Explore some of our current and recent research projects in Social Anthropology.

This is a sample of our projects. All academic staff members are active researchers and you can find out more through their individual profiles.

View details of a recent major project on Cosmological Visionaries, which explores shamans, scientists and climate change at the ethnic borderlands of China and Russia.

Self-build housing and urban growth in Ghana and Tanzania

This project investigates what drives urbanisation in Ghana and Tanzania and how urbanisation contributes to employment and economic growth through a study of the economy of self-build housing in two established cities and two fast-growing towns. Funded by the ESRC, it is led by Claire Mercer (LSE), with Maia Green as a co-investigator.

Comics and race in Latin America

Funded by the AHRC and with Peter Wade as a co-investigator and Abeyamí Ortega as a Research Associate, the project explores the relationship between race, particularly Blackness and Indigeneity, and comics production in Latin America. The research has a historical element, working in archives in Argentina, Colombia and Peru, while researchers also engage with a diverse set of comic artists in each country.

Political ecology, cultural history, soundscapes and traumatic memory in Okinawa.

This research is led by Rupert Cox. It is also supported by The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the Toyota Foundation.

It began with a focus on the impact of aircraft noise from US military bases. It now includes a broader category of sounds that create a new awareness of environmental change and traumatic memory.

Find out more by exploring two audio-visual works: Kiatsu: The Sound of The Sky Being Torn and The Cave Mouth and The Giant Voice.

The post-industrial transformation of east London

Gillian Evans has spent five years exploring the urban regeneration associated with the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Her book 'London's Olympic Legacy: the inside track' argues that London will become the test case for other cities bidding for the Olympic Games. 

The Beam network

The Beam nuclear and social research network

This researches the debates around nuclear power and the civil nuclear industry, which have profound implications for the planet.

Penny Harvey is a key member of the team that runs The Beam and Petra Tjitske Kalshoven is a Research Fellow. 

Sellafield site futures

What could the nuclear site of Sellafield look like in 2040, once decommissioning will have ended?

A multidisciplinary team (including Anthropology's Petra Tjitske Kalshoven) explores ethical, ecological, technological and societal implications of Sellafield end-state options. 

For an update on the UKERC-funded project and previous workshops, read Petra's blog on the Beam website

The silent time machine

The silent time machine: recovering early ethnographic film

With a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship (2014-2018), Paul Henley created a major web-based resource for the study of early ethnographic film.

Deaf camera South Africa

This research project is led by Andrew Irving and Lorenzo Ferrarini, in collaboration with the University of the Witwatersrand.

It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Medical Research Council. 

It uses community-based film methods to explore issues of vulnerability and resilience faced by deaf youth in South Africa. 

Filmmaking for fieldwork

Andy Lawrence and Paul Henley established filmmaking for fieldwork in 2009 to concentrate on the development of filmmaking as a research method.

It is linked to AllRitesReversed, a production company for filmmaking that explores the paradoxical aspects of human life, established by Andy Lawrence in 2000.

Community adaptations and knowledge sharing in Alaska and Siberia

Olga Ulturgasheva's project was led by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and was funded by the National Science Foundation.

The goal was to discover indigenous patterns of adaptive and resilient responses to critical situations, through an exchange of knowledge between members of two arctic communities in Alaska and Siberia.

Disaster cooperation between Japan and Chile

This research is funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme (2016 to 2018) and the Toyota Foundation (2019 to 2022). 

Chika Watanabe takes 'preparedness' in disaster risk reduction efforts as an ethnographic artefact to study how catastrophic pasts and futures are made present through material and bodily practices. Specifically, she explores how various actors design, learn, embody, and export/import Japanese disaster preparedness (bosai) education/training efforts around the world, particularly in Chile.

She explores the possibility that 'playful' approaches, such as using child-friendly games, can be effective methods for translating values across countries and embedding preparedness in people’s everyday lives.

