There are many highly respectable motives which may lead men to prosecute research, but three which are much more important than the rest. The first (without which the rest must come to nothing) is intellectual curiosity, desire to know the truth. Then, professional pride, anxiety to be satisfied with one's performance, the shame that overcomes any self-respecting craftsman when his work is unworthy of his talent. Finally, ambition, desire for reputation, and the position, even the power or the money, which it brings. It may be fine to feel, when you have done your work, that you have added to the happiness or alleviated the suffering of others, but that will not be why you did it. So if a mathematician, or a chemist, or even a physiologist, were to tell me that the driving force in his work had been the desire to benefit humanity, then I should not believe him (nor should I think the better of him if I did). His dominant motives have been those which I have stated, and in which, surely, there is nothing of which any decent man need be ashamed.
G. H. Hardy, A Mathematician's Apology, CUP, 1940
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 8639
Martin Holbraad is on research leave from September 2014 until August 2019
PhD, Social Anthropology
Professor of Social Anthropology
NB: Unless the paper is already freely available on the internet, the links presented here are to author's proofs which may not be identical to the published version. To cite correctly, and where necessary, please refer to the published version of the paper in question
Revolución o muerte: the political ontology of Cuban revolution. Ethnos
2014: How Things Can Unsettle. Pp. 228-237 in Casella E, Harvey P, Evans G, Knox H, McLean C, Silva E, Thoburn N, Woodward, K. (eds), Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion. London: Routledge
2014: The Politics of Ontology: Anthropological Positions (with M.A. Pedersen & E Viveiros de Castro). Cultural Anthropology blogspot on Theorizing the Contemporary
2013: Introduction: Times of security (with Morten A. Pedersen). Pp. 1-27 in M. Holbraad & M.A. Pedersen (eds.) Times of Security: Ethnographies of Fear, Protest and the Future. New York: Routledge.
Scoping recursivity: A comment on Franklin and Napier. Cambridge
Anthropology 31(2): 123-127
2013: Moralidad y obligación
en los sistemas de adivinación del Ifá cubano. Caminos: Revista Cubana
de Penamiento Socioteológico 68/69: 48-53
Things as concepts: Anthropology and pragmatology. Pp 17-30 in G.
Pereira (ed.), Savage Objects. Guimaraes: INCM
Revolutionary securitization: an anthropological extension of securitization
theory. International Theory 4(2): 165-197
Truth beyond doubt: Ifá oracles in Havana. Hau: Journal of
Ethnographic Theory 2(1): 81-110
“Worlds otherwise:” archaeology, anthropology and ontological difference.
‘CA Forum in Anthropological Theory’ with B. Alberti, S. Fowles, Y. Marshall, C
Witmore. Current Anthropology 52(6): 896-912
Contemporary cosmologies, critical re-imaginings (with A. Abramson). Religion
and Society (Advances in Research) 3: 35-50
Can the thing speak? OAP Press, Working Paper Series #7
Ontology is just another word for culture: against the motion. Debate
& Discussion (from GDAT 2008, S. Venkatesan (ed.)). Critique of
Anthropology 30(2): 179-185, 185-200 passim
2011: Dinheiro e necessidades no “period Especial’ de Havana
[Portuguese version of ‘Money and need in “Special Period” Havana’]. Pp.
367-394 in Olívia Maria Gomez da Cunha (ed.) Outras Ilhas: Espaços,
Temporalidades e Transformações em Cuba, Rio de Janeiro: Aeroplano
Editora Link to version in English
2010: The whole beyond holism:
gambling, divination and ethnography in Cuba. Pp. 67-86 in N. Bubandt
& T. Otto (eds.) Experiments in Holism: Theory and Practice in Contemporary Anthropology, Malden & Oxford: Riley-Blackwell
2010: Of ises and oughts: an endnote on divinatory obligation. Pp 265-274 in P. Curry (ed.) Divination: Perspectives for a New Millennium, Farnham: Ashgate
2009: Technologies of the imagination: An introduction
(with D. Sneath and M.A. Pedersen). Special Issue on Technologies of the
Imagination, M. Holbraad & M.A. Pedersen (eds.), Ethnos 74(1): 5-30
2009: (with M.A. Pedersen)
Planet M: the intense abstraction of Marilyn Strathern. Anthropological
Theory 9(4): 371-94
Ontology, ethnography, archaeology: an afterword on the ontography of
things. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19(3): 431-441
2008: Definitive evidence, from Cuban
gods. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (Special Issue
/Objects of Evidence/, M. Engelke (ed.)), S93-S109//
2008: Relationships in motion:* *oracular recruitment and ontological definition in Cuban Ifá cults. Cahiers Systèmes de Pensée en Afrique Noire 18: 219-264
Thinking through things (with
A. Henare and S. Wastell). Pp 1-31 in A. Henare, M. Holbraad & S.
Wastell (eds.) Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts
2007: (with R. Willerslev) Transcendental
perspectivism: anonymous viewpoints from Inner Asia. (Afterword to
Special Issue on Inner Asian Perspectivisms’), Inner Asia 9(2):
2007: The power of powder: multiplicity and motion in the divinatory cosmology of Cuban Ifá (or /mana/ again). Pp189-225 in A. Henare, M. Holbraad & S. Wastell (eds.) Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically, London: Routledge. LINK TO ABRIDGED VERSION, published in /Bedeutung/ 3: 42-56
Expending multiplicity: money in Cuban Ifá cults. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 11(2): 231-54
2004: Religious “speculation”: the rise of Ifá
cults and consumption in post-Soviet Havana. Journal of Latin American
Studies 36(4): 1-21
Further items available for download
(from Portuguese to English, with J. Sauma) of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s The
relative native. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3 (3): 469–71
blurb for Portuguese translation of Roy
Wagner’s The Invention of Culture. A Invençâo da Cultura, Sao Paulo: Cosacnaify
- Objecthood, fetishism and the emancipation of things. Interview for Radio Web Macba, 2014.
- Tres provocaciones ontologicas. Keynote speech in Spanish at University of Basque Country, San Sebastian, 2014.
- What critiques can anthropology produce? EASA plenary panel, Nanterre, 2012.
- Fieldwork and anthropology – future directions. Anthropology in London Day, Closing Plenary, 2010.
Martin Holbraad's main field research is in Cuba, where he focuses on Afro-Cuban religions and revolutionary politics. Having completed in 2002 his doctoral thesis on the role of oracles and money within the diviner cult of Ifà in socialist Cuba, his research since has focused on such topics as the relationship between myth and action, the consecration of objects, and, more broadly, the relationship between cosmology, politics and other forms of social invention. These ethnographic interests inform his theoretical concerns with such topics as the anthropology of truth and the imagination, abstraction and divinity, thing-theory, and the relationship between anthropological and philosophical analysis.
roles within UCL Anthropology have included acting as Chair of the Research
Committee (2006-14), Tutor of the MSc in Social and Cultural Anthropology (2011-13), and Head of the Social Anthropology Section (2011-14). He was Vice-Dean for Interdisciplnarity in UCL’s Faculty of
Social and Historical Sciences (2013-14), and sits on the Executive Group of
UCL’s Grand Challenge of Intercultural Interaction (GCII),
under the aegis of which he organised the cross-Faculty initiative on Wonderments
Martin Holbraad is the author of Truth in Motion: The Recursive Anthropology of Cuban Divination (Chicago, 2012), which is an attempt to experiment with the conceptualization of truth in divination and in anthropology. He is also co-editor of a volume on the role of artefacts in anthropological thinking, called Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically (Routledge, 2007), a special issue of the journal Ethnos titled Technologies of the Imagination (2009), a volume on the anthropology of security titled Times of Security: Ethnographies of Fear, Protest and the Future (Routledge, 2013), stemming from inter-disciplinary research with political scientists at the Centre for Advanced Security Theory in Copenhagen University since 2009, and a volume on the contemporary relevance of the anthropological study of cosmology, titled Framing Cosmologies: The Anthropology of Worlds (Manchester, 2014), which emerged out of his work as co-organiser of the Cosmology, Religion, Ontology and Culture Reading and Research Group at UCL (CROC). Holbraad has also conducted research with the UK-based theatre groups Frantic Assembly and Real Circumstance, exploring the practices of theatrical creativity and their ‘reality effects.’
