Ben Jones


  • 1.18 ZICER Building

Personal profile


Prior to joining the School of International Development at UEA I was a lecturer with the Centre for Civil Society in the Department of Social Policy at the London School of Economics.  I have also taught at the Institute for Commonwealth Studies in London, and have worked for the World Bank in their Poverty Reduction Research Group.  As a graduate student I interned for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Democratic National Committee.  I am currently guest faculty at the Centre for African Studies at the University of Copenhagen.  I have also served for five years on the governing council of the Development Studies Association and an co-convenor of the DSA's 2021 annual conference Unsettling Development.  


I am an external examiner with the Department of Development Studies at SOAS and an external advisor to the Development Policy and Practice programme at the Open University.


Areas of Expertise

Africa; international development; religion in developing countries; social anthropology.

Academic Background

I have BA in History from the University of Cambridge and an MA in International Relations from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)  of Johns Hopkins University.  My PhD was in the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics.  My doctoral thesis was awarded the William Robson Memorial Prize.  After my PhD I took up a post-doctoral fellowship with the Danish Social Science Research Council before joining the University of East Anglia. 

Teaching Interests

I teach on the following modules:

  • Introduction to Social Anthropology (year 1) 
  • Sub-Saharan Africa (year 2)
  • Engaging Anthropology in Development (year 3)

I have also recently taken on responsibility for the Research Skills Workshop for first year PhD students along with Laura Camfield and Maren Duvendack.

I have taught at Copenhagen University, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (University of London), Roskilde University and the London School of Economics.  I have also served as Guest Faculty on Brown University’s International Advanced Research Institute in “development and inequality in the global south”.


Key Research Interests

I am interested in institutions and the role they play in people’s lives.  I am particularly interested in organizations working at the local level such as churches, non-governmental organizations, courts, and institutions organized around family or social obligations.  My regional expertise is in sub-Saharan Africa with a long-standing focus on the largely rural region of Teso in eastern Uganda.  


I have two British Academy projects ongoing at the moment.  The first looks at unemployed youth in rural eastern Uganda.  The second looks at urban space in the city of Kumasi in Ghana.  


The Uganda project (YF \190162) is a partnership with the community organisation CPAR Uganda and a collaboration with Dr. Laury Ocen of Lira University.  We are investigating the “work” educated young women and men do in local institutions.  While many of these young people are unemployed, they are actively involved in politics.  Our concern is to document these activities.  We hope to challenge  available research on education focuses on learning outcomes and employment measures, and to challenge the way unemployed youth are .  Our research programme is designed with and by young people and takes an interdisciplinary approach that brings the voices of young people centre stage.


My work in Ghana (TGC\200335) is something of a departure for me in that I am looking at politics and institutions in an urban setting.  The project investigates the history and present-day use of Jackson Park, created in 1935 in Kumasi, Ghana's second largest city. Jackson Park is popular with poorer residents, is free, crowded and a messy counterpoint to the new “pay-for-access” parks being developed across the country. Using the example of Jackson Park, we plan to bring together archival and ethnographic approaches to challenge urban planning visions that marginalise the importance of old parks.  My co-Investigators are Dr. George Bob-Milliar of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Dr. Karen Lauterbach of the University of Copenhagen.  We will also be mentoring three early career Ghana-based researchers.


The Uganda projects come out of a recently completed a British Academy mid-career fellowship.  The project (MD\170053) looking at education, youth and local politics was focused on a community in eastern Uganda where I have worked for more than twenty years and where young men and women in their twenties and thirties who  I have known since childhood have been the first in their family to go to school.  In a situation where there are few jobs I am studying the effect this generation is having on local institutions. 


From 2015-2018 I was involved a major research programme looking at the way different donor organisations make sense of their commitment to the norm of gender equality.  My case study looked at the World Bank and its changing relationship to the role of gender in development.  My findings pointed to the way new methodologies in the field of development economics – impact evaluation, behavioural economics, randomized control trials – changed the way the World Bank thinks about gender.  You can read some of the findings in a new issue of Progress in Development Studies and an edited volume with Palgrave.


