Mats Utas

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Mats Utas är professor i kulturantropologi med en specialisering på konflikt och urbana studier Han jobbar för närvarande med två projekt. Ett handlar om forskningsassistenters roller i konfliktforskning och det andra fokuserar på före detta gängmedlemmar. Projekten finansieras av VR respektive EU.

Mats Utas är prefekt vid institutionen


  • africa
  • child soldiers
  • civil wars
  • conflict research
  • democratization
  • election violence
  • ex-combatants
  • gender and conflict
  • human security
  • liberia
  • post war socities
  • radicalisation
  • sierra leone
  • social marginalisation
  • social marginality
  • urban poverty
  • urban violence
  • west africa
  • youth and marginality



Jag har framförallt forskat om konflikter och postkonflikter i Västafrika. Jag har bedrivit fältforskning samt under flera år bott i Liberia och Sierra Leone. Jag har följt inbördeskrigen och postkonfliktsituationerna sedan jag först kom till Sierra Leone 1992. Utöver detta har jag skrivit om konflikterna i Mali, Centralafrikanska Republiken och Nigeria. Jag har bedrivit kortare fältarbeten i Nairobi och Dubai med fokus på konflikten i Somalia.


Politisk informalitet, nätverksanalys, konflikt, krig, rebellrörelser och miliser, ungdom, återintegrering av fd. soldater, genus i konflikt, media, valrelaterat våld, afrikanska städer, urban informalitet, fattigdom, transnationella affärsmän och konflikt, arbetsmigration.

Pågående projekt:

Silencing and Marginalization of Facilitating Researchers from the Global South: Analyzing the role of Academic Institutions and Norms (VR)

Gang-like: when gangs are not so gangish (ERC)


Jag undervisar på grund och avancerad nivå i antropologi och specialkurser såsom visuell antropologi, sensorisk antropologi och publik antropologi. Jag har tidigare arbetat som lektor i social and kulturantropologi vid universitetet i Liberia och Stockholms universitet, och som lektor i sociologi vid Fourah Bay College (University of Sierra Leone).


Denna text finns inte på svenska, därför visas den engelska versionen.

Externally funded research projects placed at the department since 2015:

Silencing and Marginalization of Facilitating Researchers from the Global South: Analyzing the role of Academic Institutions and Norms

Project funded by the Swedish Research Council 2023-2025

Mats Utas, Maria Eriksson Baaz and Swati Parashar

There has been an upsurge of interest in questions around research ethics in field-research in recent years, some of which touch upon the role and situation of what we in this project term “facilitating researchers”, otherwise referred to as “local research assistants” in the Global South. Yet, this literature is mainly descriptive, written by contracting researchers of the Global North, with limited analysis of the wider institutional structures reproducing a continued silencing and poor working conditions of facilitating researchers. Building upon insights from a recently completed project, which included facilitating researchers in three settings (DR Congo, Sierra Leone and Jharkhand, India), this project aims to contribute to further knowledge about the role that academic institutions, mainly but not only, in the Global North play in the silencing and poor working conditions of facilitating researchers. It includes an analysis of research funding bodies, ethics committees, universities and publishers in Sweden, the UK, France and India, focusing on the role of knowledge, prejudice, academic conventions and administrative rules and regulations. The project draws on insights both from the wider literature on inequalities in North-South knowledge production as well as literature addressing organization, incentives and conventions in academia more generally. It will be conducted through a combination of a correspondance experiment, in-depth interviews and text analysis.

Thugging it out: growing old in a gangland

Project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020, 2019-2024

This project is a follow up on my previous work on gang-like groups in postwar Sierra Leone. In the aftermath of the Sierra Leonean civil war groups of ex-combatants and other youths gathered in the city. Making do in the city without proper work and often with frail social ties was something close to an art form. Joint forms of informal organization was often pivotal for economic survival and protection. In many ways this organization was gang-like. 20 years have passed since the end of the civil war. The young people I followed during two years in Freetown are today middle-aged men. In this follow-up study I focus on the possibilities and problems of growing old in a gangland.

