SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Emma Crewe

MA and PhD in Social Anthropology (Edinburgh University)
  • Overview
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Publications


Emma Crewe
Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Professor of Anthropology

Professor Emma Crewe
Email address:
SOAS University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
Russell Square: College Buildings


I have been teaching and working on international aid and development since the late 1980s. I began as a social scientist in the energy department of an international non-governmental organisation while undertaking doctoral research on the politics of aid (published in ‘Whose Development? 1998, co-authored with E A Harrison).

As a lecturer at the University of Sussex (1993-96) I taught on anthropology and development studies courses. Subsequently I was an adviser to grant-makers and freelance consultant working with donor governments and NGOs. More recently, I was Executive Director of ChildHope, a UK-based INGO working on social justice with national NGOs and networks in Africa, Asia and Latin America (2005-2011).

My ethnographies of the House of Lords (ESRC funded, 1998-2002) and the British House of Commons (on a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, 2011-2013) were the first on the UK Parliament. I co-ordinated a research coalition investigating Parliament and public engagement in Bangladesh and Ethiopia with Hansard Society and national researchers (ESRC-DFID funded, 2014-2017). In 2017 I established the Global Research Network for Parliaments and People and a programme to support national scholars to study democracy in fragile states (supported by Arts and Humanities Research Council).

I also teach on a highly innovative course at the University of Hertfordshire Business School, supervising postgraduates to research their own organisations and drawing on sociology/anthropology, complexity sciences, and American pragmatism.


PhD Students supervised
  • Franziska Fay, Contesting the Ordinary: Children's Perspectives on 'Child Protection' in Educational Settings in Zanzibar, Tanzania.


My research concerns the politics of development and the development of politics. An ethnographic study of an international non governmental organisation (Practical Action) during the late1980s probed the continuity with historical ‘silent traditions’, the rhetoric of participation and partnership, assumptions about technology and knowledge, and how practices are constrained by what is taken for granted rather than what is written in plans and policies. An interest in how racist and gendered representations are reproduced through rituals and relationships has been a strand of my research since then.

South Asia has been the regional focus of my research. Research into caste and social change in an Indian village (1984), with potter communities and development practitioners in Sri Lanka (1988-89), with British Gujaratis in Northamptonshire (1996-97), with scientists, the private sector and development practitioners in Hyderabad, India (2004-05), and through project visits and evaluations in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Indonesia, have been the foundation of my research in South Asia.

Policy has been one of my interests. Research into the links between research, policy and practice (initially commissioned by the Overseas Development Institute) led to the development of a ‘Context : Links : Evidence’ framework (2002), adopted by the Global Development Network and still widely used globally. A book on anthropology and development – its culture, politics and morality – co-authored with Richard Axelby, came out in 2013.

A theme underlying all my research has been an interest in organisations. My study into the House of Lords threw light on how rituals, rules, and symbols are integral to politics. Debates are cosmological contests and the ethos that all peers control the House as equals distracts attention from the power of the party managers (the ‘Usual Channels’). My ethnography of the House of Commons challenges both popular perceptions about MPs as well as assumptions by politics scholars about politicians’ motivations, representation, and law-making. I contrast puzzling aspects of whipping, gender and law-making in the two Houses of Parliament in a Haus Curiosity (published 2015). Just as anthropological work on developments tends to reveal the politics underlying social goals, these ethnographies point to social and cultural processes beneath politics.

Between 2017-2020 I will be directing the Global Research Network for Parliaments and People. Our first programme, managed by Richard Axelby (also Anthropology Department, SOAS), will give grants and support national scholars to study democracy in politically fragile states, with a focus on Myanmar and Ethiopia. Our partners are Hansard Society (London), Leeds University, JNU (Delhi), Enlightened Myanmar Research Foundation (Yangon) and Forum for Social Studies (Addis Ababa) and we are funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


Authored Books

Crewe, Emma (2015) Commons and Lords: a short anthropology of Parliament. London: Haus Publishing.

Crewe, Emma (2015) The House of Commons: an anthropology of MPs' work. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Crewe, Emma and Axelby, Richard (2012) Anthropology and Development: Culture, Morality and Politics in a Globalised World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Crewe, Emma (2005) Lords of Parliament: manners, rituals and politics. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Crewe, Emma and Harrison, E. A. (1998) Whose Development? An Ethnography of Aid. London; New York: Zed Press.


