unizeit Schriftzug

Back in the field

Born in East Holstein, she held the chair at the Institute for European Ethnology at the Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel for almost 24 years. Now Professor Silke Göttsch-Elten is retiring. No reason to stop research.

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Professorin Silke Göttsch-Elten

Resistance and conflict: the pair of terms Silke Göttsch-Elten has never really let go of in her scientific career. Her early work on topics such as serfdom and resistance in Schleswig-Holstein in the 18th century or labour movements before 1933 and her participation in the resistance during National Socialism show: The folklorist has always dealt with people who were not involved in rule.

"This is what the subject entails," explains Göttsch-Elten. "We don't move in high culture, but in everyday culture. We ask ourselves: What do people do who don't necessarily have the power of interpretation in society?" Her current research project also deals with conflict situations: On the basis of citizens' initiatives in Schleswig-Holstein, who are against planned wind power and photovoltaic plants, she wants to show deviating ideas of rural life. "There are very clear ideas of landscape and nature in our society, which are also historically shaped. But for a few years now there has been a process of industrialization going on there which is opposed to this."

"In our subject, we question the everyday things we take for granted."


Göttsch-Elten is interested in the argumentation logic of the conflicting parties: "What interpretations do people have of the world and how do they interpret their own being in the world? You have to understand this in order to understand how such conflicts arise."

The 65-year-old professor is not aware that her retirement is imminent. She sits confidently at the conference table in her office at the Institute for European Ethnology at the University of Kiel. Here she is at home, here she is in her element. On the desk behind her are piled up books, notebooks, paper. On the inside of the office door hangs an old exhibition poster showing a woman writing. "Schleswig-Holstein Women Writers in the 19th Century" is written on it. On the windowsill is a Dala horse, a wooden, decorated figure typically associated with Sweden. Just a few representatives of her research interests: Swedishness and gender studies. She has not done field research for a long time, her preferred research method is archival work.

Göttsch-Elten taught as a professor in Kiel for almost 24 years. Before that, at the age of 39, she held her first professorship for folklore at the University of Freiburg, but four years later she declined the offer of a professorship at the University of Bamberg. Instead, she took over the chair in Kiel. Here she was able to develop her "highly innovative research personality" - as her colleague Professor Andreas Schmidt said at the beginning of February during the ceremony in her honour. In Kiel, she not only developed European ethnology/economics and was highly committed to the promotion of young scientists, she was also the first Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Vice Rector of the University. In addition, she held numerous offices, for example with the German Research Foundation, as chairperson of the German Ethnological Society or on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Open Air Museum Molfsee.

Research, teaching, science management and commitment to museums: Silke Göttsch-Elten seems to find drive in everything that goes hand in hand with her subject. Perhaps that is also what makes her so young, the curious enthusiasm that lies in her eyes and in her voice. Her colleague from the German Folklore Society, Professor Johannes Moser, called her an "enabler" during the ceremony, and you immediately believe it when you talk to her. Whether cooking as a media event or homeland festivals as a form of regional identity building: Göttsch-Elten sees research potential in everything, entirely devoted to her discipline. "In our subject, we question the self-evident aspects of everyday life," she explains, "and that's also the beauty of it: you have to look closely and make yourself a bit of a stranger to be able to see and classify structures."

Although Göttsch-Elten's time as a professor is over, her work does not stop. She has planned a guest stay at the University of Zurich, and she is already looking forward to working in the archive. "Or to be able to read a book in one piece again." For her current research project she can well imagine conducting interviews again: "in the field", with the resistance.

Author: Melanie Huber