UCL Anthropology


Martin Holbraad

Professor of Social Anthropology

Martin Holbraad

Tel:  +44 (0)20 7679 8639

Fax: +44 (0)20 7679 8632


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Martin Holbraad is on research leave from September 2014 until August 2019

Selected papers available for download

Video and audio clips of interviews and presentations


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. In UCL Anthropology he is Chair of the Research Committee, and has been 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 of Cosmos.


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, and co-author of The Ontological Turn: An Anthropological Exposition (Cambridge, 2016), which 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. 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'. Since 2016, Holbraad has been Editor of the international anthropological journal Social Analysis.

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 courses on Alterity and Experiment in Anthropological Thinking; Cosmos, Society and the Political Imagination (co-taught with Allen Abramson and Bruce Kapferer); and The Social Forms of Revolution (co-taught with Igor Cherstich and Nico Tassi).


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:

  • Alonso Rodrigo Zamora Corona (2016, ritual and timekeeping among the K'iche' Maya, CONACYT)
  • 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)

He is co-supervisor to:

  • Viorel Anastasoaie (2006, work, knowledge and value among tobacco growers in Cuba, Marie Curie)

He is second supervisor to:

  • Johanna Perez Gomez (2015, paramilitary violence and witchcraft in Colombia, ESRC)
  • Joseph Bristley (2012, 'Animal economics': religion, livestock, and capitalism in post-socialist Mongolia, ESRC)
  • Razvan Dumitru (2006, regulating markets in Moldova, Marie Curie)

Completed Doctoral Students:

  • Ana Carolina Barreto Balthazar (The character of things: materiality and belonging in Margate, UK, awarded 2016).
  • 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)