Centre for African Studies
Karen Blixens Plads 16, 2300 København S
Primary fields of research
My current research focus is on 'certifications of citizenship' in Africa, which addresses the multiple and interconnected dimensions and scales of citizen certification and registration, and the ways in which both formal and informal aspects of identity documents co-produce citizens and states in uneven and contested ways. This work continues a long-standing interest in themes of marginality, displacement, belonging, property, authority and citizenship, especially in contexts of crisis. My initial focus was on questions of land and agrarian change (1997-2012) in both Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Later (2006-2014), I worked on developing a new relational approach to the paradoxes of displacement (called ‘displacement economies’). Eventually I shifted to an explicitly urban focus (from 2012 onwards), exploring aspects of urban displacement and resettlement, urban property, and urban governance and citizenship, with an empirical grounding in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city. This work deepened my interest in the notion of propertied citizenship, read through the interplay between the structural-material, the institutional-political and the intimate-personal. The CERTIZENS Project (see below) takes up these three interweaving dimensions to focus specifically on regimes of certification and identification.
I am currently Project Leader for a four-year research project (2020-2024) entitled Certifications of Citizenship in Africa (CERTIZENS). The CERTIZENS Project focuses on the logics, policies and practices of different regimes of citizen classification, certification and identification, and different uses and abuses of ID documents, in selected African contexts, and their multi-layered effects both on processes of state making and citizen making. See at: https://teol.ku.dk/english/dept/certizens-certifications-of-citizenship-in-africa/
Working closely with partners in Ghana and Uganda, the Project approaches research in terms of broadly collaborative/comparative aims for knowledge production, combining attention to both theoretical and empirical implications.
Future/ongoing lines of research
Two interweaving lines of research continue to absorb me, albeit so far outside a formal research framework, but with the intention to develop these further:
- Property and Personhood
Based on more than twenty years of research in different rural and urban setting mostly in Zimbabwe, I continue to delve into the ways in which property of various kinds shapes senses and expressions of personhood, and how this in turn shapes the relationship of people to one another, to different forms of authority, and to unfolding forms of citizenship.
- The Biography of a Building
This has been a long-term conceptual and methodological interest that I continue to explore in specific empirical contexts as a means of understanding the parallel biographies of state-citizen relations on the one hand, and relations between property and personhood on the other. The longer-term intention is to develop a collaborative/comparative and interdisciplinary project that explores the biographies of selected public buildings across multiple political-cultural geographies.
Selected past research
Past research projects include:
- Political Economies of Displacement (2006-2010). This culminated in a co-edited special issue of the Journal of Southern African Studies (2010), a single edited book entitled Displacement Economies in Africa: Paradoxes of Crisis and Creativity (Zed Books, 2014), and various journal articles and book chapters related especially to my research on Zimbabwean commercial farmers in Mozambique.
- Urban Property and Citizenship in Developing Societies (2012 – 2016). This has generated ongoing work on urban governance and citizenship through the lens of property and propertied citizenship in Zimbabwe (article published in African Studies Review 2017), as well as a special journal issue on the theme Juxacities: Urban Difference, Divides, Authority and Citizenship in the Global South, Urban Forum, Vol. 31, No. 3 (co-edited with Marianne Millstein).
- Economic Conditions of Displacement (2012-2016). Complementing the above projects, this especially focused on the paradoxes of urban displacement and resettlement, through the lens of interweaving relations between changed conditions of property and urban livelihoods and citizenship in the urban peripheries of Zimbabwe.
Current primary areas of teaching on the MA in African Studies at CAS include:
- Politics, Development and Change in Africa (core course)
- Critical Development Planning and Policy Analysis (optional course)
- Introduction to African Studies
- Advanced Research Methods
- Thesis Seminar
- Urban politics and change (including New Urban Life Across the Globe – a cross-Faculty urban summer school listed within the IARU (International Union of Research Universities) summer school portfolio
- Occasional guest lectures especially around topics such as displacement, displacement economies, urban property and citizenship, Zimbabwe, African Studies
MA thesis supervision
Since 2010, I have supervised over 60 Masters theses on a range of topics. I am especially keen to supervise projects related to: the state/authority, citizenship, identity and belonging, race and decolonisation, political economies of crisis and transformation, displacement and resettlement, property, urban governance and change, critical development policy and planning processes, Zimbabwe and southern Africa
I am currently supervising the following students:
- Yingjie Zhao: (started March 2018) working on Chinese humanitarian assistance in East Africa
- Amanda Wendel Malm: (started July 2020) working on the travel and translation of 'global' policies of certificaiton and citizen IDs in Ghana and Uganda
- Saana Hansen (Helsinki University, co-supervision): Project on Exploring the Dynamics of Emplacement and State formation: The Case of Return Migration in Zimbabwe
- Co-supervision of four new PhDs (two in Ghana, two in Uganda) as part of the CERTIZENS Research Project (starting January and February 2021 respectvely
- Hannah Elliott (dissertation defended February 2018): Anticipating Plots: (Re)Making Property, Futures and Town at the Gateway to Kenya’s ‘New Frontier’
- Toke Møldrup Wolff: (dissertation defended December 2019): Undercurrents of State Formation in Rural Somaliland. A Study of Gender and State-Making in the Somali Margins