Rottenburg studied social anthropology, sociology and Arab studies (1973-1978) at the Free University of Berlin. For his PhD in anthropology he conducted 39 months of fieldwork in South Kordofan (Sudan). Between 1984-1987, he lectured at the University of Transkei, South Africa. Later he did research on formal organization in companies and city administrations in Europe. In the 1990s Rottenburg worked as a consultant for projects in development cooperation, carrying out research in Africa and Europe. These engagements provided him with the ethnographic material for his habilitation, which he completed at Viadrina European University (Frankfurt/Oder) in 1999. In 2002 Rottenburg became full professor and founding director of the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Halle-Wittenberg. From 2006-2012 he was a Max Planck Fellow, heading the group Law, Organisation, Science and Technology (LOST) at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle. He was head or spokesperson of several research programs. On February 8 and 9, 2013, the conference 'How to put models into practice? African perspectives on technologies of ordering in legal, organisational and medical contexts' was held in Halle to celebrate his work and his 60th birthday.
In his early work, Rottenburg's focus was on the effects of so-called modern traits in African settings. In his book on the life and economic strategies of the Lemwareng (Moro Nuba) in South Kordofan (Sudan) he conceptualized processes of cultural syncretization and hybridization as accretion (Akkreszenz). Rottenburg expanded this interest throughout his career, theorizing the travel of ideas, technologies and procedures and their intercultural translation, as well as the making of objectivity and rationality in various avenues. Thereby he combines insights from Science and Technology Studies with his expertise on Africa and his ethnographic attention to detail. This has resulted in the book 'Far-Fetched Facts', an 'epistemological thriller of development aid' as a critic of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung put it.
By connecting Social Anthropology to approaches from Science and Technology Studies, Rottenburg is a leading figure in taking German anthropology in new directions. In 2006 he created the research group LOST (Law, Organisation, Science and Technology), putting him at a center of studies concerning the translation of juridical, organizational, technological and scientific models in the Global South. His current work relates to the findings of this research program, in particular to the research group 'Biomedicine in Africa' and the ongoing research project on 'Translating Global Health Technologies' and circles around the question of therapeutic domination and experimentality, allowing insights in the shifting relations between the Global South and the Global North.
- See structure of the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Halle-Wittenberg.
- Reuters (October 7, 2004). "Sudan blames British Legacy". New Straits Times.
- Geisenhainer, Katja; Lange, Katharina (2005). Bewegliche Horizonte. Festschrift für Bernhard Streck (in German). Leipziger Universitätsverlag; Auflage: 1., Aufl. p. 604. ISBN 3865830781.
- Ines Godazgar. Forschen zwischen Krieg und Krise. In: Scientia Halensis Retrieved February 6, 2013.
- See a list of his consultancy paper Retrieved March 12, 2013.
- LOST homepage at MPI for Social Anthropology Halle Retrieved February 6, 2013.
- For instance, he headed the program 'Traveling Models in Conflict Management' (2006-2009), funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. See Grants 2006 VW Stiftung: Knowledge for Tomorrow – Cooperative Research Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa Retrieved February 6, 2013. He is also chairperson of the research cluster 'Society and Culture in Motion', see Executive board of the research cluster 'Society and Culture in Motion' Retrieved April 1, 2013. Currently, he is co-spokesperson of the Priority Program ‘Adaptation and Creativity in Africa', funded by the German Research Foundation. See the Homepage of the SPP 1448 - spokespersons Retrieved April 1, 2012.
- Grants 2012 VW Stiftung Retrieved February 6, 2013.
- See his recent activities to establish a Network for Science and Technology Studies Retrieved March 13, 2013.
- Book review of the German version 'Weit hergeholte Fakten', FAZ December 2, 2002 Retrieved April 1, 2013
- Hans-Dieter Evers 2004. Buchbesprechung. Weither geholte Fakten. Eine Parabel der Entwicklungshilfe. In: Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 129, p 167-168 Retrieved March 13, 2013.
- Czarniawska, Barbara (2012). "Organization Theory Meets Anthropology: A Story of an Encounter". Journal of Business Anthropology 1 (1): 118–140. Retrieved March 24, 2013.
- Discussion on Translation as Global Transfer of Knowledge at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin Retrieved March 13, 2013.
- Project site Biomedicine in Africa Retrieved February 6, 2013.
- Project site Translating Global Health Technologies Retrieved February 6, 2013.
- Elisabeth Göhring. ITK-Innovationen aus Afrika. In: Unternehmenskultur Magazin Retrieved February 6, 2013.
- Richard Rottenburg, Ndemwareng: Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft in den Morobergen, München, Edition Trickster, 1991.
- Richard Rottenburg, Far-Fetched Facts: A Parable of Development Aid, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2009.
- Richard Rottenburg, Social and public experiments and new figurations of science and politics in postcolonial Africa. Postcolonial Studies, vol. 12 no. 4 (2009) pp. 423–440. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/routledg/cpcs/2009/00000012/00000004/art00005
- Richard Rottenburg (edited with Wenzel Geissler & Julia Zenker), Rethinking Biomedicine and Governance in Africa: Contributions from Anthropology, Bielefeld, transcript, 2012.
- Personal website at University of Halle-Wittenberg
- Max Planck Fellow Group Law, Organisation, Science and Technology (LOST)
- Research Cluster Society and Culture in Motion
- Priority Program 1448 Adaptation and Creativity in Africa - Significations and Technologies in the Production of Order and Disorder