Professor John Sharp
The University of Pretoria’s Human Economy Research Programme undertakes interdisciplinary academic research intended to contribute to the worldwide movement for greater economic democracy. This movement gained traction among academics in the wake of the first World Social Forum meeting in 2001, but for much of the period since then its main networks have been located in the Americas and Europe. With its base in southern Africa, the Human Economy Research Programme aims to add the voices of African scholars (and scholars from the Global South in general) to the discussion.
The programme’s research examines how people insert themselves into a highly unequal global economy. What people do in practice has often been obscured, marginalised or repressed by dominant economic ideologies that privilege the market. Our researchers are interested in the many ways in which people on the ground respond to institutional forms that perpetuate structures of inequality. The ‘human economy’ is seen as being made and remade by people themselves. The concept is based on a holistic conception of human needs and on taking the interests of humanity as a whole into account.
The aims of the programme are both academic and practical. We are engaged in building a body of research pertaining to the nurturing and expansion of economic democracy, particularly in Africa and the global South. We are also engaged in communicating our findings to a wider public in order to support popular movements working to achieve economic democracy.
The programme was started in 2011 by Professor Keith Hart, the internationally renowned economic anthropologist, and John Sharp, then Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Humanities and Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Pretoria. As co-directors, they recruited a large number of postdoctoral fellows and doctoral students to undertake research contributing to the programme’s overall aim. The postdoctoral fellows were recruited from around the world (the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa), and all the doctoral students were recruited from Africa. Their backgrounds were and are in a wide variety of disciplines, including Anthropology, Development Studies, Economics, Education, History, Political Studies, Religious Studies and Sociology. The current postdoctoral fellows and doctoral students, and their research topics, are listed under Reserach in the menu.
The co-directors of the programme edited a Human Economy Book Series (published by Berghahn Books) running to six volumes between 2015 and 2018 (details are given under Research). Owing to Professor Hart’s retirement from the programme in 2018, this series has come to an end, and the programme’s main publications will henceforth take a different form. Collective publications to date also include several journal special issues, and members of the research team have published numerous articles, book chapters, and books based on their individual research.
The programme has hosted five international conferences to date. The most recent (October 2018) was on ‘Digital Finance in Africa’s Future: Innovations and Implications’. The report on this conference, which includes a summary of each of the presentations and the ensuing discussion, can be found under
The Human Economy Research Programme has received generous funding from the University of Pretoria, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (2012-2018), and the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust (2019- ).
Since July 2013 the programme has been housed in the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship.