Kelly Askew is chair of the Department of Anthropology, as well as the Niara Sudarkasa Collegiate Professor of Anthropology and Afroamerican and African Studies in the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. She is a professor of law through a courtesy appointment at the University of Michigan Law School.

Askew has worked for more than three decades in Tanzania and Kenya. Her writings and documentary film projects focus on (1) arts, aesthetics, and politics, with current projects on post-socialist poetry, post-independence African visual arts, and digitizing African music archives; (2) critical development studies, specifically concerning rural energy access and the formalization of property rights; (3) indigenous political movements, especially of Maasai pastoralists in East Africa; and (4) the anthropology of contracts. 

Her publications include Performing the Nation: Swahili Music and Cultural Politics in Tanzania (University of Chicago Press, 2002), a finalist for the African Studies Association Herskovits Prize; The Anthropology of Media (co-edited with Richard Wilk, Blackwell, 2002); African Postsocialisms (co-edited with Anne Pitcher, Edinburgh, 2006); and more than 30 essays and book chapters. 

She is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Royal Danish Embassy of Tanzania, the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, USAID, the Ford Foundation, and the Fulbright Association.

Askew’s film projects include Orkiteng Loorbaak: Rite of Elders (2018), Poetry in Motion: 100 Years of Zanzibar’s Nadi Ikhwan Safaa (Buda Musique, 2016), and The Chairman and the Lions (Documentary Educational Resources, 2013), which won first place at the ETNOFilm Festival in Croatia and a Special Jury Award at the Zanzibar International Film Festival in Tanzania. Her latest film, Maasai Remix (2019), explores indigenous creativity in addressing challenges to Maasai pastoralist livelihoods. It was an official selection for more than a dozen film festivals and received the 2020 Dikalo Award for Best Feature Length Documentary Film at the Festival International du Film Panafricain de Cannes.