Meet Kamari

Kamari Maxine Clarke is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Toronto. For more than twenty years, she has conducted research on issues related to legal institutions, human rights and international law, religious nationalism and the politics of race and globalization. She has spent her career exploring theoretical questions concerning culture and power and detailing the relationship between new social formations and contemporary problems. One of her key academic contributions has been to demonstrate ethnographically the ways that legal and religious knowledge regimes produce practices that travel globally. In addition to her scholarly work, she has served as a technical advisor to the African Union (AU) legal counsel and produced policy reports to help the AU navigate various international law and United Nations challenges. Clarke has published nine books (3 monographs and 6 edited volumes) with over 50 peer-refereed journal articles and book chapters. She is the author of Affective Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Pan-Africanist Pushback (2019, Duke), Fictions of Justice (Cambridge, 2010), and Mapping Yorùbá Networks (Duke, 2004). Clarke is the recipient of the 2019 Royal Anthropological Institute’s Amaury Talbot Book Prize, as well as the 2019 finalist for the Elliot Skinner book award for her latest book, Affective Justice (Duke, 2019). She is also a recipient of a Distinguished Chair in Transnational Justice sand Socio-legal Studies and the 2021 Guggenheim Prize for career excellence.

  • Past Research and Scholarship
  • Book Projects
  • Current and Future Research
  • Work Experience
  • Awards and Grants
  • Other Service

Over the past twenty years, Professor Clarke has undertaken three related research projects. Having turned to anthropology after completing her first degree in political science, she was interested in developing analytic tools for studying the complex forces of change that were transforming Africa and the African diaspora following the end of the Cold War.  Her early research helped to develop the field of globalization and transnationalism of the black Atlantic world. She began her career as a graduate student in the early 1990s in political anthropology at the New School for Social Research in New York City. Over the past twenty years, her research, publications and teaching have built on her earlier passions, spanning a range of new anthropological domains—from emergent transnational religious movements, to inquiries into the politics of justice in international law movements, to her current project related to new digital technologies and their use in dealing with various evidentiary challenges in legal circles.

Throughout her career, she has been interested in understanding how interrelationships among state actors, lawyers, religious leaders, and scientific and religious practitioners negotiate culture and power in the contemporary period. Such a focus has been central to her intellectual commitments and to the development of a new and growing area in political, legal and transnational anthropology.  As a leader in this area of theory building she has achieved recognition as a central interlocutor in interpreting transnational legal processes and their related socio-cultural and political contestations.

Clarke’s research has also attracted support from several major funding bodies, including The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (1995-96 and 2009-2011; 2015-16; 2017-2019), The Open Society Foundation (2014-2019), The National Science Foundation (NSF) (2012-2015, 2020-23), The Social Sciences and the Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) (1994-97, 2020-2023) and the U. S. State Department (2021 - 2023).

Over the years she has published in a range of journals in the field -- The Annual Review of Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, American Ethnologist, American Anthropologist, Anthropological Quarterly, Religion and Society, Political and Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR), and Anthropologica: The Journal of the Canadian Anthropology Society. One of her more widely read pieces was published in a flagship journal of my field—Current Anthropology. Titled “Toward a Critically Engaged Ethnographic Practice” (2010), the article explores the scholarly benefits of engaged anthropological work. Also popular has been her article in Transforming Anthropology, entitled “New Spheres of Transnational Formations: Mobilizations of Humanitarian Diasporas” (2010), which attempts to map the changing articulations of diasporic and transnational scholarship as it relates to various institutional and humanitarian projects.

In the law and human rights fields, she has published in key journals including Law, Text, Culture; The International Journal of Human Rights; African Journal of Legal Studies; Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, and The Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Review. She has also contributed to important area studies journals such as Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East and Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism. Her contributions to scholarly publishing of chapters in edited volumes, book reviews, reports, working papers, and policy documents further reflect the development of her thinking and collaborative efforts over the past two decades.

