Professor Maxim Bolt

Associate Professor of Development Studies

Maxim Bolt is an anthropologist working largely on questions of economy in southern Africa – particularly labour, migration, borders, the social dynamics of money, and property inheritance. His first major project investigated South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe, its large-scale commercial agriculture, its black workforces and white landowners, and the effects of concentrated formal employment in a context of crisis, upheaval and displacement. Zimbabwe’s Migrants and South Africa’s Border Farms: The Roots of Impermanence (Cambridge University Press 2015, Wits Press 2016) won the 2016 British Sociological Association / BBC Thinking Allowed Ethnography Award, and it was shortlisted for the 2016 Herskovits Prize (African Studies Association, USA) and the 2016 biennial Fage and Oliver Prize (African Studies Association of the UK). 

Maxim now researches property inheritance, the state and class reproduction in Johannesburg, South Africa. In the post-apartheid era, making wills has taken on new significance amidst middle-class expansion and the rapid proliferation of financial services. Meanwhile, most people die intestate, their relatives confronted with unfamiliar rules about which relatives officially matter. The project explores the institutions and disputes surrounding urban inheritance, connecting socio-economic position to kinship, property, and legal and bureaucratic processes. As more South Africans accumulate substantial property, its disbursement becomes a new terrain on which battles of kinship obligation are fought.

Maxim previously worked at the University of Birmingham, and before that at the British Museum. For the BM’s interdisciplinary ‘Money in Africa’ project, he conducted ethnographic fieldwork with small-scale businesspeople in Malawi and interview-based research in Nigeria’s and Uganda’s central banks.

Maxim is a former Editor of AFRICA: Journal of the International African Institute and the Journal of Southern African Studies, and a former member of the council of the African Studies Association of the UK. He serves on the editorial boards of AFRICA, the Journal of Southern African Studies and African Studies Review.

Maxim is a Research Associate at the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand, and a Senior Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of African Studies and Anthropology, University of Birmingham. In 2018, Maxim gave the Malinowski Memorial Lecture, hosted by the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. 

Teaching & Supervision
In the media
Property inheritance, the state and class reproduction in Johannesburg, South Africa

Maxim teaches on ODID’s MPhil in Development Studies.

He has previously taught and convened courses on economic anthropology, anthropological theory, gender and development, South Africa, the anthropology of Africa, and interdisciplinary research methods.

Research Students supervised

Laura Ballerini
Research Student
Federica Cerruti
Research Student
Julia Hampton
Research Student
Leonie Hoffmann
Research Student
Leila Strelitz
Research Student

Books and monographs

Journal articles and special issues

Bolt, Maxim (with Jon Schubert) (eds) (2022) 'Special Issue: Engineering the Middle Classes: State Institutions and the Aspirations of Citizenship', Critique of Anthropology 42 (4)
Bolt, Maxim (with Jon Schubert) (2022) 'Engineering the middle classes: State institutions and the aspirations of citizenship', Critique of Anthropology 42 (4) 347–58
Bolt, Maxim (2021) 'Fluctuating formality: homeownership, inheritance, and the official economy in urban South Africa', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Bolt, Maxim (with Tshenolo Masha) (2019) 'Recognising the family house: a problem of urban custom in South Africa', South African Journal on Human Rights 35 (2) 147-68
Bolt, Maxim (2017) 'Introduction: becoming and unbecoming farm workers in Southern Africa’', Anthropology Southern Africa 40 (4)
Bolt, Maxim (with Tarminder Kaur) (eds) (2017) 'Special Issue: Becoming and Unbecoming Farm Workers in Southern Africa', Anthropology Southern Africa  40 (4)
Bolt, Maxim (with Dinah Rajak) (eds) (2016) 'Special Issue: Labour, Insecurity and Violence in South Africa', Journal of Southern African Studies 2 (5)
Bolt, Maxim (with Dinah Rajak) (2016) 'Introduction: labour, insecurity and violence in South Africa', Journal of Southern African Studies 42 (5)
Bolt, Maxim (with Kate Meagher and Laura Mann) (eds) (2016) 'Special Issue: Making the Right Connections: Globalization, Economic Inclusion and African Workers', Journal of Development Studies 52 (4)
Bolt, Maxim (with Kate Meagher and Laura Mann) (2016) 'Introduction: African workers and the terms of global economic inclusion', Journal of Development Studies  52 (4)
Bolt, Maxim (2009) 'Zimbabwe-South African border: soccer, braais and community of workers', South African Labour Bulletin 33 (2)


Bolt, Maxim (2022) 'Circulation and its forms'. In James G Carrier (ed) A Handbook of Economic Anthropology , Edward Elgar
Bolt, Maxim (2019) 'Crisis, work and the meanings of mobility on the Zimbabwean-South African border'. In J Noret (ed) Social Im/mobilities in Africa: ethnographic approaches , Berghahn
Bolt, Maxim (2017) 'Navigating formality in a migrant labour force'. In W Adebanwi (ed) The Political Economy of Everyday Life in Africa: beyond the margins , James Currey
Bolt, Maxim (with C Eagleton and L Gardner) (2011) 'Money in Africa: new historical and anthropological approaches'. In B Cook (ed) The British Museum and the Future of UK Numismatics , British Museum
08 September, 2022
Ground-breaking judgement on property rights in South Africa draws on research by Maxim Bolt
13 Sep, 2021
'In the Master’s Office black people step into the past'. Columnist Jonny Steinberg writes for Business Day about the findings of a recent article by Maxim Bolt
Research interests:

Labour, migration, borders, money, property inheritance, class, the state, southern Africa.