JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight—Kamari Maxine Clarke

January 23, 2024 by Sonja Johnston

Kamari Maxine Clarke is the Distinguished Professor of Transnational Justice and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto at the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies and the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies.  With advanced degrees in Political Science, Anthropology and Law, over the past twenty-five years she has served as a professor at Yale University, Carleton University, and the University of California Los Angeles. She has conducted research on issues related to international law, in particular international criminal institutions and theoretical questions of culture, power, law and the state. Professor Clarke is the author of nine books and over sixty peer reviewed articles and book chapters, including her 2009 publication of Fictions of Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Challenge of Legal Pluralism in Sub-Saharan Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2009) and Affective Justice (with Duke University Press, 2019), which won the finalist prize for the American Anthropological Association’s 2020 Elliot P. Skinner Book Award for the Association for Africanist Anthropology and was the recipient of the 2019 Royal Anthropological Institute’s Amaury Talbot Book Prize.

During her academic career she has held numerous fellowships, grants and awards, including multiple grant awards from the National Science Foundation and from The Social Sciences and the Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC), the Rockefeller Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and, very recently, the 2021 Guggenhiem Prize for career excellence in Anthropology.  She is currently working on a project examining the Problem of Absence-Presence in the Black Atlantic World and is interested in knowledge, method and transmission as ways to foreground an Otherwise approach to Black social life. Kamari is one of our 2023-24 JHI Faculty Research Fellows.

What are your main research interests?

I’ve been working on two projects lately. One is a research area is grounded in several years of ethnographic research in northern Nigeria, Mexico, The Netherlands, and the United States, to develop a new theory of the “presence of absence” through the interpretation of data about how new geospatial technologies are being used to locate human remains. The second is concerned with the problem of absence and how we know Black Atlantic Worlds. Overall, I’m interested in epistemological and ontological questions concerning the problem of knowledge, the problem of methods and problems of transmission of knowledge that shape our world.

What project are you working on at the JHI and why did you choose it?

While at JHI I’m working on a book length manuscript that is entitled, The Elusive Work of Visibility: Toward a Theory of Absence. Taking my ethnographic research in Nigeria as a launching point for what is ultimately a broadly interdisciplinary contribution to social theory, The Elusive Work of Visibility explores the uses of new technologies in the search for the missing and the protection of human rights. It characterizes how various communities—from families of the disappeared, to professional advocates, to legal technocrats—are turning to these technologies in order to build evidence of prosecutable crimes in war-torn, developing regions, and how these data are subsequently deployed in international criminal trials in ways that have profound implications for how justice may be conceived in the future. I’m interested in how geospatial tools are being converted into data in ways that render the invisible visible while simultaneously erasing alternative visibilities.

As a work of theory intended to also catalyze conversations among broader legal, technology, and advocacy communities, The Elusive Work of Visibility will explore how data tools are being used for the creation of evidentiary platforms and, in turn, are both democratizing access to the means of producing justice while also bringing the limits of those processes into stark relief. Through the examination of how such forms of knowledge and evidence are being deployed to jostle for legibility and legitimacy within the context of legal proceedings, the manuscript will contribute to new knowledge in critical legal studies and related academic disciplines such as legal anthropology, sociology of law, and law and society.

How has your JHI Fellowship experience been so far?

I have loved my time at JHI. The fellows are wonderful—my colleagues are interesting, and the students are inspirational.  It’s been wonderful to have all the tools at my disposal for writing, thinking, good coffee and good food. I couldn’t ask for anything more!

Can you share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by?

During my fellowship year I’ve been able to watch the full eight seasons of Outlandera historical drama about a time traveler and her family who are transported back in timeto 1743 and then tacks in an out of different centuries.  It is a wonderful series that connects the history of the British Empire with histories of Jacobite resistance, their migration to the Americas, their encounter with the Americas and their complexities.  The series tacks from the 18th century to the late 20th century and connects love with loss, violence and pain, injustice with justice.  Lately I’ve been writing and thinking about alternate temporalities so have appreciated the complexity of temporality in the series and the way that it attempts to map out the conditions for the possible.

What is a fun fact about you?

I’m a raging fanatic about tennis as a sport that I play, as a site of competition and struggle, and as a way of life.  I follow professional tennis with fidelity and  dream tennis constantly. I locate my happy place rallying on a tennis court in any part of the world—anywhere between 15-25 degrees Celsius!