Universiteit Leiden

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Research programme

Global Challenges

Global Challenges is the research programme of the Leiden Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology. It focuses on the challenges people and communities face in the current global transformations impacted by and inflected in social, economic and climate change.

Peter Pels

Global affairs and local challenges

Our current global state of affairs is defined by political and economic instability and the dramatic realignment of global centres of power. We experience far-reaching transformations through the shift from rural to urban concentrations of population, climate change, and diverse movements for self-determination and recognition in a world where image circulation and digital technologies have a significant part.

3 research terrains

Within this broad context, the research programme Global Challenges examines three terrains  to investigate the specific challenges of particular localities and circumstances, impacting upon and becoming interwoven with the lives of persons and collectives:

  1. Media and Material Culture
  2. Environment and Development
  3. Economy and Culture

Mission statement

The research mission of the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology is to conduct research in culture and development (with a special emphasis on the situational analysis of global challenges) and to disseminate its results in high-quality, globally acknowledged venues of publication, and through national and international collaborations, in order to further enhance its academic reputation and the societal relevance of its research.

New actors

Global Challenges defines the meeting point of our Institute’s heritage in cultural anthropology and development sociology. Current global trends marked by transformations in state-market relations require a closer connection between these two disciplinary traditions.

States no longer figure as the pillars of development cooperation, now that actors from the private sector and civil society have stepped in, leading to new anthropological questions about the interface between development and the larger field of power relations that describes the international arena of shifting political and economic regimes.

Similarly, developments in the field of media and cultural heritage increasingly assume an understanding of the workings of international organisations and transnational corporations.

Regional expertise

Global or universal claims are necessarily made in particular localities, while the particular place that people make for themselves is inevitably produced and articulated trans-locally. The Institute sees its traditional regional foci of Indonesia and Sub-Saharan Africa not as some sort of backdrop against which more important themes unfold, but as posing crucial challenges in themselves. Such challenges include increasing foreign interest in land in Africa for research extraction, for instance, or the fraught relationship between modernity and tradition in parts of Asia, as that continent undergoes rapid economic growth.

These challenges call for innovative research on site that builds on the ethnographic, theoretical and methodological strengths of both cultural anthropology and development sociology, with an eye towards the ethical considerations that characterise our work and its societal relevance and validity, both today and in the future.

Area studies

Global Challenges builds on our longstanding tradition of area studies, making critical use of the idea that the world looks different from the perspective of East and West Africa, Ambon, or Kuala Lumpur, or from  the borderlands between India and Myanmar, than it does from northern Europe or the USA.

Equally importantly, our research situates this tradition within the larger context of contemporary global challenges and interactions, thereby attending to the constitution of localities, to issues of scale and perspective, and to the ways in which processes of social production are often more than ‘local’, but less than ‘global’ in their implications.

Individual research projects

For more information about our research in these areas see the individual Research projects.


Connection with other research