Dr Oliver Owen

oliver owen


Departmental Lecturer in African Anthropology/Evans-Pritchard Fellow of St Anne’s College.

Olly's research interests centre on political anthropology and the relations between governments and publics in West Africa, the configurations of material interests and experiential meanings construed in these encounters; as part of an anthropology of the state which ‘de-naturalises’ governmental institutions to look at them as social formations. His recent research has been an ethnographic examination of new transformations in revenue and fiscal governance in Nigeria, looking at taxation relationships between the state and citizens, and how questions of social contract and political accountability are popularly understood. Alongside this, he continues a focus on policing structures and practices in Nigeria, both engaging in comparative research on policing in the postcolonial world, and working with stakeholders in Nigeria to feed research into policy debates. His new research extends time horizons forward and backward, looking at the ways both future and past are imagined, for example through tropes such as infrastructure. He also continues other longstanding interests in politics and governance in the West African sub-region.

In this post to replace Dr Thomas Hendriks for 2018/19, Olly is a political anthropologist with responsibilities split between the African Studies Centre and the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology. Previously, he held a postdoctoral Fellowship and a three-year Economic and Social Research Council grant for a project entitled Social contracts in transformation: Tax reform in Nigeria at the Oxford Department of International Development (Queen Elizabeth House). Olly studied for a DPhil at ISCA, where he undertook an ethnographic study of the Nigerian Police Force. Before that, he worked in London and Lagos, first with West African civil society groups, and then as a journalist, then analyst and development consultant covering the West Africa sub-region. Prior to that, he took an undergraduate degree in Social Anthropology in Cambridge, and an MSc in African Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Olly has a particular interest in research engagements with policymakers and publics. Since 2017, Olly has been the Research Director of the Nigeria Tax Research Network. His research interest in Nigeria’s World War II veterans has resulted in a co-produced prizewinning short film with the Guardian newspaper, and an ongoing work with publics in Nigeria and the diaspora to showcase and interpret soldiers’ songs in the Imperial War Museum collections.  In October 2018, jointly with Professor Wale Adebanwi, Olly was awarded a joint Social Science Knowledge Exchange Fellowship grant to work with Lagos-based heritage groups on public outreach and rail heritage in Nigeria.  In 2015, he won an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Celebrating Impact Prize for his research on the Nigerian Police Force.


+44 (0)1865 213908


Research Disciplines:

  • Anthropology, political anthropology, political economy.

Research Keywords:        

  • Governance, the state, public spheres, institutions, sovereignty, citizenship, policing, taxation, futures.

Countries and regions:

  • West Africa, Nigeria.


  • African Studies core courses 1 and 2, Theories and Approaches in Social Anthropology, Key themes in Anthropology, Anthropology of Africa, Anthropology of violence and social suffering.

PhD supervision

  • Hanno Brankamp, OUCE  (co-supervisor): Policing refugees: an ethnography of police work and community policing in Kenya's refugee camps.

Books and monographs

Owen, Oliver (with J Beek, M Goepfert & J Steinberg) (eds) (2017) Police in Africa: The Street-Level View, London: Hurst

Journal articles and special issues

Gatt, Leah & Owen, Oliver (2018) ‘Direct Taxation and State–Society Relations in Lagos, NigeriaDevelopment and Change 49 (5) 1195-1222.

Owen, Oliver (2016) 'Government Properties: The Nigeria Police Force as Total Institution?', Africa 86 (1) 37-58

Owen, Oliver (with Zainab Usman) (2015) 'Briefing: Why Goodluck Jonathan lost the Nigerian presidential election of 2015', African Affairs 114 (456) 455-71

Owen, Oliver (with S-J Cooper-Knock) (2014) 'Between vigilantism and bureaucracy: Improving our understanding of police work in Nigeria and South Africa', Theoretical Criminology 19 (3) 355-75

Owen, Oliver (2013) 'The police and the public: Risk as preoccupation', Sociologus 63 (1-2) 59-80

Owen, Oliver (2012) 'Policing Nigeria: Towards a History of State Sovereignty', Politique Africaine 128

Owen, Oliver (2008) 'Biafran Pound Notes', Africa 79(4)


Owen, Oliver (2018) ‘Revenue and Representation: The political economy of public participation’. In Levan, C. & Ukata, P. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Nigerian Politics, Oxford: OUP.

Owen, Oliver (2017) 'Risk and motivation in police work in Nigeria'. In J Beek, M Goepfert, O Owen and J Steinberg (eds) Police in Africa: The Street-Level View, London: Hurst

Owen, Oliver (2016) 'Policing after Colonialism'. In B Bradford, B Jauregui, I Loader and J Steinberg (eds) SAGE Handbook of Global Policing, London: SAGE

Owen, Oliver (2013) 'Positions of Security and the Security of Position: Bureaucratic Prebendalism Inside the State'. In Wale Adebanwi, Ebenezer Obadare (eds) Democracy and Prebendalism in Nigeria: Critical Reinterpretations, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Working papers

Goodfellow, Tom & Owen, Oliver (2018) ‘Taxation, property rights and the social contract in Lagos’, International Centre for Tax and Development Working Paper No. 73, Institute of Development Studies.

Goodfellow, Tom & Owen, Oliver (2018) ‘Taxation, Property Rights and the Social Contract in Lagos’, International Centre for Tax and Development Research in Brief No. 16, Institute of Development Studies.

Owen, Oliver (2014) 'The Nigeria Police Force: predicaments and possibilities', NRN Working Paper No 15, Nigeria Research Network, Oxford Department of International Development

Owen, Oliver (2013) ‘Policing Communal Conflicts: The State, Parallel Security Providers, and Communities’, NRN Policy Brief No 4 - Nigeria Research Network, Oxford Department of International Development.


Owen, Oliver (2015) 'Film: The forgotten army of WWII: West Africa's soldiers in Burma',


List of site pages