Danny Hoffman

Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
University of Washington

My scholarship, teaching and civic engagement are based primarily on ethnographic research in West Africa and on my background as a photojournalist working in Southern and East Africa.

Since 2000 I have conducted fieldwork in Sierra Leone and Liberia on issues of youth mobilization during and after those countries’ recent wars. The resulting research explores how young men participate in regional networks that make them – and their capacity for violence – available for various forms of work. These include labor in the region’s resource extraction industries, labor on battlefields across West Africa and the labor of violent political campaigning.

My work in visual anthropology concentrates on the scholarly, artistic and popular representations of violence in still photography. The aesthetics so often used to represent African conflicts make simplistic portrayals of the continent unavoidable. In response I experiment in my own scholarship with the aesthetics of visual and literary ethnography, researching the work of African photographers and artists in an effort to develop alternatives for the representation of violence.



2011. The War Machines: Young Men and Violence in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

2017. Monrovia Modern: Urban Form and Political Imagination in Liberia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


journal articles

2016. "A Crouching Village: Ebola and the Empty Gestures of Quarantine in Monrovia," City and Society 28(2): 246-264

2015. "Il mestiere della guerra: l’organizzazione della violenza e del lavoro maschile in Sierra Leone e in Liberia" Anthropologia 2(1): 25-40.

2014. "Frontline collaborations: The research relationship in unstable places," Ethnography 15(3): 291-310.

2014. "Ebola in Perpective," Introduction to Cultural Anthropology online "Hot Spots" section on Ebola; co-authored with Mary Moran.

2013. "The Ministry of Defense (A Work in Progress). The Salon; Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism. Vol. 6. [http://jwtc.org.za/volume_6/danny_hoffman.htm]

2013. “Corpus: Mining the Border” (Cultural Anthropology website inaugural photo-essay feature)

2011. "Violent Virtuosity: Visual Labor in West Africa's Mano River War," Anthropological Quarterly 84(4): 949-975.

2011. "Violence, Just in Time: Work and War in Contemporary West Africa," Cultural Anthropology 26(1): 34-57.

2009. "Setting the Stage for a 'Festival of Lies': Notes on Expertise and African Cultural Studies," International Journal of Cultural Studies 12(4): 359-374.

2007. “The City as Barracks: Freetown, Monrovia and the Organization of Violence in Postcolonial African Cities,” Cultural Anthropology 22(3): 400-428.

2007. “The Meaning of a Militia: Understanding the Civil Defense Forces of Sierra Leone,” African Affairs 106(425): 639-662.

2007. “The Disappeared: Images of the Environment from Freetown’s Urban Environment,” Visual Studies 22(2): 104-119.

2006. "Disagreement: Dissent Politics and the War in Sierra Leone," Africa Today 15(3): 3-22.

2005. "Violent Events as Narrative Blocs: The Disarmament at Bo, Sierra Leone," Anthropological Quarterly 78(2): 329-353.

2005. "Warscape Ethnography in West Africa and the Anthropology of Events," Anthropological Quarterly 78(2): 315-326 [co-authored with Stephen Lubkemann).

2005. "The Brookfields Hotel (Freetown, Sierra Leone)," Public Culture 17(5): 55-74.

2004. "The Civilian Target in Sierra Leone and Liberia: Political Power, Military Strategy, and Humanitarian Intervention," African Affairs 103: 211-226.

2004. "Hunter Militias and the International Human Rights Discourse in the Mano River Conflict Zone," Africa Today 50(4): 73-95. [co-authored with Mariane Ferme]

2004. "The Submerged Promise: Strategies for Ethnographic Writing in a Time of War," Anthropological Quarterly 77(2): 323-330.

2003. "Like Beasts in the Bush: Synonyms of Childhood and Youth in Sierra Leone," Postcolonial Studies 6(3): 295-308.

2003. "Frontline Anthropology: Research in a Time of War," Anthropology Today 19(3): 9-12.

2002. "Combattants irreguliers et discours international des droits de l'homme dans les guerres civiles africaines. Les cas des 'chasseurs' sierra-leonais" Politique africaine 88: 27-48. [co-authored with Mariane Ferme]

book chapters

2016. "Brokering Revolution: Imagining Future War on the West African Borderlands," in Goldstone and Obarrio, eds. African Futures: Essays in Crisis, Emergence, and Possibility. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

2013. “War in the City, Crime in the Country: Blood Diamond and the Representation of Violence in the Sierra Leone War,” chapter for Framing Africa: Portrayals of a Continent in Contemporary Mainstream Cinema, Nigel Eltringham, ed. Berghan Books.

2013. "Liberia," in Kurt Piehler, ed. Encyclopedia of Military Science. Sage Publishers.

2011. "The Sub-Contractor: Counterinsurgency, Militias, and the New Common Ground in Social and Military Science," in Laura McNamara and Robert A. Rubinstein, eds. Dangerous Liaisons: Anthropologists and the National Security State. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press.

2009. "Citizens and Soldiers: Community Defense in Sierra Leone Before and After the Special Court," in Lansana Gberie, ed. Rescuing a Fragile State: Sierra Leone 2002-2008. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier Press.

2008. "Militias," in John Middleton, ed. New Encyclopedia of Africa South of the Sahara. Gale.

2008. "Rocks," in Craig Jeffrey and Jane Dyson, eds. Telling Young Lives: Portraits in Global Youth. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 123-135.

2005. "Despot Deposed: Charles Taylor and the Challenge of State Reconstruction in Liberia," in Roger Southall and Henning Melber, eds. Legacies of Power: Leadership Change and Former Presidents in African Politics, Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council Press, 308-331.

Film Screenings

Make-It-Rail [4 minute ethnographic short, Liberia]

Ethnografilm festival, 2/2017. Paris, France.


Build Us a Theatre! [Documentary short on photographer Jeremy Francis and the Ward Theatre. Kingston, Jamaica]

Winnipeg Architeecture & Design Film Festival, ArchiShorts Programme, [2-minute version], 5/2017. Winnipeg, Ontario. Canada.

Palm Bay Caribe Film Festival, 6/2017. Palm Bay, Florida.

book reviews

Nostalgia for the Future, by Charles Piot. Ethnos

Magic and Warfare, by Nathalie Wlodarczyk. International Journal of African Historical Studies.

Liberia by Mary Moran. Journal of Modern African Studies.

No War, No Peace edited by Paul Richards. Africa Today.

Beyond Plunder by Amos Sawyer. Journal of Modern African Studies.

Navigating Terrains of War by Henrik Vigh. Ethnos.

film reviews

War Don Don. (2010. Rebecca Richman Cohen, dir.) African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review.


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Send questions about this workspace to Danny Hoffman.