Document Actions

You are here: FRIAS Fellows Fellows 2023/24 Dr. Sarah May

Dr. Sarah May

© Klaus Polkowski
University of Freiburg
Institute of Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology

Internal Junior Fellow
October 2021 - July 2022

Room 02 008
Phone +49 (0)761 - 203 97340
Fax +49 (0)761 - 203 97451


Dr. Sarah May is a cultural anthropologist. Based on ethnographic research she realizes cultural analyses within economic and political fields. Her focus lies on the study of material culture in its everyday dimension.

In her current research, she focuses on the field of "wood and crafts" with the aim to understand from the actors’ perspectives the practices and (attribution of) meanings in everyday work. She does ethnographic research in in the fields of wood construction, furniture making, and instrument making. She is particularly interested in the relationship between crafts:wo:menship and digitalization, competition and cooperation, economy and ecology, political governance and knowledge regimes of everyday life, as well as in the constitution of scarcity, resources and value.

Sarah May works as postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology at University of Freiburg. She studied cultural anthropology, rhetoric, italianistics and media studies at the Universities of Tübingen, Pisa and Perugia. In 2017, she earned her PhD in cultural anthropology at University of Tübingen with an ethnographic research on the local implementation of EU regulations in the area of culinary heritage/cultural property.

Selected Publications

  • 2021: Materielle Kultur und politische Steuerung. Konstellationen der Zukunftsgestaltung am Beispiel bioökonomischer Bestrebungen im Holzbau. In: Lukas Fehr, Reinhard Johler (ed.): Bioökonomie(n). Ethnografische Forschungszugänge und Felder. Tübingen: TVV, 77-105.
  • 2020: Digitale Arbeitskulturen. Rahmungen, Effekte, Herausforderungen. Berliner Blätter 82 (open access [LINK:]; ed. with Dennis Eckhardt, Martina Röthl, Roman Tischberger). Berlin.
  • 2020: Können. In: Sarah May. (Hg.): Alltag findet Stadt. Freiburg als Beispiel. Freiburger Studien zur Kulturanthropologie. Sonderband 4. Münster/New York: Waxmann, 76-85.

  • 2020: Kultur. In: Timo Heimerdinger, Markus Tauschek (ed.): Kulturtheoretisch argumentieren. Ein Arbeitsbuch. Münster/New York: utb, 237-270.
  • 2018: Wood. Regarding economies and policies through the eyes of a cultural anthropologist. In: Journal of European Ethnology and Cultural Analyses (JEECA) 2018, 3 (2), 193-214.

FRIAS Research Project

Going Digital in the Woodworking Crafts

Due to digitalizing processes, there are grave frictions in contemporary working cultures. With the aim to understand digitalization in its cultural dimensions, this project realizes an ethnographic-comparative analysis by focusing on everyday activities in carpentries, joineries and musical instrument workshops in order to reveal transformations of working practices, knowledge and self-images of actors involved in the creation, application and prevention of digitalizing processes.

To understand the cultural dimensions of the digitalization of work, the focus on the woodworking crafts is particularly fruitful as (1) the woodworking craft is mainly organized in small and medium-sized enterprises that face – in contrast to large industrial companies or sole traders – special organizational and economic challenges around digitalizing processes. (2) Craftspeople hold an incorporated knowledge, which is the result of experience and which corresponds to specific material knowledge learned by hand. The implementation of digital processes is requiring that this implicit knowledge be made explicit. Further, new skills for technical and computer-aided work must be developed.

The project understands digitalization not only in terms of new technology-based production, but also in terms of participation and creation. With this approach and its focus on crafts, it enriches the interdisciplinary discourse on digitalization of work and knowledge.