UCL Anthropology



With generous support from the Department of Anthropology and Grand Challenges at UCL we have run a series of events on joy. 

Upcoming events


30th May: Impassioned Times: a workshop on emotions

Convenors: Dr Carol Balthazar & Dr Jo Cook 
Department of Anthropology, UCL

Despite feminist and anthropological critique, the Western history of progress has continued to be narrated as the triumph of reason over emotions. But current times seem to challenge this idea. Between the anxiety of younger generations regarding climate change or the anger of older populations in politics, different forms of emotional expression invade public spheres around the globe. Within academia and beyond, there is growing attention to how visceral (e)motions spill beyond the private domain to shape collective exchanges and inform social transformation. Picking up on the current public significance of the topic, the proposed workshop brings together the growing community of anthropologists interested in emotions. The aim of the workshop is to provide a space for the discussion of the methodological and conceptual challenges and opportunities for the study of emotions from an anthropological perspective.

To sign up for this event please email Jo Cook


5th June 2024: Cultures of Euphoria Networking Meeting

Convenors: Dr Joanna Cook & Prof Tanya Luhrmann
Department of Anthropology, UCL & online

The Cultures of Euphoria Networking Meeting will provide a one-day workshop for anthropologists and psychologists to interrogate the relationship between joy, mental health, and well-being through ethnographic case studies in cross-cultural perspective. 

Focusing on joy has important implications for how we think about mental health. Rather than concentrating on social problems and pathologies, an analytic and ethnographic focus on joy enables us to interrogate what it means to live well with others. This is important because, by taking seriously those joyous experiences that affirm people’s place in the world and connection to others, we can reframe our conception of mental health from the alleviation of pathology to the cultivation of health and flourishing, reflecting the turn towards preventative healthcare more broadly. Approaching mental health through an analytic focus on joy, rather than pathology, offers a ground project for insight into purpose, human connection, and self-transcendence. 

Psychological studies of joy have consistently found that experiencing joy is linked to positive outcomes, such as better physical health, improved social relationships, and higher life satisfaction. They have shown that individuals who experience more joy tend to be more resilient in the face of adversity and are better able to cope with stressful situations. Despite this, there is no qualitative cross-cultural comparative research on joy and mental health, and psychologists identify this lack as a major lacuna in scholarship. The CoE meeting will compare culturally diverse ethnographic cases of joy and wellbeing.

To sign up for this event please email Jo Cook

Past events

24th August 2022: ‘An anthropology of joy in a post-pandemic world’.

Presenter: Dr Joanna Cook

Keynote address at the European Research Institute, Mind & Life, the Lama Tzong Khapa Institute, Italy. 22-26th August.

In this talk, Joanna brought research on the psychology of joy into dialogue with recent work in psychological anthropology and the anthropology of religion to explore the place and meaning of joy cross culturally. She argued that cultural practices influence the pattern, interpretation and value of joy and asked, what might an academic focus on joy contribute to our post-pandemic world?

You can read the conference report here.

September 2022-23: Research and Reading Group on the Anthropology of Joy.

Convenor: Dr Joanna Cook

14 Taviton Street, Department of Anthropology, UCL.

13th April 2023: Towards an Anthropology of Joy in a Post-Pandemic World

Convenors: Dr Joanna Cook & Prof Matei Candea

Double panel at the conference of the Association of Social Anthropologists, SOAS

This double panel at the ASA asked what an anthropological focus on joy might contribute to our understanding of loneliness and human connection in a post-pandemic world? We are social creatures. And for most of us, social connection and belonging are central to our wellbeing. One of the problematic legacies of the pandemic is the contribution that lockdowns, physical distancing, masking, the switch to remote working and school all made to social isolation and loneliness. This panel explored the efforts that people make to cultivate joy, and the personal and collective effects of those efforts. It asked, is joy an emotion, a trait, the glue of group cohesion, a gift? And it encourages papers that consider the cultural and historical meaning of joy itself.

You can read the paper abstracts here.

19th June 2023: Anthropology of Joy Workshop

Convenors: Dr Joanna Cook & Dr Benjamin Theobald

14 Taviton Street, Department of Anthropology, UCL.

This workshop brought together the growing community of anthropologists addressing questions on human happiness, wellbeing and flourishing to discuss what an anthropology of joy might contribute to the social sciences. Ethnographies focusing on the cultivation of joy, and its place within systems of value, reveal diverse understandings of what it means to pursue joy and build good lives. Exploring the plurality of value systems presented through such research raises important questions about the relationships between ethics and affect. The goal of the workshop was to discuss what it means for anthropologists to study joy, both practically as an ethnographic approach, and conceptually, as a nexus point between theory concerning experience, emotion, and deliberation.

You can read the workshop report here.

September 2023-24: Research and Reading Group on the Anthropology of Emotion.

Convenors: Dr Joanna Cook & Dr Ana Carolina Barreto Balthazar

14 Taviton Street, Department of Anthropology, UCL.

29th November 2023: ‘Feeling like a climate: Joy and attention in the ecocatastrophe’.

Presenter: Dr Joanna Cook

Paper presented to the online conference, “Shifting discourse or universal phenomenon: What should an anthropology of attention look like?", LSE, 29th – 30th November.

24th January 2024: ‘Opening Up the Space Between Us’

Panel participant: Dr Joanna Cook

Annual Inaugural panel of Mind and Life Europe.

At the annual inaugural panel of Mind and Life Europe, panellists not only shared their professional expertise in philosophy, science, contemplative traditions and anthropology, but showed up with their humour and personal humanity. The spontaneous conversation exemplified participatory sense-making and addressed thought-provoking questions like, how do we stay open while allowing others the space to remain as they are? What becomes possible when we lower the barrier between knower and known and practice a more immersive and participative epistemology? What is the relationship between groundlessness and joy, and between groundlessness and clarity?

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIGZGrH6rlA