C.V. | Publications | Current Project | Completed 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


Maria Sapignoli (BA and MA University of Bologna, PhD Essex University) took up her position as Head of the Max Planck independent research group AIming Toward the Future: Policing, Governance, and Artificial Intelligence at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in January 2020.

Dr. Sapignoli is an anthropologist who 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. Most recently, she has started a field research project in southern Africa looking at the impacts, possibilities, and risks of the use of drones (UAVs) for conservation, land claims, and anti-poaching policing. This is part of 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. This new project engages 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. It also sheds 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 (2016); Fellow in Residence at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University (2018); 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) 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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