Prof. Michaela Pelican

Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropologypelican-picture

Cologne University, Germany


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Michaela Pelican is Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the University of Cologne. She is also a principal investigator in the Thematic Research Area I ‘Migration, Citizenship and Labour’ of the Global South Studies Center Cologne (GSSC), and was previously the director of the University of Cologne Forum “Ethnicity as a Political Resource: Perspectives from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Europe” (2013-16). Before coming to Cologne, she was a lecturer at the University of Zurich and a researcher with the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle/Saale. She received her PhD from the Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and her MA from the University of Bayreuth.

Michaela’s current research is on South-South mobility and migrant transnationalism, focusing on contemporary migration from Cameroon to the Gulf States and China. Concurrently, she is working on indigeneity in Africa, a topic that emerged from her previous research on interethnic relations and identity politics in Cameroon. Moreover, she has a strong interest in visual and media anthropology, and has been using methods of visual and theatre anthropology throughout her research.

Research Project

Michaela is a member of the interdisciplinary research project ‘Chinese immigration law and policy: perspectives of lawmakers, administrators and immigrants’ which is a sub-project of ‘Immigration and the Transformation of Chinese Society’. The project team is located at the University of Cologne and includes Björn Ahl, Michaela Pelican, Jasper Habicht, Lai Pik Chan. The project investigates the social dynamics and outcomes of the implementation of the new exit-entry law by focusing on the actions of state and non-state actors, including legislators, administrators and (im)migrants. The project focuses on two sites: Beijing where the national legislator is located, and Guangzhou as a centre of commerce and foreign – in particular African – (im)migration. As an Africanist and social anthropologist, Michaela engages with the following questions: How do African migrants view and experience the implementation of the new exit-entry law? Which institutions represent their interests, and how do they assist foreigners in securing their stay? How are African migrants represented in the Chinese public, and how do they think about and react to these representations? How do African migrants relate their experiences in China with citizenship discourses and practices in other migration destinations and/or in their home countries?

This project is part of Michaela’s overall interest in South-South migration, for which she has conducted fieldwork in Cameroon, Gabon, South Africa, and the Gulf States. With its focus on the Global South, this research challenges the emphasis on South-North migration prevailing in academic and policy-related research. In her publications so far, Michaela has focused on African migrants’ strategies of place making and social articulations in urban spaces; changing perceptions of international migration in Cameroon; and migrants’ engagement with different migration regimes in Africa and Asia.

Selected Publications

Thematic issues:

Pelican, Michaela (ed.). 2014. BAOHAN Street: An African Community in Guangzhou. Documentary photographs by Li Dong. Kölner Arbeitspapiere zur Ethnologie 4. Institut für Ethnologie, Universität zu Köln.

Pelican, Michaela and Mahir Saul (eds.). 2014. Global African Entrepreneurs. Special issue of Urban Anthropology (UAS) 43(1-3).

Peer-reviewed articles:

Pelican, Michaela. 2014. Urban Lifeworlds of Cameroonian Migrants in Dubai. Urban Anthropology (UAS) 43: 255-309.

Pelican, Michaela. 2013. International Migration: Virtue or Vice? Perspectives from Cameroon. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 39(2): 237-258.

Pelican, Michaela. 2011. Researching South-South/South-East migration: Transnational relations of Cameroonian Muslim migrants. Tsantsa 16: 169-173.

Pelican, Michaela. 2011. Mbororo on the move: from pastoral mobility to international travel. Journal of Contemporary African Studies 29(4): 427-440.

Pelican, Michaela and Peter Tatah. 2007. Migration to the Gulf States and China: local perspectives from Cameroon. African Diaspora 2(2): 229-244.

Book chapter:

Pelican, Michaela and Li Dong. 2017. PHOTO ESSAY: Baohan Street: An African Community in Guangzhou. In: Hodgson, D.L. & J. Byfield (eds.) Global Africa. University of California Press, Oakland. pp. 193-201.

Pelican, Michaela. 2015. Neoliberal Challenges and Transnational Lives of Cameroonian Migrants in Dubai. In: Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf and Dale F. Eickelman (eds.). Africa and the Gulf Region: Blurred Boundaries and Shifting Ties. Berlin: Gerlach Press: 92-110.


Portrait of a Migrant Woman: Martha in Dubai. Documentary short by Michaela Pelican and Francesco Bondanini, 14:20 min., 2014.

Face To Face: Cameroon – Gabon – Dubai – Geneva. Documentary short by Michaela Pelican, 8 min., 2008.

PhD theses, supervised by Prof. Dr. Michaela Pelican:

Zhou Yang. 2017. Intercultural Marriage, Legal Status and Social Belonging in China, Chinese-African Couples and Families in Guangzhou. PhD thesis, University of Cologne.

Recent Activities

Workshop on “Africa-China/China-Africa mobilities”, organized by Michaela Pelican and Oliver Tappe, University of Cologne, February 2018.

Together with the Chinese documentary photographer Li Dong Michaela organized a photo-exhibition at the University of Cologne in October/November 2014 with the title “Baohan Street: An African community in Guangzhou”.

She has talked about the photo-exhibition and her reflexions on the representation of African migrants through the eyes of a Chinese photographer at several occasions, e.g. the University of Mainz (January 2015), the Museum of Anthropology in Zurich (December 2015), and the University of Göttingen (December 2015).

Furthermore, Michaela has presented on the perspectives of African migrants’ regarding recent changes in the Chinese immigration system in a number of workshops, including at the University of Cologne (UoC; February 2015), the AAS-in-Asia conference in Taipeh (June 2015), and the University of Buenos Aires (September 2015). She has also lectured widely on Africa-Gulf relations, including giving presentations in the the Department of Anthropology of Minzu University in Beijing (May 2013) as well as at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou in the Lecture Series of the Departments of Geography and Urban Planning (June 2014) and of Anthropology (March 2015).

Michaela has organized several workshops and panels with a focus on African migration or migration to China: “African entrepreneurship, migration, and law in China” (UoC, April 2014) “International immigrants in China” (Sun Yat-sen University, June 2014), “Migration, Ethnicity and the State” (Sun Yat-sen University, March 2015), “Global African Entrepreneurship” (EASA, July 2015), “Crisis of citizenship and migration? African mobilities in a globalized world” (DGV, October 2015), “State Regulation of Migration, Trade and Intermarriage in Guangdong and Keqiao” (UoC, January 2015), “The Gender Dynamics of Human Trafficking” (UoC, January 2016).