Peter Lockwood

Peter Lockwood


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I am an economic and political anthropologist whose research focuses on the local transformations and moral articulations associated with capitalist dynamics and change. The mainstay of my research has focused on the predicament of Africa's 'surplus people' - unemployed and underemployed youth caught up in worlds of destitution - and the struggles for adulthood, reputation and upstanding morality that characterise their predicament. 

My current book project, ‘I’ll never eat the sweat of another: Masculine destitution and the struggle for morality in central Kenya’ explores transformation of central Kenya from a region of middle-class peasants in the 1960s to a contemporary one of masculine poverty and destitution in the early 21st century. In an economic landscape defined by unemployment and land scarcity, my book studies the predicament of men stuck within a world of alcoholism, suicide and family breakdown, and their moral arguments about how to be an upstanding man within it. Whilst an older generation of male farmers moralises about the importance of ‘hard work’, young men wonder quite legitimately if they will ever ‘make it’ to a ‘stable’ economic status. In the gulf between moral aspirations and material means, some are shown to ‘give up’, turning to alcoholism and a life lived in the short-term. Drawing upon 21 months of fieldwork in peri-urban Kiambu, adjacent to northern Nairobi, I describe the economic struggles of peri-urban youth and their families trying to avoid these fates. What emerges is an ethnographic portrait of an ethics of endurance - discourses about the need to control desires to ‘eat’ wealth in order to hang on to hope for a better future.

My experience conducting research adjacent to Nairobi has also informed an interest in the city, and over the last four years I have worked with a team of scholars to curate Nairobi Becoming, an innovative, multi-authored ethnography of the city featuring the work of scholars, writers and artists from Kenya and Europe.

This interest in the city is a major feature of my new research project as a Hallsworth Research Fellow at Manchester entitled: ‘THIS PLOT IS NOT FOR SALE’: Competing with corruption on Nairobi’s urban frontier. The research project explores the urbanising frontiers of Nairobi in Kiambu County, aiming to understand how rising competition for land (a scarce yet incredibly valuable asset) is fuelling cases of land fraud, but also increasing social tensions within extended families over landed inheritance. The project pays specific attention to how individual actors attempt to navigate a terrain of fraud and corruption, where even family becomes a site of mistrust. 

Outside of my research on economic life in Kenya, I have a long-standing interest in the country's politics, and have published pieces in respected African Studies journals on Kenya’s 2017 elections, exploring the salience of ethno-nationalist alliances (Journal of Modern African Studies) and moral debates over patronage (Journal of Eastern African Studies). I am currently developing a new book project on the past five years of Kenya's electoral politics from an anthropological perspective.

I began my career in anthropology at UCL, where I wrote a masters dissertation about boxing in my hometown in Essex. I retain a strong interest in the anthropology and sociology of the UK. I completed by PhD at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge in 2021 and then worked there as a Teaching Associate. I have convened seminars on the anthropology of kinship, and possess experience supervising undergraduates and graduates on a wide range of themes across social anthropology.

I am committed to public-facing scholarship, and have contributed to wider debates about economic life within Kenya’s public sphere itself, publishing a piece in online newspaper The Elephant about a recent banking scandal in Kenya, generating major discussion online about regulation and fraud in the country.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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