Catherine Bolten

Professor of Anthropology and Peace Studies

Catherine Bolten

317 Hesburgh Center for International Studies
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556

(574) 631-5099

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Catherine Bolten

Professor of Anthropology and Peace Studies

On leave for 2023-24 academic year


Development anthropology; youth; structural violence; poverty, education; food security; Ebola; ethnoprimatology

At the Keough School 

Catherine Bolten is professor of anthropology and peace studies in the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. She also serves as director of doctoral studies for the Keough School’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where she is a core faculty member.


Research and Biography

Catherine Bolten has been working in Sierra Leone since 2003, focusing first on issues of memory, poverty, morality, and post-war development.
Bolten’s first book I Did It to Save My Life: Love and Survival in Sierra Leone (2012) is part of the University of California Press Series in Public Anthropology. Her second book, Serious Youth in Sierra Leone: An Ethnography of Performance and Global Connection, was published by Oxford University Press in 2020. The book focuses on the material practices of youth who, instead of wanting to overthrow or change a patronage system widely credited with causing the war, instead yearn to belong to it. This bid to be taken “seriously” is misinterpreted by adults who feel threatened by young people’s facility with technology and the trappings of globalization, causing intergenerational friction.

Since 2014 Bolten has been involved in the Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project in central Sierra Leone, where she has been investigating the nexus between food insecurity, population growth and family dynamics, land degradation, and wildlife competition. The first outputs from that project have been published in the edited volume Living With Animals, and in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology and African Studies Review, with several more expected in the coming years. A pilot project examining the links between structural violence, poverty, and drug use by young people has been put on hold due to the pandemic, with an anticipated pilot phase in 2022.

Bolten was a member of the international Ebola Anthropology Emergency Task Force, and co-edited a special issue on Ebola for Anthropological Quarterly in 2017. She has consulted for the United Nations World Food Programme and Physicians for Social Responsibility, and has conducted extensive fieldwork on ethnobotany, eco-tourism, and development in Botswana. Her articles appear in American AnthropologistComparative Studies in Society and HistoryAnthropological Quarterly, and The Journal of Human Rights, among many others. She is an associate editor for the African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review, an interdisciplinary forum for creative and rigorous studies of conflict and peace in Africa.

Recognition and Awards

Recent Work

In the Media