Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Obituary Elke Grawert (13 November 1958 - 5 March 2021)

On 5 March, after a short and severe illness, our much-appreciated colleague Elke Grawert passed away at the age of 62. She was taken from us much too early.

Elke doing field research in Afghanistan

Elke, born in Bremen in 1958, studied Political Science in Münster and Hamburg. Elke completed her doctorate in Economics and Social Sciences in Bremen in 1995 on "Making a Living in Rural Sudan. Food Production of Women, Labour Migration of Men, and Policies of Peasants' Need". In 2006, she habilitated with a thesis on "Departures from Post-colonial Authoritarianism. Analysis of System Change with a Focus on Tanzania" in Political Science—also in Bremen. Elke came to BICC in 2010 and, more than almost any other researcher, was a proponent of empirical research in the field, which—also thanks to her—became a central competency of BICC. Whether in South Sudan, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Iran, Afghanistan or Iraq—Elke enjoyed field research in countries that were not exactly considered straightforward. And Elke did fieldwork in the truest sense of the word. She abhorred hotels. Instead, she preferred to live with the local population in the simplest of circumstances, often without running water or electricity. Elke moved with resistance groups through the bush in South Sudan. When violence increased dramatically in Kabul in 2016, and security was equated with creating distance, there was no question at all for Elke to live with a modest Afghan family for weeks on end. Elke was not only interested in the everyday life of the people; she really wanted to experience it.

Elke contributed greatly to BICC's conceptual orientation. It was her work that contributed to a considerable extent to the Institute's central topics such as social order, conflict-sensitive employment in post-conflict societies and the reintegration of refugees. Her academic interest was primarily directed towards the question of political economy in (post-)war societies from the perspective of the people affected. Elke also supervised a number of doctoral students. She always devoted a lot of time to supervising doctoral theses. She not only paid attention to the content but always had a sympathetic ear for the students' personal concerns. She was a passionate lecturer and loved to try out new teaching formats that emphasised participatory elements and joint research with students. As a result, she was held in high esteem by students at the University of Bremen and the University of Bonn. At BICC, Elke was involved in many projects, ranging from "Military business" in the Middle East, to the everyday life of refugees in Iran, to the DFG Collaborative Research Centre "Rural Future Africa", among others.

Elke embodied an alternative to conventional research. I never met a more humble scientist than Elke. She treated students and doctoral candidates, myself or our administrative staff as equals. Elke did not care about titles. For her, only the character of people mattered, not their status. Elke was a scientist driven by curiosity about a topic, not by career paths. She loved our BICC Working Paper format. Here, she found the space to let her thoughts run free and to formulate thematic references in all their breadth. Every now and then, the first drafts of a Working Paper were a good 100 pages long, and it was difficult to coax her into shortening it.

For Elke, BICC was not just a workplace but a social space. Elke was an important integrating force for the community at BICC. With her openness, her relaxed manner and her unconventional way, she made BICC a better place. Elke integrated new colleagues in no time. She was always up for Karneval parties, hikes in the Siebengebirge, visits to the cinema and theatre, bars, pubs and disco. In short, she enjoyed her life, and we at BICC had the privilege of benefiting from it. In my last conversation with Elke, she told me: "I have led exactly the life I wanted to live. Without compromises. I have no regrets".

We mourn the loss of a great colleague and friend whom we sorely miss.

Conrad Schetter

Nachruf Elke Grawert (13. November 1958 - 5. März 2021) (pdf, in German)