UCL Anthropology


Tess Altman


UCL Email: tessa.altman.14@ucl.ac.uk
Websites: https://ucl.academia.edu/TessAltman
Year of start: 2015
SupervisorsDr Ruth Mandel, Dr Kimberly ChongProfessor David Napier, Professor Ghassan Hage (University of Melbourne)
Subject: Social Anthropology
Fieldsite: Australia

PhD Research 

The unfair go: Fairness, neighbourliness and humanitarianism among volunteers supporting people seeking asylum in Australia (working title)

Since the implementation of restrictive deterrence-based policy measures for people seeking asylum coming to Australia by boat, around 30,000 people seeking asylum have been living in the Australian community on bridging visas waiting for their protection claims to be assessed. These visas grant a small government stipend less than a welfare benefit and often no right to work or study. Subject to precarity and often in enforced poverty, many people in this situation rely on NGOs and volunteers as well as their own informal networks to make ends meet.

My research is based on 16 months' fieldwork in Melbourne with NGOs and volunteers working in support of people seeking asylum in Australia. I aim to explore how volunteers negotiated and practiced local notions of fairness, neighbourliness and humanitarianism through their interactions with people seeking asylum and each other. Key examples include an NGO campaign before the 2016 federal election, a foodbank, and furniture delivery to people seeking asylum. In response to what was perceived as an unfair Australian policy climate, a main goal for these NGOs and volunteers was to prefigure fairness by imagining and enacting alternatives.

Research Interests

  • Anthropology of humanitarianism
  • Anthropology of fairness and social justice
  • Anthropology of social movements
  • Anthropology of neoliberalism
  • Political anthropology

Publications (selected)

2017. Altman, T. Who volunteers for people seeking asylum? Findings from a survey of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre's volunteers. Published at http://refugeeresearchblog.org/who-volunteers-for-people-seeking-asylum-findings-from-a-survey-of-the-asylum-seeker-resource-centres-volunteers/
2017. Altman, T. UCL Changemakers update: PhD retreat to Wales. Anthropolitan.
2016. Altman, T. Volunteers at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Report for ASRC. 
2015. Altman, T. Review of Symbiotic Anthropologies ASA conference. Anthropology Today.
2014. Altman, T. and Shore, C. Paradoxes of public diplomacy: Ethnographic perspectives on the European Union delegations in the Antipodes. The Australian Journal of Anthropology (also published 2 book chapters).
2013. Altman, T. The new voluntarism. Arena Magazine.
2013. Altman, T. and Shore, C. Privatizing welfare. Changing the face of social protection and democracy in Europe. Book chapter in The changing welfare state in Europe: Implications for democracy. Eds. D. Mayes and A. Michalski.
2013. Altman, T. and Patel, A. Redfern Now: Indigenous accountability, hopeful realism and intervention. Lifted Brow magazine.
2013.  The state of volunteering in the ACT report. Produced for Volunteering ACT, Canberra.

Presentations & Conferences

2018. Altman, T. The humanitarian imagination: Socialities and materialities of voluntarism. Panel organiser with Katerina Rozakou (University of Amsterdam). Association of Social Anthropologists of UK and Commonwealth, Oxford Brookes.
2018. Altman, T.  Refugee temporalities and the ethnographic method. Panel organiser with Victoria Tecca and Ioanna Manoussaki-Adamopoulou. UCL Anthropology. 
2017. Altman, T.  There's no time like the present: Responses of volunteers to the enduring humanitarian crisis of asylum seekers in Australia. American Anthropological Association Conference, Washington DC.
2016. Altman, T. and Demetriou, F. Findings and recommendations of volunteer survey. Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Melbourne.
2015. Altman, T. 'No Way. You will not make Australia home': The moral and political paradoxes of NGOs and volunteers providing services to asylum seekers in Melbourne. Australian Anthropological Society Conference, University of Melbourne.
2015. Altman, T. Logics of humanitarianism & notions of citizenship among volunteers working with asylum seekers in Melbourne. Researchers for Asylum Seekers Conference, University of Melbourne. 
2015. Altman, T. Righteous citizens: The new voluntarism in the neoliberal welfare landscape. Association of Social Anthropologists of UK and Commonwealth, Exeter.
2014. Altman, T. and Blacka, R. Findings of the state of volunteering in the ACT report. Volunteering ACT Research Forum, Canberra.
2013. Altman, T. and Shore, C. The paradoxes of public diplomacy in the Antipodes. EUCN Conference, Canberra.
2013. Altman, T. Helping and feeling helpless: Making disjunctive citizens through European Voluntary Service. ASAANZ Conference, Raglan.
2010. Altman, T. and Shore, C.  Social welfare in the EU. Public Seminar, University of Auckland.
2009. Altman, T. "In the name of the common good?": Anti-graffiti volunteers and community policing in New Zealand. ASAANZ Conference, Picton.

Teaching Experience

  • 2018. Sessional Lecturer. Urban Anthropology. Lawrence University, London Campus.
  • 2013. Sessional Academic (Lecturer, Convenor, Tutor). Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra. Lecturer and Convenor for Social Research Methods, Honours level, Graduate Teaching Assistant for Cultures and Diversity, Undergraduate level.
  • 2010. Guest Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, Australian National University.
  • 2009-10 Graduate Teaching Assistant, Co-Convenor, Department of Anthropology, University of Auckland. Undergraduate units taught: Politics and Culture, Theoretical Perspectives on Society and Culture, Issues in New Zealand Ethnography.

Education History

  • PhD Candidate in Social Anthropology - University College London, 2015-2018.
  • Visiting Scholar, University of Melbourne, 2015-16. Host supervisor: Prof Ghassan Hage.
  • Master of Arts in Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology (cum laude) - University of Leiden, 2011-2012.
  • Honours (equivalent of UK MA) in Social Anthropology (A+) - University of Auckland, 2008-2009.
  • Bachelor of Arts majoring in Anthropology and Development (high distinction) - Australian National University, 2005-2007. 


  • UCL Changemakers Grant, 2017.
  • Graduate Research Scholarship and Overseas Research Scholarship, UCL, 2015-2018.
  • Speckmann Prize for best Master thesis, University of Leiden, 2013.
  • Huygens Scholarship for Masters study, Dutch Government, 2011-2012.
  • Faculty of Arts Honours Scholarship, University of Auckland, 2008.
  • Senior Prize in Anthropology, University of Auckland, 2007.
  • Stanner Prize in Indigenous Studies, ANU, 2006.

 Additional Information

  • Organiser of UCL Anthropology Reading Group, Political and Moral Economies of Voluntarism (https://www.facebook.com/groups/209776096266936/), 2018.
  • Postgraduate Student Representative, UCL, 2017-18.
  • Lead Organiser for UCL Changemakers Grant, 2017. Entitled "Promoting a strengths-based approach: The PhD cohort as post-fieldwork reintegration tool". Key outputs include PhD retreat to Wales, Pre-fieldwork panel discussion, blog posts and recommendations report.
  • Co-convenor for Group Thesis Writing Sessions, UCL, 2017.
  • Research consultant for various NGOs and peak bodies, Australia. 2016, 2013. 
  • Assistant Director and Policy Officer, Australian Government. 2013-14. Area of expertise: multicultural policy and social cohesion.
  • Social Inclusion Programs Officer, Red Cross, Melbourne. 2011.
  • International Student Advisor, Auckland University of Technology. 2010.
  • Research Assistant, Europe Institute, University of Auckland. 2008-10.