Short Portrait: Georg Elwert

Georg Elwert
Georg Elwert

Georg Elwert was born in Munich in 1947. His father was a professor for Roman Philology. Elwert, who developed an early interest in languages, finished school in Mainz in 1966.

Elwert subsequently took up his studies at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, where Sociology, Ethnology, African Languages and Anthropology were among his subjects. In 1968 he moved to Heidelberg, where he studied Sociology, Anthropology and Philosophy.

Moreover, Elwert did several field researches in Western Africa between 1968 and 1972, namely in Dahomey (now: Benin). The ethnographic and historical data collected served as basis for his ph D thesis completed on 1973.

Throughout the following decades Elwert conducted further field work (e.g., among the Ayzo people and the Fon people in Benin) about several topics, such as oral history and the transformation of post-colonial states. Besides his regional focus on Western Africa Elwert also had an interest in Central Asia. He did a research in Afghanistan in 1972.

After graduating Elwert held assistant positions in Heidelberg and Zurich. In 1975 he took up an assistant position at the Department of Sociology at the University of Bielefeld. During the following years he not only became an expert of development aid politics and development aid strategies but also anticipated the (neo-)marxist-structuralistic approach of french anthropologists like Claude Meillassoux.

Elwert completed his habilitation thesis on socio-economic structures in rural Western Africa in 1981. An interim period at the Department for Ethnology in Bayreuth and a Heisenberg-Scholarship followed. Subsequently, Elwert was announced professor for Sociology and Ethnology at the University of Bielefeld.

In 1985 Elwert took up a professorship for Ethnology and Social Anthropology at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Free University in Berlin. Besides lecturing, Elwert was involved in a number of interdisciplinary research projects, e.g., about changes of the social structure in rural Western Africa and conflicts in the Middle East.

After the reunification, Elwert supported the establishment of an Institute for African Studies at the Humboldt-University Berlin. Moreover, Elwert could increase his researches in Central Asia and also did field work in several other areas, such as the Balkan region.

In 1993 Elwert was co-founder of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, three years later he became the publisher in chief of the renowned journal Sociologus.

Georg Elwert died in Berlin in 2005.

(Text written by Vincenz Kokot in June 2012, based on an obituary by Zitelmann, Thomas, 2005, ZfE, ed. 130, pp. 161 - 167 ; photo source: