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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

Martin Holbraad

Martin Holbraad Tel:  +44 (0)20 7679 8639

Fax: +44 (0)20 7679 8632


: 139

PhD, Social Anthropology
University of Cambridge (2002)
Reader in Social Anthropology


Full list of Publications

Selected Papers Available for Download

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

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: (with M.A. Pedersen) Planet M: the intense abstraction of Marilyn Strathern. Anthropological Theory 9(4): 371-94

2009: 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

2007: (with R. Willerslev) Transcendental perspectivism: anonymous viewpoints from Inner Asia. (Afterword to Special Issue on Inner Asian Perspectivisms’), Inner Asia 9(2): 329-345

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

2005: 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

2003: Estimando a necessidade: os oráculos de ifá e a verdade em Havana. Mana 9(2): 39-77

Further Items Available for Download

Raising the anti-, or relativism squared (Response to Barbara Herrnstein-Smith). Common Knowledge 17(1): 31-36

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/

Response to Webb Keane’s review of Thinking Through Things

Response to Danny Miller’s review of Thinking Through Things

Response to Bruno Latour’s ‘Thou shall not Freeze-Frame’



Martin Holbraad's main field research is in Cuba, where he focuses on Afro-Cuban religions and socialist 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 the relationship between myth and action, the consecration of objects, and, more broadly, the logic of cosmological thought in the field of religion, politics and art. 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.


Martin Holbraad’s 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), and a volume on the anthropology of security, stemming from inter-disciplinary research with political scientists at the Centre for Advanced Security Theory in Copenhagen University since 2009, titled Times of Security: Ethnographies of Fear, Protest and the Future (Routledge, 2013).Since 2008 Holbraad has also been conducting research with the UK-based theatre groups Frantic Assembly and Real Circumstance, exploring the practices of theatrical creativity and its ‘reality effects.’

Holbraad’s current work focuses on revolutionary politics in Cuba and elsewhere, relating socialist political cosmologies to ascetic ontologies of the self. A number of his peer reviewed articles and other published items (reviews, polemics, responses etc.) can be accessed here.


Martin Holbraad teaches courses in ethnography and anthropological theory at undergraduate and Masters’ level, as well as an advanced optional course titled 'Alterity and Experiment in Anthropological Thinking'. Since 2012 he also convenes an optional course on Cosmos, Society and the Political Imagination, which he co-teaches with Allen Abramson and Bruce Kapferer.


Martin Holbraad helps run two Reading and Research Groups at UCL: The Cosmology, Religion, Ontology and Culture (CROC) group, which brings together staff and research students who share an ethnographic interest in cosmological thought; and the Performance, Theatre and Ethnographies of the Imagination group, which brings together staff and research students interested in the anthropology of the performing arts.

He is first supervisor of the following Doctoral students:

  • Narges Ansari (2013, agency, morality and discipleship in Iran)
  • Kelly Fagan Robinson (2013, performance and politics of Deaf worlds among Deaf theatre-makers in London, ESRC/AHRC)
  • Charlotte Loris-Rodionoff (2013, shamanism and the social logic of suspicion among the Shor of Southern Siberia)
  • Kaya Uzel (2013, performing cosmologies: alterity, participatory art, and the politics of foreign aid in Burkina Faso, ESRC/AHRC)
  • Tobia Farnetti (2012, indigenous cosmologies of northeastern Siberia, ESRC)
  • Daniel Sherer (2011, theatrical work and the American Dream, ESRC)
  • David Cooper (2010, historicity, land and politics in Nicaragua, ESRC) 
  • Julia Frajtag Sauma (2008, Maroon political cosmologies in the Brazilian Amazon, ESRC)
  • Belkais Rouached (2008, divination in Iran, Aga Khan studentship)
  • Babis Kontarakis (2007, spirits and Islam in Egypt, Greek State Scholarship)
  • Alessandra Basso Ortiz (2006, part-time, Afro-Cuban religion and social improvisation in socialist Cuba, AHRC)

He is co-supervisor to:

He is second supervisor to:

  • Vita Peacock (2010, hierarchy and personhood in the Max Planck Society, AHRC)
  • Timothy Carroll (2010, shifting ontologies of fabric in Eastern Orthodox Christianity)
  • Razvan Dumitru (2006, regulating markets in Moldova, Marie Curie)

Completed Doctoral Students:

  • Anna Cristina Pertierra (The struggle for consumption in urban Cuba, awarded 2006)
  • Diana Espirito Santo (Spiritism in Cuba, awarded 2009)
  • Sergio Gonzalez Varela (Power, symbolism, and play in Afro-Brazilian Capoeira, awarded 2009)
  • Marjorie Murrey (Cosmology, personhood and the self in Madrid, awarded 2009)
  • Damon Dennis (Writing, numbers and material culture in Morocco, awarded 2010)
  • Piergiorgio di Giminiani (Ancestral lands, modern transactions: land restoration among the Mapuche in Chile, awarded 2011)
  • Matan Shapiro (Invisibility as ethics: affect, play and intimacy in Maranhão, Northeast Brazil, awarded 2013)

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