Over the past twenty years, she has undertaken three related research projects that have resulted in three individually published monographs, as well as six edited collections, with the final edited book being The Routledge Handbook of Law and Society, a major reader in the study of Law, Culture and Power. Her first single-authored book publication, Mapping Yoruba Networks: Power and Agency in the Making of Transnational Communities (Duke University Press, 2004), developed out of her doctoral research, explores particular forms of transnational religious practices that have produced certain cultural regulations. Since its publication, many reviews have highlighted the book’s innovation in regard to multi-sited work in black diasporic spaces.

Published after more than a decade of research on globalization, her second book explored the emergent international rule of law movement and its challenges around legal pluralism. Fictions of Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Challenge of Legal Pluralism in Sub-Saharan Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2009) analyzes the competing religious and ethnic politics of justice-making in local and transnational contexts. Using examples from UN preparatory commissions for the International Criminal Court (ICC), NGOs engaged in ICC organizing, and controversies over the legal classification and management of violence, she examines the ways that legal experts, religious conservatives, humanitarian organizations, and human rights organizations struggled to apply a universal United Nations-sanctioned approach to rights, especially in light of related engagements with political Islamic formations in West Africa. With this publication she mapped a new terrain in the cultural study of the international rule of law movement. The scholarly discussions that emerged from these publications contributed to heated debates over the politics of international tribunals, establishing her as an early voice in shaping a new field of inquiry, the anthropology of international justice.

Building on these critical interventions and with the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF) (2011-2014) her research launched a new phase in the study of the international rule of law movement involving the ICC, the African Court, and the African Union (UN). Resulting in Affective Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Pan-Africanist Pushback (Duke, 2019), this work explored the role of affects and emotions at the interplay of international law and politics. She argued that justice, expressed through liberal legality, needs affectivities in order to establish legitimacy in particular contexts. Affects emerge as both physical and psychological responses and expressions—visible as “feeling rules or norms”—that are embedded in particular socio-historical and biopolitial regimes. She argued that understanding these norms is critical to grasping how international justice is being debated and envisioned in the contemporary period.

Though much of Clarke’s research has sought to make a contribution to multi-sited, diasporic, and transnational theorizing, it has raised challenging methodological dilemmas about the limits of contemporary ethnography in a complex world. The development of expertise in multiple world regions often requires a tremendous amount of work, time and resources. This recognition of the changing nature of the field has led her to become equally committed to collaborative research.

Over the years Clarke has been engaged in a number of collaborative projects that reflect her commitment to rethinking methodological approaches to complex social phenomena.  Her career has been characterized by productive collaboration with colleagues both within and beyond Anthropology. Edited volumes have included Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness (Duke University Press, 2006), co-edited with Deborah Thomas; Mirrors of Justice: Law, Power and the Post-Cold War Era (Cambridge University Press, 2009), co-edited with Mark Goodale; Transforming Ethnographic Knowledge (University of Wisconsin Press, 2012), co-edited with Rebecca Hardin; Africa and the ICC: Realities and Perceptions (Cambridge University Press, 2016), co-edited with Abel Knottnerus and Eefje de Volder; The African Court of Justice and Human Rights: Development and Challenges (Cambridge, 2019), co-edited with Charles Jalloh and Vincent Nmehielle and a volume underway, The Routledge Handbook of Law and Society, edited with Mariana Valverde, Eve Darian-Smith, and Prabha Kotiswaran (Routledge Press, 2021). With these projects, she has developed new disciplinary methods and theories that have been path breaking for the study of law, religion, culture, and power in twenty-first-century contexts.

Globalization and Race, co-edited with Deborah Thomas, argues that a firm grasp of globalization requires a deeper understanding of how race and ethnicity have constituted and been constituted by new global transformations. It forges linkages between political economic and cultural studies approaches to understanding globalization. A second collaborative project, Mirrors of Justice, tackles the tension between the 21st century explosion of judicial, quasi-judicial, and non-judicial mechanisms of international justice (e.g. international courts, truth and reconciliation institutions) and traditional forms of social regulation. The volume argues for the important role of ethnographers in theorizing contemporary justice making across geographies. With Rebecca Hardin she co-produced her third co-edited book, Transforming Ethnographic Knowledge. The project codified insights from two lecture series and workshops at Yale in (2000-2002) on the changing ethnographic field. It asks: What is ethnography becoming? A range of compelling responses from luminaries in the field (Mary Catherine Bateson, George Marcus, Sidney Mintz, J. Lorand Matory, James Clifford, Hugh Gusterson, Rebecca Hardin, and Melissa Remis) argue that ethnography needs to adopt a passionate and reflective critical engagement with historiography, ethics, and applications. And a fourth co-edited book, Africa and the ICC, explores the International Criminal Court’s complicated relationship with Africa through contributions from prominent scholars of different disciplines, including international law, political science, cultural anthropology, African history, and media studies. In probing the impacts of the ICC in a range of African states and examining how other justice mechanisms operate at local and regional levels, the book explores the study of justice through its perceptions by various publics.

