Global Challenges

Global challenges is the research programme of the Leiden Institute of Cultural Anthropology & Development Sociology.



Global Challenges begins with the recognition that our current global moment is defined by political and economic instability and the dramatic realignment of global centers of power, a shift from rural to urban concentrations of population, climate change, and diverse movements for self-determination and recognition, together with the role of image circulation and digital technologies in these far-reaching transformations.

Within this broad context, we single out three terrains in particular where we investigate a more specific set of challenges as these unfold within particular localities and circumstances, impacting upon and becoming inflected in the lives of persons and collectivities, i.e.:

  • Media and Material Culture,
  • Environment and Development,
  • and Economy and Culture.

Mission statement

The research mission of the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology is: 'to conduct research in culture and development (with a special emphasis on the situational analysis of global challenges); and to disseminate its results in high-quality, globally acknowledged venues of publication and through national and international collaborations in order to further enhance its academic reputation and the societal relevance of its research.'

Research programme

Areal foci
Global or universal claims are necessarily made in particular localities while the particular place that people make for themselves is inevitably produced and articulated trans-locally. The institute sees its traditional areal foci of Indonesia and Sub-Saharan Africa not as some backdrop against which more important themes unfold, but as posing crucial challenges themselves, whether that of increasing foreign interest in land in Africa for research extraction or the fraught relationship between modernity and tradition in parts of Asia as that continent undergoes rapid economic growth. These challenges call for innovative research in situ that builds on the ethnographic, theoretical and methodological strengths of both cultural anthropology and development sociology, with an eye towards the ethical considerations that characterize our work and its societal relevance and validity today and in the future.

New actors
Global Challenges defines the meeting point of our institute’s heritage in cultural anthropology and development sociology. Current global trends marked by transformations in state-market relations require a closer connection between these two disciplinary traditions. States no longer figure as the pillars of development cooperation while actors from the private sector and civil society have stepped in, leading to new anthropological questions about the interface between development and the larger field of power relations that describes the international arena of shifting political and economic regimes. Similarly, developments in the field of media and cultural heritage increasingly assume an understanding of the workings of international organizations and transnational corporations.

Area studies
Global Challenges builds on our longstanding tradition of area studies, making critical use of the idea that the world looks different from East and West Africa, Ambon or Kuala Lumpur, the borderlands between India and Myanmar, as compared to the view from northern Europe or the USA. Equally importantly, it situates this tradition within the larger context of contemporary global challenges and interactions, attending thereby to the constitution of localities, to issues of scale and perspective, and to the ways in which processes of social production are often more than ‘local’ and less than ‘global’ in their implications.

More information

For more information about our research in these areas visit our regional expertise website.