Dr Emma-Louise Anderson

Dr Emma-Louise Anderson


Emma is Deputy Director of Research and Innovation (DDORI) and Co-Director of the Centre for Global Development (CGD) at the University of Leeds. She is an expert on the politics of the intersecting global challenges of health, food insecurity and gender inequalities. She has in-depth understanding of the cultural, historical, socio-economic, political and gender context of Malawi from 16 years of research. She has experience working with hard-to-reach populations in two indigenous languages (Chichewa and Chitumbuka). She was recognised by the University of Leeds 2016 ‘‘Roll of Honour’ for women of outstanding achievement and contribution to their field. 

Emma is Editor of the Political Studies Association’s British Journal of Politics and International Relations (BJPIR).

Before joining Leeds in 2012, Emma taught International Relations, Politics and Global Health at the Universities of Keele, Southampton and Winchester.  She was educated at the University of Southampton, where she obtained her PhD in 2009.


  • Deputy Director of Research and Innovation (DDORI)
  • Co-Director of the Centre for Global Development (CGD)
  • Editor of the British Journal of Politics and International Relations (BJPIR)

Research interests

1. Emma’s work on global health examines the inherently political processes through which health challenges are created, experienced and responded to. Drawing on understandings from empirical work in Africa, she challenges established understandings of power, agency, diplomacy and trust in IR and Global Health. 

Her work on African agency explores the ways individuals and communities respond to Africa’s high dependency on development assistance for health (DAH). Her co-authored book with Amy Patterson (University of the South, USA) ‘Dependent Agency in the Global Health Regime’ was winner of the International Studies Association (ISA) Global Health Section Book Prize in 2017. They examine how seemingly ‘powerless’ grassroots communities and individuals in Malawi and Zambia exert agency within the larger structures of global health dependency. They conceptualize ‘dependent agency’ (the condition in which local actors can simultaneously act and be dependent) and investigate conditions under which it occurs and the forms it takes. 

In Emma’s work on African health diplomacy she develops the concept of ‘shadow diplomacy’ to understand how health is key to struggles for leverage by both international and local actors, giving rise to informal and subversive manifestations of diplomacy in the ‘shadows’. This enables us to understand how Western powers consolidate and obscure their continued domination, but also how African political elites leverage their dependency to subvert global power structures. Her work with Laura Considine and Amy Patterson examines the relationship between trust and power, which has been neglected in the literatures on both international politics and global health. Drawing on original empirical material from interviews with actors central to delivering health care in Malawi and Zambia they develop an understanding of ‘trust as belonging’, which they define as the exercise of discretion accompanied by the expression of shared identities. They conceptualise how trust as belonging interacts with power in a ‘power-trust cycle’, in which various forms of power undergird trust, and trust augments these forms of power. The power-trust cycle has a critical bearing on global health outcomes, affecting the space within which both local and international actors jockey to influence the ideologies that underpin global health, and the distribution of crucial resources.

Emma’s work on gender and HIV contributes to the feminist task of de-invisibilising gender as structural violence. It focuses on how these gendered structures are experienced and responded to at the local level in Malawi. Her work challenges Global Health scholarship to extend its gaze to the micro level where health is experienced and her monograph was runner-up for the International Studies Association (ISA) Global Health Section Book Prize (2016). This work directly influenced the Government of Malawi’s National Gender and HIV Implementation Plan 2015-2020, which directs future work of all development stakeholders working on gender and HIV in Malawi.

Emma’s work with Alexander Beresford examines the politics of health systems strengthening in Africa. They examine the structural reasons behind consistently weak health systems in Sierra Leone and argue it is essential for deeper political solutions. It is crucial to tackle the roots of endemically weak health systems rather than simply improve short-term resilience to health crises, which includes building more inclusive and socially just national health systems. Their findings have been disseminated to the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) African Office and Sierra Leone Office, Oxfam International and MSF. They inform the recommendations in a report commissioned by USAID on ‘Social Science in Epidemics – Ebola Virus Disease Lessons Learned’.


2. Emma’s current work tackles the politics of the climate emergency. This work is part of the RCUK Global Challenges Research Fund Capacity-Building Grant (2017-2022) ‘GCRF-AFRICAP - Agricultural and Food-system Resilience: Increasing Capacity and Advising Policy’ with the Pan-African network FANRAPN. This focuses on creating evidence-based policy to develop sustainable, productive, agricultural systems in Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa. Drawing on empirical work in Malawi, Emma is working with Michael Chasukwa (University of Malawi) and Laura Considine to interrogate the role of power and trust in the policy process. 

As part of ARUA-UKRI FSNet, Emma is working with Freda Elikplim Asem (Department of Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness, University of Ghana) to mentor Bertha Bangara-Chikadza (Applied Studies Department - Business Studies Section, Malawi University of Science and Technology). Bertha will be examining the local gender politics of crop strategies. 

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://essl.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>

Professional memberships

  • International Studies Association (ISA)
  • European International Studies Association (EISA)
  • British International Studies Association (BISA)
  • Political Studies Association (PSA)

Student education

Emma has developed and managed 2 highly research-led modules:

  • MA Level - The Global Politics of Health (PIED 5202)

Student feedback: ‘This module is exceptionally well designed. Emma is a great tutor and the workshops struck a good balance between group discussion and her lecturing. She was always helpful in her office hour and the material in the course is highly stimulating. This is the best module I have studied here at Leeds.’

‘This module gives me the opportunity to think critically and analyse critically. The lecturer is very enthusiastic about the topic and she always inspires me!’

  • Level 2 - Approaches to Analysis (PIED2721)

Student feedback: 'it was interesting to see lecturers’ different areas of research and how they used the research methods'. 

Moderator feedback: ‘PIED2721 is really great preparation for the final year dissertation’.

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for African Studies
  • Centre for Global Development
  • Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>The school welcomes enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>