Laurin Baumgardt

I am a third-year PhD student in Sociocultural Anthropology. My research centers on the multiple and constantly changing meanings and practices of home-making, housing, and urban belonging in post-apartheid South Africa. It examines the ways people cope with, and react to, the rise of housing demands and new infrastructural requirements in an era of intersecting crises, scarce urban land, and continuous ecological challenges. My fieldwork is based in Cape Town which is one of the most segregated cities in the world, while it is also among the most innovative global cities. As started during preliminary field research stays, I primarily work with architects, design and planning professionals, community organizers, housing activists, and other private and non-governmental agencies. More specifically, I research the economic, social, and affective attachments and investments of both residents and professionals. My project surfaces core values associated with new urban housing solutions and incremental infrastructure initiatives.

Before joining Rice, I pursued graduate studies in Anthropology at the University of Florida and earned an M.A. in Cultural Anthropology from Leipzig University. I came to anthropology through my undergraduate training in Philosophy and African Studies at Humboldt University in Berlin. I grew up and lived for most of my life in Berlin.

In 2016, I was living in South Africa for a year in order to pursue additional graduate studies at Stellenbosch University, for which I was awarded funding by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). During that time, I spent several months doing fieldwork with marginalized, mostly black English and isiXhosa speaking people who live in a cordoned-off settlement close to the Stellenbosch campus. My master’s thesis research investigated their future projections and aspirations in light of particular urban infrastructures. I focused on the so-called iShack-project, a nongovernmental project which delivers and installs sustainable solar-electricity to individual households.

Published Work

Baumgardt, Laurin (2019). Broken Promises: Examining Berlin’s Material Histories in an Age of Rubbling. Berlin Journal of Critical Theory, 3(3): 89-115.

Baumgardt, Laurin (2018). In/visible Infrastructure: Thinking (along) with Martin Heidegger about Infrastructural Breakdowns in South Africa. Middle East – Topics & Arguments (META online journal), 10: 43-51.

Baumgardt, Laurin (2017). Unfinished Futures: Ethnographic Reflections on Infrastructure and Aspirations in an Informal Settlement in South Africa. Moment Journal, Journal of Cultural Studies, 4(1): 73-91.

Fellowships & Grants

James T. Wagoner ’29 Foreign Study Scholarship for preliminary research and language training in Cape Town, South Africa, 2020 - 2021

Humanities Research Center’s Spatial Humanities Initiative at Rice University for Fieldwork in Cape Town, South Africa, funded through Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 2019

Leipzig University PROMOS-scholarship (DAAD) at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, 2015 - 2016

Humboldt University PROMOS-scholarship (DAAD) for a Swahili advanced two-months language course at the State University of Zanzibar, 2011

Research Areas

urban anthropology; critical infrastructure studies; home and housing; development; design and architecture; future and crisis; African urbanism; South Africa


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