Cultures of anti-racism in Latin America

The project is continuing previous research on anti-racist actions in Latin America

Peter Wade - along with colleagues Lúcia Sá and Ignacio Aguiló - were awarded a £1million grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The project explores how artists in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia address racial diversity in their work and how they use art to challenge racism.

The project involves:

  • Three post-doctoral researchers (Ana Vivaldi, Jamille Pinheiro Dias, and Carlos Correa Angulo).
  • Three Latin American collaborators (Ezequiel Adamovsky from the Universidad Nacional San Martín, Felipe Milanez from the Universidade Federal da Bahia, and Mara Viveros Vigoya from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia).
  • Three Latin American advisers (Alejandro Frigerio from the Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina, Pedro Mandagará from the Universidade de Brasília, and Liliana Angulo, an Afro-Colombian artist). 

You can find out more by visiting the CARLA project website.

The invisible city

The invisible city: Mapuche mapping of Santiago de Chile

Olivia Casagrande was awarded a Marie Slowdoska-Curie Individual Fellowship (by the EU, 2015 to 2020), with Andrew Irving as her mentor.

The MapsUrbe project used participatory and collaborative methods to investigate experiences of urban space among young indigenous Mapuche living in Santiago de Chile.

The aims of the project were to better understand the lives, circumstances and moral perspectives of a growing population of people subject to displacement and social exclusion, who are often at the margins of national policy and invisible to public perception.

Making poverty personal

Making poverty personal: cultural impacts of social cash transfers in Tanzania

Maia Green was awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship to investigate whether new programmes to reduce poverty in Africa change conceptualisations of poverty in ways that increase the marginalisation of the poorest.

The project investigated if a conditional social cash transfer programme in Tanzania stigmatises the poor and makes their families and communities less likely to help them.

Seeking asylum in the UK

Seeking asylum in the UK: an ethnography of destitute lives ruled by paper

The research project by William Wheeler was funded by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship and mentored by Madeleine Reeves.

People seeking asylum are among the most marginalised groups in the UK, often facing highly complex legal battles to get refugee status. They are forbidden from working and either receive minimal support from the government or are destitute.

This project looked at how asylum seekers' lives are shaped by long drawn out bureaucratic processes and by periods of destitution. It explored how people tried to move forward with their lives when stuck in the system.

Brexit and 'Left-behind' places

Brexit and 'Left-behind' places: everyday hopes and fears for the future after Brexit in England

The ESRC-funded project was led by Jeanette Edwards and involved Katherine Smith and Gillian Evans

The project investigated how residents of four urban areas in England thought about Brexit and its consequences, and it explored their hopes, aspirations and anxieties about the future.

The research focused on four electoral wards in three English cities. These wards had been identified in social scientific, political and media accounts as 'left-behind' places. They are places where large post-industrial, social and economic changes, together with government policies of austerity have contributed to experiences of marginalisation and exclusion among many residents.

Tower block failures

Tower block failures: high-rise living and global urbanism

Constance Smith was awarded a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship.

Her project examines how urban success and failure is imagined and materialised in relation to the tower block.

Starting with specific cases of tower block failure in Nairobi and London, it will critically explore how social, political and material worlds are transformed and where the afterlives of failure might lead.

Though once seen as symbols of modernity and aspiration, a place of dreams as well as nightmares, the tower block is now implicated in community breakdown, regarded as a poverty trap or site of anti-social behaviour.

Examining failure and its aftermath can reveal the unmaking and remaking of the communities, processes and materials of a city. This is a perspective in which failure is not so much an endpoint as a drastic refiguration of an urban landscape.


“Mimesis in action: nuclear decommissioning as conceptual playground for societal and ecological future making” is an ESRC-funded project (2022-26), directed by Petra Kalshoven. The project looks at models as a way of forecasting, and enchanting, the future, focussing on sites of nuclear decommissioning and waste management. The aim is to understand what people’s assumptions about possible futures are in areas of decommissioning, in which moral frameworks they are rooted, and how these enhance or hamper imaginations of the future. For more info, click here.