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

Dr Maxim Bolt

Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Reader in Anthropology and African Studies
Departmental Head of Postgraduate Studies (Taught and Research)

Contact details

Arts Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am 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. My research has been based in both university and museum settings. In addition to my current courses, I have taught on anthropology and development, globalisation, and surveys in ethnographic research. I am currently Co-Editor of AFRICA: Journal of the International African Institute.

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


  • BA Hons in Modern History and Politics (Oxford)
  • MSc in Social Anthropology (London School of Economics and Political Science)
  • MSc Research in Social Anthropology (London School of Economics and Political Science)
  • PhD in Anthropology (London School of Economics and Political Science)
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (Associate Level)


Maxim received his PhD in social anthropology from the London School of Economics in 2011. He had previously studied history and politics as an undergraduate at St Peter’s College, Oxford, and then social anthropology as a Masters student at LSE. Maxim took up a lectureship at Birmingham in 2012.

Maxim’s PhD thesis was Runner-up for the 2010-12 Audrey Richards Prize, awarded biennially by the African Studies Association of the UK, for the best PhD thesis on Africa examined in the UK. His doctoral project was subsequently developed into a monograph, published in 2015 by Cambridge University Press, and in 2016 by Wits University Press in a South African edition. Entitled Zimbabwe’s Migrants and South Africa’s Border Farms: the roots of impermanence, the monograph won the 2016 British Sociological Association / BBC Thinking Allowed Ethnography Award.

In 2014, Maxim won the Head of School's Award and the Head of College's Award for Excellence in Teaching.

From January 2016 until March 2019, Maxim was an ESRC Future Research Leaders award-holder. His project was called 'Entitlements, Disputes, and Provision for the Future: Making Wills and Negotiating Inheritance in South Africa’s Middle Class'.


  • Theory, Ethnography and Research (core module for second-year Undergraduates)
  • Thinking Anthropologically (first-year introductory Undergraduate module)
  • Social Life of the Economy (optional module, on economic anthropology and sociology, for second- and third-year Undergraduates and for Masters students)
  • Gender and Development (optional module for second- and third-year Undergraduates)
  • Gender Issues in Africa (Masters level module)
  • South Africa Since Apartheid (interdisciplinary optional module for second- and third-year Undergraduates)
  • Research Methods in African Studies (core methodology module for research-focused Postgraduates)

Postgraduate supervision

Current PhD students:

  • Nimrita Rana - The Sindhi diaspora in Ghana (ESRC Doctoral Scholarship)
  • Sangu Delle - Female tech entrepreneurs in Ghana (University of Birmingham College of Arts and Law Distance Learning Scholarship)
  • Nathalie Raunet - Elections, citizenship and belonging on the Ghana-Togo Border (University of Birmingham AE Hills Scholarship)
  • Veera Tagliabue - ‘Class experiences and class mobility among international students from the SADC region studying in South Africa’ (ESRC Doctoral Scholarship)
  • Tessa Pijnaker - ‘Styling success: ICT and the social mobility of tech entrepreneurs in Accra, Ghana’ (AHRC Midlands 3 Cities Doctoral Scholarship)
  • Felix Tombindo - Conservation, Landscape and Belonging on the Shores of Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe (Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures Doctoral Scholarship)

Completed PhD students:

  • Natasha Vally, University of the Witwatersrand - ‘South African Social Assistance and the 2012 Privatised National Payment System: an examination of insecurities and technopolitics in social grant administration and payment’ (External Supervisor under the ESRC's International PhD Partnering scheme)
  • Mary Thamari Odhiambo - ‘In Dhako Moromo? Femininity, gender relations and livelihood vulnerabilities in the fishing villages of southwestern Kenya’
  • Jovia Salifu - ‘Dealing with Obligations: Debt, Microcredit and Gender Relations in Matrilineal Offinso, Ghana’ 

Find out more - our PhD African Studies  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


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.

Other activities

Maxim is Co-Editor of AFRICA: The Journal of the International African Institute, and a member of the Editorial Boards of the African Studies Review and the Journal of Southern African Studies. He also serves as a member of the Council of the African Studies Association of the UK. For DASA, Maxim is Departmental Head of Postgraduate Studies, and represents the Department at AEGIS (the Europe-wide association of African Studies centres) and the UK Association of Social Anthropologists. Alongside his position at DASA, he is Research Associate at WiSER (the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research), University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. Maxim collaborates closely with South African legal NGO ProBono.Org, working towards greater responsiveness to popular norms in South Africa’s property and inheritance system. He has acted as expert advisor to NGO Concern Universal regarding their research on rural financial practices in Malawi.



  • 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

Articles and chapters

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).

View all publications in research portal