Dr Maja Petrović-Šteger is a Social Anthropologist who has carried out research over a long term in the former Yugoslavia, Tasmania and Switzerland. Her particular interests lie in the anthropology of the body, anthropology of conflict and anthropology of mind. For twenty years, Maja's scholarship has attended to a variety of contexts in which bodies – living, dead, or in the form of medically usable remains – have attracted political, legal, scientific or artistic attention. With a corollary interest in how anthropology can illuminate our understanding of the mind, she has further examined psychological and military concerns with mental health, mental hygiene and neuro- security in Serbia. Her latest projects consider how is time (the past, the present and the future) imagined and dealt with in situations crying out for radical restitution or healing. She is focusing on visionary people and imaginal practices in Serbia, who, in a climate of hopelessness, intend radical social transformation premised on some notion of the common good. The research inquires into how individuals and groups understand their mediation of sociohistorical change.
Maja studied at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, before taking a PhD at the University of Cambridge (2007). She has subsequently been Junior Research Fellow at Peterhouse, the University of Cambridge (2006-2010), Research Fellow at the Independent Social Research Foundation, London (2014), Research Fellow at Morphomata, the Centre for Advanced Studies and Humanities, the University of Köln (September 2015 to February 2016) and Visiting Professor of Anthropology, the Centre for Tibetan and Anthropological Studies, Chengdu University (China) in the spring of 2015.
Maja has been a Research Fellow and Associate Professor at the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Art, Ljubljana (Slovenia), since 2014.
2002–2006: My doctoral work at Cambridge compared official, bioscientifically mediated ways of recovering bodies lost in the Yugoslav wars of 1990s with supposedly ancestral ways of repatriating the remains of aboriginal Tasmanians. What meaning inhered in human remains in postconflict, translocal and technoscientifically oriented societies, and how did this meaning register through the collection and DNA identification and classification of dead bodies? Did the recovery of remains always conduce to healing or reconciliation? Case studies shed light on how dead bodies and body parts are conceived and used both as material objects and conceptual frameworks through which Serbian and Tasmanian people managed ideas of modernity, development, democracy and accountability. In tracking the circulation of remains, my work exposed the negotiations underlying the formulation of these concepts across a range of sites: at home, on mass grave sites, in museums, forensic laboratories, legal offices, and on the level of the communal imaginary. Human remains were processed into knowledge production, underpinning scientific ideology, moral argument and representations of victimhood.
2006–2010: Extending my research to other areas, I extensively investigated British legal frameworks constituting the arena of accountability in relation to the body and body parts between 2006 to 2010. Postdoctoral research focused on interrogating the consequences of treating the body as the site and evidence of truth, through taking bodies as fundamental to cultural identity. One interest has been the legal construction of the human remains abstracted from indigenous people in Tasmania and elsewhere and vested in British museums, with one justification for their retention being the potential they hold for biomedical knowledge.
2007–2010: I also undertook an ethnographic project on the Swiss artistic collective ETOY and its aspiration to ‘digitize’ human remains. This analysis of ETOY’s Mission Eternity Project described the group’s figuring of the dead as a form of social software. The project showed how people give value not only to live bodies and (medically usable) body parts but also to corpses and dead bodily fragments, which may hold a variety of economic, political, scientific and even artistic values.
In 2011–2014 I started addressing international interventions promoting justice in postconflict settings from another angle. This project used ethnographical methods to elicit people’s sense of global and local power relationships as they affected a notion of psychological and mental security in present-day Serbia. The research project, Coming To Terms: On Mental Hygiene and NeuroSecurity in Contemporary Serbia, examined mental security technologies taken to safeguard a presumed ‘national consciousness’. National consciousness was shown to be politicized at the intersection of discourses of scientific rationality, a technology of mind, parapsychological warfare, identity politics, nationalism, democracy and ideas about the future. In 2014 the project was awarded an Independent Social Research Foundation Grant.
