Rhodes>Anthropology>Staff>Assoc Prof Michelle Cocks(HOD)


     Assoc Prof Michelle Cocks



Michelle Cocks’ research interest contributes to the growing field of exploring the ways in which social and ecological circumstances impacts the ways in which human define, understand and interpret the world in which they inhabit. Her research has spanned rural and urban contexts as well as the inter-relationship between the two. Her work illustrates the diversity of ways in which rural and urban residents from different cultural contexts interact, engage, view, interpret, relate to and forge a relationship with nature. Her work also reflects on the multi-dimensional nature of these relationships, and highlights power struggles, gender, class issues and conflicting visions and contestations that exist.

Michelle has published extensively in local and international journals such as Human EcologyInternational Journal of HeritageSocial Science and MedicineJournal of Contemporary African Studies etc., contributed chapters to edited volumes and authored a number of popular articles.  She has over 800 citations from the work she has published.

In 2009 Michelle was awarded the South African National Women in Science Award for her contribution to indigenous and local innovation by the Department of Technology and Science. In the same year together with Tony Dold (Rhodes University Botany Department) she received the Cacadu District Achievers Award in recognition of outstanding accomplishments in preservation of customs and traditions, by the Eastern Cape Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture.

In 2011 Michelle initiated a schools’ education program called Inkcubeko Nendalo (Culture and Nature) to raise awareness around how the natural world contributes to the diversity of ways of being. It has been running for eight years in Makhanda East and over three thousand learners have participated. In 2010 and 2015 Inkcubeko Nendalo received runner up prize up for the Rhodes University Community Engagement Award.

In 2014 Michelle joined the Anthropology Department as senior researcher and became head of the department in 2018. Before joining the Anthropology Department at Rhodes University Michelle was employed as Senior Researcher in the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) from 2002 to 2013.

She coordinated and managed more than 20 research projects funded by NRF, National Treasury (2013-2015) and the South African Netherlands Program for Alternative Development (2010-2012), (2008-2010), (2002-2004), (2001-2002).

To ensure that her work does not remain only within academic journals she has also co-authored an illustrated book called Voices from the Forest.  The book shows that both contemporary rural and urban isiXhosa speaking South Africans use and value nature in a multitude of ways. She has also published popular articles in international and local journals and given numerous public presentations to disseminate her research findings with the general public.




Contact Details

Tel:  +27 (0)46 6038555

Email: m.cocks@ru.ac.za

Name: Dr Michelle Cocks

Phone: +27 (0)46 6038555


Qualifications: B Soc Sc  - Rhodes University

B Soc Sc (Hons) Anthropology – Rhodes University

PhD Anthropology - Wageningen University, Netherlands

Selected Publications

Cocks, M.L. & Wiersum, K. F. 2014. Reappraising the concept of biocultural diversity: a perspective from South Africa. Human Ecology 42: 727-737.

Cocks, M.L. and Dold, A.P. 2014. A case study of Cassipourea flanaganii, a valuable cosmetic bark traded informally in South Africa. In: Bark Use, Management, and Commerce in Africa. (eds). Cunningham, A.B.; Campbell, B.M. and Luckert, M.K. Advances in Economic Botany, Vol. 17. The New York Botanical Garden Press, New York. Pp 271-284.

Veeman, M.M.; Cocks, M.L., Choge, M.S.K. and Campbell, B.M. 2014. Markets for three bark products in Zimbabwe; A case study of markets for bark of Adansonia digitata, Berchemia discolor, and Warburgia salutaris. In: Bark Use, Management, and Commerce in Africa. (eds). Cunningham, A.B.; Campbell, B.M. and Luckert, M.K. Advances in Economic Botany, Vol. 17. The New York Botanical Garden Press, New York. pp 227-247.

Cocks, M., Dold, T. and Husselman, M. 2014. New Shoots, old roots-the incorporation of alien weeds into traditional food systems. In: Singh, R.K., Turner, N.J., Victoria, R-G. and Pretty, J. (eds.). Social-ecological diversity and traditional food systems: Opportunities from the biocultural World. New India Publishing Agency, New Delhi, PP. 199-215.

Alexander, J., Cocks, M. and Shackleton, C.M. 2015. The Landscape of Childhood: Play and Place as Tools to Understanding Children's Environmental Use and Perceptions. Human Ecology, 43: 467-480. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s1074            

Cocks, M., Alexander, J., Mogano, L. and Vetter, S. 2016. Ways of belonging: meaning of ‘nature among Xhosa-speaking township residents in South Africa. Journal of Ethnobiology, 36(4); 820-841. https://doi.org/10.2993/0278-0771-36.4.820

Cocks, M., Vetter, S. and Wiersum, K.F. 2017. From universal to local: perspectives on cultural landscape heritage in South Africa. International Journal of Heritage Studies DOI: 10.1080/13527258.2017.1362573.

Njwambe, A., Cocks, M. and Vetter, S. 2019. Misread landscape: The contribution of rural landscapes to people’s sense of identity and belonging. Journal of Southern African Studies, 45: 2, 413-431, DOI: 10.1080/03057070.2019.1631007

Masterson, V., Vetter, S., Chaigneau, T., Daw, T., Selomane, O., Hamann, M., Wong, G., Mellegård, V., Cocks, M. and Tengö, M. 2019. Revisiting the relationships between human well-being and ecosystems in dynamic social-ecological systems: Implications for stewardship and development. Global Sustainability, 2 e8, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1017/sus.2019.5

Merçon, J., Vetter, S., Tengö, M., Cocks, M., Balvenera, P., Rosell, J. and Ayala-Orozco, B. 2019. From local landscapes to international policy: contributions of the biocultural paradigm to global sustainability. Global Sustainability 2, e7, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1017/sus.2019.4

Co-authored book

Dold, T & Cocks, M.L. 2012. Voices of the forest. Jacana Press.


Popular articles

Vetter, S. and Cocks, M. 2018. Commentary. How access to nature improves well-being. Rethink, https://rethink.earth/?p=2416&preview=true

Hayes, D., Cocks, M. and Shackleton, C. 2018. Urban gardens and yards enhancing place-making and belonging in South African Townships. Langscape 7,1: 2, 10-14.

Popular book chapters

Dold, T. and Cocks, M. 2014. My Goat That Produces White Kids. Narratives of the Sea and Seashore in Xhosaland. In: Ribbink, A. and Ribbink, T. (eds) South African Coasts, A Celebration of Our Seas and Shores. Struik Nature, Cape Town. Pp 150 – 157.

Last Modified: Thu, 28 Jul 2022 11:54:02 SAST

Inkcubeko Nendala Community Engagement

Research carried out in rural areas

Research on NRF Grant urban natures