Jennie E. Burnet

Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Louisville

Sociocultural and medical anthropology

Personal website:

Research Interests:

Structure, agency, and human subjectivity. Race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Violence, genocide, and peace. Development studies. Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Africa, United States

Currently accepting new students with interests in cultural or medical anthropology.

My work explores the social, cultural and psychological aspects of war, genocide, and mass violence and the micro-level impact of large-scale social change in the context of conflict. My mission as a scholar is to represent an empirically-based and theoretically-grounded understanding of social processes in volatile areas of the world. I am a scholar-teacher with a passion for producing scientific knowledge that has direct bearing on the formulation of policy and solving social problems.

My current research agenda is focused on three areas:

  • understanding organized resistance, rescuer behavior, and Rwandan Muslims’ roles in the 1994 genocide;
  • the long-term cultural, social, and psychological consequences of gender-based violence during conflict on women’s agency; and
  • women’s social movements and women’s roles in democratization, conflict resolution, and peace building.

Currently, I am working on a major project entitled, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Factors in Rescuer Behavior, and funded by the National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology program for three years. The project seeks to understand the factors involved in human agency during mass violence, specifically, why do certain people put their lives at risk to attempt to save the lives of others? Two competing theories of rescuer behavior have emerged from prior research on the motivations of “rescuers” during mass violence. One set of theories emphasizes the intrinsic features of moral behavior such as character, “identity” (i.e., self-conception), and personality (see, Monroe 1998, 2004; Oliner & Oliner 1988, 1995; Oliner et al. 1992). The second set of theories highlights extrinsic features that affect decision-making such as geography, proximity to victims, presence of other minorities, details of genocidal policy, and opportunity (see, the collection edited by Sémelin, Andrieu, and Gensburger 2008, 2011). This research project examines both intrinsic and extrinsic factors that make rescuer behavior possible by undertaking a study of rescuers and genocide resisters during the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda. The project considers religion as a potential significant variable and compares Christians and Muslims in eight communities in Rwanda. I completed data collection for the project in May 2014 and am in the midst of data analysis.

I am also involved in an international research project based at the University of Manchester (United Kingdom) and funded by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID). The project aims to understand how the informal and clientelistic forms of politics that characterize political settlements in developing countries shape prospects for women’s political empowerment. The two-year project is investigating the impact of the politics of inclusion on women and the implementation of specific gender policies in Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, and Bangladesh. I am leading the Rwanda case study for the project along with collaborator, Jeanne d’Arc Kanakuze, an independent consultant based in Kigali and women’s civil society leader.

My next major research project is currently in development. It will examine the polarizing issue of gun ownership in the United States with an emphasis on questions related to structure, agency, subjectivity, race, gender, and class. In Fall 2014, I began to explore the topic in collaboration with students enrolled in ANTH 511 Ethnographic Methods and in ANTH 611 Research Design: Cultural Anthropology.

Recent Publications:

Bauer, Gretchen, & Burnet, Jennie E. (2013). Gender quotas, democracy, and women's representation in Africa: Some insights from democratic Botswana and autocratic Rwanda. Women's Studies International Forum, 41(2), 103-112. doi:

Burnet, Jennie E. (2012). Genocide Lives in Us:  Women, Memory, and Silence in Rwanda. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.
Winner of the 2013 Elliot Skinner Award from the Association of Africanist Anthropology and Finalist for the 2013 Melville J. Herskovits from the African Studies Association.

Burnet, Jennie E. (2012). Situating Sexual Violence in Rwanda (1990–2001): Sexual Agency, Sexual Consent, and the Political Economy of War. African Studies Review, 55(2), 97-118.

Burnet, Jennie E. (2011). Women Have Found Respect: Gender Quotas, Symbolic Representation and Female Empowerment in Rwanda. Politics & Gender, 7(3), 303-334.

Burnet, Jennie E. (2010). (In)justice: Truth, Reconciliation, and Revenge in Rwanda's Gacaca. In Alexander Laban Hinton (Ed.), Transitional Justice: Global Mechanisms and Local Realities after Genocide and Mass Violence (pp. 95-118). New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Burnet, Jennie E. (2009). Whose Genocide? Whose Truth? Representations of victim and perpetrator in Rwanda. In Alex Laban Hinton & Kevin O’Neill (Eds.), Genocide: Truth, Memory and Representation (pp. 80-110). Durham: Duke University Press.

Burnet, Jennie E. (2008). Gender Balance and the Meanings of Women in Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda. African Affairs, 107(428), 361-386.

Burnet, Jennie E. (2008). The Injustice of Local Justice: Truth, Reconciliation, and Revenge in Rwanda. Genocide Studies and Prevention, 3(2), 173-193.

Burnet, Jennie E., & Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development. (2003). Culture, Practice, and Law:  Women's Access to Land in Rwanda. In Lynne Muthoni Wanyeki (Ed.), Women and Land in Africa: Culture, Religion and Realizing Women's rights (pp. 176-206). New York: Zed Books.

Current Students:

Telesphore Kagaba, Ph.D. Student, Department of Sociology, University of Louisville

Jane Crane, Graduate Student, Oxford Centre for Mission Studies and Middlesex University (United Kingdom)

Cecily Kennedy, Undergraduate Student, Liberal Studies, University of Louisville

Former Students:

Michelle Fox, Senior thesis & Summer Research Opportunity Program, Women’s Activism and Social Networks in Post-Genocide Rwanda, University of Louisville

Joanna Thompson, Summer Research Opportunity Program, Social Network Analysis, University of Louisville

Nancy Williams, Senior thesis & Summer Research Opportunity Program, “I marry my lightning”: Courtship, Betrothal and Marriage in Colonial Rwanda, University of Louisville