My book Beyond the State in Rural Uganda won the 2009 Elliott P. Skinner Book Award by the Africanist section of the American Anthropological Association.   And reviews of Beyond the State included the following:


'A refreshing and original antidote to the myopic habits of conventional scohlarsihp, an illuminating, astute, against-the-grain study of real-existing development', Prof. James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale University.


I have written for The Guardian newspaper about their Katine development initiative, and have contributed to their Global Development website. 


I welcome applications for doctoral research, with a particular interest in proposals that use ethnographic work to explore examples of political and social change.  Please contact me by e-mail if you would like to discuss further.


Current PhD Students

Francesca Chiu: Citizenship and housing in Mandalay (funded by a studentship from UEA and the University of Copenhagen). Co-supervisor Prof. Christian Lund, University of Copenhagen.

Jonathan Franklin: Environmental adaptation in central Tanzania (ESRC studentship). Co-supervisor Prof. Adrian Martin.

Qudra Goodall: Gender and everyday Islam among British Muslims in Norwich and Norfolk (ESRC studentship), Co-supervisor Prof. Cecile Jackson. 

Touseef Mir: Integration of ex-combattants in Srinigar Kashmir (UEA Studentship), Co-supervisor Dr. Ulrike Theuerkauf.

Kara Sheppard: Education and female identities in a mixed secondary school in Arusha, Tanzania (ESRC studentship), Co-supervisors Dr. Sheila Aikman, Dr. Hannah Hoechner.




Completed PhD Students

Fariba Alamgir: Land politics in Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh : dynamics of property, identity and authority (funded by a studentship from UEA and the University of Copenhagen).  Fariba was awarded a writing-up grant by the Foundation for Urban and Regional Studies.  Co-supervisor Prof. Christian Lund, University of Copenhagen.

Hannah Atkins: Contingent futures: navigating aspirations among the Banyole of Uganda (UEA studentship). Co-supervisor Prof. Cecile Jackson.

Marc-André Boisvert: The Malian Armed Forces and its discontents : civil-military relations, cohesion and the resilience of a postcolonial military institution in the aftermath of the 2012 crisis (UEA studentship), Co-supervisor Dr. Yvan Guichaoua, University of Kent.

Juliet Colman: Making social relations and identities through consumption : a Botswana case study. Co-supervisor Prof. Cecile Jackson.

Harry Greatorex: Patronage for revolutionaries : the politics of community organising in a Venezuelan barrio (ESRC studentship). Co-supervisor Prof. Peter Lloyd-Sherlock.

Stéphen Huard: Beyond the village headman : transformations of the local polity in central Myanmar (1750s-2010s) (UEA Studentship) Co-supervisor Dr. Oliver Springate Baginski.  Stéphen was awarded a Camel Trust Small Grant for Post-doctoral Research in Anthropology

Will Monteith: Heart and struggle : life in Nakasero market 1912-2015 (UEA studentship).  Will was awarded a writing up grant by the British Institute for East Africa. Co-supervisor Prof. Laura Camfield.

Sugandha Nagpal: Dreams of flight : young Dalit women and middle-class culture in Punjab (UEA studentship). Co-supervisor Prof. Nitya Rao.

Samuel Rushworth: Learning to live together: education, identity and citizenship in Rwandan schools (ESRC studentship), Co-supervisor Dr. Sheila Aikman.

Brendan Whitty: Negotiating results: subject positions and discursive practices in DFID’s grant-giving (UEA studentship), Co-supervisor Prof. Arjan Verschoor.

Daniel Wroe: 'What can I do?’ Living with doubt and uncertainty in the Central Region of Malawi. (ESRC studentship), Co-supervisor Prof. Janet Seeley, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Hailing Zhao: The politics of doing Gongyi: an ethnographic study of Chinese NGOs (UEA studentship), Co-supervisor Dr. Vasudha Chhotray.


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities