Bettina Stoetzer | People

Bettina Stoetzer

Bettina Stoetzer

Associate Professor of Anthropology





Bettina Stoetzer is a cultural anthropologist whose research focuses on the intersections of ecology, globalization, and social justice in the US and Germany. Bettina received her M.A. in Sociology, Anthropology and Media Studies from the University of Goettingen and completed her Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of California Santa Cruz in 2011. Before coming to MIT, she was a Harper Fellow in the Society of Fellows at the University of Chicago. Bettina’s book, Ruderal City: Ecologies of Migration, Race, and Urban Nature in Berlin (Duke University Press, 2022), draws on fieldwork with immigrant and refugee communities, as well as ecologists, nature enthusiasts and other Berlin residents to illustrate how human-environment relations have become a key register through which urban citizenship is articulated in contemporary Europe. The ethnographic research and writing for this project has been supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the ACLS/Mellon Foundation, and a UC Chancellor’s fellowship. Bettina is also the author of a book on feminism and anti-racism, titled InDifferenzen: Feministische Theorie in der Antirassistischen Kritik (InDifferences: Feminist Theory in Antiracist Criticism, argument, 2004), and she co-edited Shock and Awe. War on Words together with Bregje van Eekelen, Jennifer Gonzalez, and Anna Tsing (New Pacific Press, 2004). Bettina is currently working on a new project on wildlife mobility, climate change, and border politics in the US and Germany. At MIT, Bettina teaches classes on urban life and ethnography, race and migration, environmental justice, gender, science and technology, climate change, and the politics of nature in Germany.


Bettina’s research combines perspectives on ecology and environmental change with an analysis of migration, race and social justice. Her work is informed by epistemologies and methods of feminist anthropology and science studies, as well as her previous training in the history of social movements in Europe.

Bettina’s book, Ruderal City: Ecologies of Migration, Race, and Urban Nature (Duke University Press, December 2022), draws on ethnographic fieldwork with immigrant and refugee communities, as well as ecologists and nature enthusiasts in Berlin to illustrate that human-environment relations have become a key register through which citizenship is articulated in contemporary Europe. More specifically, the book examines several sites that have figured prominently in German national imaginaries—urban wastelands, gardens, forests, and parks in the city and its fringes— and shows how ethnic and class inequalities are reconfigured in conflicts over the use, knowledge and management of “nature” and green spaces in Berlin. The book also develops the concept of the ruderal (from Latin rudus, rubble), a term originally coined by West Berlin botanists after WWII to refer to communities that inhabit “disturbed” and inhospitable environments in the city: the spaces alongside roads and train tracks, urban wastelands or rubble fields. The notion of the ruderal offers an analytic framework for rethinking the heterogeneity of urban life in the ruins of European nationalism and capitalism. Exploring Berlin as ruderal city, the book directs attention towards often unnoticed, cosmopolitan ways of remaking the urban fabric and thus to practices that disrupt a social order in which only specific kinds of human-environment relations are appealing. These range from botanical encounters in the city’s rubble after WWII, to contemporary urban gardening practices, to informal economies and “wild barbecuing” by Turkish and Southeast Asian migrants in urban parks, to East African refugees’ stories about living in uncanny forests in Berlin’s peripheries.

Bettina’s current book project, “Unsettling Refuge: Borders and More-than-Human Mobilities in an Era of Environmental Change,” examines practices of ecological care in the context of climate change, social and racial inequality, and a shifting politics of borders in the US and Germany.  Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with policy makers, wildlife ecologists, ornithologists, foresters, farmers, hunters, birders, and environmental stewards in Germany and the US, this project explores how ecological degradation and human built environments shape patterns of wildlife mobility across water, land and air. Tracking practices of care and management of wildlife, the project first asks: When do wildlife mobilities become a matter of political concern or an affair of the state? In what ways do wildlife management, conservation, and scientific knowledge production about moving animals get enlisted into settler-colonial logics or shifting border regimes that regulate human and nonhuman mobilities across national, regional, and urban/rural boundaries? Secondly, the book shows how precarious human wildlife encounters begin to transform scientific and public understandings of what it means to create refuge and build more livable environments on an increasingly inhospitable planet.


Publications|Selected Publications

2022 Ruderal City: Ecologies of Migration and Urban Nature in Berlin.
2020 “Urban Vulnerabilities,” Social Anthropology, July 2020
2020 Ailanthus Altissima, or the Botanical Afterlives of European Power” in Botanical City, edited by Matthew Gandy and Sandra Jasper, Berlin: JOVIS.
2020 “Viruses, Pigs and Humans Co-Evolve in a Deadly Dance,” in Feral Atlas, edited by Anna Tsing, et al., Stanford: Stanford University Press,
2019 “Wildes Brandenburg: Engaging Unruly Nature in Berlin’s Peripheries,” in Scott Moranda and Eli Rubin, eds., Ecologies of Socialisms: Germany, Nature, and the Left in History, Politics and Culture, edited by Scott Moranda and Eli Rubin, Bern: Peter Lang, pp. 295-315.
2019 “Europe’s Other Walls,” Anthropology News, November 2019,
2018 “Ruderal Ecologies: Rethinking Nature, Migration, and the Urban Landscape in Berlin,” Cultural Anthropology 33(2), pp. 295-323.
2016 “Infrastructure: Peripheral Visions and Bodies that Matter: A Commentary,” solicited essay in Engagement. A blog published by the Anthropology and Environment Society, a section of the American Anthropological Association, August 2016.
2014 “A Path Through the Woods: Remediating Affective Landscapes in Documentary Asylum Worlds.” In: Contemporary Remediations of Race and Ethnicity in German Visual Cultures, TRANSIT 9(2), Special Issue, Angelica Fenner and Uli Linke, Eds., pp. 1-23.
2014 “Wild Barbecuing: Urban Citizenship and the Politics of (Trans-)Nationality in Berlin’s Tiergarten,” in Jeffrey Diefendorf and Janet Ward, eds., Transnationalism and the German City, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 73-86.
2004 InDifferenzen. Feministische Theorie in der antirassistischen Kritik [InDifferences: Feminist Theory in Antiracist Criticism]. Hamburg: Argument-Verlag (200 pp.)
2004 Co-edited (with Jennifer Gonzalez, Anna Tsing, and Bregje van Eekelen), Shock and Awe: War on Words. Institute for Advanced Feminist Studies, University of California Santa Cruz: New Pacific Press (187 pp.). Authored “Wired,” pp. 173-174; and “Anti-Terror Legislation,” pp. 14-16.


