Sandra Calkins

Sandra CalkinsNetwork Member

Sandra’s previous research drew on pragmatism and STS to explore connections between indeterminacy, reflexivity and social ordering in a rural area of northeastern Sudan. This interest for knowledge and the material-semiotic forms that give shape to the worlds we inhabit is also at the heart of her current research project. It examines the production and hierarchization of evidence about a new public health strategy to ameliorate micronutrient deficiencies in developing countries. She explores how work at an agricultural solution (“biofortification”) shapes certain problem definitions within public health nutrition and biology/plant breeding and studies how testing the efficacy and effectiveness of this strategy assembles human bodies, banana plants, micronutrients, transgenes, funding agencies, and many more into novel constellations through which evidence is made and circulated. Through this work she became interested in infrastructures of evidence, the global politics of crop research and development, agenda setting in global/public health nutrition, and tensions between emerging paradigms in biology (epigenetics) and established biological and biomedical truths. She is assistant professor for Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Free University Berlin and a member of LOST research group at the University of Halle. She received her Master’s (2008) and PhD (2014) in Anthropology from Leipzig University.

Current position
Assistant Professor
University affiliation
Free University of Berlin


Better Bananas for Ugandans

My project contributes to the LOST program by exploring temporal, spatial and normative dimensions of evidence production with regard to micronutrient deficiencies as a recent problematization in public health nutrition. Solving world hunger is a political, socioeconomic and juridical dilemma. It concerns the relations between humans and their strained environments, and more specifically the promises and vulnerabilities of human-plant-relations in view of damages done by derailed capitalist systems of agricultural production. In the face of revived Malthusian dystopias and their urgent impetus to grow more and better food, this project focuses on biofortification, one recent high-tech agricultural solution for micronutrient deficiencies. I did archival and ethnographic research in Uganda and Australia since 2015 and spent most of my time at an agricultural research institute in Uganda, where scientists are developing a transgenic, micronutrient enriched banana variety in a multistakeholder collaboration. My work explores the future that this selection intervention in human-plant-relations anticipates and how testing practices of the laboratory and the field assemble assumptions about deficiency, experimental results and phenotypic observations to prove the banana’s safety and efficacy on human bodies. My works draws on science and technology studies, more-than-human anthropologies and medical anthropology to study how evidences and sensibilities of unequal human conditions are shaped, mobilized and come to matter in global health and agri-food research.


