Matthias Leanza

Dr. Matthias Leanza

Assistent / PostDoc (Professur Paul)


Petersgraben 27
4051 Basel

Matthias Leanza is a senior lecturer (Oberassistent) in the Department of Social Sciences and a member of the executive board of the Graduate School of Social Sciences. He holds a diploma in sociology from the University of Bielefeld (2009) and received his doctorate in 2016 from the University of Freiburg. The University College Freiburg awarded his dissertation on the history of disease prevention and biopolitics in Germany (Die Zeit der Prävention) the 2017 Erasmus Prize for the Liberal Arts and Sciences. In his current habilitation project (Mehr als eine Nation), he is working on the colonial administration of the German Empire with a focus on the interplay of processes of state formation and empire building overseas; for a short description, see below. He also regularly publishes on social theory and the history of social thought. His courses for undergraduate and graduate students cover a wide range of subjects and theoretical perspectives. For a CV, please click here.

Together with Axel T. Paul, Matthias Leanza is currently organizing an international and interdisciplinary conference on ‘Comparing Colonialism: Beyond Modern Exceptionalism’, which will take place from 26 to 28 September 2019 in Basel. Please click here for the call for papers.

Research Interests

Social theory and the history of social thought
Historical sociology
Prevention, medicine, and biopolitics
States, empires, and colonial rule
German colonial history

Habilitation Project

More Than a Nation:
A Political Sociology of the Colonial Administration of the German Empire

Many scholars in the social sciences depict the nineteenth century as the period in which European societies became modern. According to this view, a defining feature of political modernity is the rise of sovereign nation-states that claim a monopoly over the legitimate use of physical force. While processes of globalization are today increasingly contesting national boundaries, these scholars believe that in the ‘first modernity’ (Ulrich Beck), social relations were still bound to the confines of the nation-state. This widely held view ignores, however, that the history of European expansion began long before modern societies emerged. Rather than being a ‘consequence of modernity’ (Anthony Giddens), global entanglements preceded and shaped the modern world. That is not to say that ‘we have never been modern’ (Bruno Latour) but rather that the social sciences have to consider how modernity and colonialism share a common history. Most of the (emergent) European nation-states were also colonial powers engaged in the building of overseas empires.

This habilitation project (second book) explores Germany’s entangled history of state formation and colonial empire building. In the wake of the Berlin West Africa Conference, the Foreign Office of the German Empire established a unit for ‘German interests overseas’ in 1885. This small organizational unit, led by only one officer, had to supervise the country’s colonial expansion in Africa and the Pacific, which at this early stage was mainly driven by non-state actors, such as colonial societies, entrepreneurs, and trading companies. In most cases, however, the on-site situation soon started to escalate. Deep discontent with the newly established German rule among local elites and the wider population led to severe unrest and uprisings. The German Empire found itself forced to take over formal rule of its ‘protectorates’ from the colonial societies. As an immediate consequence of this process, the unit for colonial affairs was upgraded in 1890 to a department within the Foreign Office. Seventeen years later, after the Herero and Nama genocide in Namibia and the so-called Maji Maji Rebellion in East Africa caused another profound crisis in the German colonial project, with major political repercussions in the Kaiserreich itself, this department was then elevated to a separate central authority, the Imperial Colonial Office.

Based on historical sources from archives in Germany, Tanzania, and Namibia, this study reconstructs how the emergent German nation-state expanded overseas and became part of a larger colonial empire – an empire that would soon begin to disintegrate during the Great War and would then be dissolved by the Treaty of Versailles. Two general questions guide my historical reconstruction: How are political entities that include but also go beyond the nation-state administered and governed? And what implications does this have for our notion of political and social order in the modern era? In this way, the project seeks to contribute to a better understanding of polities that are ‘more than a nation’.

Begin of the project: February 2017
Supervisor: Prof Axel T. Paul

Selected Publications


Leanza, M. (2017). Die Zeit der Prävention. Eine Genealogie. Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft.

Edited Volumes

Bröckling, U., Dries, C., Leanza, M., Schlechtriemen, T. (2015). (Eds.). Das Andere der Ordnung. Theorien des Exzeptionellen. Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft.

Leanza, M., Terpe, S., Karakayali, S. (2011). (Eds.). Politics of the Future: Between Prevention and Planning. Behemoth: A Journal on Civilisation, 4(2).

Book Chapters and Journal Articles

Leanza, M. (in press 2019). Soziale Pathologien. Eine Archäologie des soziologischen Blicks, 1820–1860. In Alkemeyer, T., Buschmann, N., Etzemüller, T. (Eds.). Gegenwartsdiagnosen. Kulturelle Formen gesellschaftlicher Selbstproblematisierung in der Moderne. Bielefeld: transcript.

Leanza, M. (in press 2018). Review of Elden, Stuart. Foucault’s Last Decade. In Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 24(3).

Leanza, M. (in press 2018). Drogen im Netz der Systeme. Eine Heuristik. In Bröckling, U., Feustel, R., Schmidt-Semisch, H. (Eds.). Handbuch Soziologie der Drogen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Leanza, M. (2018). The Darkened Horizon: Two Modes of Organizing Pandemics. In Krämer, H., Wenzel, M. (Eds.). How Organizations Manage the Future: Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Insights. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (pp. 215–230).

Bröckling, U., Dries, C., Leanza, M., Schlechtriemen, T. (2018). Out of order – Soziologie jenseits des Ordnungsbias. Skizze eines Forschungsprogramms. In Schetsche, M., Schmied-Knittel, I. (Eds.). Heterodoxie. Konzepte, Traditionen, Figuren der Abweichung. Köln: Herbert von Halem Verlag (pp. 255­–270).

Leanza, M. (2018). Stress und Resilienz. Zum Unbehagen in der Spätmoderne. In Kleiner, S., Suter, R. (Eds.). Stress und Unbehagen. Glücks- und Erfolgspathologien in der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts. Berlin: Neofelis (pp. 169–193).

Leanza, M. (2016). Prävention. In Bühler, B., Willer, S. (Eds.). Futurologien. Ein Glossar des Zukunftswissens. München: Wilhelm Fink (pp. 155–167).

Leanza, M. (2016). Emotionale Immunisierung: das Subjekt der Salutogenese. In Anhorn, R., Balzereit, M. (Eds.). Handbuch Therapeutisierung und Soziale Arbeit. Wiesbaden: Springer VS (pp. 409–424).

Bröckling, U., Dries, C., Leanza, M., Schlechtriemen, T. (2015). Das Andere der Ordnung denken. Eine Perspektivverschiebung. In Bröckling, U., Dries, C., Leanza, M., Schlechtriemen, T. (Eds.). Das Andere der Ordnung. Theorien des Exzeptionellen. Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft (pp. 9–52).

Leanza, M. (2015). Grenzrauschen. Zur Figur des Parasiten in der Systemtheorie. In Bröckling, U., Dries, C., Leanza, M., Schlechtriemen, T. (Eds.). Das Andere der Ordnung. Theorien des Exzeptionellen. Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft (pp. 107–125).

Leanza, M. (2014). Zentren und Ränder funktionaler Differenzierung. Niklas Luhmanns Theorie der modernen Gesellschaft. In Farzin, S., Laux, H. (Eds.). Gründungsszenen soziologischer Theorie. Wiesbaden: Springer VS (pp. 155–174).

Leanza, M. (2011). Die Geschichte des Kommenden. Zur Historizität der Zukunft im Anschluss an Luhmann und Foucault. In Behemoth. A Journal on Civilisation, 4(2) (pp. 10–25).

For a full publication list, please see tab above.