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

Dr Jessica Johnson

Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Senior Lecturer in the Anthropology of Africa

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