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Erik de Maaker

Associate professor

Dr. E. de Maaker
+31 71 527 6612

Erik de Maaker conducts research on appreciations of place and relatedness, primarily (but not only) in South Asia. He works on themes such as religion, ethnicity, relatedness, migration, environment, knowledge, heritage, materiality, visuality, personhood and the life cycle. He has published extensively on the uplands of eastern South Asia, focussing on the challenges people face with respect to cultural change and rapid economic development. He has been awarded a variety of grants by the Leiden profile area Asian Modernities and Transitions, while he has also won several grants from NWO. At the moment, he is co-leading a multi-national cooperative research project on landscape, environment and climate change in the eastern Himalayas, in partnership with the Himalayan University Consortium and ICIMOD.

More information about Erik de Maaker


Research by Erik de Maaker

I am currently working towards the completion of a monograph which explores relatedness, resources and religion in the uplands of Northeast India (enabled by an AMT teaching replacement grant, 34k). Contesting one-dimensional and ahistorical imaginations of indigeneity and tradition, the book argues that the authenticity attributed to customs imbues it with the authority to facilitate and generate social and economic transformations, which also implies the adaptation, reformulation and thus ‘reworking’ of cultural ideas and practices. The book is based on nearly two decades of ethnographic engagement with the Garo ethnic community of North East India.

I am also leading a research project, together with dr. Dan Smyer Yü (Yunnan University, Kunming), which explores changing readings of land and landscape in the broader trans-Himalayan region (funded by the Himalayan Universities Consortium, 37kU$). This project, with partners in Bhutan, Nepal, India and China, ties in with my interest in land, land relations, and the environment, and how its access is shared between extra-human entities, local claim holders and the state. Research in the periphery of Asia’s post-colonial states has made me aware of the growing importance of borders, and I am one of the founding members of the network that every two years, with support of the IIAS, organizes the high profile Asian Borderlands conferences (Asian Borderlands Research Network).

In addition, together with dr. Sanjukta Sunderason (LIAS), I have over the last 4 years conducted research on place making and displacement in South Asia (Postcolonial Displacements, 150k). In this project I explore narratives, trajectories and interpretations of movement with reference to origin, connectedness, belonging, and other claims to ‘soil’ in South Asia’s eastern borderlands. Notably, I am focusing on narratives of origin, migration and belonging, and how these take on new and hitherto unheard meanings in contexts in which ethnicity and indigeneity serve to formulate claims to scarce resources, political power, and being with or against the state. This research project has also resulted in the initiation of a new interdisciplinary Bachelor course, which is now part of the curricula of the BSc Anthropology and Sociology, as well as South and Southeast Asian studies (‘Displacement and Development: Anthropological Perspectives on South Asia’).

My fascination with ‘place making’ and ‘place attachment’ also translates into research being conducted in close cooperation with Leiden municipality (20k). Focusing notably on the Leiden Slaaghwijk, a neighbourhood characterized by high cultural diversity and significant economic deprivation, I have guided research conducted by a number of Master students on the relationship of migrant organizations to Leiden municipality, experiences of social exclusion of second or third generation migrant youth and so on. Whereas the regional contexts of these Asia and Netherlands based research ‘fields’ are radically different, the two do generate a comparative perspective that can help to challenge taken for granted assumptions regarding understandings of place.

The material and performative dimensions of culture have long been central to my research. This includes the redefinition and re-interpretation of ‘traditional’ cultural ideas and practices (‘heritage’), and their growing importance in terms of ethnicity, indigeneity and nationalism. This fits in with the agenda of the Heritage and Identity track of the LDE Centre for Global Heritage and Development, of which I am one of the ‘front runners’. In this capacity I work, among others, with scholars of the Delft Technical University on the relevance of heritage for the SDGs.

I have conducted my PhD research with an individual 4 year research grant, awarded by NWO. My PhD research focused on the relevance of mortuary practices for the negotiation of social relationships in upland South Asia (PhD thesis: ‘Negotiating Life: Garo Death Rituals and the Transformation of Society’, Leiden University, 2006). Subsequently, I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Nijmegen Radboud University in the NWO-funded ‘Refiguring Death Rites’ research project led by Prof. Eric Venbrux. From 2007 onwards I have been employed as Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at the University of Leiden.

I have been trained as a Visual Anthropologist by dr. Dirk Nijland and the late Steef Meyknecht (in the Leiden tradition of ‘Ethnocommunication’), and the use of video as a research tool continues to be central to any ethnographic research I conduct. Between 2007 and 2014 I have led the Visual Anthropology section at Leiden CA/DS, charting and then realizing the upgrading of the earlier Bachelor level methods courses to a Master level methodological track. I have made ethnographic DVDs, as well as ethnographic films (one of which received the Award for Excellence of the American Anthropological Association), and continue to be committed to the exploration of ways in which communication through images and sound can convey anthropological knowledge.

CV E. de Maaker (2021)


  • Award for Excellence, Society for Visual Anthropology, American Anthropological Association (1998)


  • 2019: AMT2 Manuscript: finishing grant
  • 2018: HUC/ICIMOD Focus grant ‘Landscape & Climate Change
  • 2017: NWO-ICSSR India-Netherlands Scholarship Exchange
  • 2015: Leiden research profile Asian Modernities en Traditions (AMT) ‘Large Grant’ of €150.000, for the research project ‘Postcolonial Displacements: Migration, Narratives and Place-Making in South Asia.’
  • 2013: Marginal Lands? The Commodification and Re-appreciation of Upland Agriculture in the Borderlands of Northeast India
  • 1999-2004: Individual Project Grant, Netherlands Foundation for the Advancement of Tropical Research (NWO/WOTRO)
  • 1999-2001: Cultural Exchange Scholarship, Indian Council for Cultural Relations

Relevant links

PhD candidates

  • Zifan Meng 'Creating space in central Beijing: Built environments, social networks and cultural representations in an urban village) (with Prof. Dr. Ing. Carola Hein)
  • Wenlan Wang, 'Mediation as Core: an anthropological study in Thai village Buddhism ritual materials' (with Prof.Dr. M.F. Herzfeld)
  • Idrees Kanth MA, 'National conseciousness and Public discourse in Twentieth century Kashmir' (with Prof. N.K. Wickramasinghe, LIAS). PhD successfully defended May 7th, 2019.
  • Tim van den Meerendonk, 'Weather Insurance and the Morality of Death: An Ethnography of Farmer Suicide and financialisation of the Weather in India' (with Dr. Erik Bähre and Prof. Cristina Grasseni).
  • Andrea Ragragio, 'Bodies and Images of Worlds: the development and persistence of Pantaron Manobo tattooing' (with Prof. Pieter ter Keurs).

Associate professor

  • Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen
  • Culturele Antropologie/ Ontw. Sociologie

Work address

Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden
Room number 3A47




  • No relevant ancillary activities
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