Josepha Ivanka Wessels

affiliated with the university, 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

UKÄ subject classification

  • Social Sciences
  • Human Geography
  • International Migration and Ethnic Relations
  • Media Studies
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Social Anthropology


  • Sustainability Science, Water Management, Environmental Peacebuilding, Forced Migration, Human Ecology, Ethnography, Visual Anthropology, Arab World, Dry Areas, Virtual Reality, Qanats, Traditional Knowledge, Political Ecology, Middle Eastern studies, Audiovisual Media, Documentary Films, Video activism, Media and Communication Studies, Syria


Dr. Josepha Ivanka (Joshka) Wessels is a Visual Anthropologist/Human Geographer and award-winning filmmaker and Syria-scholar. 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 virtual reality and film/video for social sciences, media studies, water, migration and environmental issues in the Arab World.

She is currently a Senior Researcher at the Virtual Realiy Lab of Lund University, affiliated to the Lund University Internet Institute (LUii), 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 fieldwork experience in the MENA-countries of Sudan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel/Palestine, Yemen, Oman, Pakistan, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco as well as India, Surinam, Kenya and Uganda.

Research interests:

  • Sustainability Studies: Human and Political Ecology
  • Refugee Studies/Forced Displacement/Migration
  • Sustainable Water Management and Drought
  • Virtual Reality Technology and Social Sciences
  • Ethnographic Film/Media Studies
  • Arab World /Syria

Joshka is currently carrying out a FORMAS-funded project comparing the impact of water shortage and drought in Sweden and Jordan using Virtual Reality, serious gaming and GIS-technology. She is applying 360-degree stereoscopic video technology to document and present how farmers in both Sweden and Jordan cope with water shortage and drought. The project is in collaboration with the Lund University Vattenhallen Science Center.

With support from the Crafoord Foundation, she is also 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. Through lifehistory research, the project considers the role and impact of climate change, droughts and resource governance in conflict escalation and population mobility in the Middle-East and North African (MENA) region and assesses future implications for resource governance and institutional build-up. For this project, she is working on an ethnographic feature film documenting life histories, choices, risk assessments and experiences of Syrian refugees in Europe who come from drought stricken areas. 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 the CMES.

Joshka Wessels has a PhD in Human Geography with special focus on environmental sciences (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" is published as a monograph including three films with Amsterdam University Press and deals with collective action, cooperation and conflict with respect to the contemporary sustainable 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. For this project she produced the film "Nationality Unknown" in 2014 for Lund University

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.

Joshka's work has been published in renowned peer-reviewed journals such as the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication (MEJCC), Middle East Critique, Conflict & Society: Advances in Research, Hydrological Sciences Journal, the International Journal of Environmental Studies, Waterlines and the Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations. She also writes regularly for The Conversation, Muftah and Open Democracy. Recently, has  finalised a second monograph entitled "Documenting Syria; Filmaking, Video Activism and Revolution", due to come out in 2018 with UK-publisher IB Tauris.



Professional work

Her professional experience spans a total of 23 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. There 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, between 1997 and 2002.

She ran her own environmental film production company in the UK and the Netherlands between 2002 and 2011, working for major broadcasters such as Al Jazeera English and BBC World. 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).  

Joshka has extensive professional experience working as both practitioner and researcher with a variety of international research institutions, NGOs, UN organisations and universities. 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 University of Wolverhampton, UK.

She speaks Syrian Arabic fluently, besides other languages Dutch (mother-tongue), English, Swedish, German, French and she has a basic knowledge of Danish.


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" with support from Boost Hbg, Malmö Stad and Film-i-Skåne. This innovative Virtual Reality experience won the prize for Best Virtual Reality at the 2018 Skåne Pixel Film Festival in Malmö. 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. 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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