UCL Anthropology


Aaron Parkhurst

Aaron Parkhurst

Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 8641

Email: a.parkhurst@ucl.ac.uk

Lecturer in Medical Anthropology

2013 University College London, PhD in Medical Anthropology.
2006 University College London, MSc in Medical Anthropology.
2003 Brandeis University, BA Anthropology, BSc Biology.

Research Interests

My research focuses on the ways in which identity is constructed in the United Arab Emirates in the face of religion, rapid development, health systems, technology, and immigration. My PhD thesis, Genes and Djinn: Anxiety and Identity in Southeast Arabia, draws upon ethnographic data collected over three years in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to explore how foreign knowledge systems, specifically genetic models of inheritance, are incorporated into indigenous bodies of knowledge to reshape the ways in which local people see themselves in the world. Long held Gulf Arab conceptions of the self and body in relation to nature, spirits and foreigners are challenged by the promises of globalization and modernity. This conflict creates both personal and social anxiety for many local people as they attempt to consolidate desert and Islamic tradition with the ambiguity of new urban and social landscapes, creating a metaphor between Gene and Djinn. This thesis follows this conflict ethnographically through the rapid construction of a new aristocratic class of citizens in the country, and the ways in which some of them imagine their downfall. As people move through the desert, the coast and the rapidly growing cities, their quest for an elusive notion of modernity ricochets into local systems of destiny, cosmology, agency, body practices, and kinship, and the languages one uses to articulate the 'self' and world are transformed. The applied aspects of this work include thinking through ways to inform the development of novel health systems in cross-cultural urban landscapes that derive efficacy from understanding cultural and social constructs of well-being.

My emerging research in Europe follows men and women as they develop new techniques in self-described cyborg technology to pursue novel ways to 'be' in the world and move through urban and social landscapes. I am interested in the agency of things with which we partner our bodies in efforts to enlarge the ontological limits of the self. This project aims to address this issue of ontological enlargement, or what elsewise might be called enhancement, from within four distinct domains: A historical, comparative evaluation of how enhancement and augmentation has been constructed in traditional philosophical and religious systems of social relations and how emerging technologies both inform, and are informed by, the systems of religion and social relations in which humans embed themselves; The bioethical dilemmas of cascading fractillations of the 'better' body in terms of 'therapy' and 'enhancement', and how these categories of engagement are constructed ethnographically; The phenomenological aesthetics of cyborgian enhancement in situations of controlled synesthesia and hyper-normative sensory perception; and the perceived attainment of future-past perfection through non-medical bodily augmentation or control (following discourse on post / trans - humanism).

Courses Taught:

  • Anthropology of the Body (Lecturer)
  • End of the Body (SSC Lecturer)
  • Culture, Ethics and Religion in the Clinical Encounter(SSC lecturer)
  • Medical Anthropology (Tutor)
  • Anthropology and Psychiatry (Tutor)
  • Culture, Body, and the City (ISSU Lecturer) www.ucl.ac.uk/summerschool

Select Publications

2015 Whitened Anxiety: Bottled Identity in the Emirates. Chapter in When Things Do Wrong: A Material Culture of Failure. Ed. Aaron Parkhurst, David Jeevendrampillai, Timothy Carroll. Bloomsbury

2015 When Things Do Wrong: A Material Culture of Failure. Ed. Aaron Parkhurst, David Jeevendrampillai, Timothy Carroll. Bloomsbury - Co-edited volume

2014 UCL - Lancet Commission on Culture and Health. Co-Authored with David Napier et al. Volume 384, No. 9954, p1607-1639, 1 November 2014

2013 Becoming Cyborgian: Procrastinating the Singularity The New Bioethics Vol. 18 No. 1; Pp. 68-80. DOI: 10.1179/2050287713Z.0000000006

2013 Giving to give, and giving to receive: The construction of charity in Dubai. In 'Gulf Charities Today: Islamic Philanthropy in the "Age of Terror" and Beyond' Edited by Robert Lacey and Jonathan Benthall. Gerlach Press. Berlin.

2013 Guest Editorial The New Bioethics Vol. 18 No. 1; Pp. 2-3 DOI: 10.1179/2050287713Z.0000000008

2012 Aestheticyborgian www.bioethics.ac.uk/news/Aestheticyborgian.php

2011 The Defetishization of the Human Body www.bioethics.ac.uk/news/the-defetishization-of-the-human-body.php

2011 The certain scientist and the uncertain gene. Bionews 622, 26 August 2011 www.bionews.org.uk/page_104678.asp

2011 Becoming Bionic: Cybernetics, Transhumanism, and Social Inquiry www.bioethics.ac.uk/news/becoming-bionic-cybernetics-transhumanism-and-social-inquiry.php

Papers, Organised Conferences and Presentations:

2014 Reclaiming humanity: a return to nature through the cyborgian body.
Paper given at the ASA14 Decennial Conference 21 June 2014
Co-Organised Panel with Timothy Carroll: Being, Being Human, Becoming Beyond Human

2013 'Bottled Selves: The Failures of Skin Bleaching in the UAE' Paper given at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting, Chicago, 22 November.
Panel: When Things Do Wrong: The Material Culture of Failure

2013 'Ethnography and Bioethics: A case study from Dubai'
Paper given at the 21st Century Body 'reloaded' Symposium, University College London, 8 November

2013 Informal health systems of North London: Hidden voices in Haringey
Paper given for LabUK workshop at UCL, Dept Anthropology, 11 September.

2013 'The Arab Djinome and the genes of the West'
Paper presented at 'Well-being at the margins', Freie Universitat Berlin, 22-27 July

2013 'Bottled Identity: Skin whitening practices in the United Arab Emirates'
Paper Given at 'Beyond Biosocialities Conference' University of Amsterdam, 16 January

2012 'Shifting scales and becoming Cyborgian: Procrastinating the singularity!'
Paper given at the Senior Medical Seminar Series, University College London, 25 October

2012 'Becoming Cyborgian: Shifting Scales' Paper given at the 'Moving Scales and Scales of Movement: Cosmologies of Borders and Crossings' workshop, UCL, 12-13 June.

2012 'Cyborgian Technique: How Scales Transform and Connect Us'
Paper given at the 21st Century Body Symposium, University College London, 18 May

2011 'Genes and Djinni in the Arabian Gulf: 'Islamic Fatalism' in Everyday Life'
Paper given at the Senior Medical Seminar Series, University College London, 13 October