- Dr Joost Fontein
- Lecturer in Social Anthropology
- 5.25 Chrystal Macmillan Building 15a George Square Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
- +44 (0)131 651 3861
Anthropology of Landscapes, Objects, Things and Materiality.
The affective presence and emotive materiality of bones, bodies and bodily substances
Politics of memory, history, heritage and the past/place
Nationalism and the postcolonial state
Belonging, sovereignty and the materialities of rule
Water and land reform
Spirit mediums, sacred places, war veterans and political subjectivity
I am an Africanist and social anthropologist interested in the political imbrications of landscapes, things and materialities. I have taught social anthropology at Edinburgh since 2007. From August 2014 I will be on secondment as Director of the British Institute in Eastern Africa.
I did my doctoral fieldwork in southern Zimbabwe, exploring the politics of heritage and landscape around the internationally renowned site of Great Zimbabwe. This thesis won the ASA UK Audrey Richards Prize in 2004, and a monograph entitled The Silence of Great Zimbabwe: Contested Landscapes & the Power of Heritage was published by UCL Press in 2006. I am currently finishning a book entitled: Remaking Mutirikwi: Landscape, Water & Belonging in Southern Zimbabwe, James Currey 2015. It focuses on the political materialities of land and water in ongoing contests over sovereignty, belonging and the reconfiguration of postcolonial stateness, in the context of land reform around Lake Mutirikwi in southern Zimbabwe. As a founding member of the Bones Collective research group, based in anthropology at Edinburgh, I am involved in collaborative research exploring the affective presence and emotive materiality of human remains. We have published various single and co-authored articles, and special issues on the emotive materiality of human bones (Journal of Material Culture December 2010: see http://mcu.sagepub.com/content/15/4.toc) and on the vitality and effiacy of human substances Critical African Studies October 2013; see http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rcaf20/current#.UnglfBxHgaQ) .
I was editor of the Journal of Southern African Studies (2008-2014) and am co-founder & editor of Critical African Studies. In 2009 I was elected to the prestigious Curl lectureship by the Royal Anthropological Institute, and delivered a paper entitled "Graves, Ruins & Belonging: Towards an Anthropology of Proximity", which was published in JRAI in December 2011. It can be listened to here:
I have presented at seminars and conferences in South Africa, Argentina, Kenya, Zimbabwe, France, Norway, Portugal, Sardinia, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, USA, and Zambia as well as in the UK, in Glasgow, Goldsmiths, Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, LSE, SOAS, Roehampton, Brunel, Anglia Ruskin, and London, and I have published in a wide variety of different academic journals, edited collections and books in several different languages. I teach various undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Anthropology and African studies at Edinburgh and supervise PhD students focusing on a wide range of subjects, countries and themes, ranging from land reform and belonging in Zimbabwe, to children's engagement with objects at National Museum of Scotland, to the complexities of life amongst the detritus and mines of post war Cambodia, to the ecotourism in Kenya, and exhumations, corpses and commemoration in post genocide Rwanda. I have also done consultancy work for asylum and occasionally criminal cases involving Zimbabweans in the UK, and for BBC documentaries, such as the Lost Kingdoms of Africa series broadcast in 2010.
Some selected publications
I recently published an article based on my experiences as an expert witness in a UK criminal trial involving allegations of witchcraft and spirit possession:
Forthcoming 2015 Remaking Mutirikwi: Landscape Water and Belonging in Southern Zimbabwe Oxford: James Currey
2006 The Silence of Great Zimbabwe: Contested Landscapes and the Power of Heritage London: UCL Press & Harare: Weaver Press. Reprinted 2008.
selected Special Issues
Dec. 2010 with C.Krmpotich & J.Harries (eds) The Substance of Bones: the emotive materiality and affective presence of human remains Special issue of Journal of Material Culture 15(4). see: http://mcu.sagepub.com/content/15/4.toc
Dec. 2008 with R.Marsland & J. McGregor (eds) The Power of Water: Landscape, Water and the State in Southern & Eastern Africa. Special Issue of Journal of Southern African Studies (JSAS) 34.4.
Selected Published artciles
Dec 2011 “Graves, Ruins & Belonging: Towards and anthropology of proximity” JRAI – RAI Curl Lecture 2009, British Museum, September 2009.
Dec. 2010 “Between Tortured Bodies and Resurfacing Bones: the Politics of the Dead in Zimbabwe” in Special issue on “The Substance of Bones” in Journal of Material Culture. 15(4).
Dec. 2010 with C.Krmpotich & J.Harries “Introduction: The Substance of Bones: the emotive materiality and affective presence of human remains Special issue of Journal of Material Culture 15(4) (eds.) J.Fontein, C.Krmpotich & J.Harries
2009 “Anticipating the Tsunami: Rumours, planning and the arbitrary state in Zimbabwe”, in AFRICA (August 2009)
2009 “ ‘We want to belong to our roots and we want to be modern people': New farmers, old claims around Lake Mutirikwi, southern Zimbabwe” African Studies Quarterly, (June 2009).
2009 “The Politics of the Dead: Living Heritage, Bones and Commemoration in Zimbabwe”, ASAonline .
2008 “The Power of Water: Landscape, Water and the State in Southern & Eastern Africa. An Introduction” in Special Issue of JSAS, 34.4
2006 “Languages of land, water and ‘tradition’ around Lake Mutirikwi in southern Zimbabwe” Journal of Modern African Studies, 44, 2, pp.1-27.
2006 “Shared legacies of the War: spirit mediums and war veterans in southern Zimbabwe” Journal of Religion in Africa, 36, 2, pp.167-199.
2006 “Silence, destruction and closure at Great Zimbabwe: local narratives of desecration and alienation” Journal of Southern African Studies, 32, 4, pp. 771-794
2006 “Reclaiming Zimbabwe’s Unfinished Business: Review Article of Hammer, A. Raftopoulos B. & Jensen S. 2003 Zimbabwe’s Unfinished Business: Rethinking Land, state and Nation in the Context of Crisis, and Campbell, H. 2003 Reclaiming Zimbabwe: The Exhaustion of the Patriarchal Model of Liberation” in Africa 75,4.
Jan 2011 “The Politics of the Dead: Living Heritage, Bones and Commemoration in Zimbabwe” in Polite K. & Brosius, C. (eds) Media Rituals and Ritual Media Weisbaden: Harrasowitz
October 2010 “The efficacy of emic and etic in archaeology and heritage” in U.Rizvi & J.Lydon (eds) World Archaeological Congress (WAC) Research Handbook on Postcolonialism and Archaeology, Left Coast Press.
2005 “An ethnographic study of the politics of water and land around Lake Mutirikwi, southern Zimbabwe” in edited conference proceedings, African Water Histories: Trans-disciplinary discourses Vanderbijl Park: Northwest University.
2004 “‘Traditional Connoisseurs’ of the Past: The Ambiguity of Spirit Mediums and the Performance of the Past in southern Zimbabwe” Occasional Paper No 99. Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh.
2000 “UNESCO, Heritage and Africa: An anthropological critique of World Heritage” Occasional Paper No 80, Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh. 2nd edition published by LAP publishing 2010.
If you are interested in being supervised by Joost Fontein, please see the links below for more information: