Currently I work at the African Leadership University in Pamplemousses, Mauritius. I’m not entirely clear what my title is because the university is too young for such things to have much meaning. I moved here in January after finishing up my doctorate in Anthropology at Stanford, and have been deeply involved in setting up systems and implementation of teaching, curriculum design, ethics, faculty development, faculty governance, diversity training of staff and students, decoloniality, and much else besides. I’m also gradually getting up to speed with French and Mauritian Kreol, the lack of which were initially quite limiting. I’ve also been slowly publishing work from my PhD, attempting to ensure research is firmly established at ALU, and figuring out how to build a nascent department in a way that enables growth on multiple levels and fosters respect and collegiality. I intend to begin a new project – likely on the cultural and social meanings of smell in Mauritius – in January 2018, as well as editing a book that explores the work in pedagogy and Pan-Africanism that the institution as a whole is currently undertaking. I feel privileged to have some of the most interesting and capable students I have ever encountered.


    Details about the work that I and my colleagues are doing at ALU can be found in this article, which outlines the way we think about program building in the context of the current moment.


    My doctoral thesis was entitled 'From Water to Wine: the Transnational Emergence of Angola's Middle Class in the South Atlantic' and was supervised by James Ferguson (primary advisor), Sylvia Yanagisako, Liisa Malkki, S. Lochlann Jain and Teresa Caldeira. I am currently working on a book manuscript, provisionally 'From Maria to Meury: Happiness, Beauty, and Everyday Aspiration in Contemporary Angola.'


    Dissertation Abstract:

    The dissertation explores the transnational emergence of an Angolan middle class in the Southern Atlantic. It looks at how short term migration between Angola and Brazil facilitates class mobility, as (largely young) Angolans access education and training not available at home and return with new skills. It considers the effect of these migrations on democratization and peace in Angola, some 15 years after the civil war ended. Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in both Angola and Brazil, the dissertation develops the idea of ‘wild capitalism’ as a way of approaching everyday life after a transition from socialist to capitalist economic norms, and that practice of ‘trickster economics’ as a strategy of surviving and thriving. It gives attention to scent, and to the use of perfume in Angola and across the Southern Atlantic, arguing that the olfactory plays an important role in helping individuals place one another socioeconomically, and also allows people to access one aspect of aspirational lives.


    Drawing on fieldwork undertaken whilst a music teacher in a private primary school, as well as as a university lecturer and member of the Angolan Scouts, the thesis considers how different kinds of social capital are acquired and performed, many of which locate individuals in a sphere that is internationally legible as being that of the ‘global middle class’. Structures of and for intellectual work in the nascent higher education sector, strategies for community improvement and development, and the consolidation of everyday life in peace, are all areas that are ethnographically and theoretically developed. The dissertation also argues for attention to that which is beautiful in countries such as Angola where many outsiders seem to focus so much on suffering and deprivation. Whilst it is important not to overlook the very real challenges that people face, this work argues that everyday happiness is just as valuable a subject of scholarly inquiry.


    My past work has included several studies of and with refugees in Southern Africa, a collaborative ethnographic analysis of last-mile healthcare delivery in Zambia, and continuous engagement in questions of canon-formation and change in University curricula in South Africa and in Angola. Teaching is a core passion, and I have ample classroom experience in Angola, South Africa, the UK, USA and in a visiting capacity in Brazil. I particularly enjoy exploring questions of knowledge production and dissemination, race, class and beauty with both undergraduate and graduate students.


  • Education:


    PhD in Anthropology, Stanford University, 2017

    Certificates in Medical Anthropology and African Studies.

    Masters in Forced Migration. St. Antony's College, Oxford, 2010
    Honours, Anthropology. University of Cape Town, 2008
    Bachelor of Social Science, University of Cape Town, 2007

    Matric, Roseway Waldorf School, Durban (Dux) 2004

  • Big questions

    The broad questions that motivate my research and teaching include:


    - How can we best use the social sciences to prepare students for life in a quickly-changing, culturally integrated world?

    - How can the skills acquired in anthropology and social science classrooms that deal with sameness and difference lead to life-changing friendships - and therefore life journeys - for our students?

    - How do we educate young people to become both aware of the structural systems that shape their lives, and enabled to work within these systems to improve them?

    - How do you tell a positive story about Angola, one that emphasizes everyday happiness and does not perpetuate old, tired stereotypes?

    - How do systems of knowledge production and dissemination influence what it is possible to think?

    - What might be lost to those who think only in English?

    - How do we make sense of the local and the global in the age of the internet?

    - How is smell culturally proscribed and enacted?

    - At a moment in history when thinking and learning increasingly take place through images, how do scholarly fields best respond?


  • Research, teaching and service


    See Summary above.


    Keywords include:


    Angola, South Atlantic, Aesthetics, Visual studies, smell/osmology, class, Scouts, socialist-capitalist transitions.



    The image above is an Angolan beauty salon in Rio de Janeiro.









    I have ten years of teaching experience on four continents. Details of my teaching record can be found in my CV, but what more than 1500 students have taught me is that anthropological tools of thinking are profoundly important to undergraduates across the world. Students are increasingly required to put themselves in the 'places' of others, to develop empathy and sensitivity to those who are culturally, economically or religiously quite different from themselves. They often need some guidance in doing this well, and the anthropology classroom offers a unique and essential space for asking questions of sameness and difference.


    The image above features students in Maratane Refugee Camp in Mozambique in 2008.


    I have been actively involved in service throughout my educational career, from undergraduate activism to more recent curricula reviews, seminar coordination and conference planning. At ALU service is often hard to separate into its own category as institution building becomes a collective and constant priority.


    The image above was designed by Kyle Williams and used on the poster for a conference I helped organize in 2011 entitled "The Black Atlantic: Colonial and Contemporary Exchanges" (Stanford Forum for African Studies).

  • PhD chapters

    Available on request.

    PhD Dissertation TOC






    Guide to ‘Insights'


    A Preface in Twelve Parts

    To Aspire and to Care, in Peace




    Navigating the Southern Atlantic


    Brief History, Part 1: The Southern Atlantic

    Lusotropicalism and Lusophonia

    Brief History, Part 2: Emerging Coastal Nationalisms and the Brazilian Connection

    Intermission: Professor Jório

    After the War: Tugas, Brazucas, the Chinese, and Shoprite

    Narratives of Self and Other

    On Insights as Methodology

    Why it Matters

    Chapter Abstracts




    Chapter 1

    Where Petrol is Cheaper than Water: Wild Capitalism and the Emergent Middle Class


    Constructing the New Angolan

    Death of a Child

    She is Constructing

    Changing the Voice

    A House, a Car, and an Education

    A note on Property

    A note on Transportation.

    A note on Light, Water, Oil, and the New Man

    Wild Capitalism

    The Future Passes Here


    Chapter 2

    The Traffic of Influence: Managing Relations in the Southern Atlantic


    Success in a Trickster Economy.

    Trafficking Influence: The resume must be read

    Friendship is the Most Important Thing There Is

    With the Peace that We Have

    Opening the Circles of Power



    Chapter 3

    Class, Perfume, Dream


    Olfactory Artistry

    The Scents and Sense of History

    Bodily Traces

    Conditioning the Air

    Memory and Artistry

    Osmology as Cosmology


    Chapter 4

    Educational Capital: Quality, Class and Confidence in a Private Primary School


    Welcome to the College of Stars

    Barcoded Legibility

    Comportamente Diferente

    Family Representatives

    To be a School with Dignity

    Trust in Quality: Preparation for the World



    The arrival of Reindeer.

    The School Next Door, and the School Up the Hill

    Authenticating Quality


    Chapter 5

    Scientific Journeys: On Critical Thought and Social Mobility


    Universities Out of the Dust

    The Angolan Higher Education Sector

    Universidade Katyavala Bwila.

    Instituto Superior Jean Piaget de Benguela

    Thinking through the Cold War

    Critical Thinking in Wild Capitalism

    Searching for a Scientific Identity

    Structure, Infrastructure, and Imagination


    Chapter 6

    Heroes After War: Scouting in a Country at Peace


    A Mafia for Good.

    Sempre Alerta Para Servir: Socially Useful Education

    Mysticism and the New Man

    Not Comrades, but Brothers and Sisters

    Life and Death: Making New Maps



    Attending the Beautiful in the Light of What We Know


    In Praise of Tricksters

    The Gifts of Wild Capitalism in Uncertain Times

    Luta, Perfume, Dream: to love with a terrible passion






    Appendix 1a: Portrait Poems

    Appendix 1b: Prédio Sebastião

    Appendix 2: The Selfie and the Other

    Appendix 3: Miscellaneous Documents

    Appendix 4: (Online Only) Happy Lobito








  • Publications

    Publications can be downloaded from my academia.edu profile here https://alueducation.academia.edu/JessAuerbach. Several publications are currently in press and will be updated in due course.

    "I'm Not a Racist, I'm a Realist": the archive of the non-racial, Africa and the Southern Atlantic

    Johannesburg Workshop of Theory and Criticism, Salon, Vol 8, 2014

    On race and class in the Southern Atlantic

    Photography in Africa (review)

    Social Dynamics, 40 (1), 2014

    Posing questions to a core text in contemporary African studies.

    Incapsulating hands: on the (in) dependence of young adults in the UNHCR's Maratane Refugee Camp

    Social Dynamics, 36 (2), 2010

    Drawing on research with a small group of young women and men in MarataneRefugee Camp, Mozambique, this paper argues that youth envisage themselves asincapsulated in the camp’s physical and ideological boundaries. It shows that theUnited Nations’ (UN) mandate of finding durable solutions to international problems is difficult to achieve when young people envisage themselves as reliantor dependent on the UN. It argues that greater attention needs to be given to thementoring of young people within the UN system, so that they are equipped withviable and realistic life expectations and skills

    Flowing into the state:

    Returning refugee youth and citizenship in Angola

    Refugee Studies Center, Oxford University, Working Paper #68

    This paper considers citizenship in its

    non-legal sense, using Angola as a case study and focusing primarily on returning refugee youth and the manner in which reintegration programs are designed andimplemented in light of the transition to democratic governance. Through interviews with UnitedNations and non-governmental organisation officials in Geneva, analysis of policy material and country reports and a review of both theoretical and country-specific literature, this paper suggests that outdatednotions of childhood development still widely inform the manner in which youth are treated today. Itexplores education as a means through which this process is manifest, in both UN and Angolan domesticpolicy. It also questions the ability of education in and of itself to address the needs of young people in apost-conflict setting in which civil and social institutions have been widely ruptured. It calls for theengagement of refugee youth in the process of their repatriation at the earliest possible moment, andhighlights the need for a reframing of young people such that their contributions to Angolan andinternational society are recognized and their ‘citizenship’ consequently validated at an experiential level.

  • passion project 1: Portrait poems

    Ethnopoetry Statement:


    The following poems are drawn from a series of approximately 120, which I wrote to complement ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Angola in 2013 and 2014. During this period, I felt increasingly that my efforts to capture “data” were incomplete when I focused only upon what I had been taught comprised ethnography: that is, the monographical, the singular anthropological gaze. In searching for ways to record experiences of insight and learning generated not only by IRB-approved informants, but by my subjective responses to those friends, children and strangers, intimate and imagined, within the fieldwork environment, I began to write poetry alongside my more conventional notes.


    As a fieldwork methodology, poetry liberated both my empathetic and my analytic skills. In moving beyond the strictly-verifiable, I was able to explore ideas that later informed interviews and formal questions, which informed insight, which informed further poems, which informed my monographic vision too... They also made literarily significant many individuals whose presence will, in the academic dissertation, be eviscerated by the demands of form, and as mnemonic devices, they have proven far more effective than my daily write-ups.