From 2013-2018 Clarke was involved in a range of global solutions projects related to the building of institutional capacity in the Global South. One such project is related to the building of African judicial capacity. Another one is connected to the interstices of International Criminal Law and meanings of justice and led to the formation of the African Court Research Initiative (ACRI). Through this three-phase initiative, Professors Clarke and Charles Jalloh have been working with the African Union to provide the necessary technical and strategic services to the African Union legal office with the goal of helping them to develop guidelines through various auxiliary documents for the operationalization of the African Court of Justice and Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Court).  In addition to producing four major expert papers that were used by the AU in ministerial and working group meetings to inform the strategies later adopted, they collaborated with Professor Vincent Nmehielle to produce a book on the African Court released in 2019 and involving contributions from forty international experts engaged in the development of one of the AU’s most controversial treaties—the Malabo Protocol for the African Court.

Clarke’s current research program is two-pronged and builds on her history while extending praxis into new territories. One project re-invigorates her early work on transnational religious movements by exploring how various forms of African-based diasporic religious practices—orisha-voodoo, Santeria, and Jamaican obeah—are taken up in North American courts in contestations over “religious freedom” during criminal, asylum, and refugee cases. Provisionally titled Of Dreamers and the Limits of the Law: Dilemmas in the Exercise of Religious Freedom, this project attempts to make sense of contemporary challenges in transnational occult religions that are sometimes at odds with emergent rights-endowed agendas of state and international institutions. This work deals with the challenges of religious pluralism in national state contexts and inspires questions concerning the how practices conducted outside of diasporic “homelands” become embodiments of other traditions. She asks how those “traditions” are being revived in legal proceedings to protect the rights of individual claimants, while at the same time reinforcing a particular narrative about harm and violence in various countries, especially Nigeria, the Sudan, and Liberia. Echoing her past work, this current and future research aims to understand how, in democratic nation states such as the United States and Canada, state power is being exercised not only through the protection of religious freedoms in constitutional rulings, but also through state adherence to international treaty requirements. Essays in progress towards a book on this topic examine how the courts have ruled on particular cases—involving constitutional freedoms, asylum, and religious freedoms among inmates, for example—and how those affected have mobilized in response to those rulings.

Clarke’s second current/future research project is inspired by recent developments in the anthropology of justice, the anthropology of globalization, and study of technologies of science and the body. It investigates matters related to evidence and new technologies for tracking abductions and disappearances. With funding from The Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the Social Science and Humanities Foundation of Canada, she is engaged in exploring the particular ways that scientists, technology developers, human rights organizations, surviving families, and social activists procure, produce and transfer social meanings through geospatial data/evidence. This project, undertaken with two co-PIs, Jennifer Burrell and Sara Kendall, involves three geographic field sites in Mexico, Nigeria, and at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Netherlands. Her research tracks how new forms of geospatial data and knowledge are extrapolated on the ground (through alliances among technical experts, civil society advocates, and ordinary citizens), and then how they are transformed into contested bodies of evidence within legal environments. She is interested in understanding the way that these scientific knowledge technologies are transforming international legal and humanitarian efforts. This work provides opportunities to uncover and theorize complex legal, political, and social interactions with technologies, ultimately contributing new knowledge about science, society, and law. Both current research projects aim to advance our grasp of the very possibilities and limitations of international justice.

