Personal profile

Research overview

I am a senior lecturer in social anthropology with research interests in colonial and postcolonial Africa, the anthropology of migration and medical anthropology.

For over two decades I have been conducting ethnographic research in Namibia. More specifically my work has focused on post-apartheid political transformations in urban contexts, youth, inter-generational relations and popular culture; elites, distinction and education; masculinities and gender; ethics, morality and the making of the public space. This research has culminated in a monograph entitled The Politics of Distinction. African Elites from Colonialism to Liberation in a Namibian Frontier Town, 2016, Sean Kingston Publishing (2017, University of Namibia Press).

In 2015, I begun to work with mental health practitioners and artists on an interdisciplinary research project exploring experiences of mental illness in contemporary Namibia. In 2016 I was awarded a ‘Wellcome Trust Seed Award’, for the project entitled ‘Narratives of Mental Illness in Contemporary Namibia’. This project proposed to open a comparative understanding of mental illness in contemporary Namibia through in-depth, inter-disciplinary research. The aim of the project was to illuminate the present postcolonial moment in the light of the colonial past while disclosing breaks along with continuities in discourse and practice. The project focused on patients and families-centred accounts, and addressed two interrelated themes: the ‘content of madness’, that is, the patients’ subjective illness narratives and their subsequent medicalization; and ‘the emotional world’ of insanity which encompasses the pro-active engagement of families insofar as they re-direct, support and/or oppose the medical intervention among their kin. The project focused on a collaborative approach and the use of a varied methodology, including archival research, audio recordings, photography, and multi-media fine art practices. The project also had an impact at local level. Over the course of the project I organised two public events, an end of project workshop and was also invited to speak about the project on Namibian Broadcasting Corporation, the National TV, on two occasions. The team also organised several art therapy workshops for people diagnosed with mental illness, in clinical settings and in a mental health forensic unit of the Gobabis prison.

To this date I published two single authored articles, and have been working on two joint authored articles with the Namibian health practitioners. I have also finished a short film, ‘At Five in the Afternoon: Poetic Intervention in a post-Apartheid Landscape’, which I submitted to the RAI film festival in 2019 and will feature in a forthcoming article in the journal History and Anthropology, The ‘Haunting’ and the ‘Haunted’: Whiteness, Orthography and the (post)-Apartheid Condition in Namibia’ that explores whiteness and the complex legacy of apartheid in contemporary Namibia. Finally the project has opened up the opportunity to strengthen collaboration on the anthropology of mental illness with colleagues at ASAFAS in Kyoto (I was invited to Kyoto with a JSPS visiting fellowship in 2018), and with Prof Shulamit Ramon, The University of Hertfordshire. I was also awarded a visiting fellowship to the Brocher Foundation (February 2020) and conducted research on health in South-West Africa under the League of Nations mandate in the United Nations archives in Geneva.

Alongside fieldwork in Namibia, since 2006 my research has responded to the growing recognition of the significant presence of African migrants in Britain. My research among Ghanaian Methodists in London aimed to understand the role of the African diaspora in civil society and of African churches in particular in the making of a British multicultural public sphere. Part of this research aimed to explore the significance of transnational and religious networks between Ghana and the diaspora. For this reason in 2007 and 2009 I conducted ethnographic research in Kumasi and Accra among different generations of Methodists. I have published several single and joint authored articles and I am currently working on a monograph, under contract with Routledge, entitles ‘Akan London: Virtuous Citizens and Methodism in the Gateway City.

I also explored the lives of homeless refugees in London, mostly from Africa, and published a joint edited report with Middlesex University Social Policy Research Centre, and in 2013 I have joined Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid as a country of origin information expert for Namibia and Ghana and I have written several expert reports for asylum seekers to the UK and the USA.

Increasingly I have been interested in the role of ethnographic film making in anthropological research and on issues of collaboration. I have edited two short films and one 40’ minutes documentary entitled ‘A Crusade Ghana Style’. The film was shown at the MAV Festival in Rome. For over a decade I have been working on a collaborative film I shot in Namibia between 2012 and 2014 which aimed to explore patients and family centred mental illness narratives. I am currently working on a special issue on ethnographic film-making and collaborations for Visual Anthropology Review.

I am currently the book review editor for the Journal of Southern African Studies and a member of the editorial board of the journal Religiographies.

Research overview

Regional focus: Namibia, Ghana and African Diaspora in Britain, London. Topical interests: postcolonial studies, the state, citizenship, elites and education, youth and popular culture, masculinities, morality and the public space, religion, diaspora and transnationalism, whiteness and race, history and the archives, medical anthropology and mental illness.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, Youth and Elites and Distinction in a Northern Namibian Town, UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER

Award Date: 12 Jul 2004

External positions

Book Review Editor, Journal of Southern African Studies

10 Mar 2015 → …

Editorial Board, Critical African Studies

201310 Oct 2018


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