Introduction to Anthropology: Comparing Human Cultures

Through the comparative study of different cultures, anthropology explores fundamental questions about what it means to be human. Seeks to understand how culture shapes societies, from the smallest island in the South Pacific to the largest Asian metropolis, and affects the way institutions work, from scientific laboratories to Christian mega-churches. Provides a framework for analyzing diverse facets of human experience, such as gender, ethnicity, language, politics, economics, and art.

21A.132J / 21G.058J
Race and Migration in Europe

Addresses the shifting politics of nation, ethnicity, and race in the context of migration and globalization in Europe. Provides students with analytical tools to approach global concerns and consider Europe from cross-cultural and interdisciplinary perspectives. Familiarizes students with the ways in which histories of migration, travel, and colonial encounters shape contemporary Europe. Introduces the concepts of transnationalism, diasporic cultures, racism, ethnicity, asylum, and mobility via case studies and materials, including film, ethnography, fiction, and autobiography.

City Living: Ethnographies of Urban Worlds

Introduces the ways in which anthropologists have studied cities. Addressing the question of what constitutes the boundaries of life in the city, students familiarize themselves with key themes - such as the relation between city and countryside; space and place; urban economies; science; globalization; migration; nature/culture; kinship, race, gender, class, and memory - that have guided anthropological analyses of cities across the world. Via engagement with case studies and their own small fieldwork projects, students gain experience with different ethnographic strategies for documenting urban life. Taught in English.

Living Through Climate Change (first offered in Spring 2024)

Uses anthropological approaches to better understand those social and political forces shaping climate change as well as proposed solutions, including those leveraging technical and scientific tools. Examines how climate change is bound up, historically and today, with other processes — including land dispossession, pollution, resource insecurity, industrial agriculture, eroding infrastructure, racial housing discrimination, and job loss. Explores perspectives on social justice, community engagement, and lived experiences of climate change – and their implications for science, engineering, and industry. Engages ethnographic case studies that address unequal climate impacts, the effects of policy, and ongoing mitigation efforts unfolding in agriculture, coastal engineering, architecture, urban planning, global migration, and historical repair. Includes field trips during class time.

21A.407J / 21G.057J / WGS.275J / STS.022J
Gender, Race and Environmental Justice

Provides an introduction to the analysis of gender in science, technology, and environmental politics from a global perspective. Familiarizes students with central objects, questions, and methods in the field. Examines existent critiques of the racial, sexual and environmental politics at stake in techno-scientific cultures. Draws on material from popular culture, media, fiction, film, and ethnography. Addressing specific examples from across the globe, students also explore different approaches to build more livable environments that promote social justice.

Cultural Geographies of Germany: Nature, Culture and Politics

Examines the relationship between nature, geography, and power in 20th- and 21st-century German culture. Familiarizes students with a series of themes in science, engineering, literature, urban planning and everyday life that have played a central role in German national imaginaries and concepts of citizenship. Engaging specific examples and historical, ethnographic, literary and visual material, students explore how human-environment relations have figured prominently in German national identity, its economic power, and global connections. 


2024 James A. and Ruth Levitan Research Prize in the Humanities
2023 Diana Forsythe Book Prize, Society for the Anthropology of Work and the Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology and Culture, American Anthropological Association
2023 DAAD/GSA (German Studies Association) Best Book Prize, History and Social Sciences
2022 Landhaus Fellowship at Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich, Germany (3 months, deferred)
2022 D’Arbeloff grant awarded to co-develop a new undergraduate subject on “Anthropology of Climate Change”; together with Amy Moran-Thomas, Chris Walley, and Heather Paxson.
2021 Individual research grant by the Wenner-Gren foundation as part of the Wenner- Gren funded workshop, Collaborative Ecologies
2019/20 Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society Fellowship, Munich
2019 MIT Class of 1948 Career Development Professorship
2018 Junior Scholar Award, honorable mention, Anthropology and Environment Society (AES), American Anthropological Association (AAA)
2018 SHASS Research Fund, MIT
2018 MIT junior faculty nominee, Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program



2019 “Rethinking Urban Nature and Migration,” an interview with Bettina Stoetzer in Cultural Anthropology, December 2019,

“The Multispecies World of Technology,” an Interview with Elaine Gan and Bettina Stoetzer

“Feral Technologies: Making and Unmaking Multispecies Dumps,” an Interview with Bettina Stoetzer, Anna Tsing, and Elaine Gan