    Influenced in my early scholarship by the Writing Culture debate, but also by my studies of literature, I found that poetry sharpened my ears to the nuances of language in both Portuguese and English. The relative paucity of scholarship on Angola during my preparation phase meant that I had already given novels much attention, and these had attuned me to tones I might have missed had my focus been solely on direct quotations. By the time I returned, Renato Rosaldo had published The Day of Shelly’s Death, in which he writes of the work of poetry as being “to bring its subject – whether pain, sorrow, shock or joy – home to the reader” (2014: 105) – the opening of homes, as reciprocal through ethnopoetry, appeals to me.


    Whilst conducting this research, I was also conscious of the change entailed by research in spaces where informants and passerby have phones that quite literally upload images of anthropologist and anthropologized into a web of significance that is ever-more-mutually spun. How is, or must, the ethnographic gaze to shift? What are the risks of continuing within the monographical, when all

    about us engage multiple visions and where everyone (willingly or not) is socially mediated? These poems comprise one part of a broader attempt to respond to these questions.


    Estrelinha (Little Star)

    Quick eyes quick wide eyes watching watching knowing who is here
    And who is not and who is kind and who is not and who
    Kisses whom in the corridor and where the stray cat has hidden her kittens
    Quick eyes quick wide eyes and a belly-button that extends like a fist
    Marking a birth where scissors must have been in scant supply
    But where kisses were not, were not because look at her hugging her mother
    Clasping her neck whispering secrets into her ears
    Quick eyes quick wide eyes watching and commenting on the children with fancy uniforms
    The unfathomable distance between their flats up above with barbies and the
    Converted garage with no window where she sleeps while her stepfather drinks and drinks in the building Quick eyes she knows where he keeps the extra beer cans and the notes secreted away for whisky
    And she looks and looks and looks, dressed in her white public school coat like a physicist and holding a crayon

    Looks and looks for an escape route and for a place to play and for somebody to dance with and a place to draw uninterrupted. Quick eyes, the little girl is always watching. The women upstairs tell me they pray for her.


    Tattooed and Pierced Stranger

    She approaches me first in the supermarket which itself
    in this place is otherworldly, clean and green and abundant in bright

    White light. She comes towards me with a wild force but I am focused on choosing which tomato sauce to buy. And involuntarily I pull in my breath too quickly; her lips are tattooed and studded, her hair pulled back ink stains across all parts of flesh in parts as if it has leaked beyond the outline. And there is so much bare flesh - in this deeply Catholic country my eyes have become unaccustomed. And the cold of metal in ears and nose and cheeks and leather is otherworldly and it is

    Strange and makes me frightened (it might frighten me anywhere but this small town in Angola is not renown for such eccentrics and my first thought is of cocaine but I also see the multiple valences of my own prejudice. But here she is unique, there is no-one else to be a reference point and the only language that is made available for such a figure here

    Is: “behold it is the devil”) and I stumble backwards almost into the tomato cans, and from then on whenever she sees me, in the road on my motorbike, when I am walking along dusty paths or on the beach she stretches out her hands and her dyed black inked black lips and she laughs towards me and asks for gifts she knows I am too frightened to give
    I cannot even pause to hear her, I close my eyes.


  • Talks and Conferences

    I share my work regularly at academic meetings in South Africa, North America, Latin America, Europe, and of course, Mauritius.

    Community Engagement

    I and my colleagues are slowly building partnerships with local institutions of research, civic engagement and higher education. We currently host a Mauritian Studies group that meets monthly at ALU and brings together thinkers from around the island, and hope to deepen these collaborations in the future. We are also involved in several transnational discussions on decolonial pedagogy that we hope will bare fruit in the near future.


    Mentoring undergraduates from ALU and beyond is an important part of my daily work, and one of the things that I enjoy the most. It certainly maintains my optimism for the future.