Between 2014 and 2017 I worked as a researcher on the Ethnographies of Land and Water Routes: A Comparative Approach to (Im)mobility (ARRS J6-6839) project led by Dr. Nataša Gregorič Bon. I explored various modes of attending to and imagining water resources in the Morava River valley (Serbia).
During the same time 2014 and 2017 I worked as a researcher on the Bounded rationality and economic performance (ARRS J1-6828) project led by dr. Aljaž Ule. The research empirically test the idea that in complex economic environments humans resort to simple heuristics to make decisions. In particular, a sequence of laboratory experiments with human subjects were developed with the aim to detect (i) when do people use simple rules of thumb rather than rational optimization, (ii) the distribution of these rules in different populations, and (iii) whether simple rules spread by means of learning, imitation or best response. The focus was on environments in which trust, cooperation, and reputation are necessary to achieve efficiency, attending to the classic economic problems of asymmetric information and incomplete contracts.
2016–2018: I served as PI (ARRS J6-7480 research grant for senior researchers) on the project Seizing the Future: A Comparative Anthropological Study of Expectations of the Future in Southeast Europe. I led a team of four researchers investigating how a range of social entrepreneurs in Serbia, Albania and Slovenia, imagine, invoke and plan their futures.
2017–2019: I am also a researcher on the ongoing project Slovene Women Missionaries in India (ARRS J6-8258) led by dr. Ana Jelnikar, aiming to investigate a neglected chapter in the cultural history of the connections between India and East-Central Europe by focusing on the role of Slovene women missionaries from pre- and post-World-War-II socialist Yugoslavia in India.
2019–2022: I am a researcher at Experiencing water environments and environmental changes (ARRS J6 - 1803) led by dr. Nataša Gregorič Bon. Granting the impaction of the geological, hydrological and social, the project explores the aquatic environments of particular rivers in Albania (the Vjosa), Serbia (the Danube) and Slovenia (the Rižana).
2019–2022: I am a researcher at the project on Young entrepreneurs in times of uncertainty and accelerated optimism (ARRS J6-1804) led by dr. Miha Kozorog. The project is devised as conducting ethnographic research into young people and their ideas of an ethical livelihood in modern-day Slovenia.
2020–2023: I am a researcher at Contested Waterway: Governance and Ecology of the Lower Danube, 1800-2018, led by dr. Luminita Gatejel and financed by the German Leibniz Association (K 237/2019). The project examines the impact of two centuries of human intervention in the riparian space of the Lower Danube, contextualizing its present ecological degradation.
2021–2024: Most recently I have become Principal Investigator of a project, Visionary Practices In Comparative Perspective: An Anthropology of the Imaginal (ARRS J6-3127), which addresses how different creators, scientists, artists, and thinkers arguably impel societal transformation in Serbia, Albania, Papua New Guinea and India through seeing innovatively. The work will cleave to how individuals and collectives envision and contribute to transformative processes in their societies, scrutinizing the relationship between visionaries’ practices and the conceptions of social good they promote.
Mexico: 1996; Slovenia: 1998, 2001, 2002, 2018-2020; Srbija: 2002, 2004-2005, 2007-2008, 2011- 2012, 2014-2015, 2016-2022; Tasmania: 2004, 2006, 2009; Great Britain: 2007-2009; Switzerland: 2007-2013, 2022; Albania: 2017; India: 2018.
Teaching and courses
I have lectured on and taught various subjects (the Anthropology of Europe, Anthropology of Law, Symbolic Anthropology, Anthropology of Death, Medical Anthropology) at the University of Cambridge (UK), University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Chengdu University (China). I have presented my work as a guest lecturer and at various conferences at Osaka University; Birkbeck College, University of London; Yale University; Copenhagen University; the University of Tasmania; Bilbao University; University College London; Edinburgh University; the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and many other academic venues.
