UCL Anthropology


Alice Rudge

Alice Rudge - UCL Anthropology

Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow



I am a social anthropologist working at the intersection of language, science, and environmental politics. I am interested in how issues of environmental change are made material through everyday practices of care and maintenance, and I explore this question by triangulating research into Indigenous knowledge, more-than-human colonial histories, and speculative, future-oriented scientific practice and planning.

Batek and environmental change

Since 2014 I have been conducting ethnographic fieldwork among Batek hunter-gatherers in Peninsular Malaysia. I have been interested in questions of how differences and similarities are made and transformed through people’s everyday lives as they experience ecological and social change. My book on this topic Sensing Others: Voicing Batek Ethical Lives at the Edge of a Malaysian Rainforest is forthcoming (2023) with University of Nebraska Press.

My current Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship investigates how environmental transformation might cause Batek people to speak about plants in new ways. Through exploring how people express ethical dilemmas surrounding plant personhood, I ask broader questions surrounding how humans might be reimagining plants in contexts of plantation agriculture. Concurrently, I hold a grant from the British Museum’s Endangered Material Knowledge Programme, for a fieldwork project entitled ‘Material Culture of Batek Hunter-Gatherers in Pahang State, Malaysia’. This project documents the sensory experiences involved in Batek weaving practices, and will allow me to examine how certain plants become intertwined with notions of identity and ethics.

In collaboration with Noa Lavi (UCL) and Graeme Warren (UCD), I am also examining the figure of the hunter-gatherer in social and economic thought within the UK and Ireland. We are interested in challenging damaging perceptions of hunter-gatherers as antithesis and antidote to modern crises in popular debates, particularly as they occur in discourses on rewilding.

The Oil Palm

I work on tracing the moral lives of the African oil palm across time and space. I have conducted archival research at Kew Gardens, where I am interested in early colonial notions of ‘care’ for both oil palms and people, and how these linked with desires for control and colonization that were materialized through scientific and technical practices. In particular, I am interested in documenting the afterlives of these discourses in current public and scientific narratives on sustainability and environmntal change in relation to the oil palm.

Anthropocene Substitutions

In collaboration with Véra Ehrenstein (CNRS), I co-lead the project Anthropocene Substitutions. We are interested in how the language of climate change and sustainability are prompting scientists to reconfigure their work in new ways so as to create sustainable substitutes for our everyday materials. We have been conducting ethnographic research and interviews with leading synthetic biologists, biotechnologists, and metabolic engineers in order to understand how the micro-practices of scientific research into microbial cell metabolisms are related to sustainable development goals, national and international funding landscapes, industry investment, and political willpower. This allows us to ask questions regarding how sustainable futures are being envisaged through the metabolisms of microorganisms.

Research Interests

  • environmental anthropology
  • Indigeneity
  • linguistic anthropology
  • ethics and aesthetics
  • multispecies relationships
  • plantation agriculture and colonial Malaya
  • sensory ethnography
  • science and technology studies


Southeast Asia, Malaysia, UK


Rudge, A. 2023 [in press]. Sensing Others: Voicing Batek ethical lives at the edge of a Malaysian rainforest. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.

Peer Reviewed Articles

Lavi, N., Rudge, A., Warren, G. 2023 [in press]. Rewild your inner hunter-gatherer: How an idea about our ancestral condition is recruited into popular debate in Britain and Ireland. Current Anthropology. [preprint available].

Rudge, A & Ehrenstein, V. 2023 [in press]. From fossilised life to cell factories: Microbes, bio-waste and the logic of substitution in the petroeconomy. Review of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Studies.

Rudge, A. 2022. Cultivating ‘care’: colonial botany and the moral lives of oil palm at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Comparative Studies in Society and History. 64(4), pp.878-909.

Rudge, A. 2021. Hidden Likeness: Iconicity and Avoidance in BatekJournal of Linguistic Anthropology 31(1), pp. 4-24.

Rudge, A. 2019. Laughing when you shouldn’t: Being “good” among the Batek of Peninsular MalaysiaAmerican Ethnologist 46(3), pp. 290-301.

Rudge, A. 2019. The sounds of people and birds: Music, memory, and longing among Batek people of Pahang State, Malaysia. Hunter Gatherer Research 4(1), pp. 3-23.

Rudge, A. 2019. Flexibility and egalitarianism: Musical insights from hunter-gatherers. Ethnomusicology Forum 28(2), pp. 163-183.

Endicott, K.M., Lye, T.P., Zahari, N., Rudge, A. 2016. Batek playing Batek for tourists at Peninsular Malaysia’s National Park. Hunter Gatherer Research, 2(1), pp. 97-121.

Online Essays

Rudge, A. ‘Cultivating Care: How Narratives of Care were used in Colonial Experiments with Palm Oil’. China Dialogue, 3 Jan 2023.

Rudge, A. & Vaugn, S. ‘Engineering Ecology with Alice Rudge and Sarah Vaughn’. Comparative Studies in Society and History Under the Rubric, 14 Dec 2022.

Rudge, A. ‘Book review: Haiven, M. 2022. Palm oil: The grease of empire. London: Pluto Press’. New Mandala, 4 July 2022.

Rudge, A. ‘Different senses: How Batek people live with plants in the Malaysian rainforest’. The Ethnobotanical Assembly, 21 June 2021.

Rudge, A. & Ehrenstein, V. ‘Dreams of purity: Improved palms, refined oils, and ethical consumption’. Society and Space Magazine, 12 April 2021.

Rudge, A. ‘Thinking beyond the “wild” pandemic’. Edge Effects, 25 March 2021.

Rudge, A. ‘Don’t make me laugh: How getting it wrong shapes interspecies entanglements in the Batek’s forest’. Allegra Lab, 1 October 2020.

Rudge, A. ‘Time to ditch the harmful myth of the ‘noble’ hunter-gatherer’. The Guardian, 2 December 2019.

Rudge, A. ‘Why we laugh when we know it’s wrong’. The Conversation, 23 August 2019.

Rudge, A. ‘Whistling to the bujɔk: Batek fishing techniques’. British Library Sound and Vision Blog, 18 September 2019.

Rudge, A. ‘Listening to mammals with the Batek’. British Library Sound and Vision Blog, 13 September 2018.