Dr Jessica Johnson BA (Hons), MPhil, PhD (Cantab)

Dr Jessica Johnson

Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Associate Professor in Social Anthropology and African Studies
Head of Department of African Studies and Anthropology

I am a social anthropologist specialising in Southern Africa, with a particular focus on the anthropology of gender and law in Malawi.


  • BA (Hons), Archaeology and Anthropology (Cambridge)
  • MPhil, Social Anthropological Research (Cambridge)
  • PhD, Social Anthropology (Cambridge)
  • PGCHE, Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (Birmingham)


I completed my PhD in 2013 at the University of Cambridge, where I also studied for my BA and MPhil. I worked for three years as a Research Fellow at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, before joining DASA as a Lecturer in 2016. In 2018, I completed the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCHE) and became a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.


  • Thinking Anthropologically (core module for first-year undergraduates)
  • Social Life of the Economy (optional module for second- and third-year undergraduates and Masters students)
  • Kinship, Gender and Sexuality (optional module for second and third year undergraduates)
  • Contemporary Gender Issues in Africa (Masters module)
  • Studying Societies (anthropology) (core module for first-year undergraduates)
  • Anthropology and Its Regions (core module for first-year undergraduates)
  • Research Skills and Methods in African Studies (core module for postgraduate students)

Postgraduate supervision

I welcome enquiries from students interested in gender relations, development, and legal anthropology.

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


I have conducted more than two years’ fieldwork in Malawi, 2009-10 and 2015. My doctoral work concerned gender relations and marital dispute resolution in a matrilineal context. My more recent research focuses on the workings of a rural Magistrates’ court. 

Other activities

  • Gibbs Travelling Research Fellow, Newnham College, Cambridge, 2014-15
  • I am an editor of the Journal of Southern African Studies
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy


Recent publications


Johnson, J 2018, In Search of Gender Justice: Rights and Relationships in Matrilineal Malawi. The International African Library, 1st edn, Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108563031

Johnson, J & Karekwaivanane, G (eds) 2018, Pursuing Justice in Africa: Competing Imaginaries and Contested Practices. Cambridge Centre of African Studies Series, Ohio University Press. <https://www.ohioswallow.com/extras/9780821446485_OhioUniversityPress_OpenAccess.pdf>


Johnson, J 2018, 'Feminine futures: female initiation and aspiration in matrilineal Malawi', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 786-803. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12917

Johnson, J 2017, 'After the mines: the changing social and economic landscape of Malawi-South Africa Migration', Review of African Political Economy, vol. 44, no. 152, pp. 237-251. https://doi.org/10.1080/03056244.2016.1273826

Johnson, J 2012, 'Life with HIV: “stigma” and hope in Malawi’s era of ARVs', Africa, vol. 82, no. 4, pp. 632-53.

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Johnson, J & Karekwaivanane, G 2018, Introduction: re-centering justice in African studies. in J Johnson & GH Karekwaivanane (eds), Pursuing Justice in Africa: Competing Imaginaries and Contested Practices. Cambridge Centre of African Studies Series, Ohio University Press, pp. 1-30. <https://www.ohioswallow.com/extras/9780821446485_OhioUniversityPress_OpenAccess.pdf>


Johnson, J 2019, Law, dispute resolution and justice. in RR Grinker, S Lubkemann, C Steiner & E Gonçalves (eds), A Companion to the Anthropology of Africa. Blackwell Companions to Anthropology, Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 81-96. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119251521.ch4

Johnson, J 2018, Feminist Anthropology and the Question of Gender. in M Candea (ed.), Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory. 1 edn, Taylor & Francis, pp. 195-208. <https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/9781315388267/chapters/10.4324/9781315388267-13>

Johnson, J 2017, “It is better for me to agree when my guardian is here”: consent and relational personhood in postcolonial Malawi. in M-C Foblets, M Graziadei & A Dundes Renteln (eds), Personal Autonomy in Plural Societies: A Principle and Its Paradoxes. Law and Anthropology, Routledge.


Johnson, J 2020, 'Malawi: Taking Stock in Turbulent Times', Journal of Southern African Studies, vol. 46, no. 2, pp. 195-207. <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/03057070.2020.1735146>

Entry for encyclopedia/dictionary

Johnson, J 2018, Anthropology and the Study of Africa. in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190277734.013.179

Johnson, J 2016, Matriliny. in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology. https://doi.org/10.29164/16matriliny

View all publications in research portal