Alumni Postdoc Fellow

Dr Mario Schmidt

Alumni Fellows

Käte Hamburger Kolleg / Centre for Global Cooperation Research
Schifferstraße 44
47059 Duisburg

Tel: +49 (0)203 29861-137
Fax: +49 (0)203 379-5276


Mario Schmidt joined Käte Hamburger Kolleg / Centre for Global Cooperation Research as a Postdoc Fellow. He conducted his research in Research Unit 2 “Global Cultural Conflicts and Transcultural Cooperation” from September 2013 to August 2014.

Research Project at the Centre

“Democracy died today” – Food, money and votes during the Kenyan General Election 2013 in Kenya

The recently enacted General Election in Kenya is perceived as a success in the country’s transition to an effective democracy. Nevertheless during a three month field-work before, after and during the election, the optimistic atmosphere prevalent after the introduction of the new constitution 2010 was quickly replaced by pessimism: in Kadongo, a small Luo market place, most people were eager to display their feeling that violence is, if not inevitable, at least necessary to secure Kenya’s recently established new constitution. As one of my informants put it: “If Raila [Raila Odinga, the candidate of Cord Coalition] is not going to win, there has to be violence again”.  After the election I heard remarks about the death of democracy repeatedly, “Democracy died today” being a common remark, and Radio Ramogi, a local network, endlessly played mourning songs.

How can we account for this wide-spread non-acceptance of apparently freely and fairly accomplished electoral results without pointing to the electoral loser as a tribalist scapegoat? I will argue that Luo perceive democratic elections as forms of truth-establishment or at least truth-affirmation (one might speak of volonté générale), while most international observers as well as aid agencies understand democratic elections as a form of establishing a legitimate government backed by a 50% plus one majority of the voters (volonté de tous). To be more precise and in line with the emic concepts: Among Luo politics as well as kinship relations are constructed by maneuvering oneself through what I call the “culinormativity of fractal feating relations”. I propose that “feeding” (pidho or miyo chiemo) and “eating” (chamo) designate activities which stabilize or destabilize corporal entities in Luo socio-cultural order (be it the individual body or the lineage, family or even all Joluo). A body (ringruok), not to be confused with the individual body in biological terms (del), is hence a morally responsible entity with a feeding and an eating part. A corporal feating relation, e.g. the relation between husband (feeder) and wife (eater) can nevertheless be eclipsed on a more encompassing level. The local politician, e.g., eclipses the marital feating relation by transferring money to, i.e. by becoming the feeder of the husband. This conceptualisations tries to focus on processes of corporalization instead of exchange and hence should not be understood as a rephrasing of the concept of reciprocity in culinary terms: One does not feed another person, but oneself, and one is not fed by another person, but by oneself.

Luo sociality is hence comparable to a multiplicity of feating-relationships which are folded against and with each other: Men feat their wives, wives their children, older children younger ones, politician’s families, Raila Odinga and other major political figures politically engaged Luo at the grassroots level. The hierarchical encompassment is hence a partial one: The folding of other bodies into hierarchically higher ones at every stage secures that each individual person is, taking into account all relationships, always eating and feeding in a multiplicity of bodies which itself constitutes what informants call the “Luo nation”. This emic conceptualisation understands politics as a corporative activity instead of a co-operative one and hence clashes with Western concepts of democracy and developmental aid. My research will use ethnographic data gathered during several trips to Western Kenya, last time during the General Election 2013. It will explore how the culinormativity regulates conceptualisations of sexuality, food (chiemo) and money (pesa makech, “bitter money”) as the prime mediums of kinship and politics. By using Luo ontology as a vantage point of criticizing our own concepts of exchange and democracy, my research will further shed new light on Mauss Essai sur le don and interpret it as an enterprise focusing on displaying the liberating effects of corporative strategies.

Research Interests

  • Economic Anthropology (especially theories of exchange and money)
  • French Anthropology (especially Marcel Mauss, College de Sociologie, Levi-Strauss)
  • Linguistic Anthropology
  • Anthropology of Food
  • East African Cultures (especially Mijikenda, Waswahili and Jaluo)
  • Native American Cultures (Northeast, especially Coastal Algonquian Cultures)

Current Projects

  • Translation of Marcel Mauss' publications on money (publication)
  • Luo ontology as culinormativity (article with Sebastian Schellhaas)
  • Wilhelm Gerloff and Marcel Mauss – Two thinkers of the gift compared (article with Felix Brandl)
  • Radical Perspectivism, Paracolonial situation and contested temporalities: why wampum is more money than scholars think (article)
  • „Life is simultaneous with money“ – Money as motional Multiplicity among Kenyan Luo (article)


07/2010-07/2013 Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
Postgraduate Program "Value and Equivalent"
Research Fellow and Scholarship Holder
10/2010-07/2013 Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
Postgraduate Program "Value and Equivalent"
PhD candidate; Dissertation title: Circulating Fetishes and interlaced Monetization: About Wampum and Beaver Pelts as Maussian “objets sociaux totaux” in the Colonial Economy of Northeast North America during the 17th Century
02/2010-07/2010 and 10/2007-10/2009 Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
Department of North American Studies
Assistant to Prof. Dr. Marin Trenk
10/2009-02/2010 Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
Department of African Studies
Assistant of Prof. Dr. Mamadou Diawara
10/2005-07/2010 Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
Departments of Anthropology, Philosophy, Art History and African Languages
Student M.A. (Magister Artium)
02-04/2009; 08-09/2009; 07-08/2012; 02-04/2013 Kadongo, Nyanza Province, Kenya
09-11/2010; 03-04/2011; 11-12/2011; 10/2012 United States
Library, Archive and Museum Studies