This research is part of a larger project headed by Dennis Rogers called Gangs, Gangsters, and Ganglands: Towards a Global Comparative Ethnography. The five-year project, which started in January 2019, has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 787935).

Exploring the Research Backstage: Methodological, Theoretical and Ethical Issues Surrounding the Role of Local Research Brokers in Insecure Zones

Project funded by the Swedish Research Council 2019-2021.
Mats Utas, Maria Eriksson Baaz and Swati Parashar

This research will provide novel and much needed insights into the dynamics that shape the triangular relationships between researchers, research brokers and research data in insecure zones by attending to the experiences of both brokers and researchers. Better knowledge about the role and situation of local research brokers appears particularly urgent at this point of time as many research institutions in Europe and the US are increasingly regulating and restricting the fieldwork access of their staff due to security concerns, in turn potentially leading to more outsourcing to local research assistants. Such developments form part of a general concern over the increasing risks posed to various humanitarian actors, journalists and NGOs in precarious and violent settings.

While local brokers, such as research assistants, interlocutors and a variety of fixers play a crucial role in most research contexts, they tend to be particularly important in violent theatres and in relation to highly sensitive topics (e.g. corruption, human rights abuses in authoritarian states). Not only do they have the in-depth knowledge that enables them to gather data on sensitive topics, they are also crucial in enabling the researcher to navigate safely through “dangerous fields”. From dealing with reluctant state agents to fostering sufficient trust to gain access to isolated groups, from the management of perceptions of the researcher to obtaining updated information on the security situation: local brokers are key resources, gatekeepers, and crisis managers. Yet, the role of certain brokers - such as research assistants - goes much further than merely facilitating research or gathering certain data. They often become the eyes and ears of researchers, thus exercising a large influence on the latters’ grids of intelligibility, shaping not only the way in which they make sense of certain phenomena, but also what they see in the first place. Hence, local assistants could be considered as full-blown ‘co- authors’ of research even when not writing a single word.

This multidisciplinary project is carried out in cooperation with the Department of Government at Uppsala University and Global Studies at Gothenburg University. The project is co-researched with local research brokers and is conducted in several countries in Asia and Africa.

Circular Nomadism: Youth and labor in Sierra Leone and Ghana

Funded by: Swedish Research Council 2015-2018
Researchers: Mats Utas and Emy Lindberg

This project is partly picking up where many current studies on African youth have left off: at wars end. Where demographic studies simply use abstract statistics to identify youth bulges and give woeful predictions of renewed conflicts driven by armies of disenfranchised youth, this study concretely investigates how young people make a living in one of the poorest countries in the world; Sierra Leone. Youth in Sierra Leone fought ten years of civil war. Socio-economy remains much the same after the war - poor remain poor. But does this mean that history will repeat itself, or will we see change?

At the same time, another image of the young Africa is projected; that of the new African growth, where young entrepreneurship is regarded as the key to the future. This picture is frequently painted when Ghana, the second country of this study, is presented to an international audience. Yet, even there social and economic injustices are ubiquitous, and most importantly, there are not enough jobs around.

Through in-depth studies and long-term engagement in these two countries this project answer questions such as: How are labor structures manifested, and how do they change? How do young people find work and what does this mean for the societies they are part of? In particular, what impact do labor market experiences and the mechanisms for finding employment have on longitudinal, post-colonial structures/relationships of dependence? This project aims to explore youths´ navigation of employment trajectories, and more particularly the role of young labor migration in the functioning of labor markets in Sierra Leone and Ghana. By adding a gender perspective and a special focus on the experiences of young women we will also give space to a social group that has often been ignored in contemporary studies on African youth.

The research project aims to make several critical contributions. First, it will contribute to theories on youth labor and labor migration by developing a theoretical framework suitable for exploring how labor structures manifest and change. Second, it will add important empirical material on youth and labor in Sierra Leone and Ghana, which will broaden our understanding of (African) youth in search for work in post-conflict and postcolonial structures of dependencies with large young populations. Third, methodologically, it will show the usefulness of adding a qualitative and ethnographical perspective to an area that has been dominated by a statistical focus on unemployment. Finally, this project will contribute to current policy debates and help to improve development projects focusing on issues of youth and labor.


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