M. Kamari Clarke is a professor at Carleton University in International and Global Studies. She also teaches in the department of Law and Legal Studies and in the Anthropology department. Over her career she has taught at Yale University (1999-2012), the University of Pennsylvania (2012-2015), and the University Toronto (2015) and was the former chair of the Council on African Studies at Yale (2007- 2010) and the former director and co-founder of the Center for Transnational Cultural Analysis at Yale. For more than 20 years, Professor Clarke has conducted research on issues related to legal institutions, human rights and international law, religious nationalism and the politics of globalization. She has spent her career exploring theoretical questions of culture and power and in the field of law and anthropology 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. By mapping the way that particular cultural forms travel, and by highlighting why and how some travel more than others, she has quickly established herself as a leader in this area and a central interlocutor into new ways of managing power and regulating social practices.
Professor Clarke has two research projects underway. One project lies at the intersections between legal and religious knowledge in which she examines contemporary crises over the state accommodations of cultural differences and the ways that different cultural agents seek to enforce, legitimatize and authorize decision-making in North American courts. In this work she explores various cases (constitutional freedoms, asylum, criminal/religious, religious freedoms among inmates) where courts have ruled in one way and those affected by the ruling have mobilized their forces differently. This work is now in manuscript form, entitled Of Dreamers and the Limits of the Law, and aims to explore the fundamental impossibility of the exercise of religious freedoms—especially in relation to criminal, civil asylum and refugee cases.
The second project is related to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the African Union and explores current theoretical debates on the globalization of human rights, the anthropology of justice, and theories of affect (structures of emotion) in human rights and rule of law networks. This project explores contestations over justice, documenting the making of the Rome Statute for the ICC and the corresponding rise of the rule of law movement and the implications of ICC activity in Africa. Research underway is taking place at two critical sites: (1) the ICC at The Hague, in which investigations and adjudication are ongoing; (2) the AU Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where political, economic and culturally shaped decision-making is underway toward the development of an African court with the jurisdiction to handle international crimes committed by individuals. The goal of that work is to make sense of the psychic life of decision-making as it relates to the ambiguities of Africa’s postcolonial realities.
Past Research and Scholarship
Clarke began her research career with a strong interest in the forces of social change that were transforming area studies into allied transnational and diasporic sites. This was a largely unexplored area in anthropology, inspired by new critical work in political science, sociology, cultural studies, and law and in anthropology. She has worked in intentional Yoruba communities in the American South, traditionalist religious and legal domains in Southwestern Nigeria, international criminal tribunals, and international law training sessions in Ireland, London, Geneva, Banjul, The United Nations and beyond.
Over the years, Clarke has established herself as a leading intellectual of Law, Politics and Aesthetics, Transnational Religious Formations in the African Diaspora, Contemporary Social Theory and the anthropology of law in Africa. Her early work, Mapping Yoruba Networks, explores particular forms of transnational religious practices that have had the effect of producing cultural regulations of a particular kind. She explored how people in both southwestern Nigeria and black American orisa-voodoo practitioners in the United States and Santeria practitioners in Cuba produced and spread innovations that over time led to new hegemonic cultural forms. The goal was to understand the workings of orisa-voodoo transnational religious organizing by exploring the various histories and contestations over what constitutes the Yoruba origins of such cultural traditions and in that process highlight the uses of race, gender, and historical narrativizing through which to legitimize various forms of belonging. Mapping Yoruba Networks demonstrates how as a result of increasingly globalizing circulations of religious practices, scholars enrich area studies models of cultural production with transnational analyses that highlight complex deterritorialized formations in the black Atlantic world. Since its publication, many of its reviews have highlighted the significance of such innovation in multi-sited work on the African Diaspora. In many ways it not only established a method for studying transnational religious movements, but it also set the terms for reckoning with the realities of black cultural citizenship.
Where Mapping Yoruba Networks reflected an attempt to use transnational and multi-sited ethnography to explore new global religious trends, Professor Clarke’s second book, a co-edited volume entitled Globalization and Race, argued that a firm grasp of globalization requires a deeper understanding of how race and ethnicity have constituted and been constituted by new global transformations. In this regard, the volume intervenes in debates between those interested in the political economy of contemporary transformations and those interested in a more culturalist approach to racial formations.
