Steven Pierce

Steven Pierce


Personal profile


I studied political science as an undergraduate at Yale University and then received a Ph.D. in anthropology and history from the University of Michigan in 2000. Before coming to Manchester in January 2006, I taught for five years in the history department at Tulane University.

In addition to my position here at Manchester, I am also the Senior Editor for Africa for Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Research interests

I am a specialist in sub-Saharan Africa, and my research centers in and around the city of Kano in northern Nigeria, focusing on issues of law, politics, colonialism, social theory, gender, and semiotics.  

My first book, Farmers and the State in Colonial Kano: Land Tenure and the Legal Imagination (Indiana University Press, 2005) is a study of the colonial government of northern Nigeria, looking at the way in which rights in land became the primary idiom for governing small-scale farmers. I spent the 2010-11 academic year as a member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. During that time I wrote a second book, entitled Moral Economies of Corruption: State Formation and Political Culture in Nigeria, which examines the history of discourses of corruption in Nigeria, published by Duke University Press in 2016.  I am currently working on a sequel to that book under the working title A History of Corruption in Africa, which is under contract to Ohio University Press.

At the same time, I have been working on a project examining the politics of Islamic criminal law in northern Nigeria, looking specifically at two periods in which it came to national and international attention, through scandals over flogging in the early colonial period and through controversies over homicide cases in the late colonial period.  In the second half of 2013 I was a senior fellow at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany working on this project.  I am currently completing the final phases of this research with a generous grant from the Harry F. Guggenheim Foundation. This work builds on research I have been conducting in collaboration with Professor Anupama Rao of Barnard College, Columbia University, which resulted in our 2006 book Discipline and the Other Body and a more recent essay in a collection on historical anthropology.


Supervision areas: I welcome inquiries from research students, particularly those interested in the history of sub-Saharan Africa and in historical anthropology.

Current PhD students:

Ms Ayotunde Ojo

Mr Ajay Khairkar

Ms Josephine Nevill

Mr Isma'il AbdulHamid Inuwa

Completed PhD students:

Dr Obi Ojimiwe

Dr Thomas Sharp 

Dr Amal al Taleb 

Dr Rey Gonzales

Further information

I teach and research about the history and culture of northern Nigeria and have consulted on issues of human rights, gender, and sexuality in Nigeria.

I have provided testimony and consultation in immigration cases in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada.  Additionally, I have appeared on panel discussions on outlets like BBC Radio 4, as well as providing interviews to agencies such as the BBC, Wall Street Journal, France 24.

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 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, University of Michigan

Award Date: 30 Apr 2000

Bachelor of Arts, Yale University

Award Date: 28 May 1990

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Creative Manchester


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