Unlike other UK Anthropology departments, SOAS staff are specialists on Asia, Africa or the Middle East and their diasporas. We share a strong SOAS tradition of language-related work applied to subjects as varied as gender, food, environment, development, trade, markets, consumption, material culture, films, photographs and tourism.
As well as belonging to the Department, staff and students benefit from the cross-disciplinary perspectives opened through SOAS’s Regional and Special Purpose Centres. Our students represent many cultures and nations, and around half of them are registered for postgraduate degrees within an atmosphere that is at once intellectually challenging, lively and supportive.
Please note: links on this page are to external sites; for research profiles of staff members refer to Staff Pages.
Our current research on Sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, China and Japan shares key themes. Here are some examples:
- Cultural processes in contemporary India are explored through projects on religious pluralism and Dalit activism in South India (David Mosse), disaster reconstruction in Gujarat (Edward Simpson), migration to the Gulf from Kerala (Caroline Osella), rural change through village re-studies (Edward Simpson), the social and cultural history of film (Stephen Hughes) and ethnographic study of infrastructure development (and in South Asia more broadly (Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Maldives) (Edward Simpson).
- In China, research on the Beijing Olympics (Kevin Latham), on food (Jacob Klein) and new media throw light on aspects of social and cultural change.
- The study of material culture, hoarding and psychiatric diagnosis offers insights into contemporary Japanese society (Fabio Gygi).
- Islam and cultural politics are the focus of research exploring change in both Indonesia (Kostas Retsikas) and the Middle East (Gabriele vom Bruck; Caroline Osella).
- Research in West Africa has focused on religiosity and forms of ritual and art (Richard Fardon), Islamic reform, and ‘Chrislam’ (Marloes Janson) — a fusion of Christian and Muslim beliefs and practices.
This regionally-grounded research also throws light on wider human experiences and capacities, such as the relations between religion, media and cognition. Regional projects in India, Gambia, Nigeria and Indonesia have led to collaboration on global Christianity and Islam; work on craftspeople and skill transmission begun with Yemeni and Malian masons has led to new research on craft learning grounded in a theory of embodied cognition and communication (Trevor Marchand). Another strand on global process and contemporary knowledge practices poses questions that arise from local research to international systems of development, state/governance and resource control, embracing aid as policy and in practice, and corporate social responsibility for ‘bottom of the pyramid’ capitalism (Catherine Dolan).
The Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies convened within the Department provides a cross-disciplinary hub for the Department’s research on projects such as: Indian labour markets in the Gulf (Caroline Osella); UK asylum law applied to emigrants from the Horn of Africa (John Campbell); Chinese diaspora and media in Italy (Kevin Latham); religion and globalization (Marloes Janson); and South Asian diasporas in post-war Britain (Parvathi Raman).
The Food Studies Centre is an inter-disciplinary home for projects including: agriculture, health and gender in South Africa (Elizabeth Hull) ethical foods in post-socialist settings, including China; food and food-ways between the Country and the City; food and migration.
The Anthropology of Media remains a departmental research focus facilitated by connections between our research clusters and the SOAS Centre for Media and Film Studies (CMFS) (itself an outgrowth of the Department’s successful research cluster in the Anthropology of Media), and the Centre of Film and Screen Studies (CFSS).
Current and new projects form the basis of four emerging research clusters that we anticipate will grow in the near future.
