Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences


Dr Joanna Cook

Academic position: Reader in Anthropology 

Department: Anthropology

Email: joanna.cook@ucl.ac.uk

Website: Joanna Cook


Joanna was awarded her PhD in Social Anthropology at Cambridge in 2006. Since then, she has published an ethnographic monograph, Meditation in Modern Buddhism: Renunciation and Change in Thai Monastic Life (Cambridge University Press 2010), a journal special issue and three edited volumes. Joanna has taught medical anthropology full-time for 10 years, first for 1 year at Goldsmiths College and subsequently for 9 years at UCL. Joanna has convened the undergraduate and postgraduate medical anthropology courses at two universities, and held the posts of Head of Medical Anthropology, Head of Teaching and Deputy Head of Department at UCL.

Research Projects:

Joanna's current research explores mindfulness and mental health in the UK, focusing on therapist training for healthcare professionals, the implementation of mindfulness-based therapies in the NHS, and political advocacy for mindfulness in Westminster. Her work on mindfulness as a psycho-social mental healthcare intervention is informed by decades of research on meditation in diverse contexts. It also brings together two other research areas. The first area is the relationship of practices of self-cultivation to models of health and living well. In her co-edited volume, Detachment (Manchester University Press 2015), Joanna explored practices of socially, ethically and politically valued detachment, focusing particularly on the cultivation of decentred awareness in therapeutic interventions for recurrent depressive episode. And in her co-edited Special Issue, Unsettled Care (Anthropology & Humanism, 2020), she makes an argument for the theorisation of care and care relationships as intersubjective and on-going. The second area is the relationship between political practice and individual and collective subjectivity. Joanna revisited theories of power and their relationship to social practices and community organisation in her co-edited volume, Power: Southeast Asian Perspectives (Routledge 2012); and she explored the ways in which subjectivity informs engagement with democratic practice in my co-edited volume, The State We’re In: Reflecting on Democracy’s Troubles (Berghahn Books 2016). 

Joanna's research focuses on the ways in which subjectivity and ethical values inform changing understandings of health, wellbeing, political process and community organisation. In the UK, mindfulness, an awareness-training practice originating in Buddhism, has increasingly been incorporated into preventative mental healthcare as a support for psychological resilience. In her monograph, Making a Mindful Nation, she asks: if mindfulness is the answer, what is the question? How have British people come to think of cultivating a kindly relationship with their own minds as a constituent aspect of the ‘good life’? And how has an increasing emphasis on preventative mental healthcare transformed the meaning of mental health? Joanna argues that the phenomenal uptake of mindfulness in the UK highlights the recent and remarkable upswing in public and political interest in the mind as an object of governance, by both the self and others. The monograph spans the worlds of therapeutic interventions, everyday mental health practices, political advocacy and the development of policy, to demonstrate that mental health has become a transversal issue, impacting politicians as much as the populations that they serve. 


At UCL, Joanna's teaching contribution in the Department and Faculty is broad, and she teaches students and trains young researchers at every level.  Since her appointment in 2012, she has collaborated with her colleagues to redevelop and extend UCL’s Medical Anthropology programme. Joanna has convened the core course for the MSc in Medical Anthropology; she developed undergraduate and postgraduate optional courses on the ‘Anthropology of Ethics and Morality’; Joanna teaches on the core 2nd year course ‘Being Human’; has co-taught the interdisciplinary course, ‘Reproduction, Sex and Sexuality’; each year she contributes to the MA in Gender, Society and Representation; and is a primary dissertation supervisor for BSc, IBSc, MSc, MRes and PhD Medical Anthropology students.

Joanna is looking to develop a teaching focus on preventative mental healthcare and psychosocial approaches to mental health.