C.V. | Publications | Projects

Research Interests
Legal anthropology, human rights, policing, global governance, social movements, Artificial Intelligence and related systems, environment and conservation, drones (UAVs), indigenous peoples.

Research Area(s)
Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, United States, Italy, United Nations


Dr. Sapignoli is a socio-cultural anthropologist (BA and MA from the University of Bologna, and PhD from the University of Essex). Before joining the Department of Philosophy at the University of Milan in April 2021, she spent eight years at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany, first as research fellow in its 'Law & Anthropology' Department and most recently heading the Max Planck Independent Research Group AIming Toward the Future: Policing, Governance, and Artificial Intelligence. She is continuing to cooperate with the MPI as a Cooperation Partner and as an Accompanying Scientific Committee member of the research cluster she contributed to setting up, titled Anthropology of AI in Policing and Justice.

She has spent the past decade conducting ethnographic fieldwork in southern Africa as well as in several international organizations, including the United Nations. She has explored topics of institutional reform, indigenous and minority rights, social movements and advocacy and, ultimately, justice. She is working in three interconnected projects a) AIming Toward the Future: Policing, Governance, and Artificial Intelligence b) Algorithmic Technologies and Human Rights: An Anthropological Approach, c) The Social and environmental life of Al systems in policing and policy.
These projects are connected by her broader research interest that investigates how Artificial Intelligence and related technologies are being conceptualized, developed, transferred, and applied in governance and in the context of the intensification of state and non-state policing. These projects engage critically and collaboratively with the legal and social challenges and opportunities presented by the use of digital technologies and big data in society and in environmental governance. They also shed light on the human creators of such technologies, including the values and aspirations that become codified in the programs they develop.

Over the last few years Dr Sapignoli has been visiting fellow and lecturer at several universities, including as an O’Brien Fellow in Residence at the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism at McGill University; Fellow in Residence at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University; and Junior Visiting Fellow in the Department of Philosophy, University of Milan (2019). From 2013 to 2019 she was Research Fellow in the Department of Law and Anthropology at the MPI for Social Anthropology.

Dr Sapignoli is co-editor of Palaces of Hope: The Anthropology of Global Organizations (Cambridge University Press 2017), of the Oxford Handbook of Law and Anthropology (Oxford University Press 2021), and the author of Hunting Justice: Displacement, Law, and Activism in the Kalahari (Cambridge University Press 2018). She has also published numerous articles and book chapters.

Publications (Selection)

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