I am a professor in cultural anthropology at Uppsala University, where I am currently also the head of department. My research and scholarship have mainly focused on conflict and post conflict situations. I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in cultural anthropology, conflict anthropology and Africa studies. I am particularly interested in ethnographic methods and have been developing teaching curricula in this field.
I have conducted most of my fieldwork in Liberia and Sierra Leone where I have, in addition to understanding the civil wars in the two countries, in particular focused my research on issues around youth participation in rebel movements and youth in precarious urban environments in the aftermath of civil wars. Another prevalent research focus of mine has been gender.
My regional research interest is a long term commitment actually since the time of my undergraduate studies where I already as a first year student in anthropology went to Sierra Leone in order to investigate the content of a journal article I found dubious. It was early 1992 and I was en route to Madagascar. Whether the article was right or wrong turned out harder to determine than what I, as a young student, thought, but I fell in love with Sierra Leone and West Africa (and never reached Madagascar). Since that time, as a PhD student and subsequently as researcher, I have carried out fieldworks in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and on Somalia (with fieldworks in Kenya and Dubai) with a similar amount of passion for good ethnography.
I see myself first and foremost as a fieldworker, a person who unravels and systematize complexities of the “real” world with ethnographic methods. I don’t view my field as exotic, but rather quite familiar once I learn to understand it. For instance the longer I hung out with former combatants in Liberia and Sierra Leone the more familiar their world became to ours. Even their crimes became understandable – although by saying so I do not legitimate it. Understanding is not equal to moral acceptance.
What I see as urgent is connecting knowledge of “their” with that of “ours” in order to communicate across what in our media, or daily conversations with friends in our bubble, often turns into an abyss of difference if not something incommensurable. Cultural and social anthropologists have commonplace stopped short at being satisfied presenting findings to our own “tribe” of anthropologists, if not being lost in meticulous detail. Whilst not giving up detail we must however become better to communicate outwards, with other disciplines and fields of knowledge, and also with a larger public. Over the years I have intentionally worked in multidisciplinary research projects, I have published in multidisciplinary environments and I have engaged with media, policymakers and practitioners. It has been difficult work and at times I have felt the urge to drop out and hide within my discipline, but such a retreat would be to voluntarily re-marginalize. “Anthropology should have changed the world” states Thomas Hyland Eriksen slightly polemic. Indeed we did not, there is in fact no proper anthropological “we” to talk about, but it is still not too late to change the world.
Currently I am working on two research projects: one on circular migration in and out of West Africa and one with a focus on the roles of research assistants in conflict studies. The first project is solidly anthropological, whilst the second is a cross-disciplinary project also involving political scientists. Both projects are funding by the Swedish Research Council.