Dr Pauline von Hellermann

Staff details

Position Senior Lecturer, Leverhulme Major Research Fellow (2018-21)
Department Anthropology
Email p.vonhellermann (@gold.ac.uk)
Phone +44 (0)20 7919 7803
Dr Pauline von Hellermann

Pauline von Hellermann is an environmental anthropologist and political ecologist, who came to Anthropology via History and Development Studies. After completing her PhD at Sussex in 2005 and two postdocs at Sussex and York, she joined Goldsmiths as a lecturer in 2011. She currently holds a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship (2018-2021) for the project Red Gold: A Global Environmental Anthropology of Palm Oil.


Pauline convenes and teaches on the MA Anthropology, Ecology and Global Justice

  • Anthropology and the Environment
  • Contemporary Social Issues
  • Ethnography of a Selected Region: Africa

Areas of supervision

Pauline supervises research projects in environmental anthropology and political ecology, and with a regional focus on Africa and the African diaspora. Her research and supervision interests range widely and include palm oil, mining, youth and patronage politics, science policy processes, infrastructure, multi-sited ethnography, political ecology and environmental justice.

Currently supervising

  • Ashley Puskas  – Money and social relations in London’s Ghanaian diaspora 
  • Sarah Howard – Government work in practice: Rethinking power and the state in rural Ethiopia
  • Flora Bartlett – Life in a Cold Climate: Nature, Weather, and Climate Change in Arjeplog, Sweden
  • Jessica Lumanisha - Black Slavs: Poland’s African diasporic community and the rise of post-socialist right-wing populism in Poland

Completed doctoral students

  • William Wheeler (2016) Sea changes: environment and political economy on the North Aral Sea, Kazakhstan
  • Clate Korsant (2017) Environmentalisms in Practice: From national policy to grassroots activism in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula


Research Interests

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

My doctoral research unpacked standard narratives linking deforestation in southern Nigeria to the collapse of ‘proper’ forest management in recent decades. It did 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 contemporary practices in one local context, the Okomu Reserve and its surroundings. It resulted in the monograph Things Fall Apart? The political ecology of forest governance in southern Nigeria (Berghahn 2013) as well as articles and book chapters on environmental and political crisis narratives in Nigeria, environmental governance and the historical ecology of the Benin Kingdom.

As a British Academy postdoctoral research fellow (2005-8) I returned to the Okomu area in 2006 and carried out research on an unfolding political crisis in Udo town and the involvement of a nearby, expatriate oil palm plantation. This work focused 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 Tanzania

My research as a Marie Curie Research Fellow for the HEEAL project (2008-11) complemented the work of my archaeologist colleagues at York University. I conducted ethnographic, archival and photographic research into land use practices, conservation policy and landscape change in the South Pare Mountains in Northeastern Tanzania, subsequently writing about tree symbolism and conservation and about repeat photography and narratives of environmental change.

Red Gold: A Global Environmental Anthropology of Palm Oil  

This research, funded by a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship (2018-21) presents a holistic and multi-faceted investigation into palm oil, from the early history of the oil palm and human-palm relations in West Africa, over the global palm oil agribusiness of today, its environmental and social effects, and the myriad forms of palm oil consumption throughout the world, to palm oil discourses and governance: anti-palm oil activism and boycotts, corporate attempts to rebrand and promote ‘sustainable’ palm oil production and certification schemes, and evolving national and global regulation. The project will build on existing palm oil research and will combine digital ethnography and archival research with new fieldwork in Nigeria, Indonesia, India and the UK.

Read more about Red Gold

Rail Infrastructure and the Southern Rail Crisis

As a commuter from Eastbourne and a regular user and sufferer of Southern Rail, I also developed research and activist interests in the Southern Rail crisis, and continue to be interested in rail and infrastructure anthropology. 

