Dean's Research Associate: Ampson Hagan

January 25, 2023 - Katie Nicpon

The MSU Department of Anthropology welcomes Dr. Ampson Hagan as their new College of Social Science Dean’s Research Associate. Dr. Hagan earned his PhD in anthropology from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and joined MSU in fall semester 2022.

“I applied to the College of Social Science Dean’s Research Associate Program at MSU because it looked like it was one of a kind,” he said. “The dedication to supporting and nurturing scholars from diverse backgrounds caught my eye, and the program’s commitment to doing the work of putting scholars in positions to succeed, with institutional resources, intrigued me.”

Dr. Hagan’s research interests surround humanitarianism and rescue, broadly focusing on how Black African migrants crossing the Sahara Desert encounter and navigate the humanitarian and policing nexus that seeks to intercept them.

He grew up watching cartoons where superheroes saved others, and then he worked in large NGOs in which people engaged in heroic acts of humanitarianism and rescue. In 2015, during his PhD research at UNC, he often saw news reports of African migrants getting stranded and shipwrecked in the Mediterranean.

“I began to wonder about the paths they took to reach the sea, and I began to see more reports of migrants stuck in the Sahara. After reading about humanitarianism in the Sahara and other regions of Niger and Algeria, I decided to go and see what I could learn about the lives of migrants in those countries.”

Over the course of 12 months of ethnographic research with unauthorized migrants and inside a migrant camp in Niger, this research is the body of his dissertation, Deserving Humans in the Desert: How Black trans-Saharan Migrants Experience the Logics of Liberal Humanism via Humanitarian Care in Transit.

He has ambivalences towards the field of humanitarianism, as well as the practice of rescue.

“The inherent politics of both are complex and involve contradictions to their stated goals,” he said. “Articulating those politics and contradictions is something I think is incredibly important. That would allow stakeholders, organizations, and governments to speak more openly and think more critically about how concepts of humanity, and understandings of who is considered human, are at stake in humanitarian rescue operations and structures.”

He thinks that the rescue as a concept needs to be critically analyzed as a tool that reflects who is worthy of being saved and who is not and that these issues are important for anthropology and for society to consider.

“I hope that others continue to question the concepts of rescue and humanitarianism on their ‘human’ grounds. A humanitarianism that fails to influence or even attempt to improve the abject and dangerous conditions that humans face, is a failure to intervene in crisis. What does that say about humanitarianism? About rescue? I want this research and its fundamental questions to exist in conversations outside of my narrow slice of academic discourse.”

In spring, he will teach ANP 330 Race, Ethnicity and Nation, and this semester, he’s focusing on writing.

“As a very new member of the department, my most meaningful experiences have been all the support from my colleagues, and all the time I have had to write!” he said.

Dr. Hagan joins the department of Anthropology as a Dean’s Research Associate, a program established in 2018 aimed at promoting an inclusive scholarly environment in which outstanding scholars in the social sciences support the advancement of diversity, equity and inclusion in the academy.

“We’re delighted that Dr. Hagan has joined our faculty and we are excited about the important perspectives and dynamic research he brings to our department,” Dr. Todd Fenton said, chair of the department.  

The Dean’s Research Associates have a minimal teaching load, will be mentored and supported, and will participate in a Dean’s Research Associate Development Institute with the goal of possibly transitioning them into tenure-system positions at MSU.

“Offering more than just words, the program has put in place institutional resources that will promote the development of scholars of color, and I am excited for the opportunity to grow as a researcher and a future faculty member at MSU,” Dr. Hagan said.

In addition to his research, writing and teaching, Dr. Hagan enjoys learning new skills.

“I want to learn how to skate. I have plenty of pursuits and skills that I want to attain in the near future and learning to in-line and roller skate are important skills to learn,” he said. “Two more things: I'd like to volunteer on a farm, and I want to learn how to drive a car with a manual transmission.”

To learn more about Dr. Hagan, visit