Current Issue

Facebook Icon  Twitter Icon  YouTube Icon

Recent Books

Martin Holbraad and Allen Abramson - Framing Cosmologies

Martin Holbraad - Times of Security



Theatre of Exile - edited by Martin Holbraad

There are many highly respectable motives which may lead men to prosecute research, but three which are much more important than the rest. The first (without which the rest must come to nothing) is intellectual curiosity, desire to know the truth. Then, professional pride, anxiety to be satisfied with one's performance, the shame that overcomes any self-respecting craftsman when his work is unworthy of his talent. Finally, ambition, desire for reputation, and the position, even the power or the money, which it brings. It may be fine to feel, when you have done your work, that you have added to the happiness or alleviated the suffering of others, but that will not be why you did it. So if a mathematician, or a chemist, or even a physiologist, were to tell me that the driving force in his work had been the desire to benefit humanity, then I should not believe him (nor should I think the better of him if I did). His dominant motives have been those which I have stated, and in which, surely, there is nothing of which any decent man need be ashamed.

G. H. Hardy, A Mathematician's Apology, CUP, 1940

Martin Holbraad

Martin Holbraad

Tel:  +44 (0)20 7679 8639

Fax: +44 (0)20 7679 8632


: 139

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

Professor of Social Anthropology

Selected papers available for download

NB: Unless the paper is already freely available on the internet, the links presented here are to author's proofs which may not be identical to the published version. To cite correctly, and where necessary, please refer to the published version of the paper in question

2014: Revolución o muerte: the political ontology of Cuban revolution. Ethnos 79(3): 365-387
2014: How Things Can Unsettle. Pp. 228-237 in Casella E, Harvey P, Evans G, Knox H, McLean C, Silva E, Thoburn N, Woodward, K. (eds), Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion. London: Routledge

2014: The Politics of Ontology: Anthropological Positions (with M.A. Pedersen & E Viveiros de Castro). Cultural Anthropology blogspot on Theorizing the Contemporary

2013: Introduction: Times of security (with Morten A. Pedersen). Pp. 1-27 in M. Holbraad & M.A. Pedersen (eds.) Times of Security: Ethnographies of Fear, Protest and the Future. New York: Routledge.

2013: Scoping recursivity: A comment on Franklin and Napier. Cambridge Anthropology 31(2): 123-127

2013: Moralidad y obligación en los sistemas de adivinación del Ifá cubano. Caminos: Revista Cubana de Penamiento Socioteológico 68/69: 48-53

2013: Things as concepts: Anthropology and pragmatology. Pp 17-30 in G. Pereira (ed.), Savage Objects. Guimaraes: INCM

2012: Revolutionary securitization: an anthropological extension of securitization theory. International Theory 4(2): 165-197

2012: Truth beyond doubt: Ifá oracles in Havana. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2(1): 81-110

2012: “Worlds otherwise:” archaeology, anthropology and ontological difference. ‘CA Forum in Anthropological Theory’ with B. Alberti, S. Fowles, Y. Marshall, C Witmore. Current Anthropology 52(6): 896-912

2012: Contemporary cosmologies, critical re-imaginings (with A. Abramson). Religion and Society (Advances in Research) 3: 35-50

2011: Can the thing speak? OAP Press, Working Paper Series #7

2010: Ontology is just another word for culture: against the motion. Debate & Discussion (from GDAT 2008, S. Venkatesan (ed.)). Critique of Anthropology 30(2): 179-185, 185-200 passim

2011: Dinheiro e necessidades no “period Especial’ de Havana [Portuguese version of ‘Money and need in “Special Period” Havana’]. Pp. 367-394 in Olívia Maria Gomez da Cunha (ed.) Outras Ilhas: Espaços, Temporalidades e Transformações em Cuba, Rio de Janeiro: Aeroplano Editora Link to version in English

2010: The whole beyond holism: gambling, divination and ethnography in Cuba. Pp. 67-86 in N. Bubandt & T. Otto (eds.) Experiments in Holism: Theory and Practice in  Contemporary Anthropology, Malden & Oxford: Riley-Blackwell

2010: Of ises and oughts: an endnote on divinatory obligation. Pp 265-274 in P. Curry (ed.) Divination: Perspectives for a New Millennium, Farnham: Ashgate 

2009: Technologies of the imagination: An introduction (with D. Sneath and M.A. Pedersen). Special Issue on Technologies of the Imagination, M. Holbraad & M.A. Pedersen (eds.), Ethnos 74(1): 5-30

2009: (with M.A. Pedersen) Planet M: the intense abstraction of Marilyn Strathern. Anthropological Theory 9(4): 371-94

2009: Ontology, ethnography, archaeology: an afterword on the ontography of things. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19(3): 431-441

2008: Definitive evidence, from Cuban gods. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (Special Issue /Objects of Evidence/, M. Engelke (ed.)), S93-S109//

2008: Relationships in motion:* *oracular recruitment and ontological definition in Cuban Ifá cults. Cahiers Systèmes de Pensée en Afrique Noire 18: 219-264 

2007: Introduction: Thinking through things (with A. Henare and S. Wastell).  Pp 1-31 in A. Henare, M. Holbraad & S. Wastell (eds.) Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically, London: Routledge.

2007: (with R. Willerslev) Transcendental perspectivism: anonymous viewpoints from Inner Asia. (Afterword to Special Issue on Inner Asian Perspectivisms’), Inner Asia 9(2): 329-345

2007: The power of powder: multiplicity and motion in the divinatory cosmology of Cuban Ifá (or /mana/ again). Pp189-225 in A. Henare, M. Holbraad & S. Wastell (eds.) Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically, London: Routledge. LINK TO ABRIDGED VERSION, published in /Bedeutung/ 3: 42-56

2005: Expending multiplicity: money in Cuban Ifá cults. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 11(2): 231-54

2004: Religious “speculation”: the rise of Ifá cults and consumption in post-Soviet Havana. Journal of Latin American Studies 36(4): 1-21

2003: Estimando a necessidade: os oráculos de ifá e a verdade em Havana. Mana 9(2): 39-77

Further items available for download

Translation (from Portuguese to English, with J. Sauma) of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s The relative native. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3 (3): 469–71

Book blurb for Portuguese translation of Roy Wagner’s The Invention of Culture. A Invençâo da Cultura, Sao Paulo: Cosacnaify

Raising the anti-, or relativism squared (Response to Barbara Herrnstein-Smith). Common Knowledge 17(1): 31-36

Response to Webb Keane’s review of Thinking Through Things

Response to Danny Miller’s review of Thinking Through Things

Response to Bruno Latour’s ‘Thou shall not Freeze-Frame’

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. His roles within UCL Anthropology have included acting as Chair of the Research Committee (2006-14), 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. 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.’

At present, together with Morten Axel Pedersen, Holbraad is writing a book provisionally titled The Ontological Turn: An Anthropological Exposition. Due to appear in 2016 with Cambridge University Press, the book 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.  

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.

[image reference is broken]

Full list of Publications


Martin Holbraad teaches courses in ethnography and anthropological theory at undergraduate and Masters’ level. In recent years these have included a course on Alterity and Experiment in Anthropological Thinking, as well as on Cosmos, Society and the Political Imagination (co-taught with Allen Abramson and Bruce Kapferer).


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:

  • 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)
  • Belkais Rouached (2008, divination in Iran, Aga Khan studentship)

He is co-supervisor to:

He is second supervisor to:

Completed Doctoral Students:

  • 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)

Bookmark and Share

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