View Current Projects

Upon completing her Ph.D. in 1997, Clarke took up an appointment as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Departments of Anthropology and African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where she spent two years. In 1998 she was offered a teaching position as an assistant professor at Yale University and relocated to New Haven, Connecticut in 1999 to begin her position and where she continues to work as a Professor of Anthropology. At Yale, Clarke taught courses on Contemporary Social Theory; Transnationalism, Globalization and Social Change; The Anthropology of Religion and Religion and Social Power, Law and Culture as well as a range of other classes dealing with Field Methods, Human Rights, and New Directions in African Studies. After being at Yale for four years, in 2003 she was promoted to Associate Professor and then was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2007 and then to full professor in 2009.

Since 2010, Clarke has revived her interest in engaged research projects by combining theory and practice. One such project was the Leadership Enterprise for African Development, a new research and capacity building institute that leverages research and expertise from the world’s leading institutions of higher learning to strengthen knowledge, leadership and governance capacity in the African public, business, and civil society sectors, and deepen the process of reform and revitalization in Africa.

Of late she has been involved in a range of global solutions projects related to the building of African institutional capacity. One such project is related to the building of African judicial capacity. Another one is connected to the interstices of International Criminal Law and meanings of justice and led to the formation of the African Court Research Initiative. Through this initiative, Professor Clarke and Professor Charles Jalloh have been working with the African Union to provide the necessary technical and strategic services to the African Union legal office with the goal of helping them to develop guidelines through various auxiliary documents for the operationalization of the African Court of Justice and Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Court). The project has three phases and during phase one they carried out initial research, identified and engaged with some of the leading experts on the international criminal law topics at issue and hosted the first major academic conference on the future African Court.

From the earliest days of her career, Professor Clarke has received numerous prestigious fellowships, grants and awards. As a graduate student, she was awarded the University of California President Fellowship (1993-94 and 1996-97), the Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada (SSHRCC) Doctoral Fellowship and Research Grant(1994-96), and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Field Research Grant (1995-1996). Upon completion of her doctorate degree, she was awarded the University of California, Berkeley President’s Post-Doctoral Fellowship (1997-1999).

During her academic career, Professor Clarke has continued to receive highly competitive awards including grants from the Ford Foundation (2003), a second Wenner-Gren Foundation research award (2009-2011), and recently a highly competitive grant from the National Science Foundation (2012). In addition, during her tenure at Yale, she has received numerous grants to support her research, as well as several departmental programs and initiatives. In her leadership capacity at Yale University she led the Council of African Studies into securing a four-year 1.5 million grant US Government Title VI NRC and FLAS grant.

From 2009-2010, Clarke was a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy, and in 2021 she received a Distinguished Chair in Transnational Justice and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto and in the same year won the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship Award for career excellence.

Professor Clarke serves on numerous faculty and student committees. Off campus she has served on several high-profile boards ranging from the Board for The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, The American Anthropologist editorial board, and the editorial board for The Political and Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR). She has also served as the general secretary of the Association of Africanist Anthropologists within the American Anthropological Association, and recently was the Associate Editor for Cultural Anthropology of American Anthropologist (2015-2020), one of American anthropology’s flagship journals.

Over the years and to date, Professor Clarke has been a dedicated reviewer of book manuscripts and top journals in the field, including American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, and Current Anthropology, and has acted as a peer reviewer for a number of major academic foundations including the National Science Foundation (2015, 2018, 2019), Social Science Research Council (SSRC) selection committee for International Dissertation Fieldwork fellowships (2007-09, 2018), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant competition selection committee (2008-09, 2019-20). She has served as an external reviewer for various universities and accreditation boards and is recognized as an active participant in national and international professional associations in anthropology, law, and global studies.

Over the past decade she has served as a consultant for a number of inter-governmental and governmental agencies and think tank organizations. In 2008 she participated in some of the United States Department of Defense Africa Briefings, followed by consultancies at the United States Department of State from 2009-2011. From 2012-13, she served as a research consultant for the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), a leading think tank in Africa, and has conducted various trainings related to “Managing Diversity” as a critical arena of international affairs in Africa. She has regularly consulted with the Canadian government through Global Affairs Canada (GAC), and from 2015-2019 she served as a technical advisor to the African Union (AU). Her AU consultancy work in conjunction with the contributions of her research to public policy have allowed her to contribute in meaningful ways to the shaping of a new era in contemporary international and global affairs in Africa. Combined with her involvement in applying her research to public intellectual life, her research and advisory work are making a difference in broad and diverse ways. This has ranged from being a commentator in various public media forums, including opinion editorials in the New York Times, The Huffington Post, various international justice blogs, to media outlets such as the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC).

