Joanna Davidson

Faculty Profiles

Joanna Davidson

Associate Professor

J. Davidson
Office: 232 Bay State Road, Suite 411
Office Phone: 617-353-5024

Fall 2018: T 11:00-12pm; R 11:00-1:00

Joanna Davidson is a cultural anthropologist whose research interests include cultural conceptions of knowledge, anthropological engagements with development, and the politics of storytelling. Dr. Davidson has conducted ethnographic research in Guinea-Bissau since 1999, where she has focused on rural West Africans’ responses to environmental and economic change. She is the author of Sacred Rice: An Ethnography of Identity, Environment, and Development in Rural West Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). She is also the co-editor of Narrating Illness: Prospects and Constraints (Oxford: Interdisciplinary Press, 2017).

Dr. Davidson has also conducted research on the regional dynamics of social fragility through a case study of inter-ethnic conflict across the Guinea-Bissau/Senegal border, and explored the ways in which new international development initiatives directed at agricultural transformation are playing themselves out in the sub-region. She has presented testimony and prepared policy briefings based on her research for the UN, served on the Executive Board of the American Ethnological Society, and served as a reviewer of research proposals for the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and been the Program Chair for the Association for Feminist Anthropology. She has been the recipient of grants and fellowships from various organizations including the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and Boston University’s Center for the Humanities.

Throughout her career Dr. Davidson has tacked back and forth—and attempted to translate across—academic and practitioner/policy spheres. Her current research and teaching interests emerged both through the empirical context of her fieldwork engagement in West Africa, and as ongoing concerns to connect anthropological scholarship with development thinking and practice. Prior to graduate studies in anthropology, Dr. Davidson worked for several years with a range of progressive non-governmental international development organizations in Africa and Latin America on issues such as refugee resettlement, indigenous rights, women’s and rural development, and social entrepreneurship.

Dr. Davidson’s current research explores storytelling as a form of knowledge and practice increasingly taken up by professions – such as medicine and law – not otherwise known for their attention to narrative. She is also continuing several lines of inquiry in rural Guinea-Bissau that pertain to shifts in gender relations, and especially reconfigurations of women’s power.

View Dr. Davidson’s CV

Recent publication

Books & Edited Volumes:

2016. Sacred Rice: An Ethnography of Identity, Environment, and Development in Rural West Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2016. Narrating Illness: Prospects and Constraints (co-edited with Yomna Saber). Oxford: Interdisciplinary Press.

Articles & Book Chapters:

2016. “Towards an Ethnography of Narrative Competence,” in J. Davidson and Y. Saber (Eds) Narrating Illness: Prospects and Constraints. Oxford: Interdisciplinary Press.

2016. “Rice and Revolution: Agrarian Life and Global Food Policy on the Upper Guinea Coast,” in J. Knoerr and C. Kohl (Eds) The Upper Guinea Coast in Global Perspective. Oxford: Berghahn Books, pp. 174-196.

2012. “Of Rice and Men: Climate Change, Religion, and Personhood among the Diola of Guinea-Bissau,” Journal of the Study of Nature, Religion, and Culture. Volume 6(3): 363-381.

2012. “Basket Cases and Breadbaskets: Sacred Rice and Agricultural Development in Postcolonial Africa,” Culture, Agriculture, Food & Environment. Volume 34(1): 15-32.

2010. “Cultivating Knowledge: Development, Dissemblance, and Discursive Contradictions among the Diola of Guinea-Bissau.” American Ethnologist, Volume 37(2): 212-226.

2009. “‘We Work Hard’: Customary Imperatives of the Diola Work Regime in the Context of Environmental and Economic Change.” African Studies Review Volume 52(2): 119-141.

2006. “Rotten Fish: Polarization, Pluralism and Migrant-Host Relations in Guinea-Bissau.” In D. L. Donham and E. Bay (Eds) States of Violence: Contemporary Conflicts in the African Subcontinent. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. Pp. 58-93.

See OpenBU for selected articles.


  • AN 101 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
  • AN 312 Peoples & Cultures of Africa
  • AN 363 Food & Water: Critical Perspectives on Global Crises
  • AN 510 Proposal Writing for Social Science Research
  • AN 589 Anthropological Critiques of Development Theory and Practice
  • KHC AN 102 The Power, Politics, and Ethics of Storytelling


BA Stanford University
MA Emory University
PhD Emory University