The Transform Project

Our Research Question

Trafficking represents serious transnational crime which challenges our physical, social, economic security. Existing policy is ineffective at reducing the flow of many illicit commodities. We ask: what if our attempts to disrupt this crime fail because they ignore a crucial element within trafficking networks: the trafficked objects themselves?

Our Locations

TRANSFORM is based at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, in collaboration with Victoria University at Wellington (New Zealand) and the University of Cape Town (South Africa). Our ethnographic research is global, with particular focus on Southern Africa, the South Pacific, Latin America, and the American Southwest.

Our Objects

This project focuses on three types of collectable object: antiquities, collectable wildlife, and fossils. These types of objects inspire passion and profound responses in many people. At times, it seems, this can lead to crimes being committed. By understanding the relationships between people and objects we hope to better understand crime.

Our Methods

By drawing heavily on research from object-focused fields such as archaeology, heritage studies, and museum studies, we at TRANSFORM conduct ethnographic research on object networks. 

Our Goals

We hope that through this project we can help to develop a new and more accurate model of the networks that form around and with the objects of crime. We also seek to better understand the complex relationships between people and objects and how those relationships could be better addressed in ant-crime policy.

Our Funding

TRANSFORM is a five-year project funded by the European Research Council.

Our Team

Photograph of Donna Yates

Donna Yates

Principal Investigator

Dr Donna Yates is an Associate Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology at Maastricht University. Yates is an archaeologist by training and her research is focused on the transnational trade in cultural objects, art and heritage crime, and on the market for fossils. 

Photograph of Annette Hübschle

Annette Hübschle

Senior Researcher

Dr Annette Hübschle is a senior research fellow in the Global Risk Governance Programme at the University of Cape Town. Her research focuses on security governance, new harmscapes of the 21st century and the impacts of industrialisation on earth systems. 

Photograph of Simon Mackenzie

Simon Mackenzie

Senior Researcher

Simon Mackenzie is Professor of Criminology and Head of the School of Social and Cultural Studies at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington. Simon’s research is in the fields of white-collar crime and organised crime. His latest book is Transnational Criminology: Trafficking and Global Criminal Markets (2020).

Photograph of Diana Berzina

Diāna Bērziņa


Diāna Bērziņa is a Researcher based in the department of Criminal Law and Criminology at Maastricht University. Diāna comes from the multi-disciplinary background – she has an undergraduate degree in Archaeology – History and MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Janine Heim

PhD Researcher

Janine Heim is a PhD researcher at Maastricht University. She researches the structure and security dimensions of the exotic pet trade between Germany and South Africa. She has a background in Journalism and Security Studies.

Image of Emily Peacock. A woman with brown hair and a yellow shirt, smiling.

Emily Peacock

Affiliated Researcher

Emily Peacock is a postgraduate researcher interested in the buyers’ end of illicit markets. She has a background in archaeology with an undergraduate degree in Classics and a MA in Cultural Heritage Management.