Since 2016 I have taught a course on the “Anthropology of Mind, Consciousness and Practices of Awareness” to doctoral students of anthropology at the Graduate School ZRC SAZU (Ljubljana, Slovenia).
Research/Doctoral Supervision to PhD students
Ahac Meden, ‘Living Data and Digital Humanities’.
Aleksandra Gačić, ‘Life within Limits: Childlessness, Infertility and Health Care in urban areas of Ethiopia’.
Nastja Slavec, ‘Dancing as an Euskaldun: experiences and subjectivities of Basque speakers and dancers’.
2013 Claiming the Aboriginal Body in Tasmania. An Anthropological Study of Repatriation and Redress. Ljubljana: Založba ZRC.
2011 Recasting Anthropological Knowledge: Inspiration and Social Science. Edited by Edwards Jeanette and Maja Petrović-Šteger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Book manuscript: Over Our Dead Bodies: An Anthropology of Redress in Contemporary Serbia.
2020 'Calling the Future into Being: Timescripting in Contemporary Serbia'. In Biography - A Play? Poetological Experiments in a Genre Without Poetics. Edited by Günter Blamberger, Rüdiger Görner and Adrian Robanus. Paderborm: Wilhelm Fink, 163-179.
2019 Pred-časnost in po-časnost znanstvenih vizij Gregoryja Batesona. In Bateson, Gregory. Ekologija idej : zbrani eseji iz antropologije, psihiatrije, evolucije in epistemologije. 537-551. Ljubljana: Beletrina: Knjižna zbirka Koda.
2016 'Passing and Healing in Contemporary Serbia: Understanding Self-care in a Postconflict Society'. In Materiality of Death and Time. Eds. Anders Emil Rassmusen, Tim FlohrSørensen and Peter Bjerregaard. 113-129. London: Routledge.
2013 ‘Marilyn Strathern’, In SAGE Encyclopedia, Theory in Social and Cultural Anthropology. Eds. R. Jon McGee in Richard L. Warms, 816-819. Los Angeles: Sage Reference.
2013 'Parasecurity and Paratime in Serbia: Neocortical Defence and National Consciousness', In Times of Security: Ethnographies of Fear, Protest and the Future. Eds. Pedersen Morten Axel and Martin Holbraad, 141-162. London Routledge.
2011 'Spools, loops and traces: on etoy encapsulation and three portraits of Marilyn Strathern', In Recasting Anthropological Knowledge: Inspirational and Social Science. Eds. Edwards Jeanette and Maja Petrović-Šteger, 145-164. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2011 'Introduction: On recombinant knowledge and debts that inspire', with Edwards J., In Recasting Anthropological Knowledge: Inspiration and Social Science. Eds. Edwards Jeanette and Maja Petrović-Šteger, 1-18. Cambridge: CUP.
2009 'Anatomizing Conflict – Accommodating Human Remains' , In Social Bodies. Eds. Maryon McDonald and Lambert Helen, 47-76. London: Berghahn.
2008 Afterword: ‘O odnosnostih v antropološki vednosti’, In Pisanje Antropologije, 245-271. Ljubljana: Koda, Študentska založba.
2005 Afterword: ‘Srebreniška morišča in metini travniki: Vloga znanja in dokazov v rekonstrukciji preteklosti. In Srebrenica: dokumenti-pričevanja-haaški process. 321-333. Ljubljana: Koda.
2021 THE TEXTURES OF TOUCH : A STUDY OF A SENSORY JOURNEY INTO CREATIVITY, FASHION, AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP. In Studia ethnologica Croatica, 33: 121-145. ISSN 1330-3627. https://hrcak.srce.hr/268252, DOI: 10.17234/SEC.33.5.
2020 ON THE SIDE OF PREDICTABLE: Visioning the Future in Serbia / O ONOME ŠTO PREDVIDLJIVO NE OBUHVAĆA: Zamišljanje bodućnosti u Srbiji. In Etnološka tribina: Godišnjak Hrvatskog etnološkog društva, 50 (43): 3-67.
