Dr. Sina Birkholz (Former Members)



  • Studies

  • 2014 – 2019

    Doctoral dissertation “Doing political aid: an ethnography of Northern democracy assistance and NGOisation in Lebanon”, with magna cum laude

    First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Martina Löw, TU Berlin
    Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Thomas Scheffer, Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main

  • 2005 – 2012

    Diplom Programme Political Science; Augsburg University, Degree: Diplom Political Science (1.0), Thesis: “Identities at Crossroads: Young Muslim Women in Post-Revolutionary Egypt”

  • 2008 – 2009

    Visiting Student at the University of St Andrews, Scotland; Faculty of Arts, Department of International Relations

  • Work experience

  • since 3/2021

    Self-employed breathworker and transformation coach (training in Clarity Breathwork, Compassionate Inquiry and Shamanic practices)

  • since 1/2020

    Freelance editor and translator for academic and artistic texts (English <> German)

  • 1/2019 – 8/2019

    Research Associate at the Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 1265 Re-Figuration of Spaces, Technische Universität Berlin, Project C 3 (Doing mini-publics: the translocalisation of politics), Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Jan-Peter Voß

  • 06/2014 – 12/2017

    Research Associate at the Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 700 Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood, Freie Universität Berlin, Project C 6 (The Politics of State- and Security-Building in Areas of Limited Statehood), Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Ursula Schröder

  • 10/2012 – 05/2014

    Research Associate at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence, Bielefeld University, Project “Violence Research and Development”, Principal Investigator Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Heitmeyer

  • 03/2010 – 09/2010

    Student Assistant at the Department of Political Science, Peace and Conflict Studies, Prof. Dr. Christoph Weller, Augsburg University

  • 02/2008 – 08/2008

    Intern at the Austrian Cultural Forum Cairo acf/c, Austrian Embassy in Cairo, Egypt

  • Stipends and Affiliations

  • 8/2019 – 12/2021

    Associated Researcher at the Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 1265 Re- Figuration of Spaces, Technische Universität Berlin

  • Since 8/2019

    Associated Researcher at the Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 1265 Re- Figuration of Spaces, Technische Universität Berlin

  • 03/2015 – 12/2016

    Affiliated Researcher at the Orient Institute Beirut (OIB)

  • 09/2014 – 07/2019

    Affiliated Researcher at the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies

  • 2011

    Travel allowance by the German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes) for master thesis field research in Cairo, Egypt

  • 09/2008 – 05/2009

    Study abroad scholarship by the German National Academic (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes) Foundation and the Max-Weber-Programme (stay at the University of St Andrews, Scotland

  • 10/2008 – 10/2011

    Fellow of the German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes)

  • 08/2005 – 10/2012

    Fellow of the Max-Weber-Programme of the State of Bavaria

Research Focus

    • Sociology of globalisation and development

    • Politics and society of the MENA region

    • Ethnography and interpretive methodologies


Title: Doing political aid: an ethnography of Northern democracy assistance and NGOisation in Lebanon

First reviewer: Prof. Dr. Martina Löw, TU Berlin
Second reviewer: Prof. Dr. Thomas Scheffer, Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main

Short description PhD project
Democracy assistance – also called political aid – and the promotion of good governance by Northern states and international organisations in societies of the Global South constitute an important means of ordering North-South relations. Up to now, we are lacking an account of democracy assistance as a social endeavour assembled on the micro-level in everyday practices. Drawing on ten months of ethnographic field research and qualitative interviews conducted in 2015 and 2016, this PhD thesis provides a reflexive analysis of doing political aid under conditions of rationalisation in Lebanon. My interpretive political ethnography puts into conversation development studies, neo-institutional organisational studies, and post-colonial approaches, and employs a praxeological theory-methods-package that combines inspirations from ethnomethodology with an analysis of the transnational configuration of practices in political aid. In an empirically thick account, I show what professionalisation, bureaucratisation, and the omnipresent critique of these transformations means for doing non-profit organisation. Based on several months of participant observation with a multilateral organisation (MO) and a Lebanese NGO, I zoom in on practices of doing accountability, visibility, and accessibility, a type of infrastructure work that has moved to the centre of the everyday political aid. I demonstrate the project’s role for establishing a hierarchical division of labour between donors and implementers and show the rationalised myths and decoupling at work. The analysis also highlights the inertia of practices and the power of structures: various reform initiatives have addressed the problems associated with NGOisation, but the reform impulses become transformed in practice, turning merely into another spiral in an endless cycle of (non-)reform. By adopting a post-colonial perspective that manifests in a methodological focus on positionality and the lines of sight, and a concern with questions of power and knowledge, I relate the doing of NGO and the phenomenon of NGOisation to the reproduction of political aid interventions and of (epistemic) hierarchies in North-South relations. By demonstrating the analytical value of these reflections on static and dynamic positionality, I offer a methodologically innovative contribution to the emerging field of post-colonial and international political sociology.


