Mats Utas

professor vid Institutionen för kulturantropologi och etnologi, Kulturantropologi; Anställda

018-471 2287
Thunbergsvägen 3 H
Box 631
751 26 Uppsala

Kort presentation

Mats Utas is a cultural/social anthropologist specialised primarily in conflict studies, and secondly urban studies. He is currently working on two projects, one focusing on circular migration and the other on research brokers in conflict studies. Both projects are funded by the Swedish Research Council.

Mats Utas is Head of the Department/Prefekt

Akademiska meriter: MA, PhD

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

Cirkulär nomadism: ungdom och arbete i efterkrigens Liberia och Sierra Leone

Exploring the research backstage: Methodological, theoretical and ethical issues surrounding the role of local research brokers in insecure zones


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).



Detta stycke finns inte på svenska, därför visas den engelska versionen.

Gang-like: when gangs are not so gangish

Project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020, 2019-2023

Project headed by Dennis Rogers

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. Many hung out on downtown streetcorners. Making do in the city without proper work and often with frail social ties was something close to an art form. Bare survival was hard. Joint forms of informal organization was often pivotal for economic survival and protection. In many ways this organization was gang-like, if not gangish. More than 15 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 extend my discussions over time and relate their previous lives with where they are today.

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 2015-2017
Researchers: Mats Utas and Emy Lindberg

Okada riders in Ganta, Liberia, March 2013. Photo: Mats Utas

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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Mats Utas
Senast uppdaterad: 2021-03-09