UCL Anthropology

Dr Jo Cook

Dr Jo Cook

Reader in Anthropology

Dept of Anthropology

Faculty of S&HS

Joined UCL
1st Nov 2012

Research summary

Jo’s research in Thailand and the UK focuses on meditation practice and why it matters to people. 


Her work in Thailand examines meditation as a monastic practice, exploring the lives of Buddhist monks and nuns who practice and teach Burmese Vipassana. This work is an anthropological account of the motivation and experience of renouncers, the meaning of ascetic practices and monastic duties, and the effects that meditative practices have on individuals, gender hierarchy, and community organization in the monastery. 


Her research in the UK explores the introduction of meditation techniques into mental healthcare. Working with practitioners, therapists, politicians and advocates, Jo explores how meditation has been incorporated into understandings of the mind, flourishing and preventative healthcare. Taking political and public interest in mindfulness as its ethnographic focus, this work analyses practices of ethics, well-being and self-cultivation that crosscut emerging forms of governance in contemporary British society.  


Jo is the author of Meditation in Modern Buddhism: Renunciation and change in Thai monastic life (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and the co-editor of The State We’re In: Reflecting on democracy’s troubles (Berghan Books, 2016), Detachment: Essays on the limits of relational thinking (Manchester University Press, 2015) and Southeast Asian Perspectives on Power (Routledge, 2012).



Teaching summary

Jo has convened undergraduate and postgraduate Medical Anthropology programmes. She lectures on: Medical Anthropology, Anthropology of Southeast Asia, Anthropology of the UK, Anthropology of Ethics, Anthropology of Religion, Anthropological Methods.


PhD Supervision: 

Ben Theobald (2019-present) Monastic Pedagogy in Thailand

Rebecca Williams (2015 – present) Decision-making at principal junctures in palliative care: an ethnographic analysis.

Jessica Jennings (2015 – 2019) Reiki in London: The Vibrant Individual

Ignacia Arteaga Perez (2015 – 2018) The care in the network: everyday experiences of colorectal cancer treatments in London. 

Kakanang Yavaprabhas (2014 – 2018) Bhikkhuni in Thailand: When women wear the yellow robes.

Caroline Ackley (2013 – 2017) Negotiations of intimacy and morality in Hargeysa, Somaliland.


Jo is a Reader in Medical Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at UCL. She received her PhD in Anthropology from Cambridge University in 2006. 


Before joining UCL, Jo was College Lecturer and Director of Studies in Anthropology at Pembroke College, Cambridge. She then became The George Kingsley Roth Research Fellow in Southeast Asian Studies at Christ’s College, Cambridge, before taking up a Lectureship in Anthropology at Goldsmiths College, London. 


Jo has been an Academic Associate at The College of Religious Studies, Mahidol University, has held a Visiting Senior Fellowship at The National University of Singapore, and has been a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University. She was awarded a British Academy Senior Research Fellowship, 2016-17.