UCL Anthropology


Sara Randall

Sara Randall

E-mail: s.randall@ucl.ac.uk


Emeritus Professor

PhD, Demography
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 1984

Research Interests

Most of my research experience is in francophone West Africa (Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal) and I am generally interested in all aspects of fertility, reproduction and health in this region and how they interplay with migration and development.

Research Themes:

  • Anthropological demography
  • Reproductive decision making
  • Marriage, sexual relationships and reproduction
  • Migration, mobility, well-being and demographic change in West Africa
  • Well-being of the elderly in Africa and the interplay between elderly well being and migration
  • Demography of African nomadic pastoralists
  • Demographic consequences of conflict and anthropological demography of refugee populations
  • Methodological research: Integrating qualitative and quantitative data in demographic research:  this has two dimensions (1) in order to improve our understanding of how demographic processes work and change and (2) examining the actual production of demographic data and the biases within them - through investigating how different people or groups conceptualise, understand and respond to the questions they are asked


After an undergraduate degree in Anthropology my PhD in Demography at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine focused on the demographic dynamics of rural Malian populations with different production systems. I integrated anthropological approaches to both data collection and interpretation in order to understand the key factors influencing the diversity of demographic outcomes in these isolated rural populations. Such a mixed methods approach to understanding demographic issues has been a major dimension of most of my subsequent research.

My early research interests in the demography of nomadic pastoralists were oriented around the dynamics of Tuareg populations in Mali from 1981-2001 - both before and after they were involved in a forced migration and sedentarisation as a result of conflict. I have considerable experience of field data collection (both quantitative and qualitative) in Mali, Senegal and Burkina Faso under a range of conditions: illiterate pastoral nomads, large agricultural villages, poor and more wealthy areas in small towns and capital cities and I have also undertaken more limited research in East Africa, Mongolia and have analysed Palestinian demographic data. I focus on issues such as health behaviour, marital and reproductive decision making, the impact of migration on those left behind as well as trying to understand the determinants of different patterns of demographic dynamics in poor, rural African populations and the interplay between development and demography. My research is currently orientated around unpacking the mismatch between the concepts used in survey data collection and respondents' own ideas about what is important and their daily realities.

Indicators of esteem

  • Member of ESRC Grants Assessment Panel (2010-2012)
  • Member of ESRC Research Grants Board (2008-2010)

Research Groups

Research Projects

Pregnancy planning in Botswana: Developing measures of pregnancy intention

Funded by UCL Grand Challenges, 2015: Joint PIs Chelsea Morroni, Institute of Women's Health and Sara Randall, Department of Anthropology with CIs Geraldine Barrett, Jenny Hall, Naomi Seboni, Corinne Rocca and Judith Stephenson.

This is a pilot study in Botswana using qualitative methods to investigate the different dimensions of pregnancy planning and decision making. A team of interviewers was trained in qualitative research methods in May 2015 and the data are currently being collected in Gabarone

Harmonised Households - Ménages à ménager 

Funded by ESRC on ESRC/ ANR collaborative programme from October 2010: Philippe Antoine is the PI for the ANR and other collaborators are Ernestina Coast (LSE), Eva Lelièvre (INED) and Valerie Golaz (INED/CEPED)

This research investigates the impact of definitions of the household used in household survey research on our ability to understand intergenerational relations. It follows up research on the Tanzanian pilot study below and is a comparative study focusing on North (England and France) and South (Burkina Faso, Senegal, Uganda) as well as allowing comparisons between East and West Africa and anglophone/francophone traditions.

Publications from this research

Randall, Sara, Ernestina Coast, Philippe Antoine, Natacha Compaore, Fatou-Binetou Dial, Alexandra Fanghanel, Sadio Ba Gning, Bilampoa Gnoumou Thiombiano, Valérie Golaz, Stephen Ojiambo Wandera (2015) UN Census "Households" and Local Interpretations in Africa Since Independence. Sage Open April-June 2015: 1-18 http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/2158244015589353

Randall Sara and Ernestina Coast, (2015) Poverty in African households: the limits of survey representations. Journal of Development Studies, 51(2) 162-177 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220388.2014.968135

Kriel A., Sara Randall, Ernestina Coast, B. de Clercq (2014) From Design to Practice: How can large-scale household surveys better represent the complexities of the social units under investigation? African Population Studies 28(3) 1309-1323 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11564/0-0-618

Randall Sara, Ernestina Coast, Natacha Compaore, Philippe Antoine (2013) The Power of the Interviewer: a qualitative perspective on African data collection Demographic Research: 28, pp763-792 www.demographic-research.org/volumes/vol28/27/

The commodity chain of the household: from survey design to policy planning.

