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I am a senior researcher at the University of Cologne's Global South Studies Center. Prior to that I was a research fellow with the University of Pretoria's Human Economy Programme. I also worked for several years as a lecturer at the University of Amsterdam (Department of Anthropology and Department of Political Sciences), the VU University Amsterdam (Department of Anthropology), and the Erasmus University Rotterdam (Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication).

My current research focuses on the interactions between corporations/investors involved in large-scale agriculture and their critics, such as rural communities, NGOs, journalists, etc.. One of the aims is to better understand how corporate actors respond (or not) to concerns about their practices. Similar to my earlier research on elites and power, I apply an (economic) anthropological approach.

Understanding different perspectives involved is essential to my work, as this allows for explaining the impact of, and interaction between, various worldviews. Observations from 'what really happens on the ground', moreover, are combined with analysing the impact of larger (global) processes and structures. One of the pitfalls of many analyses is that highly relevant yet at first sight difficult to grasp patterns are ignored. This tends to limit our understanding of the world we live in. Through interpreting underlying patterns, such as socio-cultural aspects, power, informal networks, conventions and convictions, I hope to contribute to grasping the complexities of social realities a bit better.

In more detail, my work comprises:

Research on Interactions between Market Representatives and their Critics

Resonating with widespread concerns about the negative impacts of current forms of capitalism, large-scale land based agricultural investments (in Africa) face substantial pressure from an international movement of critics that has raised concerns about the negative sides of commercial agriculture in the Global South. More than is acknowledged, I have observed that investors and corporations worry about these critics, to the extent that they may feel pressured to (partly) change their practices. Yet how investors and corporations (i.e. market representatives) interact with their critics, such as NGOs, rural populations, social movements, journalists, and (activist) scholars, receives relatively little theoretical and empirical attention in anthropology and related social sciences.

Notwithstanding that market representatives face more (international) pressure to minimise the negative impact of their practices than seems to be acknowledged, the outcomes of the interactions between them and their critics are highly ambiguous. To better explain this ambiguity I particularly analyse large-scale land based (foreign) investments in Zambia. These offer an opportunity to investigate how market representatives balance economic and moral concerns, and whether, why, and how their practices change (or not) as a result of pressure they face.

Elite and Power Research

My current project follows up on insights gained during my (PhD) research on the Franco-Mauritians, the white elite of the island of Mauritius. Though there may be many explanations of elite behaviour and power, studying elites from anthropological perspective made me realise that important aspects such as the elites' self-perceptions (of their power), anxieties, and feelings of belonging receive less attention than they deserve. In, among others, the book The Franco-Mauritian Elite: Power and Anxiety in the Face of Change I analyse in more detail how these and other aspects influence the position and power of elites.

I believe that studying elites from an anthropological perspective has much to contribute to a better understanding of power, inequality, and injustices. The volume The Anthropology of Elites, which I co-edited, demonstrates, for example, that knowledge about social relationships, behaviour of the powerful, and the influence of cultural patterns are often essential to a better understanding of power inequalities.

Ethnography

In all cases, my work is defined by its ethnographic approach. To better understand the world we live in, we have to understand what people ‘actually do’ and why they do what they do. We cannot rely on people’s self-presentation only and need to also observe their practices and behaviour.

As an ethnographer, I am trained to observe and analyse the complexity of various aspects involved. It should be noted, however, that ethnography, in this pursuit, does not solely rely on observations but often applies a wide variety of (qualitative but also quantitative) methods. It is important to combine different methods and, for example, constantly readjust standard questionnaires with the latest ethnographic observations. If done effectively, ethnography, focus groups, surveys and other methods can mutually reinforce each other.