Dr Hans Steinmüller

Dr Hans Steinmüller

Associate Professor

Department of Anthropology

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Key Expertise

About me

Hans Steinmüller has conducted long-term fieldwork in Hubei Province (central China) and in the Wa hills of the China-Myanmar border. In Hubei, he investigated the major changes that occurred in family lives, in the world of work, in ritual and rural development. The contradictions in all of these fields between local practice and official discourse is the main topic of his first monograph, Communities of Complicity. Related research interests have to do with the meanings of cynicismirony, and justice in Chinese politics.  

His second empirical project deals with the history of militarism in the highlands of Myanmar. The main interest here is to understand sovereignty in the Wa State, a de-facto state governed by an insurgent army. On the basis of long-term fieldwork in the Wa State, he writes about the relations between village and army, military economies, and para-nationalism.  

Beyond his ethnographic work, Hans is interested in general theoretical questions in Social Anthropology, including attention, care, legibility, and opacity. He has explored some of these themes in recent collaborations, including one special issue on The Ends of Egalitarianism and another one entitled Governing Opacity

Hans is the convenor of the MSc programme China in Comparative Perspective and editor of Social Analysis.

Expertise Details

China; political and economic anthropology; moralities and ethics; irony; ritual; gambling

Selected publications



2017 with Stephan Feuchtwang. China in Comparative Perspective. London: World Scientific.

2013. Communities of Complicity. Everyday Ethics in Rural China. New York: Berghahn.

Edited Works

2023. Special Section Ethnographies of Care: Attention, Action, and Politics, China Quarterly 254, 301-365.

2023 ed. with Natalia Buitron. Special Issue Governing Opacity. The Politics of Intentions and LegibilityEthnos 88:4, 677-836.

2020 ed. with Natalia Buitron. Special Issue The Ends of EgalitarianismL’Homme 236, 5-158.

2017 ed. with Susanne Brandtstädter. Popular Politics and the Quest for Justice in Contemporary China. London: Routledge.

2016 ed. with Susanne Brandtstädter. Irony, Cynicism and the Chinese State. London: Routledge.


2023 with Natalia Buitron. Governing Opacity: Regimes of Intention Management and Tools of LegibilityEthnos 88:4, 677-701.

2023. State, Mind, and Legibility without Writing in the Wa State of MyanmarEthnos 88:4, 774-96.

2023 with Jiazhi Fengjiang. Leadership Programmes: Success, Self-improvement, and Relationship Management among New Middle-class ChineseEthnos 88:1, 109-129.

2022. Sovereignty as care: acquaintances, mutuality, and scale in the Wa State of MyanmarComparative Studies in Society and History 64:4, 910-33.

2022. The Aura of the Local in Chinese Anthropology: Grammars, Media and Institutions of Attention Management. Journal of Historical Sociology 35:1, 69-82.

2022. Shanzhai: creative imitation of China in highland Myanmar. positions: asia critique 4:30, 895-921.

2022. Grace is Incommensurability in Commensuration: The Semantics of bwan among three Generations of Wa and Lahu ProphetsCambridge Journal of Anthropology 40:1, 104-120.

2021 with Natalia Buitron. State Legibility and Mind Legibility in the Original Political SocietyReligion and Society 12, 39-55.

2021. Para-nationalism: Sovereignty and authenticity in the Wa State of MyanmarNations and Nationalism 27:3, 880-94.

2021. Pioneers of the plantation economy: Militarism, dispossession, and the limits of growth in the Wa State of MyanmarSocial Anthropology 29:3, 686-700.

2021 with Andrew Ong. Communities of Care: Public donations, development assistance, and independent philanthropy in the Wa State of MyanmarCritique of Anthropology 41:1, 65-87.

2020 with Natalia Buitron. The Ends of Egalitarianism. L’Homme 236, i-xxxvi.

2020. The Moral Economy of Militarism: Peasant Village, Military State, and Chinese Capitalism in the Wa Region of Myanmar. Social Anthropology 28:1, 121-35.

2019. Anthropological theory is serious play. Anthropology of This Century 25.

2019. Conscription by Capture in the Wa State of Myanmar: Acquaintances, Anonymity, Patronage, and the Rejection of Mutuality. Comparative Studies in Society and History 61:3, 508-34.

2016. Gemeinschaft, Gesellschaft, Komplizenschaft. Alltagsethik im ländlichen China. Anthropos 111:2, 619-28.

2015. Father Mao and the Country-Family: Mixed Emotions for Fathers, Officials, and Leaders in China. Social Analysis 59:4, 83-100.

2015 with Tan Tongxue. Like a Virgin? Hymen Restoration Operations in contemporary China. Anthropology Today 31:2, 15-18.

2014. A minimal Definition of Cynicism: Everyday social Criticism and some Meanings of ‘Life’ in contemporary China. Anthropology of This Century 11.

2013. Le savoir-rire en Chine. Terrain 61, 40-53.

2011. The State of Irony in China. Critique of Anthropology 31:1, 21-42.

2011. The Moving Boundaries of Social Heat. Gambling in Rural China. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17:2, 263-80.

2011. The Reflective Peephole Method: Ruralism and Awkwardness in the Ethnography of Rural China. The Australian Journal of Anthropology 22:2, 220-35.

2011 with Wu Fei. School killings in China: Society or Wilderness? Anthropology Today 27:1, 10-13.

2010. Communities of Complicity: Notes on State Formation and Local Sociality in Rural China. American Ethnologist 37:3, 539-49.

2010. How Popular Confucianism Became Embarrassing: On the Spatial and Moral Centre of the House in Rural China. Focaal—Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 58: 81–96.


My research

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