about me

Anne Menzelpolitical scientist by training/anthropologist by heart, social theory enthusiast, interested in the politics of improvement, power, knowledge, and struggle

My research combines interest in problems that are considered ‘policy relevant’ with ethnographic research and sociological perspectives on power relations. How do projects and policies in the name of peace, security, justice, and development relate to the hopes and struggles of those they purport to help and empower? How do nominal ‘beneficiaries’ make sense of, embrace or reject the problems and solutions they are presented with? When and how do alternatives to mainstream (neoliberal) policies and donor-funded project work become imaginable – or even doable? These are some of the questions that have driven my work. Most of it has focused on Sierra Leone where I have conducted extensive fieldwork and made many friends. I also did some research in Nairobi, Kenya.

I am currently developing new ideas about bringing questions and perspectives from my research in Sierra Leone and Kenya to Germany and other Global North contexts. For example, I am interested in exploring whether and how donor-funded improvement work (e.g. projects delivered by NGOs), e.g. around prevention of violence and anti-racism, works differently in Northern and Southern settings: how are power relations and their impacts similar or different, what is the role of activism, and how does it combine or clash with professional standards, demands, requirements etc.? In short, the idea is to get at a fuller, comparative, combined picture of the contemporary conditions for achieving meaningful change/betterment. In addition, I expect that I will learn a lot about normalized assumptions of difference and possibly unexpected similarities in the process. These ideas are still at an early stage, but I hope to make some progress with them soon.

Lumley Beach in Freetown, March 2017

Most Recent

Anne Menzel 2023: What is the Relationship of Neoliberalism and the Liberal Script? SCRIPTS Arguments 4 on Neoliberalism.

Anne Menzel 2023: Situating Liberal Rationality. Unacknowledged Commitments in Progressive Knowledge Production and Policymaking. SCRIPTS Working Paper No. 23.

Anne Menzel and Lisa Tschörner 2022: Responding to Sexual Violence: How (De-) Politicization and Technicalization Shape Donor-Funded Interventions. International Peacekeeping 30 (1): 128-154, online first, published 21 December 2022.

Pandemic Blogging

Anne Menzel 2020: Widerstand und Verschwörungstheorien in der Gesundheitskrise. Soziopolis, Schwerpunktreihe „Sicherheit in der Krise“.

Anne Menzel 2020: Liberal Rationality and its Others in the Pandemic. SCRIPTS Blog No 7.

Anne Menzel 2020: Positioniertheit im Gesundheitsnotstand: Wahrnehmungen, Auslassungen und Bewertungen im Kontext von Ebola und Corona (#WitnessingCorona) Blog Medical Anthropology / Medizinethnologie and boasblogs.

Research Topics

Professionalism and activism in Transitional Justice

In the context of a research project located at Marburg University, I analyzed the work of internationalized truth commissions in Sierra Leone and Kenya and spoke to victims and activists who had participated or somehow tried to work with these commissions and/or participated in consecutive efforts at bringing about reforms and reparations. I discovered powerful tensions between and combinations of professionalism and activism and developed detailed accounts of a type of marginalization that results not from professional failure but from professionals doing a good job.

Anne Menzel 2021: Delivering output and struggling for change: Tacit activism among professional transitional justice work in Sierra Leone and Kenya, in Cooperation and Conflict 56: 4, 414-431.

Menzel, Anne 2021: „Lokale“ Zivilgesellschaften und ihre Akteur*innen – was steckt in dieser räumlichen Zuschreibung? DVPW blog. 

Anne Menzel 2020: The Perils of Recognizing Local Agency: The Case of Victims of Sexual Violence and the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), in Journal of International Relations and Development 23: 3, 584-606

Anne Menzel 2020. The pressures of getting it right: Expertise and victims’ voices in the work of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), in International Journal of Transitional Justice 14:2, 300-319

Anne Menzel 2018: Building a Movement in a Projectized World: Wangu Kanja’s Struggle for Survivors of Sexual Violence in Kenya. Mauerpark Institute Blog

International Day of the Right to Truth in Nairobi, March 2018

Neoliberalism, employability, and girls empowerment in Sierra Leone

In the years before the West Africa Ebola Outbreak, the Sierra Leone government – with the support of major donors – engaged in a strategy of attracting foreign investors to achieve economic growth and increase formal sector employment. At the same time, the government initiated new debates about unemployment that largely blamed the unemployed for their own fate. In short, there was a shift from unemployment to ‘employability‘.