After joining the faculty at Yale in 1999, Professor Clarke devoted more than a decade of expansive research on globalization and transnational studies. Her current intellectual commitment has been to make sense of the ways that the migration of peoples from rural to urban locations and from former colonial territories to global cities are subverting older forms of cultural logics in territorially specific places. Her next book explored one such movement in the making—that of the development of international rule of law and its intersections with African, Islamic traditional religions and cultural practices. The resultant book — Fictions of Justice: the International Criminal Court and the Challenge of Legal Pluralism in Sub-Saharan Africa — explores the development of an emergent rule of law movement and its competing religious and ethnic politics of justice making in local and transnational contexts. By using examples from UN preparatory commissions for the International Criminal Court (ICC), Non Governmental Organizations engaged in ICC organizing, and controversies over the legal classification and management of violence, Professor Clarke examines the ways that legal experts, religious conservatives, humanitarian organizations, and human rights NGOs are engaged in producing the rights-endowed subject, or in rethinking such conceptions. This book, by recasting the spread of the global rule of law movement alongside that of various religious movements, questions rigid theories of religion giving way to new secular formations. It explores how, specifically, various justice forms spread from their local roots and circulate globally. And so doing, maps the ways that legal spheres, like religious spheres, travel and are innovatively incorporated into third world democracies and neoliberal state projects. One novel component of this project involves reflection on contestations over applying a universal UN-Sanctioned approach to rights, especially in light of related engagements with political Islamic formations in West Africa. Professor Clarke’s scholarship demonstrates how various international criminal laws, as they are intrinsically combined with cultural beliefs about justice, are leading to heated debates over the legitimacy of international tribunals and the treaty bodies that shape them. This work contributes to what is only now developing as the anthropology of justice/human rights and international institutions and she continues to be involved in shaping the direction of this newly burgeoning field of anthropological study. In this regard, Clarke has become one of the leading authorities on critical transnational legal studies as well as the anthropology of justice.
In addition to her two single published books, Professor Clarke has published three edited books and over 30 articles. Next to Globalization and Race, another co-authored volume focused on mapping the transformations in anthropological ethnography. Entitled, Transforming Ethnographic Knowledge and co-authored with Rebecca Hardin, this project represented the outcome of two lecture series and workshops at Yale University in 2000/2001 and 2001/2 on the changing ethnographic field. It asks what is ethnography? And what is ethnography becoming in this moment of significant social change? Featuring papers by and conversations with Mary Catherine Bateson, George Marcus, Sidney Mintz, J. Lorand Matory, Marcia Inhorn, Rebecca Hardin and Melissa Remis, Transforming Ethnographic Knowledge highlights the ways that anthropology, and the practices of ethnography more specifically, need to be examined both from a reflective personal lens and through a lens of passionate engagement with particular contexts or approaches that have been central to the development of ethnography.
A second collaborative project was spearheaded by a conference that Professor Clarke and her collaborator – Mark Goodale – organized at Yale University’s Macmillan Center for International and Area Studies. Resulting in the book, Mirrors of Justice, the contributors engage in a discussion about various spectrums of justice that take its—usually unarticulated—meaning and potentialities for granted, to those that deny the very possibility of universal normative principles and thus see claims for justice as the assertion of power by other means. The themes range from international and transnational justice processes to those more circumscribed contexts in which law, power, and history-making shape, give meaning to, and, at times, constrain the possibilities for justice. Chapters examine different regional and theoretical case studies, including the emergence of justice-based international institutions, the implications for justice of new formations of global legal pluralism, and the ways in which particular notions of justice have been articulated within complex and contested histories and contemporary social relations. The book argues that the meanings and potentialities of justice have become more, not less, ambiguous in the wake of the end of the Cold War and the consequent rise of international and transnational normative alignments committed, at one level or another, to the pursuit of this most elusive and compelling of ideas.
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 serves on many editorial boards (Humanities, Harlem World, Meridian), holds various professional association positions, and is a dedicated reviewer of various book manuscripts and top journals in the field –among them American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Current Anthropology. She has served on many grant review committees and is often asked to serve as an external reviewer of university programs and accreditation boards. Clarke continues to play a critical role in the development of her discipline and field.