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Dr Pauline von Hellermann

Position held:

+44 (0)20 7919 7803

+44 (0)20 7919 7813

p.vonhellermann (

Department of Anthropology
Goldsmiths, University of London
New Cross
SE14 6NW

Office hours:
On leave Spring Term 2015

Pauline von Hellermann researches landscapes and politics in Africa. Combining historical and political ecology perspectives, she has worked on forest governance and corruption in Southern Nigeria and on landscape change in the Tanzanian Pare Mountains, and is currently starting new work on water conflict at Lake Naivasha in Kenya. Her research interests also include youth and patrons, science policy processes, mining, and multi-sited ethnography. She is the co-editor, with Simon Coleman, of Multi-sited Ethnography. Problems and Possibilities in the Translocation of Research Methods (Routledge, 2011). She read History at Edinburgh and Development Studies at Oxford, and completed a DPhil in Social Anthropology at Sussex University in 2005. She held a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at Sussex and a Marie Curie Research Fellowship at York University (as part of the HEEAL - Historical Ecologies of East African Landscapes - Research Group) before joining Goldsmiths College in 2011


Dr Pauline Von Hellerman covenes the MA in Applied Anthropology, Community and Youth Work.

She teaches the following courses:

Areas of supervision

I am keen to supervise research projects in political and historical ecology, particularly on resource governance and conflict as well as on landcsape change and environmental perceptions, and particularly in West and East Africa.

Current MPhil/PhD students supervised:

  • William Wheeler

Research interests

Forest resource governance and politics in Southern Nigeria, past and present

Combining ethnographic with archival research, my forthcoming monograph (Things Fall Apart? The Political Ecology of Forest Governance in Southern Nigeria, Berghahn) unpacks standard narratives linking deforestation in Southern Nigeria to the collapse of ‘proper’ forest management in recent decades. It does so by examining the nature and effectiveness of scientific forest management in earlier parts of the century, by situating this in the longer term ecological and political history of the area, and by presenting an ethnographic investigation of current practices in one local context, the Okomu Reserve and its surroundings.

On the basis of my long-standing ethnographic engagement in Edo State, I subsequently carried out new research on an unfolding political crisis in Udo town and the involvement of a nearby, expatriate oil palm plantation. This work focuses on local resource and chieftaincy politics, exploring in particular the manifestations of patrimonial power and resistance to this in the form of ‘youth’ politics. I also conducted new archival research on questions arising out of my previous project: the contradictory relations between colonial forest knowledge and policy practices, and the role of colonial reservation policy in local land politics.

Landscape histories, perceptions and policies in East Africa

My research for the HEEAL project at York University complemented the work of my archaeologist colleagues. I conducted ethnographic, archival and photographic research into land use practices, conservation policy and landscape change in the Pare Mountains in Northeastern Tanzania. This research pursued several lines of enquiry: (1) the nature and causes of landscape change over the course of the 20th century, focusing in particular on the legacies of colonial and post-colonial conservation and tree-planting measures; (2) the intersection of local environmental values and legal frameworks with regard to land management practices and forest ecology, with comparative perspectives on sacred groves, communal forests and government reserves; and (3) memory and perceptions of landscape change. 

The political ecology of colonial natural resource use patterns and environmental knowledge at Lake Naivasha, Kenya

This research forms part of the larger collaborative and inter-disciplinary project Resilience, Collapse and Reorganisation in Social-Ecological Systems of East- and South Africa’s Savannahs, funded by the German Research Foundation and led by the Institute of Ethnology at the University of Cologne, 2010-12 (coordinated by Professor Michael Bollig). My project examines, firstly, how highly unequal power relations between settlers and squatters at Lake Naivasha shaped water and land use patterns from the 1920s onwards; secondly, how these in turn affected the Naivasha wetlands ecology and the vegetation and soil of surrounding areas; thirdly, what environmental and political disputes and discussions were evoked at the time; and fourthly, how these developments in the colonial period shape the politics and ecology of Lake Naivasha today.

Selected publications



2013 Things Fall Apart? The political ecology of forest governance in Southern Nigeria. New York: Berghahn.

2011 with Simon Coleman (eds.), Multi-sited Ethnography.  Problems and Possibilities in the Translocation of Research Methods. New York: Routledge.


Articles and book chapters

2012 with Uyilawa Usuanlele. ‘The owner of the land: the Benin Obas and colonial forest reservation’, in S. Aderinto and P. Osifodunrin (eds.) The Third Wave of Historical Scholarship on Nigeria: Essays in Honor of Ayodeji Olukoju. Cambridge Scholars Publishing: Newcastle. 

2011 with Simon Coleman. Introduction to Multi-sited Ethnography.  Problems and Possibilities in the Translocation of Research Methods. New York: Routledge.

2011 ‘Reading farm and forest: colonial forest knowledge and policy in Southern Nigeria’, in R. Roque and K. Wagner (eds.) Engaging Colonial Knowledge: Reading European Archives in World History, Palgrave Macmillan.

2010  ‘Was Benin a forest kingdom? Reconstructing landscapes in Southern Nigeria’, in P. Alsworth-Jones (ed.) West African Archaeology, New Developments, New Perspectives, Archaeopress, pp. 93-102.

2010  ‘The chief, the youth and the plantation: communal politics in Southern Nigeria’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 48 (2): 259-283.

2009, with Uyilawa Usuanlele, ‘The owner of the land: the Benin Obas and colonial forest reservation’, Journal of African History, 50 (2): 223-246.

2007 ‘Things fall apart? Management, environment and Taungya farming in Edo State, Southern Nigeria’, Africa, 77 (3): 371-392.


2013 Review ofAll Our Yesterdays: Memories of a forester in Nigeria, 1950–1962 and An Earthly Paradise: Memories of a forester in the Bechuanaland Protectorate/ Botswana, 1963– 1968’, by P. W. T. Henry. African Affairs, 112 (449): 696-697.

2011 Review of ‘Landscape, Process and Power. Re-evaluating Traditional Environmental Knowledge’, edited by Serena Heckler. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17 (4): 893-894.

2011 Review of ‘Governing Africa's Forests in a Globalized World’. Edited by Laura A. German, Alain Karsenty and Anne-Marie Tiani. Journal of Biosocial Science, 43(2): 253-254.

2010 Review of Hughes, David M. ‘From Enslavement to Environmentalism. Politics on a Southern African frontier’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 16(3):657-658.

2009  Review of M. Sheridan & C. Nyamweru (eds.) ‘African Sacred Groves: ecological dynamics & social change’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 15 (2): 428-429.

2007 ‘Scott, James’, andBotkin, Daniel’. Entries inP. Robbins (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Environment and Society, Sage Publications.

2006 Review of K. Homewood (ed.) ‘Rural Resources and Local Livelihoods in Africa’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 12 (2): 476.   

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