UCL Anthropology


Rebecca Williams


UCL Email: rebecca.williams.12@ucl.ac.uk
Year of Start: 2016
Supervisors: Dr Sahra Gibbon & Dr James Wilson (Philosophy)
Subject: Medical
Fieldsite: London

PhD Research

The limits of care: border implementation at the end of life

This research project considers how, in an era defined by emerging 'universal rights', undocumented migrants in the UK might be refused publicly funded end of life care and, therefore, actively denied their 'right' to die with dignity. Undertaking a wide scope of ethnography within the judicial system, ministerial departments of the UK Government, and with NHS trust senior staff and frontline healthcare workers, it addresses how this network of professionals contribute to end of life as experienced by undocumented migrants in the UK. In this I hope to principally uncover how harm endures. That is, how these actors make sense of their actions in the face of suffering so that this suffering not only continues but is justified. Drawing from the fields of geography, anthropology, philosophy and medicine this research uncovers how bodies both 'deserving' and 'underserving' of care are produced as it undertakes a critical phenomenology of the nation state on the ground. As well as novel observations and theoretical contributions to the academy, this doctoral research ultimately offers unique ethnographic insights into the lives, and deaths, of some of the most disenfranchised members of British society, who have no financial, legal or political status, who die alone and are buried nameless and whose stories have, so far, remained untold. By focusing on the professionals whose ideals, reasonings, and actions shape the last days of these individuals' lives, light is shed on the processes that keep these most vulnerable of members of society silent, nameless and forgotten.

Research Interests

  • Care
  • Bioethics
  • Citizen Rights and Social Entitlement
  • Structural Violence


Williams, R. S. 2016. Managing Bodies, Managing Persons: Post-mortem Care and the Role of the Nurse. The New Bioethics, A Multidisciplinary Journal of Biotechnology and the Body. 22(2):133-147. DOI:10.1080/20502877.2016.1194660

Presentations & Conferences

2016."Yes, I got a PhD, but these people died": anonymity and accountability in ethnography. Impact and its Discontents: Ethnography, Accountability and Activism, Manchester University
2015.On "Being the Problem": The Ontological Choreography of the Infertile Male Body Plasticity: Intrusions and Extrusions, UCL
2015. Conference Organiser. Risk and Power in Global Maternal Health, UCL

Teaching Experience

  • 2016-17: Death and Dying in Society, Theory and Practice, UCL Medical School
  • 2015-2016: Introduction to Material and Visual Culture, UCL Anthropology
  • 2014: 'Being Human' Summer School, UCL UniLink
  • 2012: Paediatric Palliative Care Course, Chernobyl Children's Project, Belarus

Education History

  • 2015-16: Masters of Research, UCL
  • 2012-2015: BSc Anthropology, UCL
  • 2011-2012: FdA Anthropology, Goldsmiths University
  • 2008-2010: Adult Nursing DipHE ≡ 120 credits, London South Bank University

Honours, Awards & Funding

  • 2016: Graduate Research Scholarships for Cross-disciplinary Training, UCL
  • 2016: Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy Award, UK Higher Education Academy
  • 2015: 1+3 Studentship, UK Economic and Social Research Council
  • 2015: Dean's List for academic excellence, UCL

Additional Information

After a decade of work in health care, specialising in palliative care services, I am now undertaking an ESRC funded PhD at UCL. Prior to this current project, I conducted research in health service community engagement, peer-led health initiatives, NHS referral process cost and patient experience, developing research skills and contributing to several published reports for a number of NGOs. In addition to this, I completed an 18-month consultancy contract with Imperial College, working alongside medical staff to document patient access, experience and cost. Within the academy, I have been involved in both student mentorship and representation, headed up several events and a multidisciplinary conference. The last year of my training has seen me undertake the equivalent of PG Diploma in the Philosophy, Politics and Economics of Health. I am currently involved in organising the research reading group 'Dirt, Excrement and Decay (DEAD)' who are holding a workshop in the department in November.