Funded by ESRC under the Survey Design and Measurement Initiative: Co-investigators Ernestina Coast (LSE) and Tiziana Leone (LSE). 2007-9.

Used a range of qualitative methods to investigate how the concept of the 'household' is used and understood at all the different stages of the production, publication and use of survey household data. Interviews were undertaken with members of complex households, survey enumerators, analysts, data producers, consumers and commissioners using Tanzania as a case study.

Selected Conference papers from this research:

Randall Sara, Ernestina Coast and Tiziana Leone (2011) Cultural constructions of a critical demographic concept: the survey household Population Studies 65 (2) 217-229

Coast E., S.Randall, T.Leone The commodity chain of the household: from survey design to policy and practice. Presented at IUSSP International Conference, 2009, Marrakech

The impacts of out-migration on those left behind: changing family dynamics in small town Senegal.

Funded by Nuffield: Social Science Small Grants Scheme in collaboration with Alioune Diagne, (INDEPTH) and Nathalie Mondain, (University of Ottowa)

This qualitative research focuses on one small town in Senegal from where a substantial proportion of young men have migrated to Italy. We are investigating the impacts of this migration on various aspects of family dynamics amongst those who remain in Senegal including marriage dynamics, residence patterns, old age support, education and gender roles. Further research including a biographical survey has been funded by CRSH to Nathalie Mondain (University of Ottowa) as PI with Pape Sakho (IPDSR, Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal) starting in 2011 "Ceux et celles qui restent : les effets de la migration internationale sur les dynamiques familiales au Sénégal"

Pulications from this research project

Mondain Nathalie, Alioune Diagne, Sara Randall (2013) Migration and intergenerational responsibilities: implications for the transition to adulthood of young Senegalese migrants. Issue edited by Fatima Juarez Carcano. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 648, pp. 204 - 217.

Mondain Nathalie, Sara Randall, Alioune Diagne, Alice Elliot (2012) Les effets de l'émigration masculine sur les femmes et leur autonomie: entre maintien et transformation des rapports sociaux de sexe traditionnels au Sénégal Autrepart 61 pp81-98

Mondain Nathalie, Alioune Diagne, Sara Randall (2012) Migration et responsabilités intergénérationnelles: implications pour la transition à l'âge adulte des jeunes migrants sénégalais: In L'Afrique des Générations eds Marie-Nathalie LeBlanc & Muriel Gomez-Perez. Karthala, Paris.

Randall, Sara and Nathalie Mondain (in press) "Femmes, travail, milieu de résidence et logement : nouvelles dimensions du mariage chez les Wolof au Sénégal", in : P. Antoine et R. Marcoux (eds), Le mariage en Afrique, pluralité des formes et des modèles matrimoniaux, Karthala

Conference papers from this research project:

Randall S., A.Diagne Separated from their parents: consequences for child well-being in modern Senegal. Presented at IUSSP International Conference, 2009, Marrakech.

Diagne A., S.Randall, N.Mondain Migration et responsabilités intergénérationnelles: obligation, transformation ou les deux? Paper presented at AIDELF conference, Geneva 2010

Randall S., N.Mondain, A.Diagne Perspectives intergénérationnelles sur la reproduction au Sénégal. ? Paper presented at AIDELF conference, Geneva 2010

The Demographic Consequences of being Refugees for Malian Kel Tamasheq pastoralists.

Publications from this research project

Randall Sara (2011) 'Fat and fertility, mobility and slaves: Long term perspectives on Tuareg obesity and reproduction' Fatness and the Maternal Body: women's experiences of corporeality and the shaping of social policy. edited by Maya Unnithan-Kumar and Soraya Tremayne., Berghahn

Randall Sara (2010) 'Nomads, refugees and repatriates: histories of mobility and health outcomes in Northern Mali' In special issue of Society, Biology and Human Affairs 75(2) pp1-26

Randall Sara (2009) La natalité Touarègue: des représentations coloniales aux réalités post-rébellion: Mémoires et démographie: Regards croisés au Sud et au Nord (sous la direction de R. Marcoux en collaboration avec Jennifer Dion). Collection Cahiers du CIEQ, Presses de l'Université Laval. pp.253-259

Randall,S., Giuffrida,A. (2006). Forced migration, sedentarisation and social change: Malian Kel Tamasheq. in Chatty,D. (ed.) Handbook on Nomads in the 21st Century. Leiden: Brill, 431-462

Randall,S. (2005). Demographic consequences of conflict, forced migration and repatriation: a case study of Malian Kel Tamasheq. European Journal of Population 21(2-3), 291-320

Randall,S., Giuffrida,A. (2005). Mariage et menages chez les Kel Tamasheq du Mali: bouleversements socio-economiques et continuite demographique. in Vignikin,K., Vimard,P. (ed.) Familles au Nord, Familles au Sud. Louvain La Neuve: Academia-Bruylant, 233-266

Randall,S. (2004), Fertility of Malian Tamasheq repatriated refugees: The Impact of Forced Migration,Roundtable on the Demography of Forced Migration series. Washington DC: National Research Council, National Academies Press.

