Subjectivity and the Cultural Imagination

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Recent books by SCI members:

Meditation in Modern Buddhism by Joanna Cook

The Vernacularisation of Democracy by Lucia Michelutti

Pathologies of the West by Roland Littlewood

Images of Democracy and Revolution



Exploring political cultures through their diverse ethnographic manifestations, this research cluster brings together anthropologists working on the role of the imagination in political life. Our current research focuses on the anthropology of democracy and revolution on a comparative scale, mapping out the hopes, dreams, fears and dangers that accompany diverse modes of governance and emerging political experimentations across the world.

We focus on the everyday conceptions and practices of legislature, social and electoral violence, legality and security, democracy and the state at large, and revolutionary discourse and practice. Collecting political ethnographies beyond the domain of institutional politics, we delve into the intimate realms of family life, devotional practices, everyday discourse, leisure activities and the workplace, to ask such questions as: How are alternative political futures imagined and produced? Through what mechanisms do politicians gain popularity and charisma? What is political intimacy, and how is it created and maintained in different, social, cultural and linguistic arenas?

Research Projects

Lucia Michelutti is coordinating an international joint research programme entitled Democratic Cultures, funded by the European Research Council Starting Investigator Programme (2012-16) and the Economic and Social Research Council. The programme envisions new anthropological strategies to study ideas and practices of democracy and popular politics cross-culturally. We are currently investigating questions of leadership and charisma, cultures of elections and the relation between business cultures and democratic governance across South Asia in particular. Over the coming years, we aim to develop also comparative projects in Latin America, Middle East and Europe.

Alex Pillen is presently conducting long-term research in the Kurdish community of North London. The project addresses cultural and linguistic survival in the aftermath of genocidal politics, and was initiated during a Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2007-2009). The focal point for the study of this post-war society are the discourses on child and maternal health in the UK, as well as Kurdish regions in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Statelessness and guerilla warfare form the background to a study of pain, affective regimes, slander, and evidentiality in everyday negotiations about healthcare and human rights. Extensive experience of ethnographic work in war-torn societies made this research feasible (see previous work published within the Ethnography of Political Violence Series  at Pennsylvania University Press (2003), as well as Alex Pillen’s role as advisory panel member of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation for the Study of Human Violence, Dominance, and Aggression (2005-2009). The project also addresses Kurdish speaking audiences via satellite broadcasts, and this type of dissemination was funded by the UCL Public Engagement Unit.

Over the coming years, this project will be further developed in collaboration with LDC (Centre for Language, Discourse and Communication) at King’s College as it constitutes a component of a wider AHRC consortium bid (BGP2).

Martin Holbraad is presently preparing a major comparative research project on cosmologies of revolution, in association with the Cosmology, Religion, Ontology and Culture research cluster. Provisionally titled Securing the Self: The Political Autology of Revolution, the project builds on Holbraad’s previous research on socialist ethics and religion in Cuba (British Academy, 2004-06) and his on-going collaboration with the Centre for Advanced Security Theory, Copenhagen University, exploring the interface of anthropology and securitization theory in International Relations. The project provides a comparative ethnographic perspective on the emergence of new forms of revolutionary action and political organisation, and their relationship to cosmological dimensions of religious devotion and ascetic practice in different contemporary settings. Incorporating current CROC research students working ethnographically on political subjectivities and cosmologies in Latin America and the Middle East, the project aims to be recruiting Doctoral and Post-Doctoral researchers during 2013 and 2014. More information will be posted here as the project develops in coming months.

Students, Post-Docs, Associates

Nicolas Martin,
Anastasia Piviliasky
Piero di Giminniani
Julia Sauma
David Cooper
Dominic Esler
Ania Witeska
David Picherit
Paul Rollier


To be announced

Selected Publications

Holbraad, Martin & Morten A. Pedersen (eds.) 2013. Times of Security: Ethnographies of Fear, Protest and the Future. New York & London: Routledge

Holbraad, Martin & Morten A. Pedersen. 2012. Revolutionary securitization: an anthropological extension of securitization theory. International Theory 4(2): 165-197

Michelluti, Lucia. 2008. The Vernacularisation of Democracy: Politics, Caste and Religion in India. Delhi, London: Routledge

Argenti-Pillen, Alex. 2003. Masking Terror: How Women Contain Violence in Southern Sri Lanka. Philadelphia: Penn University Press

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