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Social Anthropology

Engaged Social Anthropology

Can anthropological knowledge production be a mode of political engagement? At Manchester, we see our ethnographic research and teaching to be a way to address problems of inequality and sustainability around the world.

With regional expertise in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Melanesia in addition to core strengths in the anthropology of the United Kingdom, our work focuses on questions of poverty, inequality, class, race, gender and kinship, development and humanitarianism, medical anthropology and much more. Echoing the stance of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth (ASA), we also seek to practice an ethically engaged anthropology.

In line with the University’s strategic priorities for social responsibility and the School's commitment to making a difference, we aim to have an impact outside the academic sphere through research, teaching and community engagement.


Our research addresses some of the greatest societal and global challenges of our time from poverty and migration to climate change. See our staff list for our complete areas of research. In addition, based on our close engagement with people in fieldwork contexts, we often act as an intermediary between different regimes of knowledge and value. We have found that our expertise is sought by people outside the university world because of its proven quality in furthering the understanding of cultural diversity, informing policy-making with 'on the ground' perspectives, and seeking out alternative approaches that are often marginalised by policy-making orthodoxies. This has made the experience of our staff valuable to people in social movement organisations, identity-based groups, local communities, NGOs of various kinds and government organisations.

For example:

  • Rupert Cox is conducting a collaborative project on environmental sounds as a natural and historical resource for community health and inter-generational relations in Okinawa, Japan (2015-2017).
  • Jeanette Edwards chairs the Nuffield Council of Bioethics working party on Cosmetic Procedures.
  • Gillian Evans' research on the London Olympics (2007-12) has led to requests for advice and consultation from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Urban Sporting Regeneration. See her upcoming book on the topic, London's Olympic Legacy: the Inside Track (forthcoming 2016).
  • Maia Green's research on poverty and social policy in Africa has been part of a long-term relationship with aid agencies such as DFID. She has also advised UNICEF, HelpAge and the African Union on social policy issues.
  • Jan Grill has been conducting a collaborative evaluation research project in Slovakia titled ‘Evaluation of Field Social Work’ (a nation-wide network of social workers assisting marginalized Roma communities in Slovakia).
  • Petra Kalshoven has on-going research on taxidermy as a framework for studying conceptions of nature and environmental sustainability through collaborations with practitioners, artists, and natural history museums.
  • Madeleine Reeves has been commissioned by DFID to lead the research component of the Central Asia Regional Migration Program, writing the Program's Scoping Study on the state of the art regarding labour migration research on Central Asia, and coordinating field-research projects in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and the Russian Federation.
  • Tony Simpson was commissioned by Save the Children to advise them on HIV/AIDS in Africa. His work on 'process drama' has been used since 2002 by the Zambian Ministry of Education in training "life skills" teachers.
  • Katherine Smith focuses on issues of fairness and equality, policy, citizenship, personhood and intersubjectivity. Her current research in north Manchester examines welfare reform and how people are making ends meet in the face of harsh and swift benefits sanctions. She is also collaborating with colleagues in the USA, Denmark, Sweden and the UK to interrogate the state of welfare and public sector reforms, labour and dependency.
  • Karen Sykes research has been used to create the Papua New Guinean Family Centre of Far North Queensland and the Cairns Community Radio PNG women’s hour.
  • Olga Ulturgasheva conducts transnational and collaborative research on climate change with a special focus on the human capacity to navigate environmental and social catastrophes in the Russian and American Arctic.

We also use our strength in audio-visual anthropology to help us make an impact with our research.

Rupert Cox, a member of the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology (GCVA), has used advanced sound-recording techniques and film as part of his research on aircraft noise in Japan, which has been used by local communities and government officials in debates and negotiations over the impact of this noise on people's health well-being. His exhibition on the theme, 'Air Pressure', and related films have been exhibited in the UK, Japan and the USA, among other places.

Andrew Irving, another member of the GCVA, has done research on HIV/AIDS sufferers in Uganda, which has fed into HIV sensitisation workshops organised by NACWOLA (National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS); the NGO also uses films made by Irving. His video project on 'New York Stories', about the interior mental lives of the city's denizens, was written up by the Scientific American blog and Voice of America (April 2013). As a result Andrew's videos were viewed by more than 400,000 people. In 2014, GCVA also conducted a 3 day film-making workshop for young people from Salford in collaboration with the Rio Ferdinand Foundation, receiving excellent reviews from the Foundation and participants.

  • For more information on how our research has impact outside the academic sphere, see our impact case studies.


We are committed to nurturing socially responsible graduates who can use the tools of social anthropology to understand and address the challenges to an equitable and sustainable world. Our students take modules on issues such as power and inequality, political and economic anthropology, and the anthropology of development and humanitarian expertise. See our course pages for more information.

Student dissertations reflect our focus on topics relating to inequality. Some examples of undergraduate projects from 2014-5 are:

  • 'Beds in Sheds': An anthropological critique of the UK housing crisis'.
  • Take Care at Home First': Working class uncertainties and foreign aid spending in Britain.
  • New Social Media and Contestations of Islamophobia: An anthropological analysis of 9/11, Charlie Hebdo and the Sydney Shootings.
  • How does the modern criminal justice system in the Canadian Northwest Territory of Nunavut shape discussions of high incarceration rates of Inuit men as a cultural problem?
  • Harnessing HIV: What can a study of individuals living with HIV contribute to anthropological debates on strategising identity and managing stigmatisation, with regards to the HIV condition?
  • The Moral Vegan: An anthropological study of the moral landscape of Veganism.

From 2015-6, we will also recognise outstanding undergraduate, taught masters and visual anthropology dissertations that exemplify engaged anthropology through the Engaged Anthropology Dissertation Award.

Community engagement

We see enabling greater access to higher education as part of the broader impact we wish to make with our research. We actively work to introduce anthropology to a wide audience of potential students in the Manchester area.

  • Dr. Theodoros Kyriakides conducts pre-university courses on social anthropology for Year 12 and 13 students in Manchester who, for example, live in a neighbourhood that has a high level of deprivation, come from a home where neither parent attended university, or live in or have lived in local authority care. This is part of the School's widening participation initiatives to promote fair access to higher education.
  • Gillian Evans regularly speaks and conducts workshops at colleges in Manchester, where students are using her book Educational Failure and Working Class White Children in Britain for their coursework.