Dr Maxim Bolt BA Hons (Oxon), MSc, MSc Research, PhD (LSE)

Dr Maxim Bolt

Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Senior Honorary Research Fellow

Contact details

Max Bolt is an anthropologist of Southern Africa specialising in labour, migration, borders, development, the social dynamics of money and - most recently - urban property, will-making and inheritance. His research has been based in both university and museum settings. 

ORCID iD iconorcid.org/0000-0002-4598-8011


Maxim conducted his doctoral fieldwork along South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe, between 2006 and 2008, during acute economic and political troubles in Zimbabwe. His research focused on the border farms, their black workforces and their white landowners in this context of crisis, upheaval and displacement.

After his PhD research, he worked as the anthropologist on the British Museum’s comparative, collaborative ‘Money in Africa’ project, alongside historians and an economic historian. As part of this project, he conducted research with central banks in Nigeria and Uganda, and with small businesspeople in Malawi.

Maxim’s monograph, based on his PhD research, was published in 2015 by the International African Institute and Cambridge University Press. Wits University Press published a South African paperback edition in 2016. The monograph - Zimbabwe's Migrants and South Africa's Border Farms: the roots of impermanence - won the 2016 British Sociological Association / BBC Thinking Allowed Ethnography Award. You can listen to the BBC radio programme about Maxim’s book, and read an edited extract published in The Conversation.

In 2016, Maxim began research on property, inheritance and class reproduction in Johannesburg, South Africa, funded by an ESRC Future Research Leaders award. In the post-apartheid era, making wills has taken on new significance amidst exponential middle-class expansion, as well as the rapid proliferation of financial services. At the same time, most people die intestate, and their relatives are suddenly confronted with unfamiliar rules about which relatives officially matter. The project explores the institutions and disputes surrounding inheritance, connecting questions of socio-economic position to questions of kinship, property, and legal and bureaucratic processes. As more South Africans accumulate substantial property, its disbursement becomes a new terrain on which battles of kinship obligation are fought.



  • 2015. Zimbabwe's Migrants and South Africa's Border Farms: the roots of impermanence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. South African edition 2016 with Wits University Press. Winner of the 2016 BBC/British Sociological Association Ethnography Award. Finalist for the 2016 African Studies Association (USA) Melville J. Herskovits Award for best book on Africa, and the 2016 African Studies Association UK Fage & Oliver Prize for best book on Africa.

Edited volumes

  • 2017. co-edited with Tarminder Kaur. Becoming and Unbecoming Farm Workers in Southern Africa, special issue of Anthropology Southern Africa 40 (4).
  • 2016. co-edited with Dinah Rajak. Labour, Insecurity and Violence in South Africa, special issue of the Journal of Southern African Studies 42(5).
  • 2016. co-edited with Kate Meagher and Laura Mann. Making the Right Connections: Globalization, Economic Inclusion and African Workers, special issue of the Journal of Development Studies 52(4). Reprinted 2016 as a book, published by Routledge.

Articles and chapters

  • Forthcoming 2019. ‘Crisis, work and the meanings of mobility on the Zimbabwean-South African border’, in J. Noret (ed.), Social (Im)mobilities in Africa. Oxford: Berghahn.
  • 2017. ‘Making workers real: regulatory spotlights and documentary stepping-stones on a South African border farm’, HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (3).
  • 2017. ‘Introduction: becoming and unbecoming farm workers in Southern Africa’, Anthropology Southern Africa 40 (4).
  • 2017. ‘Navigating formality in a migrant labour force’, in W. Adebanwi (ed.), The Political Economy of Everyday Life in Africa: beyond the margins. Martlesham: James Currey.
  • 2016. ‘Mediated paternalism and violent incorporation: enforcing farm hierarchies on the Zimbabwean-South African border’, Journal of Southern African Studies 42(5).
  • 2016. with Dinah Rajak. ‘Introduction: labour, insecurity and violence in South Africa’, Journal of Southern African Studies 42(5).
  • 2016. 'Accidental neoliberalism and the performance of management: hierarchies in export agriculture on the Zimbabwean-South African border’, Journal of Development Studies 52(4). Republished 2016 as a book chapter by Routledge.
  • 2016. with Kate Meagher and Laura Mann. 'Introduction:  African workers and the terms of global economic inclusion', Journal of Development Studies 52(4).
  • 2014. 'The sociality of the wage: money rhythms, wealth circulation, and the problem with cash on the Zimbabwean-South African border', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 20(1).
  • 2013. ‘Producing permanence: employment, domesticity and the flexible future on a South African border farm’, Economy and Society 42. 
  • 2012. ‘Waged entrepreneurs, policed informality: work, the regulation of space and the economy of the Zimbabwean-South African border’, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 82(1). 
  • 2011. with C. Eagleton and L. Gardner. ‘Money in Africa: new historical and anthropological approaches’, in B. Cook (ed.), The British Museum and the Future of UK Numismatics. London: British Museum Press.
  • 2010. ‘Camaraderie and its discontents: class consciousness, ethnicity and divergent masculinities among Zimbabwean migrant farm workers’, Journal of Southern African Studies 36(2). 
  • 2009. ‘Zimbabwe-South African border: soccer, braais and community of workers’, South African Labour Bulletin33(2).

Comments, reviews and review essays

  • 2018. ‘Legacies, Logics, Logistics: Essays in the Anthropology of the Platform Economy by Jane Guyer’, Africa 88(3).
  • 2017. ‘Debt as circumstance, strategy and system’ (review essay about Deborah James’s Money from Nothing: indebtedness and aspiration in South Africa), Anthropology of This Century 19.
  • 2016. ‘Witchcraft and a Life in the New South Africa by Isak Niehaus’, book review, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.
  • 2015. 'Making Freedom: apartheid, squatter politics, and the struggle for home by Anne-Maria Makhulu', New Release Book Review essay, Anthropological Quarterly 88(4): 1101-1110.
  • 2015. ‘What dogs tell us about race and inequality’ (comment in forum section, ‘Anthropologists Debate (In)equality’, on Harri Englund’s Human Rights and African Airwaves), Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 40(1).
  • 2014. 'Transcending the economic’ (comment accompanying Ralph Callebert's ‘Transcending dual economies’), Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 84(1).
  • 2013. ‘The dynamics of dependence’ (comment accompanying James Ferguson’s ‘Declarations of dependence’), Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19(2).
  • 2013. ‘The loan economy' (review essay about Parker Shipton's The Nature of Entrustment), Anthropology of this Century 7.
  • 2013. 'The Citi Money Gallery, British Museum', Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 83(2).