Josepha WesselsResearcher, PhD, Leadership, Organisation and Action: Leading Change - Executive Certificate, Kennedy School of Management, Harvard University, USA. , Certificate for Teaching and Learning for Higher Education (LATHE), Lund University, Lund, Sweden. , PhD, Master of ArtsKnown as name: Joshka Wessels

Research areas and keywords


  • MENA-region, Syria, Syrian Refugees, Israel/Palestine, Conflict Resolution, Environmental Peacebuilding, Hydropolitics, Media and Communication Studies, Environment, Cultural Anthropology, Human Geography, Ethnography, Ethnographic Film, Media Studies, Refugee studies, Migration, Arab World , Qanats, Heritage, Water


Dr. Josepha Ivanka (Joshka) Wessels is a Visual Anthropologist/Human Geographer and award-winning filmmaker. She has 23 years of experience in the Arab world, particularly in Syria, which she has worked on since 1997 and where she lived and worked between 1997 and 2002. She speaks fluent Arabic and has specific expertise in film/video, rural development, water, migration and environmental issues in the Arab World. She is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) and a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Syrian Studies (CSS) at the University of Saint Andrews, UK. She has written a book on Collecive Action and Traditional Water Management in Syria in 2008, including three films and finalised a book on the History of Syrian Documentary Film and Video activism in Revolution, due to come out in 2018. She has fieldwork and travel experience in the MENA-countries of Sudan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel/Palestine, Yemen, Oman, Pakistan, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Research interests:

  • Syria & the Arab World
  • Conflict/Refugee Studies/Displacement/Migration/Civil Society/Media
  • Sustainable Development/Environmental Peacebuilding/Political Ecology
  • Water/Hydropolitics
  • Ethnographic Film and Media Studies
  • Qanats and Traditional Water Management

At CMES she is currently carrying out research on trajectories of Syrian Refugees in Europe, in particular Germany and the Netherlands, working with Syrian families she has filmed since 1999 when she lived in Aleppo. Since 2012, she has also engaged in social service activities with Syrian refugees, whom arrived in Sweden and Denmark. She carried out research and fieldwork with Syrians in the Öresund region in 2016, for a collaborative pilot project at CMES. Between 2014-2016 she carried out postdoctoral research on Syrian video activism and film with the University of Copenhagen, Previously, she carried out postdoctoral research on hydropolitics in the Jordan River Basin between 2011-2014, within the framework of the CMES-MECW strategic research programme at Lund University. Since 2012, she has taught at various CMES MA courses on environment and sustainable development in the Arab World, migration and human rights and democracy. 

Joshka Wessels has a PhD in Development Studies/Human Geography (2008) from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and a MA in Visual Anthropology (1996) from Leiden University in the Netherlands. Supervised by Professors Ton Dietz (UvA) and Tony Allan (SOAS), her PhD dissertation "To Cooperate or not to Cooperate" deals with collective action, cooperation and conflict with respect to the contemporary rehabilitation of ancient water tunnel systems (Qanats) in Syria. Consequently, she has conducted two postdocs at respectively Lund University and the University of Copenhagen. Between 2011 and 2014 she was based at the Peace & Conflict Studies Department under directorship of Professor Karin Aggestam at Lund University working on postdoctoral research about environmental peacebuilding and the local level of hydropolitics in the Jordan River Basin. Joshka innovatively used the application of serious gaming as an experimental participatory methodology to investigate the role of identity and cognition in decisionmaking processes with regard to transboundary water cooperation between the riparians of the Jordan River Basin; Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. From 2014 to 2016, she was based at the Centre for Resolution of International Conflicts (CRIC) under directorship of Professor Ole Waever at the University of Copenhagen and conducted postdoctoral research on the role of YouTube and the history and development of digital video activism in northern Syria during the Syrian civil war and popular uprisings.

Theoretically her particular research interests are in phenomenological approaches to collective action, media studies, peace and conflict studies, visual perception and empathy, human ecology and the interdisciplinary synergies between natural and social sciences with respect to sustainable development and human ecosystems.

Professional work

Joshka has extensive professional experience working as both practitioner and researcher with international research institutions and universities. She was a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Political Sciences, Lund University (2011-2014) and at the Centre for Resolution of International Conflicts (CRIC) at the University of Copenhagen (2014-2016). She has been a guest lecturer at the Granada Film Centre for Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester and a  senior lecturer for the Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT) at the Univeristy of Wolverhampton, UK. Between 1997 and 2002 she was employed as an Associate Expert/Junior Professional Officer for the Dutch Directorate of Development cooperation (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) seconded to the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Aleppo, Syria.

She has lived abroad in Syria and the UK and ran her own documentary film production company for over 10 years. She speaks Syrian Arabic fluently, besides other languages Dutch (mother-tongue), English, Swedish, German, French and she has a basic knowledge of Danish.

Her professional experience spans a total of 20 years with long-term fieldwork experience in the MENA-Region, specifically in the rural areas of Syria between 1997 and 2002 and subsequent years 2004, 2010 and 2014. She conducted her first longterm period of anthropological fieldwork in 1995 in a refugee camp in Sudan for her MA thesis on communication and media in the Hai el Tadamon refugee camp in Gedaref, near the Ethiopian border. After that, she lived for five years in Aleppo, Syria between 1997 and 2002 varrying out fieldwork and many short field missions. Further professional travel, consultancy and fieldwork experience, besides the MENA region, she gained in India, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Kenya, Uganda, Jamaica, Haiti and Surinam.

Artistic work

Next to being an academic scholar, Joshka Wessels is a professional filmmaker and her MA thesis in Visual Anthropology is accompanied with a short film documenting daily life in a camp for refugees of war from southern Sudan. Her PhD thesis is accompanied with three films produced during fieldwork. One film “Tunnel Vision” was broadcast to millions of viewers worldwide by BBC World in 2003 and Al Jazeera English in 2006. She has filmed and produced in total over 20 professional media projects for both broadcast and non-broadcast. She has produced media projects ranging from feature documentaries to interactive immersive Virtual Reality (VR) 360-video projects involving new media and interactive digital story telling.

Her film education entails a professional broadcast traineeship in Hilversum (1992-1993) and short courses at the National Film & Television School in London (2007). Her documentary filmwork has been supported by various film funds such as the UK Film Council, EU-Media, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UNESCO and Television trust for the Environment and has been broadcast worldwide on BBC World and Al Jazeera English.

Since 2015, Josepha developed VR work combining stereoscopic 360 video with game engines such as Unity 3D. She directed the first stereoscopic 360-degree film in Skåne called “Flykten från Sverige". Since January 2017, Josepha is an expert teacher/trainer on 360-degree VR video production for Boost Hbg, Helsingborg. Josepha participated in many outreach activities for Lund University, such as the 48H for Syria, World Water Forum, World Water Day, Lund University Sustainability Week. She runs a blog called “Media, Water, War & Peace in the Middle East”. At Lund University she established a video production studio and introduced the use of film for social sciences.


Recent research outputs

Josepha Wessels 2018 May 4 Open Democracy

Research output: Contribution to specialist publication or newspaperSpecialist publication article

Josepha Wessels 2018 Feb 9

Research output: Contribution to specialist publication or newspaperSpecialist publication article

Josepha Wessels 2018 Jan 2 The Conversation

Research output: Contribution to specialist publication or newspaperSpecialist publication article

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