Schmidt, Mario (2014): Wampum und Biber: Fetischgeld im kolonialen Nordamerika. Eine mausssche Kritik des Gabeparadigmas, Bielefeld: transcript

Schmidt, Mario (2013): Wampum as Maussian ‘Objet social totalitaire’, in: Hans Peter Hahn / Hadas Weiss (eds.): Mobility, Meaning and Transformation of Things: Shifting Contexts of Material Culture through Time and Space, Oxford: Oxbow, 133-146

Schmidt, Mario (2013): Tauschsphären und Monetarisierungsprozesse. Überlegungen zur Ökonomie der Tiv <Spheres of exchange and monetization. Considerations of the economy of Tiv>, in: Anthropos 108/1, 245-248

Schmidt, Mario (2012): 'Without kuon it is no food!' Zur Aktualität des Core-Fringe-Leguminosen Models anhand von Veränderung und Stabilität in der Luo-Küche <'Without kuon it is no food!' On the relevance of the Core-Fringe-legume model on the basis of change and stability in the Luo-cuisine>, in: Paideuma. Mitteilungen zur Kulturkunde 58, 115-134

Schmidt, Mario (2012): Zur Heterologie kolonialer Ökonomien: Der Biber und sein Fell als Fetisch in den nordamerikanischen Kolonien des 17. Jahrhunderts <On the heterology of colonial economies: The beaver and his fur as fetish in the North American colonies of the 17th century>, in: Ilinx 3. Ökonomische Praktiken, 25-38

Schmidt, Mario (2012, mit Sebastian Schellhaas): Zuckersüß und Bitterernst – Zur Kulturgeschichte des Zuckers <Sweet as Sugar and Very Serious - A Cultural History of Sugar>, in: Sebastian Scheelhaas: Die Welt im Löffel, Bielefeld/New York: Kerber, 169-176

Schmidt, Mario (2012, mit Sebastian Schellhaas): „Why dont they serve food?“, in: Sebastian Scheelhaas: Die Welt im Löffel, Bielefeld/New York: Kerber, 143-147

Schmidt, Mario (2010): Book Review of: Weiss, Brad (2009): Street Dreams and Hip Hop Barbershops. Global Fantasy in Urban Tanzania, Bloomington, in: Paideuma. Mitteilungen zur Kulturkunde 56, 304-305

Teaching Responsibilities

Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany:

  • "Methods of Cultural Anthropology”, 2009, undergraduate seminar
  • “Political Anthropology”, 2010, undergraduate seminar
  • “Dholuo: Introduction to a Nilotic Language”, 2011, undergraduate seminar
  • “The Anthropology of Money”, 2012, post-graduate seminar

Seminars and Conferences

  • "Wampun as Medium of Exchange and Representation in 17th Century Colonial New England", Colloquium Americanum, 26 May 2011, Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main
  • "'If the Indians shall offer their false peag for good, it shall be confiscated to the Public Treasury´: Colonial Monetary Politics and Indigenous Economics in 17th Century New Netherlands", 26 June 2011, Annual Conference of the Society for Overseas History, Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main
  • "‘Without kuon it is no food!‘ – About the Stability of Luo Cuisine from the perspective of its change", with Sebastian Schellhaas, DGV Conference 2011, 15 Sept 2011, University of Vienna
  • "Rethreaded Mauss or Beads Bulimia - Shell Money in different cultures”, Conference “Itineraries of the Material. Shifting Contexts of Value and Things in Time and Space”, 6-8 Oct 2011, University of Frankfurt am Main
  • Respondent during the Workshop "Moments of Transformation: Creation and Destruction of Value", 26– 28 March 2012, Bildungsstätte Ebernburg, Bad Münster am Stein-Ebernburg
  • "Dumontian Objet-Valeurs, Pre-Contact American Dream and a Dual Register of Wealth among the Narragansett Indians in the 17th Century“, Nanteree 2011 "Richesse et sociétés" 9ème Colloque de la Maison René Ginouvès - Archéologie et Ethnologie - Société préhistorique française
  • "From Papeda to Padang - Thoughts about the meaning of cuisine", with Vanessa von Glyczinski, 16 June 2012, Weltkulturen Museum Frankfurt am Main
  • "But whatever were the honey in the mouth of that beast of trade, there was a deadly sting in the tail” – Colonial monetary policy and indigenous economic reasoning in 17th century New Netherland. Paper at the 16th World Economic History Congress, 9-13 July 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa
  • "Nanoue and Anaqúshento - Two transactional modes among the 17th century Narragansett”, 44th Algonquian Conference, 25-28 Oct 2012, Chicago
  • "Alternatives vs. availability – Two approaches towards the problem of food sovereignty in contemporary Kenya”, 55th Annual Meeting of African Studies Association, 29 Nov – 1 Dec 2012, Philadelphia

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