2018 O "ODPRTEM POGLEDU" Miselne pokrajine in doživljanje časa družbenih podjetnikov in vizionarjev v današnji Srbiji. In Glasnik Slovenskega etnološkega društva, 58 (3-4): 7-23.
2017 'O ontološkem obratu in tem, kako antropologi vrednotimo in drugotimo druge in drugo'. In Glasnik Slovenskega etnološkega društva, 57 (3-4): 12-17.
2016 ' O živih in spečih vodah: antropološka analiza rabe in doživljanja vode v Srbiji' / Living and slumbering waters: Anthropological analysis of the use and perception of water in Serbia/. In Glasnik Slovenskega etnološkega društva, 56 (3-4): 75-88.
2012 'Mobile sepulchre and Interactive Formats of Memorialisation: On Funeral and Mourning Practises in Digital Art' , In Journeys, 13(2): 71-89.
2008 'Anatomizacija konflikta i telesnih ostataka kao strategija izmirenja?', In Reč 76(22): 119-153.
2005 ‘Producing Bodies - Reproducing Persons: Thinking Human Remains in Postconflict Serbia’, In Cambridge Anthropology 2005/2006, XXV(3): 61-71.
2003 'New Reproductive Technologies and the Ideology of the Body in Slovenia', In Časopis za Kritiko Znanosti, Ljubljana, XXXI(211): 272-297.
2002 'The Body between Life and Death' [Telo med življenjem in smrtjo], In Poligrafi 7(27/28): 157- 180.
2016 ‘On (failed) resonance’, In Discovery & recognition, ISRF bulletin, issue 10: 39-47. London: Independent Social Research Foundation.
2012 ‘The Form of Remains’, In Manifesta Journal, Nr. 16, “Of Regret and Other Back Pages”. Amsterdam.
2012 ‘Tracing the Dead’, In Overgaden essays. Institute of Contemporary Art. Copenhagen. August 2012.
2010 'On Idealists_and_Realists: A Memory of Fear, Silence and the 1990s Yugoslav Wars' , In SARAI Reader 08: Fear, 123-129. New Delhi: Sarai Media Lab.
Experiencing water environments and environmental changes: An anthropological study of water in Albania, Serbia and Slovenia (raziskovalni • 01. july 2019 - 30. june 2022)
Slovene Women Missionaries in India: A Forgotten Chapter in Intercultural Relations (raziskovalni • 01. may 2017 - 30. april 2021)
Young entrepreneurs in times of uncertainty and accelerated optimism: an ethnological study of entrepreneurship and ethics of young people in modern-day Slovenia (temeljni_raziskovalni • 01. july 2019 - 30. june 2022)
Seizing the Future: A Comparative Anthropological Study of Expectations of the Future in Southeast Europe (temeljni_raziskovalni • 01. january 2016 - 31. december 2018)
Ethnographies of Land and Water Routes: A Comparative Approach to (Im)mobility (raziskovalni • 01. july 2014 - 30. june 2017)
Anthropological and Spatial Studies (research programme • 01. january 2022 - 31. december 2027)
B. A. in Cultural Studies at Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana (Slovenia), 1999.
MPhil in Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge (UK), 2002.
PhD in Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge (UK), 2007.
JRF Fellow, Peterhouse, University of Cambridge (UK), 2006–2010.
Director of Studies in Archaeology and Anthropology at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge (UK), 2008–2010.
Independent Scholar and a Research Associate, at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge (UK), 2011-2013.
Research Fellow, Independent Social Research Foundation, London (UK), 2014.
Research Fellow and Associate Professor at the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Art, Ljubljana (Slovenia), 2014 – .
Visiting Professor of Anthropology, Centre for Tibetan and Anthropological studies, Chengdu University (China), March through May 2015.
Research Fellow, Morphomata, Univesity of Köln, Centre for the Advanced Studies and Humanities (Germany), September 2015 through February 2016.