Social Anthropology

Social Anthropology

Social Anthropology is the comparative study of the ways in which people live in different social and cultural settings across the globe. Societies vary enormously in how they organise themselves, the cultural practices in which they engage, as well as their religious, political and economic arrangements. Social Anthropologists devote themselves to studying this variation in all of its complexity, with a view to contributing to a broader understanding of what it is to be human – what unites us as human beings, as well as what makes us so diverse.

Social Anthropology at UCL has a thriving research culture, bringing together academic staff, a lively and cosmopolitan body of postgraduate research students, and a growing number of postdoctoral researchers associated with a number of research projects run by members of the group. The full range of our diverse research is presented in our on-line research platform on Subjectivity and Cultural Imagination. Our diverse ethnographic and film-based research on British society and culture is conducted in association with LabUK, UCL Anthropology’s cross-departmental research platform devoted to the anthropological study of the UK.

Benefiting greatly from our close ties with Material Culture Studies, Medical Anthropology, Human Ecology and Evolutionary Anthropology within the department, our research profile is thoroughly outward-looking, forging inter-disciplinary ties with history, philosophy, political science, art theory, geography, engineering, computer science, astrophysics and other fields with which our research engages. At present Social Anthropology staff conduct research on themes including:

  • Cultural and cosmological dimensions of economic development and risk-taking in Polynesia and Europe (Allen Abramson)
  • The anthropology of development, leadership and environmental politics in Amazonia (Marc Brightman)
  • The relationship between conceptions of personhood and new economic forms in Mongolia and other parts of Inner and East Asia (Rebecca Empson)
  • Cosmology, ritual and politics in revolutionary Cuba, and the relationship between anthropological and philosophical analysis (Martin Holbraad)
  • Play, music, ritual, and egalitarian politics among Central African hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers' and indigenous peoples' rights and representation (Jerome Lewis)
  • Migration and post-socialism in Europe and Asia, including research in Germany, Southern Europe, Turkey and Central Asia (Ruth Mandel)
  • Anthropology of democracy, kinship and politics, charisma, crime and political violence in South Asia and Venezuela (Lucia Michelutti)
  • Linguistic anthropology of war, violence and displacement in Sri Lanka and among Kurdish communities in London (Alex Pillen)
  • The anthropology of history, focusing on altered states of consciousness, affect and religion in Greece and Italy (Charles Stewart)
  • Historical, political and economic anthropology focusing on Roma, as well as collaborative anthropology and documentary film-making (Michael Stewart)

Teaching in social anthropology forms a core part of the department’s undergraduate teaching. We also offer a flagship MSc course and contribute to the teaching of a dedicated MRes course in anthropological methods:

We have a weekly public Social Anthropology Research Seminar with speakers invited from across the world to present and discuss their work. Our staff and research students also contribute actively to a variety of Reading and Research Groups that are run within the Department, bringing together researchers sharing common interests in themes that in recent years have included indigenous cosmologies, visual culture, crisis economies, and Asian philosophy.