UCL Urban Laboratory

Prof Susanne Kuechler

Prof Susanne Kuechler

Professor of Art and Anthropology

Dept of Anthropology

Faculty of S&HS

Joined UCL
1st Sep 1995

Research summary

Kuechler has conducted long-term fieldwork in both island Melanesia (New Ireland, Papua New Guinea) and in Eastern Polynesia (Cook Islands). Anthropological fieldwork in both sites was accompanied by extensive research into ethnographic collections.

A period of 2 years of field-research on the North-west coast of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea led to a long-term and systematic research into collections of sculptures and allied ethnographic collections from the area, known as Malanggan, and a theoretical interest in the relation between art and memory, visual analogy and transformation, material translation, intuition and empathy. These themes were initially investigated in relation to Melanesian ethnography and used to critique ‘image blind’ theories of exchange. Comparative research on the coverlets of Eastern Polynesia lead to a concern with image based polities and their geometry as well as to a more general concern with the relation between image and writing systems and the political economies within which they thrive. 

Research on Malanggan provoked her study into innovation, design and social change as part of a collaborative research project involving the British Museum and Goldsmiths College. Clothing the Pacific examined the take-up and transformation of cloth and clothing introduced by missionaries and traders into the Pacific during the early 19th century, based on archival research and ethnographic fieldwork. Fieldwork on piece-work and patch-work coverlets in the Cook Islands, Eastern Polynesia, examined the effect of the uptake of a new material on society, honing in on the material, technical and cognitive processes involved in material translation. In parallel, this research question was examined as part of the European Project on Sustainable Development in a Diverse World which investigated the relation between material aesthetics and the dynamics of transnational societies, bringing together data from Pacific Diaspora with comparative data collected in European cities.

Research into material translation has more recently prompted a study of ‘intelligent fabrics’ prototyped in Euro-American research laboratories, with work directed to an ethnographic exploration of the perception of materials in 21st century design and innovation. A parallel running research project was directed to cognition and design, leading to research on the relation between business, fashion and textile, now part of a project funded by the AHRC (Creative Industries clusters Program) and lead by The London College of Fashion (2018-2023). 

 Küchler held posts at the University of East Anglia and Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, before joining UCL in 1991.  

Teaching summary

Kuechler is teaching both at the undergraduate and postgraduate level on the anthropology of art and design. She is co-teaching the Masters Programme in Material and Visual Culture, which developed out of a Masters Programme in Art and Anthropology which she created during the early 1990's, and has set up the new Masters programme in Culture, Materials and Design, taught between anthropology and archaeology, due to start in 2011. She was acting Head of Department between 2010- and 2019.


London School of Economics and Political Science
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 1985
Freie Universitat Berlin
Other higher degree, Master of Arts | 1981


Susanne Küchler obtained her PhD in Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences in 1985 working under Alfred Gell. Her earlier training had involved teaching in social anthropology both at the Free University of Berlin and at the LSE, with three consecutive periods of internships at the Übersee Museum Bremen (Germany).  Küchler held posts at the University of East Anglia and Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, before joining UCL in 1991.  She has been invited Scholar to the Getty Centre for the History of Art and Humanities 1995/96, and invited Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg) in Berlin. She is Elected Fellow of the British Academy, Elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and member of the scientific committee of the Fyssen Foundation in Paris.