Publications and research outputs


von Hellermann, Pauline. 2013. Things Fall Apart? The Political Ecology of Forest Governance in Southern Nigeria. Oxford: Berghahn Books. ISBN 978-0-85745-989-3

Edited Book

von Hellermann, Pauline and Coleman, Simon, eds. 2013. Multi-sited Ethnography. Problems and Possibilities in the Translocation of Research Methods. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415849012

Book Section

von Hellermann, Pauline. 2016. Good governance, corruption, and forest protection: critical insights from environmental anthropology. In: Helen Kopnina and Elena Shoreman-Ouimet, eds. Routledge International Handbook of Environmental Anthropology. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 302-314. ISBN 9781138782877

von Hellermann, Pauline and Coleman, Simon. 2013. Introduction. In: Pauline von Hellermann and Simon Coleman, eds. Multi-sited Ethnography. Problems and Possibilities in the Translocation of Research Methods. London: Routledge, pp. 1-15. ISBN 978-0415849012

von Hellermann, Pauline and Usuanlele, Uyilawa. 2012. ‘The owner of the land: the Benin Obas and colonial forest reservation’. In: Saheed Aderinto and Paul Osifodunrin, eds. The Third Wave of Historical Scholarship on Nigeria: Essays in Honor of Ayodeji Olukoju. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 154-182. ISBN 978-1443839945

von Hellermann, Pauline. 2011. ‘Reading farm and forest: colonial forest knowledge and policy in Southern Nigeria’. In: Ricardo Roque and Kim Wagner, eds. Engaging Colonial Knowledge: Reading European Archives in World History. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 89-114. ISBN 978-0230241985

von Hellermann, Pauline. 2010. ‘Was Benin a forest kingdom? Reconstructing landscapes in Southern Nigeria’. In: Philip Alsworth-Jones, ed. West African Archaeology, New Developments, New Perspectives. British Archaeological Reports, pp. 93-102. ISBN 978-1407307084

von Hellermann, Pauline. 2007. ‘Scott, James’, and ‘Botkin, Daniel’. In: Paul Robbins, ed. The Encyclopedia of Environment and Society. Sage. ISBN 978-1412927611


von Hellermann, Pauline. 2021. From Ecophany to Burnout? An Anthropologist’s Reflections on Two Years of Participating in Council-Citizen Climate Governance in Eastbourne. World, 2(4), pp. 521-537. ISSN 2673-4060

von Hellermann, Pauline. 2020. Partial stories: repeat photography, narratives and environmental change in Tanzania. Visual Anthropology, 33(4), pp. 363-391. ISSN 0894-9468

von Hellermann, Pauline and Webb, Martin. 2017. On the Frontline: Travelling the Line, British Commuters and Southern Rail. Discover Society(43),

von Hellermann, Pauline. 2016. Tree Symbolism and Conservation in the South Pare Mountains, Tanzania. Conservation and Society, 14(4), pp. 368-379. ISSN 0972-4923

von Hellermann, Pauline. 2013. Review of ‘All 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), pp. 696-697. ISSN ISSN 0001-9909

von Hellermann, Pauline. 2011. Review of ‘Landscape, Process and Power. Re-evaluating Traditional Environmental Knowledge’, edited by Serena Heckler. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17(4), pp. 893-894. ISSN 1359-0987

von Hellermann, Pauline. 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), pp. 253-254. ISSN 0021-9320

von Hellermann, Pauline. 2010. The chief, the youth and the plantation: communal politics in southern Nigeria. Journal of Modern African Studies, 48(2), pp. 259-283. ISSN 0022-278X

von Hellermann, Pauline. 2010. Review of Hughes, David M. ‘From Enslavement to Environmentalism. Politics on a Southern African frontier’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 16(3), pp. 657-658. ISSN 1359-0987

von Hellermann, Pauline. 2009. Review of M. Sheridan & C. Nyamweru (eds.) ‘African Sacred Groves: ecological dynamics & social change’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 15(2), pp. 428-429. ISSN 1359-0987

von Hellermann, Pauline and Usuanlele, Uyilawa. 2009. ‘The owner of the land: the Benin Obas and colonial forest reservation’. Journal of African History, 50(2), pp. 223-246. ISSN 0021-8537

von Hellermann, Pauline. 2007. ‘Things fall apart? Management, environment and Taungya farming in Edo State, Southern Nigeria’. Africa, 77(3), pp. 371-392. ISSN 0001-9720

von Hellermann, Pauline. 2006. Review of K. Homewood (ed.) ‘Rural Resources and Local Livelihoods in Africa’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 12(2), p. 476. ISSN 1359-0987