Anne Menzel – political scientist by training/anthropologist by heart, social theory enthusiast, researcher of peace(building), conflicts, power, knowledge, and struggle
In my research, I combine interest in problems that are considered ‘policy relevant’ with ethnographic research and sociological perspectives on internationalized 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 research. Most of it has focused on Sierra Leone where I have conducted extensive fieldwork and made many friends. I recently also did some research in Nairobi, Kenya.
I am currently developing some new ideas about bringing questions and perspectives from my research in Sierra Leone and Kenya to Germany. I want to use them to explore − from possibly underexplored angles − the drastic polarization in today’s Germany. 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 at a very early stage, but I hope to make some progress with them soon.
This is a collaborative project with my colleague Michael Knipper (University of Gießen) which we are about to kick off with a first round of interviews. On my part, the idea for this project belongs to a broader interest in ‘dislocating’ concepts and perspectives that I have used in my research in Sub-Saharan Africa by applying them to problems in Germany. We developed the idea after I had given an invited talk in one of Michael’s seminars (in July 2020) about how anthropologists approached non-compliance and seeming irrationality during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa: namely by aiming to understand why people would come to believe in conspiracy theories and uncover reasons for resistance and non-compliance with emergency regulations. By contrast, the academic response to conspiracy thinking and non-compliance during the COVID-19 crisis in Germany has been to frame these behaviors as irrational and to approach them through social psychology. At least, this is how it seems at first glance. I plan to do more research on the social science response to the COVID-19 pandemic (in Germany and beyond). In any case, I am interested in the intellectual histories and guiding assumptions underlying such different responses, and also in the blind spots and exclusions they produce.
Anne Menzel 2020: Positioniertheit im Gesundheitsnotstand: Wahrnehmungen, Auslassungen und Bewertungen im Kontext von Ebola und Corona (#WitnessingCorona) Blog Medical Anthropology / Medizinethnologie and boasblogs.
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 online first 15 March 2021.
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
Neoliberalism, gender and agency 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.
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
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 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.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org