Short Portrait: Thomas Schweizer

Thomas Schweizer
Thomas Schweizer

Thomas Schweizer was born in Cologne in 1949. He spent his childhood and youth in Krefeld, where his parents owned a hairdressing salon, and developed an interest in foreign cultures at an early age.

After finishing school Schweizer took up his studies at the University of Cologne in 1968. Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Prehistoric Archaeology were his subjects. Among his academic teachers were U. Johansen, H. Petri, R. König, E. K. Scheuch and R. Ziegler. For his Ph D thesis Schweizer fused the empirical approach of Sociology with intercultural comparisons and anthropological matters.

After graduating Schweizer took up an assistant position at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Cologne in 1975. During the following years Schweizer not only gave lectures and deepened his research on social networks but also did field work on Java/ Indonesia in 1978/79 and 1984. His main focus lay on the economic field and its relation to the local social structures as well as on historical matters.

Schweizer completed his habilitation thesis in 1984. For the following two years he held a Heisenberg-Scholarship of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) at the University of Cologne. After a short period at the University of Bayreuth Schweizer took up a professorship at the Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the Eberhard Karls University Tübingen in 1986.

Schweizer returned to Cologne in 1990, where he was chair of the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology. Throughout the following years he furthermore chaired a number of research projects, e.g., at the Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of Societies or the German Research Foundation. Moreover, he was an active part at the editorial board of the ZfE (Zeitschrift für Ethnologie) for many years. In 1995 he was awarded the Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation.

Thomas Schweizer died of leukemia in 1999.

Schweizer not only had a strong interest in theories of cultural change and network analysis but also in Cognitive Anthropology and Socio-Ethnology. His regional focus lay on South East Asia and the United States of America.

(Text written by Vincenz Kokot in June 2012, based on an obituary: 1998, ZfE, ed. 123, pp. 179 - 189; some information was added by Schweizers son Nikolaus in Nov 2012; photo source: