Catherine Bolten earned her Ph.D. from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan in 2008.
She has been working in Sierra Leone since 2003, focusing first on issues of memory, poverty, morality, and post-war development. Her book I Did It to Save My Life: Love and Survival in Sierra Leone (2012) is part of the University of California Press Series in Public Anthropology. She is currently writing a book based on field research conducted between 2006 and 2012 tentatively titled Our Slice of the Cake: Serious Youth in Sierra Leone. The book focuses on the material practices of youth who, instead of wanting to overthrow or change a patronage system widely credited with causing the war, instead yearn to belong to it. This bid to be taken “seriously” is misinterpreted by adults who feel threatened by young people’s facility with technology and the trappings of globalization, causing intergenerational friction.
Bolten's current field research project involves an investigation of wildlife cosmology and bushmeat consumption, especially the circulation of chimpanzee meat and parts, in rural and urban Sierra Leone. Bolten uses the flow of wild game, living and dead, as a lens through which to understand poverty, development, consumption, the creation of value, and the sustainability of rural livelihoods in a country suffering international land grabs and grappling with the lingering Ebola crisis.
Bolten is a member of the international Ebola Anthropology Emergency Task Force, and is currently co-editing a special issue on Ebola for Anthropological Quarterly. She has consulted for the United Nations World Food Programme and Physicians for Social Responsibility, and has conducted extensive fieldwork on ethnobotany, eco-tourism, and development in Botswana. Her articles appear in American Anthropologist, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Ethnologie Française, African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review, the Journal of Modern African Studies, the Journal of Political Ecology, and the Journal of Anthropological Research.