As an intellectual leader in shaping the anthropologies of transnational justice and globalization, Professor Clarke has produced interdisciplinary scholarship with powerful implications for theory and public policy. She brings ethnography to bear on understanding how everyday cultural norms travel from local sites, become embedded and transformed in transnational domains, and take on new meanings locally.

  • Personal Biography

Kamari Clarke (formerly Maxine Claudia Clarke) was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica and moved with her family to Canada when she was a baby. Raised in Toronto of immigrant parents, an engineer and a banker, she hails from a line of Jewish traders on her maternal side of the family who traveled from Palestine to the Caribbean to trade diamonds. Her paternal side of the family has not been clearly documented but it was understood that they were formerly enslaved during plantation slavery in Jamaica and eventually bought their freedom and became agricultural landowners.

Kamari came of age in the 1970s in contexts that made her deeply aware of the complexities of power and the privilege of education and social status. Her insights into both sides of power and social mobility at a young age made her particularly sensitive the workings of power. Her life’s work was always that of social analysis and political engagement. During her elementary and high school years at McMurrich Junior Public School, D. B. Hood Elementary School, Fairbank Middle School and then Oakwood Collegiate Institute (high school) in Toronto, she was fully engaged in student activities from winning public speaking competitions, Ontario Youth Awards, to representing Ontario and Canada in National sports tournaments, to co-founding the first black (Afro-Canadian) club in a Toronto high school in 1983. 

During her student years at Concordia University, she played a leadership role in the university’s anti-apartheid position and worked with students at McGill University to mobilize support for South Africa’s disenfranchised. The power of the international movement of sanctions against South Africa owes its success to nodes of social organizing in global cities and micro-movements such as her anti-apartheid activism in Montreal in the mid-1980s.

After this period, Clarke took the African name, “Kamari” as a rejection of the ongoing structural conditions that led people of African descent to adopt names that reflected those of the owners of plantations during conditions of slavery. 

She graduated from Concordia University in Political Science-International Relations in 1988 and at the graduation ceremony, upon receiving the prestigious Concordia University Council on Student Life Award, she announced her new name with a short speech to an audience of approximately five hundred people. The speech explained that studying at the university taught her not only about the theories and histories of a world in motion and Canada’s place in it, but also about the histories of inequality that impacted the life and identities of Black people in the Americas. “These conditions,” she explained, “continued to shape structural inequality in our world and for this reason taking “Kamari” as my new name will remind me of a history denied that can be reclaimed in other ways.”

Shortly thereafter, Kamari moved to the United States to pursue a Masters of Arts in Political Anthropology at the New School for Social Research – which she finished in 1993. Upon completing her masters, she earned a Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Cruz under the guidance of – Carolyn Martin Shaw, Steve Caton, Lisa Rofel, Don Brenneis and Angela Davis. After her doctorate she then completed a Master in the Study of Law in 2003 at Yale Law School.

Upon completing her Ph.D. in 1997, Clarke took up an appointment as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Departments of Anthropology and African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where she spent two years. In 1998 she was offered a teaching position as an assistant professor at Yale University and relocated to New Haven, Connecticut in 1999. In 2003 she was promoted to Associate Professor and then was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2007/8, and then to full professor in 2009 where she remained until 2013. At Yale, addition to serving as Yale’s chairperson for the Council on African studies from 2009-2012 and co-founding Yale’s Center for Transnational Cultural Analysis.  In 2009, she became the first Black female professor on faculty in the social sciences tenured in Yale University’s 300+ year history.

From 2013-2015 Clarke taught at the University of Pennsylvania in the Anthropology Department, from 2015-2018 at Carleton University in Canada, from 2018-2021 at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).  Clarke is currently a distinguished professor at the University of Toronto.