Using qualitative research methods to contribute to traditionally quantitative and survey based research fields.


Randall,S., Koppenhaver,T. (2004). Qualitative Data in Demography. Demographic Research 11(3), 57-96

Drury R Homewood K., Randall S (2010) Less is more: incorporating qualitative methods in conservation research Animal Conservation: online publication  17 June 20102

with Richard Marcoux (Université Lavalle, Quebec), M.Gueye & M.Konate (CAREF, Mali), on Fréquentation scolaire et travail des enfants au Mali: étude des populations vulnérables à partir de la mise en valeur de micro-données existantes.. Financed by CRSH Canada (from Sep 2008)

Randall, Sara. (2012). Where have all the nomads gone? Mali censuses 1987 and 1998. Québec: Observatoire démographique et statistique de l'espace francophone/Université Laval, Note de Recherche 65 p.

Ouagadougou OPO with ISSP Burkina Faso: Co-Investigator on Wellcome Trust Funded project Health Inequities in a context of increasing urbanisation in West Africa £1,860,358 over 5 years from January. This is an urban Demographic Surveillance System covering 4 poor districts in Ouagadougou, collecting demographic health and welfare data every 6 months. I am involved in research streams on (1) wellbeing of the elderly and (2) qualitative approaches

Moving Targets: Identifying health risks in mobile populations through longitudinal follow-up of formal and informal settlements in Ouagadougou.

PI: Philippe Bocquier, UCLouvain, Belgium & Abdramane Soura ISSP, Université de Ouagadougou. CI: Clementine Rossier, University of Geneva. Associated Researcher: Sara Randall UCLondon.

Financed by ARES, Commission de la Coopération au Développement, Belgium: July 2015-Dec 2016.

The project will test a new data collection tool for migrant follow-up using mobile phone as well as statistical tools to control for migration effect in health analysis. It depends on data collected in the Ouagadougou DSS in selected poor urban populations in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. A preliminary stage of the project depends on qualitative research investigating the different patterns of and motivations for migration in and out of the different study zones and I am involved in developing the tools and the data collection for this stage.

PhD Students

  • Catarina Morais (2014+) Power and childbirthing policy and practice in Portugal
  • Caroline Ackley (2013+) Intimate relationships and telephone games in Somaliland
  • Vincent Leger (2011+) Well being of the elderly in urban Burkina Faso 
  • Alice Elliot (2008-12) Reckoning with the outside: emigration and the imagination of life in Central Morocco
  • Stephanie Riak Akuei (ongoing) Dinka Displaced: Imagining and Managing Lives Beyond the War Zone
  • Khurshida Begum (2006-11) A comparative study of ovarian reserve and reproductive aging in Bangladeshi and white women
  • Rebecca Drury (Awarded 2009) Wildmeat consumption in Vietnam
  • Beth Bishop (Awarded 2007) The consequences of schooling for pastoralism and pastoralists' livelihoods
  • Katerina Georgiadis (Awarded 2006) Understanding low fertility in Athens and London: a comparative ethnographic study
  • Ernestina Coast (Awarded 2001) Maasai Demography
  • Kate Hampshire (Awarded 1998) Fulani mobility in Burkina Faso


  • Heidi Colleran (2008-12) Reproductive decision making in rural Poland
  • Farid Belbachir (2008+) Human wildlife conflict in the Hoggar, Algeria
  • Dave Lawson (Awarded 2009) The human behavioural ecology of modern family size
  • Eshetu Gurmu (Awarded 2005) Fertility in Ethopia
  • Mick Thompson (Awarded 2002) Livestock, Cultivation and Tourism: Livelihood Choices and Conservation in Masaai Mara Buffer Zones
  • Mhari Gibson (Awarded 2002) Effects of water development project on Ethiopian reproductive behaviour
  • Rebecca Sear (Awarded 2001) Evolutionary approaches to reproductive decision making in the Gambia
  • Solveig Buhl (Awarded 2000) Gender aspects of Fulani production
  • Dan Brockington (Awarded 1998) Issues around Mkomasi Game Reserve, Tanzania


Click here to see the full publication list.