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About Me


My name is Anke Schwittay. I am a Professor of Anthropology & Global Development at the University of Sussex in the UK. I hope you enjoy my book and this companion website. Its critical-creative pedagogy has grown out of my own personal and pedagogical journey which I share here.

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I grew up in former East Germany, in a small town 20 km from Weimar, the birthplace of the Bauhaus. Its radical experiments in education have been informing my own interest in arts-and-design based education, which I write about in chapter 3. Weimar was home to many German writers, musicians and artists, but you can also see the Glockenturm of the Nazi Buchenwald concentration camp from the city. I defected to West Germany about six months before the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989; what has stayed with me from my upbringing is a scepticism of all state-sponsored socialist projects and a love of travel that has since brought me to all corners of the world.

A gap year in Montreal turned into Canada becoming my second home for 10 years. During that time I also discovered Latin America, when I spent a year driving from Montreal to Tierra del Fuego. It was during that trip that I became interested in anthropology, and for my undergraduate and MA studies I conducted research in Northwestern Argentina, with traditional healers and a community of Kollas, an indigenous peoples who were fighting for the restitution of their lands. Learning about indigenous ways of thinking and being has become an enduring interest in Latin American alternatives, as articulated in the work of Arturo Escobar that I draw on extensively in my book.

My PhD in Anthropology at UC Berkeley brought me to the San Francisco Bay Area at the height of the dotcom bubble and awakened an interest in technology for development. Upon graduating I co-founded the RiOS Institute with Paul Braund, a small research group bringing design and anthropology to Silicon Valley organizations. Part of our work was running interactive workshops for tech company CEOs, social entrepreneurs and World Bank officials. At Berkeley, we co-taught a course on social entrepreneurship, technology and development for students at the School of Information, whom we placed with local organizations. During a term at a semi-rural community college, I taught the fundamentals of anthropological theory to students who were often the first in their families to go to college and challenged me to find accessible and creative ways to convey complex concepts. And a term teaching at the Presidio Graduate School, a sustainability-focused business school in San Francisco, introduced me to project-based teaching. 

All of these teaching experiences have informed the critical-creative pedagogy  that is at the heart of my book. I expanded this theory during my five years at the Centre for Development Studies at the University of Auckland, a small postgraduate program under the welcoming directorship of Yvonne Underhill-Sem. Teaching primarily Kiwi, Pacific and Asian students, I also discovered the power of Māori and Pacific culture, which furthered my interest in indigenous cosmologies and plurality. Living in Auckland also allowed me to re-connect with some of my German roots when our kids attended a local Steiner school with its child-centered and arts-based philosophy. Swapping the sunny beaches in Auckland for the grey coast of South-east England has now brought me to the University of Sussex and Lewes, a town where Thomas Paine first developed his revolutionary ideas.


Anke Schwittay

School of Global Studies

University of Sussex

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