Vanessa Wijngaarden is a social anthropologist with a passion for reflexive and dialogical approaches, methodological innovation, extensive fieldwork and creative research dissemination. Recurring themes in her work include ‘othering’ and (stereotypical) imagery; the interactions between academic and other knowledge systems; and the relationship between humans and other animals.
She studied at the Universities of Amsterdam and Leiden in the Netherlands, and the University of Calgary in Canada, pursuing parallel studies of political science (specialization international relations) and cultural anthropology (specialization sub-Saharan Africa), obtaining cum laude Bacherlor’s and Master’s degrees in both. She obtained her PhD from the University of Bayreuth in Germany, with a double-sided ethnography on the interplay between imagery and interactions in cultural tourism encounters between tourists and Maasai in Tanzania, contributing to innovative methodological and epistemological debates in anthropology and tourism studies. This included the introduction of Q method into the anthropological discipline, demonstrating how it can be integrated with ethnographic research and developing strategies to use it with non-readers. During her postdoc at the University of Johannesburg Department of Communication and Media, she worked with animal communicators from Africa and Europe, exploring how to bring different species as well as academic, Indigenous and other subdued knowledge systems into conversation with each other.
As an ethnographic filmmaker she has spent many years in East-African Maasailand. The documentaries she produced with the Maasai communities she lived with have been screened worldwide, with Eliamani’s Homestead being awarded ‘Best Documentary Short Film’ at the Lisbon International Film Festival, and Goat Breakfast, created in cooperation with Maasai Paulo Ngulupa, winning the ‘Best Cinematographer Award’ at the Mumbai International Film Awards in India. Her Wenner Gren Fejos Fellowship resulted in the feature Maasai Speak Back, which was awarded ‘Best Documentary’ at the Pan African Youths Film & Arts Festival in Nigeria, also winning the ‘Storytelling Award’ at A Show for a Change Film Festival and ‘Exceptional Merit Award’ at the WRPN Women’s International Film Festival in the United States. During her writing fellowship at the Johannesburg Institute of Advanced Studies and a Wenner Gren Hunt Fellowship she is developing a reflexive ‘making of’ film and a monograph to accompany Maasai Speak Back and create a teaching package.
Currently she teaches Q methodology and works as an ATLAS.ti registered consultant and certified senior professional trainer worldwide. As a a senior research associate at the University of Johannesburg, she is further developing the daring and innovative research project that engages with intuitive interspecies communication in different societies, in order to develop practical strategies to cross the nature/culture dichotomy and the dualisms rooted in it, asking how academics may practically deal with non-human animals as subjects, agents and research participants. By exploring parallels, connections and possibilities for cross-fertilization between new materialism and posthumanist approaches on the one hand, and Indigenous studies and Indigenous knowledge systems on the other hand, she aims to develop novel multispecies methods to help access and represent the perspectives of other animals. With her work, she aims to contribute to the ontological and species turns as well as decolonisation processes in academia.