Kamari Maxine Clarke is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of California Los Angeles. 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 contributions to the various disciplines that she inhabits has been to demonstrate ethnographically the ways that religious and legal knowledge regimes produce practices that travel globally. In addition to her scholarly work, from 2014 – 2019 she served as 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 over 50 peer-refereed journal articles in leading journals and book chapters and has co-edited seven books. She is the author of Fictions of Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Challenge of Legal Pluralism in Sub-Saharan Africa (Cambridge, 2010), and Mapping Yorùbá Networks: Power and Agency in the Making of Transnational Communities (Duke, 2004). She is also 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: The International Criminal Court and the Pan-Africanist Push-back (Duke, 2019).
Past Research and Scholarship
Over the past twenty years, Professor Clarke has undertaken three related research projects that have resulted in three individually published monographs; edited collections; nearly fifty articles published in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters; and numerous white papers and other deliverables aimed at public audiences. Her early research helped to develop the field of globalization and transnationalism of the black Atlantic world. She began her research career as a graduate student in the early 1990s in political anthropology and Frankfurt school critical theory at the New School for Social Research in New York City. 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. 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 ongoing challenges over religion and liberal constitutionalism, to the 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 the relationships between 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.
One of her key contributions has been to demonstrate ethnographically the ways that religious and legal knowledge regimes are deployed globally. She is interested in how we can establish new terms for a research agenda that neither presumes subjectivity as fundamentally territorialized, nor insists that concepts such as religion, culture, and justice are similarly or uniformly constructed across different geographies. As a leader in this area of theory 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 investments 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), and The Social Sciences and the Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) (1994-97, 2020-2023)). Her new research project was funded initially by university-level preliminary funding support and a fieldwork grant from The Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and recent awards from The SSHRC and NSF.
As a result of such funding support she has been able to publish findings in close to 50 peer-refereed journal articles in leading journals including 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 my 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 on the African diaspora.
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 explores the role of affects and emotions at the interplay of international law and politics. She argues 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 argues that understanding these norms is critical to grasping how international justice is being debated and envisioned in the contemporary period.
Though much of her research has sought to make a contribution to multi-sited, diasporic, and transnational theorizing, it has also presented challenging methodological dilemmas. The need to develop expertise in multiple world regions in order to understand the implications of transnational dialogues and processes 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 she 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 (forthcoming with Routledge Press, 2021). With these projects, she has consistently strived to develop 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.
Professor Clarke’s orientation to both collaboration and impact seeded the development of an enduring project at the intersection of research and practice: The African Court Research Initiative (ACRI) emerged out of a three-phase project that builds upon her earlier work on the ICC and its relevance in Africa. This project was co-conceived with Professor Charles Jalloh at the Florida International University (FIU) Faculty of Law in conjunction with the African Union Commission (AUC). ACRI is now in its fifth year of providing research and technical assistance to the African Union (AU). The project has created an innovative legal and political framework through which to establish a regional 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, the book publication from this collaboration was released in 2019 and involved contributions by forty international experts engaged in the development of one of the AU’s most controversial treaties—the Malabo Protocol for the expansion of the criminal jurisdiction of the African Court. This initiative has received ongoing and significant funding support from the Open Society Foundation. In addition to this collaborative project, she has begun to map out the next phase of her individual research focus in a number of exciting new directions.
Current and Future Research
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 in order 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.
Her 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 human rights abuses. With funding from The Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the SSHRC, 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 tremendous opportunity 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.
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.
Awards and Grants
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. Also, from 2009-2010, Professor Clarke served as a scholar in residence at The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy.
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, she 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.
In 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, when she moved to Carleton University from 2015-2019, she played a central role in co-building the new Bachelor of Global and International Studies (BGInS) degree program and supported, with her research funds, the development of a three-month internship program with the African Court Research Initiative described earlier. At UCLA she has been engaged in the development of vibrant interdisciplinary collaborations with colleagues across campus, including the founding of the Transnational Justice research cluster housed in the anthropology department.
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 regular 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.
As an intellectual leader in shaping the anthropologies of transnational justice and globalization, she 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.