UCL Anthropology


Rebecca Empson

Rebecca Empsom

Professor of Anthropology

Head of Social Anthropology

Director of Research

I am an anthropologist who grew up in a multi-lingual household in West London and received a Froebel education. After art school, I studied anthropology at the LSE (1994-1997) and went onto a PhD with Prof. Caroline Humphrey at the University of Cambridge (1998-2003), where I held three consecutive postdoctoral positions (funded by the British Academy and the Leverhulme Foundation), before joining UCL Anthropology in 2009. 

At UCL I have had the privilege of working with many brilliant students, teaching different courses, including the anthropology of capitalisms course which I developed in 2016. I recently held a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidatory Grant tracking the ‘emerging subjects’ of Mongolia’s extractive mineral economy, bringing together a diverse group of scholars, artists, activists and practitioners in fieldwork, in writing, in collaborative art work, and in different kinds of public debate, including my Malinowski Lecture in 2014. Together we explored the multiple forms of dispossession and care that emerged out of this economy, and produced several monographs , edited volumes, blogs and articles, exhibitions, and a catalogue / book nominated for an award by the White Cube Gallery. My future research (with Martin Demant Frederiksen and others) explores the political communities that are formed through interactions with the Baltic Sea, the most polluted sea in Europe. Like the mega-mines of the Gobi Desert, the Baltic Sea is a site of political and environmental negotiation, raising questions about the reach of nations, their visceral affects and reverberations, and the communities that arise out of claims of enviro-political crisis.

I have written two monographs Harnessing Fortune (OUP 2011) and Life in the Gap (UCL 2020), the most recent of which has been reviewed here and here and here. I have published in several forums outside Academia (2018), as well as articles and chapters (see, 2019, 2017, 2014, 2007, 2006), and different edited volumes (2006). See my IRIS and Academia.edu page for more details. I am the Book Series Editor for Economic Exposure in Asia, at UCL & the University of Chicago Press, Editorial Board Member for the journal Think Pieces at the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, Advisory Board Member of the Berlin Graduate School of Muslim Cultures and Societies, and an Advisory Board Member of the Energy Assemblages project on the lithium industry, at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. I am a Steering Group Committee Member of the UCL Collaborative Social Science Domain, an Affiliate Member of the UCL Centre for the Study of Capitalism, an Associate Member for the Centre for Migration & Diaspora Studies, at SOAS, and a Research Associate at the Mongolia & Inner Asia Studies Unit, University of Cambridge.

Questions regarding William Empson, my paternal grandfather, should be directed to Mogador Empson.

PhD Students – past and present

  • 2023 Zewei Zhang
  • 2022 Amandas Ong (funded by the Mary Douglas Scholarship)
  • 2019 Hui Lok Hang (Japan Foundation)
  • 2019 Liz Fox (funded by ESRC)
  • 2019 Tobia Franetti (funded by ESRC)
  • 2018 Hedwig Waters (funded ERC)
  • 2017 Charles Beach 2017 (funded by ESRC)
  • 2016 Joseph Bristley (funded by ESRC)
  • 2013 Tom McDonald (funded by ESRC)
  • 2013 Aude Michelet (LSE)
  • 2014 Alexandra Antohin
  • 2012 Alice Elliot (funded by ESRC)
  • 2012 Alison MacDonald (funded by ESRC)
  • 2012 Catalina Tesar (funded by Wenner Gren)