Priest, development worker, or volunteer? Anthropological research and ascribed identities in rural Mozambique


  • Michael Walker



Over the last two decades anthropologists have devoted increasing analytical space to questioning, challenging, and reflecting on how different identities and positionalities structure power relations and shape social interactions in a diversity of research contexts. Many of these works reveal how identities are constructed, contested, and negotiated through the process of conducting research. During 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork in central Mozambique I was mistaken for a priest, alleged to be a spy, and assumed to be a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer. In this article, I explore how my identity, and the identities ascribed to me, shaped my interactions with people living in rural Mozambique and structured the types of relationships and data I was able to collect. My experience highlights the contextually grounded and negotiated nature of identity construction and how individual identities are understood and interpreted through broader historical, political, and economic contexts.

Author Biography

Michael Walker

Michael Walker is currently writing his PhD thesis at Michigan State University  on the political ecology of access to land and water in central  Mozambique. His research interests include political ecology, common property resources, gender and development, and neoliberalism. He can be contacted mailto:walke167(AT)