Ethnographic and anthropological research has been continuously carried out at the Academy of Sciences in Vienna since its foundation. Today’s Institute for Social Anthropology (ISA) was established by decision of the Academy’s plenary session (2009) and its permanent status was confirmed in 2011. Building on classical and recent theories in anthropology and related fields ISA’s mission aims at engaging with innovative and cutting-edge approaches and their elaboration through sound methodology. This includes a special emphasis on both the unity and diversity of humanity, while being grounded in ISA’s thematic and regional activities. ISA’s long-term topical research program is focused upon “Consensus and Conflict in Asia and Northeast Africa”. Special consideration is given to transnational developments in Asia such as regional integration and cooperation, transformations of traditional family and kinship relations as well as regional and internal migration inside of, to and from Asia.
ISA’s regional specializations are oriented toward three main socio-cultural fields: the Middle East (and Northeast Africa) in its primarily Islamic dimensions, Mongolian, Tibetan-speaking and Himalayan areas with their diverse legacies ranging across Buddhism and Communism, and Southeast Asia with adjoining Indian Ocean islands, as a particularly heterogeneous area in terms of language, religion and ethnicity. Following research ethics and practices inspired by a basic respect for gender and other forms of diversity, ISA’s methodological priorities include qualitative empirical, long-term ethnographic field work in indigenous languages, systematic cross-cultural comparison, as well as analyses and interpretations of socio-cultural processes in the present and the past.
Three typical features in ISA staff organization and management are (1) its diversity regarding interdisciplinarity, academic age, gender, international recruitment, and legitimate research orientations; (2) the broad range of its grant funding portfolio, intersecting with its characteristic dimension as an attractive site for international collaborators and co-operations; as well as (3) informative public academic events (especially the annual Eric Wolf Lectures) together with sustained and effective media outreach activities.