UCL Anthropology


Lydia Gibson

Lydia Gibson

UCL Email: lydia.gibson.14@ucl.ac.uk
Websites: www.whatiswild.comwww.countermappingcockpit.com
Year of start: 2016
Supervisors: Katherine Homewood, Hannah Knox
Subject: Social Anthropology (although at this point it’s definitely Biological Anthropology)
Fieldsite: Cockpit Country, Jamaica

PhD Research

Where the Endangered Things Are: parrots, power, and the value of knowledge in conservation spaces

Cockpit Country is a wet limestone forest on the plateau of west-central Jamaica that, though little-understood and often overlooked, has been of biological, cultural, and political importance in the nation’s history. Its rich ecosystem is home to many threatened and endemic animal and plant species. Its dense, inhospitable hills became home to the Accompong Maroons almost four centuries ago and their extensive forest knowledge allowed them to successfully defend against British recapture during the transatlantic slave trade. However, yesterday’s stronghold is swiftly becoming today’s prison as a reinvigorated “conservation turn” has set the western gaze upon this community once again.

The current conservation landscape surrounding Cockpit Country is mired with distrust and diverging priorities. The politically, geographically, and culturally isolated nature of the region and the increasing disengagement by each of the conservation stakeholders exacerbates knowledge gaps, compounds errors in scientific data, and provides fodder for mismanagement. Anthropologists have been critical of conservation’s inherent inequity as colonial corridors are traversed once more to hamper, rather than impose, modernisation and demand from the global south what is rarely asked of western society. So too have they been critical of the praxis of conservation science as traditional knowledge forms are undermined, or simply dismissed, in favour of top-down, “evidence-based” approaches. Conservation scientists have been critical of anthropologists’ lofty stance (particularly given the discipline’s own colonial past) and a shared failure to also engage with the subject of their research. As these debates widen and calls for interdisciplinarity amplify, distinctions both between actors in physical conservation spaces and academics within analytical spaces are further consolidated. Do practices of knowledge-sharing and non-sharing reinforce these distinctions and, in turn, the shared identities and modes of being between conservation actors?

This thesis explores the production and circulation of knowledge – not as the act of learning, or the collection of experiences, but as an object. Tracing an object through various stages of production, circulation, and consumption, has allowed anthropologists to expound not only the processes themselves but the actors and spaces through and in which such processes occur as well as how the item and its meaning is transformed. On the one hand, this thesis seeks to understand the customary practice of parrot hunting and the impact of this knowledge – one of the few remaining specialist forms of Maroon knowledge and the only activity that occurs in the forest core – on the maintenance, performance and construction of Maroon identity. On the other, this thesis examines the creation of scientific data in the IUCN Red Listing process (that determines extinction risk) by observing how conservation priorities are determined by local conservation researchers, how parrot population data is collected, how it is assessed by the IUCN, and how the assignment of a threatened category transforms conservation spaces.

Research Interests

  • Indigenous Knowledge
  • Conservation
  • Natural History
  • STS
  • Species distribution
  • Cultural Heritage


  • In preparation: Gibson, L., Bycatch of the Day: wild meat consumption among Maroon parrot hunters in Jamaica. Special Issue of Journal of Ethnobiology (Issue 3, 2020): Wild Meat in Changing Times.
  • In preparation/commissioned: Gibson, L. Indigenmentality: Governing, subject-making, and conservation in Cockpit Country, Jamaica. in Bredlied, A., Krovel, R. Indigenous Knowledge. Routledge.
  • In preparation/commissioned: Gibson, L., Deception in the Field in Spector, B. and Procter, C. The New Ethnographer. Cambridge University Press.

Presentations & Conferences

  • December 2019: British Ecological Society Annual Conference – Workshop Organiser and Convenor. Workshop Title: Indigenous Knowledge – What is it, where do I find it, and how do I use it?
  • September 2018: Association of Social Anthropologists (ASA) 2018 Annual Conference – Panel organiser and speaker. Panel title: “The construction of conservation narratives and indigenous imaginings”. Discussants: Sarah Durant (ZSL) and Amy Dickman (WILDCRU). Paper title: “The Makings of a Crisis: how conceptualisations of nature, knowledge, and indigeneity impact conservation science in the Caribbean”
  • June 2018: POLLEN (Political Ecology Network) Biennial Conference – Panel Speaker. Presentation title: “Co-opting identities, dismissing knowledge: the (mis)use of Maroon indigenous identity in conservation efforts around Cockpit Country, Jamaica”

Teaching Experience

  • Qualified Teacher Status (PGCE)
  • Postgraduate Teaching Assistant: Introduction to Biological Anthropology (Spring Term 2019)
  • Course Convenor: Widening Participation Summer Challenge 2019 - Anthropology

Education History

  • UCL: MSc Social Anthropology
  • UCL: MA Sociology of Childhood
  • University of Bristol: BSc Maths and Biology

Honours, Awards & Funding

  • Auckland Zoo Conservation Grant
  • National Geographic conservation research grant: Countermapping Cockpit project
  • Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust award
  • British Ecological Society: Capturing Ecology photography competition 2018 – Student winner of People and Nature category
  • UCL Centre for Critical Heritage Studies Fund
  • Royal Anthropological Institute – Emslie Horniman Award
  • Royal Geographical Society – Frederick Soddy Award

Additional Information

  • National Geographic Explorer
  • Wildlife Photographer
  • Python user
  • Infographic-maker