Dr Joost Fontein

Director – Dr. Joost Fontein

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I am an Africanist and social anthropologist interested in the political imbrications of landscapes, things and materialities. I began my appointment (on secondment from the University of Edinburgh) as Director the British Institute in Eastern Africa in August 2014. Before that I was lecturing in social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, since 2007. http://www.sps.ed.ac.uk/staff/social_anthropology/fontein_j

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 finishing 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. I am also completing another book entitled: The Politics of the Dead and the Power of Uncertainty: Rumours, materiality and human remains in post-2000 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

Dr Fontein is currently organizing a conference for early next year on the Legacies of Struggle in eastern and southern Africa.

Research Interests

Anthropology of Stuff: Landscapes, things and political materiality.

The affective presence and emotive materiality of bones, bodies and bodily substances

Politics of memory, history, heritage, past and place

Uncertainty, rumours, and the stylistics of power in the postcolonial state

Belonging, sovereignty and the materialities of rule

Water and land reform, rainmaking and dam building

Spirit mediums, sacred places, war veterans and political subjectivity


Some of my 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:“She appeared to be in some kind of trance”: Anthropology and the question of unknowability in a criminal trial. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4 (1): 75–103available here: http://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/h


Forthcoming 2015 Remaking Mutirikwi: Landscape Water and Belonging in Southern Zimbabwe Oxford: James Currey

Forthcoming: The Politics of the Dead and the Power of Uncertainty: Rumours, materiality and human remains in post-2000 Zimbabwe

2006 The Silence of Great Zimbabwe: Contested Landscapes and the Power of Heritage London: UCL Press & Harare: Weaver Press. Reprinted 2008.

To view more publications by  Dr. Fontein http://www.sps.ed.ac.uk/staff/social_anthropology/fontein_j