Anne Menzel 2016: From (Un)Employment to Employability: Localized Neoliberal Norms and the Politics of Proper Progress in Sierra Leone, in: Bonacker, Thorsten/Zimmer, Kerstin/Von Heusinger, Judith (Hrsg.): Localization in Development Aid. How Global Institutions Enter Local Life Worlds. Routledge, 208-230

Anne Menzel 2015: Foreign Investment, Large-Scale Land Deals, and Uncertain ‘Development’ in Sierra Leone: Impacts, Conflicts, and Security Concerns. CSS Working Paper No. 18, Marburg Center for Conflict Studies

Neoliberal imperatives have also featured prominently in donor funded gender politics, e.g. in efforts to reduce teenage pregnancy that received much donor attention in post-Ebola Sierra Leone. These efforts tended to focus on sensitizing teenage girls on the need to avoid early sex and focus on their education in order to become economically successful and self-reliant women.

Fofana Ibrahim, Aisha, Alice James, Mariatu Kabba, Aminata Kamara, Anne Menzel, and Nicky Spencer‑Coker 2021: Making sense of girls empowerment in Sierra Leone: a conversation, in International Politics Reviews 9, 353–374.

Podcast, Interview with Aisha Fofana Ibrahim and Anne Menzel about „Making sense of girls empowerment in Sierra Leone“.

Anne Menzel 2019: ‘Without Education You Can Never Become President’: Teenage Pregnancy and Pseudo-Empowerment in Sierra Leone. Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 13:4, 440-458

Anne Menzel 2017: Sexual violence in post-Ebola Sierra Leone: Old problems and new policy priorities. Mauerpark Institute Blog

A billboard in central Freetown, February 2017

Postwar unpeaceful relations and dangerousness

Much research on postwar Sierra Leone focused on questions related to former fighters/ex-combatants, their reintegration and their potentials for future violence. In my PhD research, I decided to take a look at the basic assumptions underlying much of this research, especially the idea that fear of renewed violence and willingness to resort to violence in postwar Sierra Leone were located along a civilian/ex-combatant cleavage. Based on field research in the city of Bo and in one nearby village, I found that postwar unpeacefulness had actually taken a different shape. Not only were expectations of violence directed at a large class of allegedly dangerous young men – most of whom were not former fighters. Moreover, these ‘dangerous ones’ were not generally ready for violence, especially not in the way that was widely expected of them.

Anne Menzel 2017: Betterment versus Complicity: Struggling with Patron-Client Logics in Sierra Leone, in: Højbjerg, Christian K./Knörr, Jacqueline Murphy, William P. (Hrsg.): Politics and Policies in Upper Guinea Coast Societies. Change and Continuity. Palgrave Macmillan, 77-98

Anne Menzel 2015: Was vom Krieg übrig bleibt: Unfriedliche Beziehungen in Sierra Leone. transcript Verlag, open access

Anne Menzel 2011: Between Ex-Combatization and Opportunities for Peace: The Double-Edged Qualities of Motorcycle-Taxi Driving in Urban Post-War Sierra Leone, in: Africa Today, 58:2, 97-127

Bo Town Bike Riders‘ Association, February 2009

Can critical research be policy relevant?

This is a question that I regularly come back to. The answer is probably No if one understands policy relevance in the narrow sense of providing immediately useful information to policy makers. On the other hand, the answer might be Yes if one expects policy makers to also be interested in reflecting on basic assumptions and constitutive exclusions in their work. Also, who says that policy relevance cannot also mean discussing information and ideas with activists who seek to influence policy processes?

Anne Menzel and Susanne Buckley-Zistel 2018: Sexuelle Gewalt in Konflikten: Endlich soll wirksam gehandelt werden – nur wie? DVPW Blog

Anne Menzel and Anita Schroven 2016: The Morning After: Anthropology and the Ebola Hangover. Blog post for the working group „Integration and Conflict along the Upper Guinea Coast“ at Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle.

Anne Menzel 2014: „Ebola ist nur eins unserer Probleme“ ‒ Ebola-Bewusstsein, Misstrauen und Entwicklungshoffnungen in Sierra Leone. Blog Medical Anthropology

Anne Menzel 2014: Zwischen Herrschaftswissen und Irrelevanz? Feldforschung und das Ringen mit der Policy-Relevanz, in: Zeitschrift für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, 3:2, 264-283

Contact me at menzel@ifsh.de

Find me on researchgate and Twitter

%d Bloggern gefällt das: