James Williams

Assistant Dean for Student Affairs - Assistant Professor

Ph.D. Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University

M.A. Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University

B.A. Hons. Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge


James Williams completed his PhD in sociocultural anthropology at the Johns Hopkins University in 2013, specialising in African studies, migration, urban and economic anthropology, and the anthropology of children and youth. His research examines the lives of young unaccompanied male migrants from West and Central African countries in Cape Town, South Africa. His research focuses on how these migrant youth survive and work in South Africa’s urban underworld: how they navigate hostile landscapes to mitigate risk and evade state surveillance; how they operate collaboratively in competitive informal markets. Based on twenty months of fieldwork conducted between 2006 and 2009, his research provides detailed analysis of the resilient and agile networks these youths forged among themselves in the aftermath of their displacement and migration. The research was funded by an Andrew W. Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council and a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant in Cultural Anthropology from the National Science Foundation.

James is currently an advisor of the Young African Scholars Program at the Harry F. Guggenheim Foundation. In 2014-2015, he was a research fellow at IGK Work and Human Lifecycle in Global History (re:work) at Humboldt University, Berlin. He joined Zayed University in 2010.


Dubai Campus, (Wing D, D-L1-027)


+971 4 402 1469

Teaching Areas

War and migration; kinship and friendship; urban life; children and youth; violence; political and economic anthropology; South Africa and/in Africa.

Research and Professional Activities

I aim to continue fieldwork in South Africa, focusing on refugee law and legal practice, and begin a new project in the Gulf on transnational flows between Africa and the Middle East.