    • (2021) “Patriarchy written in stone“. Ein Überblick der Forschung zu Gender und Raum im 21. Jahrhundert, SFB 1265 Working Paper

    • (2019) “Ethnografie und teilnehmende Beobachtung”, in: Claudius Wagemann, Achim Goerres, Markus Siewert (eds.) Handbuch Methoden der Politikwissenschaft, Springer VS, pp.1-26, (with Jan Schank and Annett Bochmann)

    • (2018) “Multi-Layered Dependency – Understanding the Transnational Dimension of Favouritism in the Middle East”, in: Laura Ruiz de Elvira, Christoph Schwarz, Irene Weipert-Fenner (eds.) Networks of Dependency: Clientelism and Patronage in the Middle East and North Africa, Routledge

    • (2018) “International interventions seen from the ‘Middle’: Perceptions of intermediary actors in Côte d’Ivoire and Lebanon”, in: Cooperation and Conflict, Vol. 53, No.2, pp.173-192 (with Tilmann Scherf and Ursula Schröder)

    • (2017) “Creating Room for Manoeuvre: Domestic Repertoires of Action in International Interventions”, in: Third World Thematics, Vol. 2, No.5, pp. 621-636, (with Tilmann Scherf and Ursula Schröder)

    • (2014) “Struggles of Distinction: Young Women Constructing Their Class Identity in Egypt’s Americanized Milieu”, in: META Middle East – Topics & Arguments, Vol.2, pp.46-62,

    • (2013) Confronting Gerontocracy – The Youthful Character of the Egyptian Revolution, Working Paper Series by the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, FU Berlin, No.9,

    • (2012) A lost generation rising up – Analysing the Egyptian Revolution from a “youth” perspective. Conference Paper at the AFK Annual Colloquium, March 24, 2012,

    • (2011) Identities at Crossroads: Young Muslim Women in Post-Revolutionary Egypt. How female students from Cairo’s upper middle class experience and navigate the contradictions in an increasingly globalised and divided society. Diplomarbeit, Augsburg University (unpublished),

    • (2010) “Theoretische Herangehensweisen der Friedens- und Konfliktforschung. IV. Workshop des AK Theorie der Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung“, in: Wissenschaft und Frieden, No. 4, pp.73-75 (with Andreas Jacobs)

  • Selected Panels and Presentations

    • Politische Arbeit sichtbar machen: Demokratieförderung und Ethnographie im Libanon
      Paper presentation at the German Sociological Association’s 39th Conference, Göttingen, Germany, 26 September 2018.

    • Rendering political work (in)visible: Practices of producing and managing visibility in transnational democracy promotion in Lebanon. Paper presentation at the Summer School “Practices and the Practical Dimension in the Study of Social Life”, Aalborg University, Copenhagen, Denmark, 10 July 2018.

    • The potential and challenges of interpretive political ethnography for studying
political aid in Lebanon.Paper presentation at the DVPW-Section Development Theory and Politics’ Annual Workshop “Dekolonisierung der Entwicklungspolitik: Praktische Konsequenzen der Post-Development Kritik?”, Kassel, Germany, 23 November 2017.

    • (Non)Political Work – An ethnography of everyday democracy and rule of law assistance in Lebanon. Paper presentation at the European International Studies’ Association’s 11th Pan-European Conference, Barcelona, Spain; Section Ethnographic Approaches to International Interventions, 14 September 2017.

    • Global Power Relations under the Microscope. Paper presentation at the European Sociological Association’s 13th Conference, Athens, Greece; Research Network 15 – Global, Transnational and Cosmopolitan Sociology, 31 August 2017.

    • Decentering International Interventions: Alternative Perspectives on Statehood and (In)Security in the Global South. Workshop organised with Ursula Schröder and Tilmann Scherf, at the SFB700, Freie Universität Berlin, 15-16 July 2016.

    • Transnational Translation Processes and New Modes of Brokerage in Security Governance Transfers and Peacebuildin. Panel organised with Markus Hochmüller, at the International Studies Association’s 57th Annual Convention, Atlanta, USA, 17 March 2017.

    • Brokered Security: Transnational Security Governance Interventions in Guatemala and Lebanon
      Paper presentation with Markus Hochmüller, at the International Studies Association’s 57th Annual Convention, Atlanta, USA, 17 March 2017.

    • “I can’t imagine the ministry without them”: UNDP, EU and other donors‘ role in Lebanon’s hybrid governance constellation. Presentation at the international conference “The ‘state’ of Lebanon: Concepts of political order in crisis?” at the Orient-Institut Beirut OIB, Max Weber Foundation, Lebanon, 15 October 2015.

    • “Globalisation has done its job”- Young Egyptians’ Everyday Cosmopolitanism. Paper presentation at the BRISMES Annual Congress 2014, at the University of Sussex, Brighton, Great Britain, 16 June 2014.

    • De-Legitimising State Violence in Egypt. Lecture at the Department of Sociology at Qaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan, 7 April 2014.

    • Einmal Demokratie und Zurück. Lecture at the Science Café, Bielefeld, with Friederike Sadowski, 10 March 2014.

    • Gewaltforschung und Soziale Entwicklung. Presentation at the DAAD Lektorensommertreffen, Bonn, with Wilhelm Heitmeyer, 17 July 2013.

    • Female Participation in the Egyptian Revolution – Dismantling the Patriarchal Bargain?
      Paper presentation at the workshop Women, Culture, and the 25th January 2011 Egyptian Revolution, at Manchester University, Manchester, Great Britain, 15 November 2012.