Career Biography

Kristen E. Cheney, Ph.D.
Kristen Cheney is an Anthropology professor who has worked in Uganda for many years.  We chose this Anthropologist for her in-depth understanding of Ugandan culture, and her comprehensive perspective on homosexuality in Uganda.  She has written a very detailed article entitled “Locating Neocolonialism, ‘Tradition’, and Human Rights in Uganda’s ‘Gay Death Penalty’” which will be published in the African Studies Review.

Different Angles:

What Kristen Cheney provided me with that I did not find in the news sources were the following opinions:

Uganda claims to want a culture of human rights, which is evidenced by the rather progressive rights they grant women, children, and the disabled.  However, they have developed a culture of “exceptionalism” when it comes to homosexuals, explaining Ugandans allow some groups rights, and deny others those same rights.

The financial aid foreign powers are threatening to take away can be seen as a positive alternative to globalization, pressuring Uganda to grant homosexuals rights.  However, by examining it further, the issue becomes more complex.  The aid can be construed as “self-serving” because it looks good for the donors, continuing on to claim they may be using human rights as an excuse for their own motives.

Homosexuality can also be considered a scapegoat for “broader” and more “urgent” problems in Uganda (the rising HIV rate for example).

Current Employment:

•  Senior Lecturer at Erasmus University Rotterdam, International Institute of Social Studies (The Hague, Netherlands)
•  Advisory Board Chair for the American Anthropological Association Anthropology of Children and Childhood Interest Group

Past Employment:

•  Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Dayton
•  Lecturer at Cabrillo College and UC Santa Cruz
•  Communications Consultant at Firelight Foundation for African AIDS Orphans


•  Ph.D. in Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz
•  M.A. in Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz
•  B.A. in Anthropology/Professional Writing, Albion College

Research Interests:

Cheney studies children’s survival strategies when faced with adversity in Eastern and Southern Africa.  More generally, she focuses on children while still acknowledging the importance of government, industry, and family and how these affect children’s choices.

Awards and Accomplishments:

•  2008-9: Fulbright Africa Regional Research Scholar to study children whose parents died of AIDS.
•  2007: She co-founded the Anthropology of Children and Childhood Interest Group looking at inclusive theoretical models.
•  2006: Child on the Wing Program Rockefeller Foundation Fellow, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.
•  2004: African Studies Association Graduate Student Paper Prize.
•  2001: Wenner Gren Foundation Dissertation Fieldwork Grant Recipient.
•  1998-2001: National Science Foundation Fellow.
•  1994: Robert B. Notestein Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Anthropology.


•  Pillars of the Nation: Child Citizens and Ugandan National Development (2007)
This book looks at the difficulty children face in Uganda in the formation of identity, and the ways Ugandans are working to define childhood as an empowering identity.  It has received a number of excellent reviews from various academics, calling it “a significant contribution to the field of childhood studies” and “an impressive and original work.”
•  Currently working on Crying for Our Elders: African Orphanhood in the Age of HIV and AIDS
•  Posted response to KONY 2012 YouTube Campaign Aims To Stop Infamous Uganda Militia Leader, agreeing with the critique of the manipulative nature of the video.  This shows her acknowledgment of and engagement with other current issues.  To view the response, click here.
•  Locating Neocolonialism, ‘Tradition,’ and Human Rights in Uganda’s ‘Gay Death Penalty’
This article will be published in the African Studies Review this year and discusses the contradictions Uganda makes by claiming homosexuality is “un-African” and how different factors led to a panic over sexual diversity.
•  Children as ethnographers: Reflections on the importance of participatory research in assessing orphans’ needs
This article works with children to learn about what they need and what rights they should have.
•  A Debate Beyond Sexuality: “Tradition,” Human Rights and Uganda’s Gay Death Penalty
This article explains the cultural tradition of Ugandan fertility and its link with anti-homosexuality legislation; it also mentions the theory that Uganda is submitting to the neocolonial power of evangelical Christians.  She hopes they will choose human rights over neo-conservatism.
•  ‘Our Children Have Only Known War’: Children’s Experiences and the Uses of Childhood in Northern Uganda

This article examines the use of child soldiers in Northern Uganda and evaluates the process of their rehabilitation.

To see Kristen Cheney’s Curriculum Vitae, click here.
All sources above with the exception of her book and the unpublished article can be found on Cheney’s site.