The transformation of the state in the era of globalization
Research into the ‘global processes’ of state and the governance of people, markets and development has produced a cluster of work around issues of the transformation of the state in the era of globalization, and the ways anthropologists research it. We are interested in ‘back door’ perspectives on state processes:
- Asylum law from the perspective of litigants (Details of John Campbell’s ESRC funding)
- Parliament through an ethnography of chamber and constituency practices of elected MPs (Emma Crewe on BBC Radio 4 Westminster Hour 2013) and effective parliament as a condition of poverty reduction in Bangladesh and Ethiopia
- Food and farming, and health interventions from the perspectives of food producers and consumers (Food Studies Centre) and health workers
- Religious organisations as state-like institutions in the provision of opportunities, welfare and charity in India (Edward Simpson’s book on post-earthquake reconstruction) and Indonesia
- The social categories through which people engage with the state, seek justice or organize activism: in particular caste and religion in India, and in UK through changes in equalities legislation (David Mosse’s involvement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission)
- Post-earthquake reconstruction (in Gujarat) as a means for the political production of urban space (Edward Simpson)
- The consequences of business corporations moving to the centre of formerly state- or NGO-dominated international development (Catherine Dolan’s project webpage and discussion forum).
Social processes of peace
This research cluster is concerned with the means by which people maintain and/or restore social harmonies, and the features of their structural and interpersonal contexts that allow them to do so. Research theorizes and connects three strands.
Interruptions in cycles of violence, oases of peace, whether temporal or spatial, and their relation to the convivialities and celebrations of everyday life:
- Yemeni protesters’ attempts to keep their ‘revolution peaceful’ (Gabriele vom Bruck)
- local histories of religious pluralism that defuse inter-religious/group conflict in South India (David Mosse);
- the ‘pursuit of pleasurable work’ (Trevor Marchand’s Inaugural Lecture)
- rural responses to structural violence through commensality and artisan/ heritage projects (Harry West)
- collaborative media ventures between Chinese and Italian journalists (Kevin Latham).
Forms of universalizing identification (religion, ideological conviction, political purpose) and the recognition of shared suffering. Research focuses on religious innovations, human rights discourses, and forms of activism and charity they engender:
- Islam, youth and modernity (details of a book by Marloes Janson)
- Shia protest and the shift towards discourses of human rights (Gabriele vom Bruck)
- Dalit rights agendas among Indian civil society activists (David Mosse’s project blog)
- Social suffering and empathy (Christopher Davis)
- The horizons of charitable donations (Kostas Retsikas talks about alternative economics in Indonesia)
This research cluster refines work undertaken in the framework of transnationalism in terms of a general concept of ‘mobility/ies’ — of people, ideas, media and artefacts. This involves a focus on movement as integral to the emergence, connections between, and transformations of social and cultural forms.
- Sites of transnational institutional and corporate reach (John Campbell; Catherine Dolan]
- Development policy, advocacy and activist networks (David Mosse)
- The movement of cargoes and ideas in the western Indian Ocean (Edward Simpson)
- Indian labour markets in the Gulf (Caroline Osella)
- The global culture of road-building and the future of oil mobility (A workshop organised by Marloes Janson and Edward Simpson)
- Mobile religious networks (Marloes Janson’s Fellowship Details)
- Itineraries of Film: distribution, exhibition and audiences in south India (Stephen Hughes)
- Movement of foods, ideas of authenticity, and food technologies (Harry West)
- Movement of artworks (details of a book by Richard Fardon and Christine Stelzig)
- Cricket and ‘home teams’ in South Asian diaspora (Paru Raman).
Creative arts and performance
This research cluster has developed out of the department’s interest in ‘media, consumption and popular culture’. Participation in, and research on, exhibitions and film studies have led to involvement in film-making and reflection on film as pedagogy. In a range of fields SOAS anthropologists have begun to theorise connections between our studies of specific creative practices and our modes of academic dissemination, and research into mimetic practice has been applied to anthropological pedagogy (Caroline Osella). Investigations into the aesthetics of everyday and religious performances have widened our debates about modes to represent representations. This research related to the creative arts and performance finds support within the newly established SOAS School of Arts.
- Masonry and skill in Djenne (Details of Trevor Marchand’s exhibition at the Smithsonian)
- Chinese media and pop culture (Kevin Latham)
- Popularising film-making in India (Stephen Hughes)
- Indian Ocean journeys and anthropological collaboration with artists (Lecture given by Edward Simpson and CAMP at the March Meet in Sharjah 2013)
- The aesthetics of religious performances