Dr Hans Steinmüller

Dr Hans Steinmüller

Associate Professor

Department of Anthropology

Room No
OLD 5.06A
Office Hours
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English, German, Mandarin, Spanish
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.

2017 with Susanne Brandtstädter (eds.). Popular politics and the quest for justice in contemporary China. London: Routledge. 

2016. with Susanne Brandtstädter (eds). Irony, cynicism and the Chinese state. London: Routledge.

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


2021. Shanzhai: creative imitation of China in highland Myanmarpositions: asia critique

2021. Para-nationalism: Sovereignty and authenticity in the Wa State of MyanmarNations and Nationalism 27:3, 880-894.

2021. with Jiazhi Fengjiang. Leadership Programmes: Success, Self-improvement, and Relationship Management among New Middle-class ChineseEthnos

2021. Pioneers of the plantation economy: Militarism, dispossession, and the limits of growth in the Wa State of MyanmarSocial Anthropology

2020. with Natalia Buitron. Les fins de l’égalitarisme, translated by Arianne Dorval, L’Homme 236, 5-44; published in English as The Ends of EgalitarianismL’Homme 236, i-xxxvi.

2020. with Andrew Ong. Communities of Care: public donations, development assistance, and independent philanthropy in the Wa State of MyanmarCritique of Anthropology

2020. The Moral Economy of Militarism: peasant village, military state, and Chinese capitalism in the Wa Region of MyanmarSocial Anthropology 28:1, 121-135.

2020. Social transformation in rural China. In Routledge Handbook of Chinese Culture and Society, edited by Kevin Latham, 161-173, London: Routledge.

2019. Anthropological theory is serious playAnthropology 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.

2017. Maoist militarism in the Wa hills of Burma, 1947-1989. In Körper Technik Wissen: Kreativität und Aneignungsprozesse in Afrika. In den Spuren Kurt Becks, edited by Markus Verne, Paola Ivanov, and Magnus Treiber, 455-476, Berlin: LIT Verlag.

2015. "Father Mao" and the Country-Family: Mixed Feelings 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 ChinaAnthropology 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 ChineTerrain 61, 40-43.

2013. The Ethics of Irony: Work, Family and Fatherland in Rural China. In Ordinary ethics in China today, edited by Charles Stafford, 133-153, London: Berg.

2011. The Reflective Peephole Method: Ruralism and Awkwardness in the Ethnography of Rural ChinaThe Australian Journal of Anthropology 22:2, 220-235.

2011. The State of Irony in Rural ChinaCritique of Anthropology 31:1, 21-42.

2011. The Moving Boundaries of Social Heat. Gambling in Rural ChinaJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17:2, 263-280.

2011 with Wu Fei. School killings in China: society or wilderness? Anthropology today 27:1, 10-13.

2010. How Popular Confucianism Became Embarrassing: On the Spatial and Moral Centre of the House in Rural ChinaFocaal: journal of global and historical anthropology 58, 81-96.

2010. Communities of Complicity: Notes on State Formation and Local Sociality in Rural ChinaAmerican Ethnologist 37:3, 539-549.

My research

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