At present, together with Morten Axel Pedersen, Holbraad is writing a book provisionally titled The Ontological Turn: An Anthropological Exposition. Due to appear in 2016 with Cambridge University Press, the book seeks to elucidate the recent emergence of the so-called ‘ontological turn’ as a distinctive anthropological orientation, articulating its core tenets and methodological implications, and exploring its influence in contemporary anthropological research.
Holbraad is currently on research leave directing Making Selves, Making Revolutions: Comparative Anthropologies of Revolutionary Politics (CARP), a 5-year project (2014-19) funded by a Consolidator Grant of the European Research Council. Based on a selection of ethnographic studies in countries of the Middle East and Latin America, the project brings an anthropological examination of the relationship between revolutionary and religious practices to bear on existing conceptions of revolution, statecraft, and subjectivity in political theory. Its ambition is to launch the comparative study of revolutionary personhood as a major new departure for anthropological research.
A number of Holbraad’s peer reviewed articles and other
published items (reviews, polemics, responses etc.) can be accessed here.
|Full list of Publications|
Martin Holbraad teaches courses in ethnography and anthropological theory at undergraduate and Masters’ level. In recent years these have included a course on Alterity and Experiment in Anthropological Thinking, as well as on Cosmos, Society and the Political Imagination (co-taught with Allen Abramson and Bruce Kapferer).
Martin Holbraad helps run
the Reading and Research Groups programme at UCL Anthropology, within which he co-organizes the
Cosmology, Religion, Ontology and Culture (CROC) group,
which brings together staff and research students who share an ethnographic
interest in cosmological thought.
He is first supervisor of the following Doctoral students:
- Myriam Lamrani (2014, folk Catholicism and egalitarian politics in Mexico, ERC)
- Narges Ansari (2013, agency, morality and discipleship in Iran)
- Kelly Fagan Robinson (2013, Deaf performance and politics in London, ESRC/AHRC)
- Charlotte Loris-Rodionoff (2013, time and revolution among Syrians in Turkey, ERC)
- Kaya Uzel (2013, performing cosmologies: alterity, participatory art, and the politics of foreign aid in Burkina Faso, ESRC/AHRC)
- Tobia Farnetti (2012, marginality and homelessness in Japan, ESRC)
- Daniel Sherer (2011, theatrical work and the American Dream, ESRC)
- Belkais Rouached (2008, divination in Iran, Aga Khan studentship)
He is co-supervisor to:
- Carolina Balthazar (2011, second hand shopping and magic in Britain)
- Viorel Anastasoaie (2006, work, knowledge and value among tobacco growers in Cuba, Marie Curie)
He is second supervisor to:
- Razvan Dumitru (2006, regulating markets in Moldova, Marie Curie)
Completed Doctoral Students:
- David Cooper (Productive dilemmas: assistance and struggle in a Nicaraguan cooperative, awarded 2015)
- Babis Kontarakis (Muslims possessed: spirit possession and Islam in Cairo, awarded 2015)
- Timothy Carroll (Becoming Orthodox: of people and things in the making of religious subjects, awarded 2015)
- Alessandra Basso Ortíz (d.2014) (Afro-Cuban religious ethics and social improvisation – parts of incomplete PhD thesis to be published posthumously)
- Vita Peacock (Hierarchy and personhood in the Max Planck Society, awarded 2013)
- Julia Frajtag Sauma (Maroon political cosmologies in the Brazilian Amazon, awarded 2013)
- Matan Shapiro (Invisibility as ethics: affect, play and intimacy in Maranhão, Northeast Brazil, awarded 2013)
- Piergiorgio di Giminiani (Ancestral lands, modern transactions: land restoration among the Mapuche in Chile, awarded 2011)
- Damon Dennis (Writing, numbers and material culture in Morocco, awarded 2010)
- Marjorie Murrey (Cosmology, personhood and the self in Madrid, awarded 2009)
- Sergio Gonzalez Varela (Power, symbolism, and play in Afro-Brazilian Capoeira, awarded 2009)
- Diana Espirito Santo (Spiritism in Cuba, awarded 2009)
- Anna Cristina Pertierra (The struggle for consumption in urban Cuba, awarded 2006)
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