  • Calkins, Sandra (2021) "Food as medicine: Making 'better bananas' in Uganda." in The Sociological Review 69 (3): 560-579. →
  • Calkins, Sandra (2021) "Toxic remains: Infrastructural failure in a Ugandan molecular biology lab." in Social Studies of Science 51 (5): 707-728. →
  • Calkins, Sandra (2021) "Between the lab and the field: Plants and the affective atmospheres of southern science." in Science, Technology, & Human Values.
  • Calkins, Sandra (2020) "Lab hands and knowing toxic substances in Uganda." in Anthropology Today 36 (6): 29-32. →
  • Calkins, Sandra (2020) "Chemical dissidents and vegetal collaborators." in Space and Society.
  • Calkins, Sandra (2020) "Taking measures as end points?" in Boasblogs: The end of negotiations.
  • Calkins, Sandra (2019) "Health as growth: Bananas, humanitarian biotech, and human-plant histories in Uganda." in Medicine Anthropology Theory 6 (3): 29-53. →
  • Calkins, Sandra and Tyler Zoanni (2019) "Population (what is it good for?)." in Anthropological Quarterly 92 (3): 919-929. →
  • Calkins, Sandra (2019) "Review Essay: Infrastructures of citizenship in India." in South Asia: The Journal of South Asian Studies 42 (4): 816-821. →
  • Beisel, Uli, Sandra Calkins, and Richard Rottenburg (2018) "Divining, testing, and the problem of accountability." in HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 8 (1/2): 109–113. →
  • Calkins, Sandra and Richard Rottenburg (2017) "Evidence, infrastructure and worth." in Infrastructures and Social Complexity: A Companion , edited by Penny Harvey, Casper Bruun Jensen, and Atsuro Morita, 253-265. London: Routledge.
  • Calkins, Sandra (2017) "Shelf lives: Waiting in a Ugandan molecular biology lab." presented at European Conference of African Studies, Basel, 29 June-1 July.
  • Calkins, Sandra (2016) "Who knows tomorrow?: Uncertainty in North-Eastern Sudan." Oxford: Berghahn.
  • Calkins, Sandra (2016) "Rethinking health through bananas and their eaters." presented at 2016 Meeting of the European Association of Social Anthropologists “Anthropological legacies and human futures”, Milano, July 21-23.
  • Calkins, Sandra (2016) "Evidence, nutrition and agriculture: Perspectives from the anthropology of science and technology." presented at the Ugandan National Agricultural Research Laboratories, Kawanda, February 26.
  • Calkins, Sandra (2016) "How ‘clean gold’ came to matter: Metal detectors, infrastructure, and valuation." in HAU Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6 (2): 173-195. →
  • Calkins, Sandra, Enrico Ille, and Richard Rottenburg (eds.) (2015) "Emerging orders in the Sudans." Bamenda and Buea: Langaa.
  • Calkins, Sandra (2015) "Testing plants: Micro-nutrients and evidence in Uganda." presented at the Annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), Denver, November 18-22.
  • Calkins, Sandra (2015) "What is not being measured is not being done: Biofortification of crops in Uganda." presented at the Annual meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S), Denver, November 11-14.
  • Calkins, Sandra (2015) "Gendered inequalities: Substances and maternal nutrition." presented at the EASA and RAI conference “Anthropology and global health: Interrogating theory, policy and practice”, Brighton, September 9-11.
  • Calkins, Sandra, Enrico Ille, Siri Lamoureaux, and Richard Rottenburg (2015) "Rethinking Institutional Orders in Sudan Studies: The Case of Land Access in Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur." in Canadian Journal of African Studies 49 (1): 175-195. →
  • Calkins, Sandra, Enrico Ille, and Richard Rottenburg (2015) "Emergence and contestation of orders in the Sudans." in Emerging orders in the Sudans , edited by Sandra Calkins, Enrico Ille and Richard Rottenburg, 1-22. Bamenda and Buea: Langaa.
  • Gertel, Jörg, Richard Rottenburg, and Sandra Calkins (eds.) (2014) "Disrupting territories: Land, commodification and conflict in Sudan." Woodbridge: James Currey.
  • Calkins, Sandra (2014) "Gaining an access to land: Everyday negotiations and ethnic politics of Rashaida in Northeastern Sudan." in Disrupting territories: Land, commodification and conflict in Sudan , edited by Jörg Gertel, Richard Rottenburg and Sandra Calkins, 180-205. Woodbridge: James Currey.
  • Calkins, Sandra and Enrico Ille (2014) "Territories of gold mining: International investments and artisanal extraction in Sudan." in Disrupting territories: Land, commodification and conflict in Sudan , edited by Jörg Gertel, Richard Rottenburg and Sandra Calkins, 52-76. Woodbridge: James Currey.
  • Calkins, Sandra, and Richard Rottenburg (2014) "Getting credit for what you write? Conventions and techniques of citation in German Anthropology." in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 139: 99-130.
  • Calkins, Sandra, Richard Rottenburg, and Jörg Gertel (2014) "Disrupting territories: Commodification and its concequences." in Disrupting territories: Land, commodification and conflict in Sudan , edited by Jörg Gertel, Richard Rottenburg and Sandra Calkins, 1-30. Woodbridge: James Currey.
  • Calkins, Sandra, and Enrico Ille (2013) "Gold mining concessions in Northern Sudan’s written laws and practices of gold extraction in the Nuba Mountains." in Identity, economy, power relations and external interests: Old and new challenges for Sudan and South Sudan , edited by Elke Grawert, 112-126. Addis Abeba: OSSREA.