee initiatives.

Since February 2016, Dr. Fartacek has had the assistance of Safwan Alshufi BA, a Syrian artist and conflict manager who is currently completing an internship in the Phonogrammarchiv under the aegis of the refugee programme of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW).

The main aims of the project are to achieve better insight into the world of Syrian refugees, specifically into their situation in Austria, and to contribute towards improving future integration policies.


Music and oral traditions of Roma

Contact: Christiane Fennesz-Juhasz

The project focuses on group-specific music-making in its current or historical manifestations as well as on aspects of storytelling amongst Roma; for these research purposes, relevant recordings from the extensive Romani collections of the Phonogrammarchiv are analysed, supplemented by additional field research (at present mainly in Austria). Subject-related interdisciplinary cooperation with external partners and other research units aims at making selected archival Romani holdings (or their contents) available to a wider public (see Sound Documents of Romani Culture; RomBase; A Roma Journey).


Religion, Identity and Ethno-Religious Boundaries in the Middle East

Contact: Gebhard Fartacek

This research project is based on former investigations (local pilgrimage sites and ethno-religious segmentations in Greater Syria; stories and discourses on the Jinn and afflictions by the Evil Eye; epistemological foundations and rituals of personal and collective conflict resolution in Northern Arabia; possession and ethnicity in the Arabian Gulf). The project focuses on imagined and lived belongings and segmentations in the Middle East. Of central concern are taboos, rituals and symbols of ethno-religious demarcation. Based on structural and constructivist models of explanation, different modes of identity-building will be analyzed; moreover local strategies in coping with uncertainties in the context of recent socio-cultural transformations will be investigated.
The empirical fundament of this research project is built on (1) an efficient analysis of anthropological literature and Arabic primary sources; (2) a systematic review of the audio-visual collections at the Phonogrammarchiv (oral traditions), which are relevant to the topic and the MENA region; and (3) ethnological field research, which follows the approach of case-reconstructive research and will be conducted along the line of a multi-sited-ethnography in different areas of investigation. This ethnographic data collection is an important enhancement of the Archives audio-visual corpus; at the same time it aims to provide essential context information to the already existing audio-visual treasures at our institute.


Cultural activities of West African immigrants in Vienna

Contact: Hedwig Köb

The project’s aim is the audiovisual documentation of the cultural life of as many of Vienna’s West African communities as possible. The documentation covers all cultural activities of performers and organisers as well as their socio-cultural background. All kinds of current public or private events initiated by Africans for Africans, performer profiles and interviews are being considered. Field research in Senegal in spring 2010 focused on the documentation of the Griot tradition, common in several West African countries, within the socio-cultural context of its original setting in comparison to its surviving mode in the diaspora.


Music of musical automata - the project on mechanical music

Contact: Helmut Kowar

The activities – started in 1980 – comprise the exploration of historical automata, the production of audio and video documentation of the instruments as a source for further research into their music and history, and the publication of results from current investigations in this field.


Contextualisation and edition of sound recordings

Contact: Clemens Gütl, Christian Liebl, Gerda Lechleitner

In the course of their content-related analysis of audiovisual sources (especially historical recordings), members of staff focus on bio-biographical studies of (field) researchers and the people recorded as well as on a contextual evaluation of the genesis of these recordings; historico-cultural issues and aspects pertaining to the history of science also play an important role for a better understanding of the collections of the Phonogrammarchiv. This interdisciplinary approach not only requires visits to relevant archives, but also stimulates fruitful cooperation with other institutions. Results are made available in the complete edition of the archive’s Historical Collections 1899–1950, the selected edition of other audio and video recordings as well as additional publications.

Technical research and development in audiovisual fields


Restoration and optimised transfer of audio media

Contact: Nadja Wallaszkovits

The project attends to the optimisation of the replay process of analogue and digital audio formats as well as to the long-term storage and restoration of audio media. Special focus is set both on problematic or obsolete formats and on the further development of standard transfer and digitisation processes.


Evaluation of formats for long-term video storage

Contact: Johannes Spitzbart

There is currently no standardised archival format for video footage. The Phonogrammarchiv is evaluating open and proprietary formats for long-term storage and is engaged in discussions with similar institutions within the AMIA community (open source and digital issues committee).

Research RMB Collection


The music of the Kunqu opera in China (with special reference to the concept of qupai)

Contact: Rudolf M. Brandl, Li Huang

Based on the representative video documentation of all Kunqu opera troupes made around 2000, the concept of fixed melodies (qupai) is analysed and described (for current video editions see here).


Traditional music of Greece

Contact: Rudolf M. Brandl

Aiming at a representative overall survey of Greek folk music, research especially focuses on the cognitive musical structure (the principle of Skopos). A book on the music of the Greek islands has already been published, a study on the conception of Skopos in mainland Greece (Epiros, Macedonia) is in preparation. Also in the pipeline are an ethnohistorical monograph on Ali Pasha of Janina and a second volume on the music of Karpathos.

Past Projects...