Crewe, Emma (2017) 'Reading the Runes: Conflict, Culture and "Evidence" in Law-making in the UK'. Redescriptions: Political Thought, Conceptual History and Feminist Theory, (20) 1, pp 32-48.

Crewe, Emma (2016) 'Ethnography of Parliament: Finding Culture and Politics Entangled in the Commons and the Lords'. Parliamentary Affairs, (70) 1, pp 155-172.

Crewe, Emma (2014) 'Ethnographic research in gendered organizations: the case of the Westminster parliament'. Politics and Gender, (10) 4, pp 673-678.

Crewe, Emma (2014) 'Doing Development Differently: rituals of hope and despair in an INGO'. Development in Practice, (24) 1, pp 91-104.

Crewe, Emma (2010) 'Protecting children in different contexts: exploring the value of rights and research'. Journal of Children’s Services, (5) 1, pp 43-55.

Crewe, Emma (2010) 'An Anthropology of the House of Lords: socialisation, relationships and rituals'. Journal of Legislative Studies, (16) 3, pp 313-324.

Crewe, Emma (2007) 'La Loyauté dans une paire de collants. Règles, rites et symboles à la Chambre des lords'. Ethnologie Française, (37) 2, pp 243-254.

Crewe, Emma (2007) 'Towards better outcomes for children: Alternative Perspectives on International Development'. Journal of Children’s Services, (2) 4, pp 59-70.

Crewe, Emma and Sarkar, Ashoke K. (2006) 'Strategic Communication and Institutional Links in Technology Research and Development'. Journal of Technology Management and Sustainable Development, (5) 1, pp 21-40.

Crewe, Emma and Fernando, P. (2006) 'The Elephant in the Room: racism in representations, relationships and rituals'. Progress in Development Studies, (6) 1, pp 40-54.

Crewe, Emma and Kothari, Uma (1998) 'If people stay in one place there is no progress: Gujarati migrants’ search for modernity'. Gender and Development, (6) 1, pp 13-20.

Crewe, Emma (1995) 'Small Men Making Machines for Progress'. Journal of Social Studies 68, pp 45-65.

Edited Books

Crewe, Emma and Müller, Marion G., (eds.), (2006) Rituals in Parliaments: political, anthropological and historical perspectives on Europe and the United States. Frankfurt am Main; New York: Peter Lang.

Book Chapters

Crewe, Emma (2014) 'The Westminster Parliament: performing politics'. In: Rai, Shirin, (ed.), Democracy in Practice: ceremony and ritual in Parliament. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp 40-59.

Crewe, Emma (2011) 'An anthropology of the House of Lords: socialisation, relationships and rituals'. In: Rai, Shirin, (ed.), Ceremony and Ritual in Parliament. London and New York: Routledge, pp 30-41.

Crewe, Emma (2006) 'Rituals and the Usual Channels in the British House of Lords'. In: Crewe, Emma and Müller, M., (eds.), Rituals in Parliaments. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Crewe, Emma (2005) 'Enhancing Influence through Effective Communication'. In: Raman, M. and Sharma, S. and Mishra, B., (eds.), Communicating at Work: Shifting Paradigms and Emerging Trends. New Delhi: Jain Brothers.

Crewe, Emma (2004) 'Context, Evidence and Links: A Conceptual Framework for Understanding Research-Policy Process'. In: Court, Julius and Hovland, Ingie and Young, John, (eds.), Bridging Research and Policy in Development: Context, Evidence and Links. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

Crewe, Emma and Harrison, E. A. (2004) 'Is Culture a Barrier to Change?'. In: Edelman, M. and Haugerud, A., (eds.), The Anthropology of Development and Globalization. Oxford: Blackwell.

Crewe, Emma (1997) 'The Silent Traditions of Developing Cooks'. In: Grillo, R. D. and Stirrat, R. S., (eds.), Discourses of Development: Anthropological Perspectives. London: Berg.

Crewe, Emma (1995) 'Indoor Air Pollution, Household Health and Appropriate Technology: Women and the Indoor Environment'. In: Bradford, B. and Gwynne, M., (eds.), Down to Earth: Community Perspectives on Health, Development and the Environment. Washington: Kumarian Press.

Crewe, Emma (1991) 'Indoor Air Pollution, Household Health and Appropriate Technology: Women and the Indoor Environment in Sri Lanka'. In: Clark, John, (ed.), Democratizing Development: the role of voluntary organizations. London: Kumarian Press.


This list was last generated on Tuesday, 21st November 2017, 04:21 Europe/London.