Jess Auerbach

MHHA: Who are you?

JA: My name is Jess Auerbach. I grew up near Durban but have recently returned to SA after a decade away.

MHHA: In what part of the world do you work?

JA: My research projects have largely taken place in Angola, Mozambique, Mauritius and Brazil. I’m also doing some new work at home which I am really enjoying.

MHHA: What is your area of interest or expertise?

JA: I’m somewhere between an economic and a medical anthropologist with a strong interest in applied pedagogy and sensory ethnography! My first book is about beauty in Angola, and I am working on a second one about peace in Mauritius.

MHHA: Do you have research/practitioner partners?

JA: At the moment I am working with Dharmagiri, a Buddhist NGO in the Drakensberg, as well as with Jonathan Jansen on his Politics of Knowledge Project at Stellenbosch University.


MHHA: Please tell us about your recent project...

JA: As well as ongoing work mentioned above, I’ve recently started an ‘Archive of Kindness’ project which is capturing the public imagination in SA in really lovely ways. It’s a record of everyday micro kindnesses that are holding the country together right now, and all kinds of stories are being recorded and shared. I hope to work more on it in the future.


MHHA: What about your work makes your smile?

JA: At the moment I’m not teaching, and I really miss that. Thinking through the complexities of the world with students gives me a lot of joy, and it’s great following people as they grow from nervous first years to intellectual peers. I still mentor a lot, and every time I get a message from a former student I smile. They do drive me nuts sometimes but it’s totally worth it. I love pretty much all aspects of scholarly life though, so feel very lucky to have a job that gets me out of bed with such enthusiasm.


MHHA: What are the challenges of your work?

JA: At the moment I’m in that precarious post-doc space. I think a lack of job security can be psychologically quite draining, and it means I feel I am less focused as I try to be everything for everyone to keep my options open.


MHHA: What are three positive things you/your team has achieved in the last year? 

JA: I’ve been in three teams in the last year so I’ll share one of each. When I was at the Open University of Mauritius, it was great to see a research culture really begin to take off there, and I felt the growth in my colleagues was very inspiring. The Buddhist NGO I’m partnering with has been incredibly successful at getting a more representative group of people to work with them, and so feeling that deeper transformation in the country working – even when it’s not easy all the time – is fantastic. And then at Stellenbosch, I think building bridges between groups who don’t usually talk to each other is very important, so I like that.


MHHA: What advice would you give to a mentee aspiring to join your field?

JA: Do your readings. All of them. And more :)


MHHA: What do you hope to be doing in 5 years? Where will you be?

JA: I hope to have a permanent job at an SA university, at least one more book out (actually, two would be great if I have the time to write them) and also in a position to be able to be fully present with my family in the evenings.


MHHA: Remember to checkout Auerbach's recent book: From Water to Wine: Becoming Middle Class in Angola.

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