Dr Annika Lems

PhD, Social Anthropology
Senior Lecturer Anthropology
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise

  • Anthropology 4401
  • Social And Cultural Anthropology 440107
  • Labour, Migration And Development 440403
  • Social Theory 441005

Research interests

Areas of Expertise: displacement; placemaking; belonging; alienation; rurality; exclusionary ideas & practices; everyday racism; anthropology of history & temporality; political anthropology; Alpine ethnography; existential & phenomenological anthropology 


My research examines the ways people experience, negotiate and actively create place attachments in an age of rapid global transformations. It brings together the study of mobility and displacement with research on nativism and exclusionary political movements. Broadly speaking, I am interested in the actions people leap into to carve out a place in the world for themselves and the complicated social negotiation processes this involves.

In my previous research, I mainly did so by studying the placemaking practices of refugees amidst ambiguous and often hostile social environments. In the first monograph resulting from this research (Being-Here: Placemaking in a World of Movement, Berghahn 2018), I zoom in on the lifeworlds of Somali refugees in Melbourne to tease out the social practices they engage in to create a sense of belonging to place. In my second book (Frontiers of Belonging: The Education of Unaccompanied Refugee Youth, Indiana University Press 2022), I accompany refugee youth from Eritrea and Guinea on their everyday pathways in Swiss educational settings to make visible the racialized socio-political processes whereby certain groups and individuals are made to feel out-of-place.

This engagement with the invisible, unspoken frontiers of belonging pervading liberal democratic societies has led to my on-going research. It looks at the placemaking practices of people living in rural strongholds of exclusionary political movements and traces the question of what happens when people who believe to possess the historical or “natural” right to call a place their own develop fears of losing their emplacement to newcomers. By studying the everyday practices of the inhabitants of mountain communities in the Austrian Alps, my research draws out the role of alienation in fuelling processes of societal fragmentation. I am particularly interested in the everyday histories and politics of place: How certain humans, animals or plants are effortlessly accepted as belonging to a place, while others are marked as alien(-ating), dangerous or invasive.



2009-2013: PhD in Anthropology, Swinburne University Melbourne

2013-2014: Postdoctoral Research Assistant, Swinburne University

2015-2019: Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Bern, Switzerland

2019-2022: Head of Research Group, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Halle, Germany

Since 2023: Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, Australian National University Canberra


In my dissertation I explored existential questions surrounding the lived experiences of place and displacement in the lifeworlds of Somali refugees living in Melbourne. By zooming in on the particularities of the placemaking practices of three individuals, I took a critical look at the use of the figure of the refugee as a metaphor for alienation and estrangement from society. For this work I was awarded a doctorate in social anthropology at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia in 2013.

After completing my dissertation, I worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the final phase of the ARC funded research project "Home Lands" (based at Swinburne University and La Trobe University in Melbourne), before joining the Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Bern in January 2015. I was a postdoctoral research fellow in the project "Transnational Biographies of Education". As part of the project I explored the educational pathways of young unaccompanied asylum seekers in Switzerland. Throughout my time in Bern, I also taught courses on ethnographic methodologies, refugee studies and anthropological theories.

In 2019, I was awarded a major grant by the Max Planck Society in Germany, which allowed me to assemble my own research group was head of the independent research group at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle. I headed the independent research group 'Alpine Histories of Global Change: Time, Self and the Other in the German-Speaking Alpine Region' from 2019 to 2022. In the project I examined the role of local, everyday engagements with history in social processes of inclusion and exclusion. The project extended my interest in placemaking practices to the field of history and had a close look at the links between lived temporality, place attachment and alienation. An impetus for my current research, the project played into my long-standing scholarly interest in the question of how people experience and make sense of the tensions and paradoxes of globalisation in their everyday lives.

Available student projects

I am interested in supervising PhD projects with a focus on the broad themes of displacement and emplacement, im/mobilities, racism and exclusionary socio-cultural practices, rurality and non/belonging.


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Updated:  13 April 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers