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Anne-Maria Makhulu

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology and African & African American Studies



Anne-Maria B. Makhulu completed a master’s and a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree at Columbia University before that. She is currently an associate professor of cultural anthropology and African & African American studies at Duke. Makhulu is the author of Making Freedom: Apartheid, Squatter Politics, and The Struggle for Home and co-editor of Hard Work, Hard Times: Global Volatility and African Subjectivities. She has several journal special issues to her name, as well as peer review articles, essays, and book chapters in flagship publications. A frequent speaker at conferences in the US and internationally, Makhulu is increasingly known for her public-digital scholarship. She serves as core faculty in Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Duke, has a secondary appointment in Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies, and is a research associate in the School of Social Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Since joining the Duke faculty in 2005, Makhulu has developed an advocacy-driven model of graduate mentorship, offered almost 30 distinct courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels, served on dozens of dissertation, senior thesis, advisory, and diversity, equity, and inclusion committees. Makhulu was the instructor of record for the course “The Wire” for eight semesters beginning in 2010. Based on the HBO series of the same title, “The Wire” seminar garnered national attention for its innovative approach to teaching urban anthropology focusing on questions of deindustrialization, the inner city, and urban crisis. 


What do you think are the most important qualities of a good mentor for graduate students?

Part of what is so challenging for graduate students in the humanities and interpretive social sciences is the volume of “evidence” required to make a compelling argument in long-form and specifically in the form of a dissertation. Gathering archival materials, conducting ethnographic interviews, or piecing together a complete theoretical framework can be overwhelming. And so, a responsible mentor must frame the project as something that can be broken down into its constituent parts; into manageable and time-limited tasks. Communicating the nature of those tasks requires mentors to be accessible, that they listen, and that they effectively represent the challenges and joys of learning, research, and writing as things both worth doing and practically speaking, doable.

What is something you have done as a mentor that you are really proud of?

I am particularly proud of my approach to mentoring, and by that I mean tending to the whole person within the mentoring relationship. If a graduate student has other kinds of difficulties other than those directly related to their professional work, they are likely to be distracted or unable to complete their work. I speak with mentees about home life, about things beyond the dissertation project. I encourage them to find other things to do beyond work—things that will make them happy, that will absorb them, that will create other kinds of intellectual and emotional investments. And when they confront big life events, including loss or tragedy, we talk about those things too. Over the years, I have advocated for a student’s family facing wrongful conviction, eventually seeking legal counsel on their behalf. I have shared my own experiences of loss and serious illness when mentees were confronting the very same sorts of trials. We have climbed those mountains together.

What does a successful graduate student mentoring relationship look like? How do you build such a relationship?

Trust, trust, and more trust. I always communicate to graduate students that what we talk about is confidential, that no question or query is without merit, that the process of professionalization is about anything they would like it to be, that good scholarship comes in many forms but good scholarship is always ethical, always kind, always generous.


Excerpts from Makhulu’s nomination

"This is part of what sets Dr. Makhulu apart as an educator -her unwavering commitment to an educational praxis rooted in a commitment to community and to academic rigor." 

"Professor Makhulu models for me not only why intellectual and academic inquiry is necessary for strategic praxis, but also how to create intentional spaces for dialogue, co-learning, and consciousness-raising amongst social change practitioners."

"It has been my immense privilege to learn from her and to witness her intelligence both within the classroom and in conversations she’s facilitated atDuke University for wider audiences."