Kellogg Institute Faculty Fellow Rahul Oka is a research associate professor in the Keough School of Global Affairs. Oka is an economic anthropologist and his research interests include the anthropology of urbanism, social network analysis, the development of complex socio-economic systems, applications of agent-based simulation modeling techniques to anthropology and archaeometry/materials analysis.  He focuses on the impact of trade, commerce, and traders on social, political, and cultural infrastructures.

Oka holds a PhD from the University of Illinois Chicago and Field Museum. 

Thematic Interests

Economic anthropolgy; ethnography of traders and trade; disaster commerce; refugee camp economies; development economies; complexities of development and relief; trade and urbanism; cultural ecology and political economy; social network analysis; complex adaptive systems; African anthropolgy; African diaspora in Asia; South Asian anthropology

Current Research

Trading systems and networks in the disaster economies of western and northern Kenya and southern Sudan and relationship to development; refugee-host interactions in Northern Kenya, trade, urbanism, and politics, focusing on the institutionalization of poverty and inequality in South Asia and East Africa past and present; violence and scapegoating of merchant and other transient groups; relationships between commercial groups and political regulatory institutions; adaptive resilience and transformation in business networks and other socio-economic systems.

Research Sub-Discipline

Book Chapters

“East Africans’ Connections with South Asians,” with Chapurukha M. Kusimba, Vishwas Gogte, Laure Dussubieux, and Kuldeep Bhan, in Maritime Networks and Urbanism in the Early Medieval World (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming)
“Changing Commerce and Merchant Power in the Indian Ocean: Impacts on Afro-Asian Core and Peripheral Polities, ca. 300 BCE–1800 CE,” in David Alan Warburton, ed., Economic and Political Interaction on the Edges of the Ancient Empires (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming)
“Early Globalism in Asia and Africa,” with Chapurukha M. Kusimba, in Toyin Falola, ed., Interconnections and Interactions in the Indian Ocean (Indiana University Press, forthcoming)
“Trade, Traders, and Trading Systems: Exchange, Trade, Commerce and the Rise/Demise of Civilizations,” in Kristian  Kristiansen, ed., Trade and Civilization (Cambridge University Press, 2018)
 “From Reciprocity to Trade: How Cooperative Infrastructures Form the Basis of Human Socioeconomic Evolution,” with Agustin Fuentes, in Robert Marshall, ed., Cooperation, Monographs in Economic Anthropology (Altamira Press, 2010)
“Where Others Fear to Trade:  Modeling Adaptive Resilience in Ethnic Trading Networks to Famines, Maritime Warfare and Imperial Stability in the Growing Indian Ocean economy, ca. 1500–1700 CE” (coauthored) in Arthur Murphy and Eric Jones, eds., The Political Economy of Hazards and Disasters (Altamira Press, 2009)


Journal Articles

“Greed Is Bad, Neutral, and Good: A Historical Perspective on Excessive Accumulation and Consumption,” with Ian Kuijt, in “Social Economies of Greed and Excess,” special issue, Economic Anthropology 1, 1 (2014)
“Coping with the Refugee Wait: The Role of Consumption, Normalcy, and Dignity in Refugee Lives at Kakuma, Kenya,” American Anthropologist 116, 1 (2014)
“Unlikely Cities in the Desert: The Informal Economy as Causal Agent for Permanent ‘Urban’ Sustainability in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya,” Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development 40, 3–4 (2011)
Coauthor. “The Archaeology of Trading Systems, Part 1: Towards a New Trade Synthesis” Journal of Archaeological Research 16, 4 (2008)
Coauthor. “Domesticated Landscapes: The Subsistence Ecology of Plant and Animal Domestication,” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 10, 4 (2003)



"Refugee Impacts on Turkana Hosts: A Social Impact Analysis for Kakuma, Turkana County, Kenya" address delivered to World Bank, UNHCR, and the Government of Kenya (February 2016)
“Report on Black Market Activities and Relief Food Theft at Kakuma Camp” (delivered to World Food Programme and Lutheran World Federation, Kakuma, October, 2011)
“Report on Al Shabbab Interactions with Relief Organizations and Operations in the Somali Crises” (delivered to the United Nations Development Programme, July 2011)

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