Beneath the surface

Kristof Titeca: 'Black and white thinking is tempting'

4 min
Text Alexander Delport
Image Alexander Delport

In 'Beneath the surface', we deep dive into the mind of a UAntwerp researcher. Stroom digs for experiences, interests and motivations, in order to discover: what makes a scientist tick? This time, we put Kristof Titeca in the spotlight. Titeca is a professor of political science at the Institute of Development Policy. 


Time and freedom 

In spite of all the criticism and drawbacks, I feel that an academic career is a gift of the heavens. It allows me to spend time on subjects – and in places – I can still largely pick myself. I’ve been free to travel to the same places, mainly Uganda and Congo, for as much as twenty years now. This is how you forge lasting ties with both the local institutes and the local people. And it ensures I never have to look for research subjects; they find me, often on the back of local collaborations. All of my books, articles and artistic projects have ‘found’ me; they crossed my path, and got enough time to mature and take shape. 

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'In times when debates are growing increasingly polarised, I think it’s a luxury to be able to take a step back, and look for shades of grey and doubt.'

Kristof Titeca

Photography and visual arts 

Just like academic research, photography is a way for me to get to know new worlds. I also studied it, and at some point I had to choose between an academic career and going all out for photography. Actively taking photographs was lacking from my life for a long time, but my interest in the medium has always remained. My collection of photo books, for instance, is still growing. In 2023, I published my own photo book Nasser Road - Political Posters in Uganda. It’s about a well-known street in Kampala (Uganda) and the political posters that are sold there. It’s a collage of photos and text – some by me, others by my photographer and author friends. I was happy with the recognition from the photography and art world. The book won me a number of prizes I had only dreamt of. 

Rough edges 

I’ve always been interested in the rough edges of society. I want to understand them better and give them a place in the academic and social debate. Whether it concerns smugglers, poachers or jihadist rebels: they’re all phenomena that are in the legal, geographical or social margins. This may make them less accessible, but all the more interesting as a result. This is another example where the time I’ve been able to spend in those places, and the relationships I’ve managed to build there, have allowed me to better understand and research these phenomena.  



In times when debates are growing increasingly polarised, I think it’s a luxury to be able to take a step back, and look for shades of grey and doubt. Black-and-white thinking is tempting: it simplifies reality and makes it easier to adopt a clear stance towards complex issues. I’m a great advocate of the social role of the university and of academics, and invest a considerable amount of time in media interviews, but it’s also important for me to keep emphasising those shades of grey. 

Breadth and depth 

I’m a total glutton when it comes to music, literature, podcasts and TV series, but also cooking. Achieving depth in my work wouldn’t be possible for me without the breadth of each of my interests: I can’t work without music, I’m totally hooked on narrative podcasts, and cooking is a great way to come home and get closure from the work day. But that breadth is only possible thanks to another kind of depth: the way I’m rooted in and with my family. My wife, who has the same outlook on life, and our three kids. 

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