Current Issue

Facebook Icon  Twitter Icon  YouTube Icon  Linkedin Icon

Research Students - Material Culture
Sarah Wilkes  

Year of start: 2009
Subject: Material Culture


Research Topic/ Provisional Dissertation Title

Negotiating Materials Moralities: Sustainability and Risk in the UK Materials Industry



First supervisor: Susanne Küchler
Second supervisor: Victor Buchli



I am currently doing research with members of the IOM3 (Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining), my collaborative partners and a professional body spanning  materials science, industry, academia and design and representing the interests of the UK materials sector to the general public and government.

This research explores the many factors that cause different materials - like PVC, steel and bioplastics - to be classified as sustainable or hazardous and questions what this can tell us about how the global concept of ‘sustainability’ is put into practice in the local context of the UK materials industry.


Research interests

My overarching questions for this research are:

- What is culturally particular about the ways in which we make sense of environmental and ethical matters when classifying, choosing and using materials?

- Why do some materials and strategies appeal to our ethical sensibilities more than others?

- How do particular forms of sustainable material or hazardous substance become selected for attention in the UK today?


Academic Background/Education

MPhil/PhD, Material and Visual Anthropology, UCL (2009-present day)

MA(Distinction), Material and Visual Culture, UCL (2007-2008)

BA(Hons), Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Oxford (2004-2007)



Secretary - IOM3 Sustainable Development Group

Writer/Researcher - Institute of Making



Wilkes, S. 2011. Three Bears Analysis. In Rightweight – Optimising Weight in Design, G. Hollington (ed). InnovationRCA and MaDE.

Wilkes, S. Materials Libraries as Vehicles for Knowledge Transfer. Anthropology Matters, North America, 13, Feb. 2011. Available at:

Materials Matter: An Anthropological Study of Materials Libraries - UCL Anthropology

Working Paper Series (June 2009). Available at:

Public Presentations

AAA Annual Meeting 2011, Montreal. Presentation as part of a panel - Time, Stasis and Sustainability: Durability as a Factor in the Success or Failure of a ‘Sustainable Material’.

IOM3 Sustainable Development Group, April 2011. Negotiating Materials Moralities: Sustainability and Risk in the UK Materials Community.

E:DN 8: Materials Lab, October 2010 – Invited speaker at an interdisciplinary workshop on ‘zero waste’ and human relationships to materials - Ecodesign Centre Wales, Cardiff.


March – May 2011. Curator - Keeping Track of Sustainable Materials. Interactive Exhibition at the IOM3, 1 Carlton House Terrace.

15th November 2010. Curator - Three Bears Trail. Interactive Exhibition at the MaDE Rightweight Event, 1 Carlton House Terrace

24th June 2010. Collaborative research project, lecture and performance with Fay Nicolson (RCA), exploring interdisciplinary dialogue and the role of the lecture in art and academia. Part of Fay Nicolson and Charles Ogilvie: Reflectures, one of a series of public lectures organised by Five Years Gallery as part of LECTURE HALL. FREE SCHOOL, Bethnal Green Library.

June - July 2010. Curator - Playing the Field: Materials Innovations in Football. A Materials KTN Exhibition at 1 Carlton House Terrace.



AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award

Request page update
UCL Anthropology, 14 Taviton Street, London, WC1H 0BW Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 8633