SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Professor Emma Crewe

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


Emma Crewe
Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Professor of Social Anthropology

SOAS South Asia Institute

Professor of Social 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, development and politics 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). Since 2014 I have been teaching 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.

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.

As a researcher at SOAS, 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 at SOAS with a grant-making programme to support national scholars to study the relationship between Parliaments and People in Myanmar and Ethiopia (supported by Arts and Humanities Research Council/Global Challenges Research Fund).


I am not accepting any doctoral students at SOAS


My research focuses on the socio-politics of organisations. My ethnographic study of
Practical Action, an international non-governmental organisation, probed its ‘silent traditions’
during the late 1980s: the rhetoric of participation and partnership, assumptions about
technology and knowledge, and how practices are structured 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. Policy has been another interest. My investigation into the links between
research, policy and practice led to a ‘context, links, and evidence’ framework (with Young
2002), which is still widely used.

South Asia and the UK have been the main 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 interest in South Asia.

Since 1998, I have been studying the UK parliament. My study into the House of Lords
(1998-2002, ESRC funded) threw light on how rituals, rules, and symbols are integral to
expressions of power relations and difference. An ethos that all peers control the self-
regulating House as equals distracts the backbenchers’ attention from the smoke and mirrors
power of the ‘Usual Channels’. I turned my attention to shapeshifting MPs who navigate
complex hierarchies and roles, producing the first ethnography of the House of Commons in
2015 (funded by a Leverhulme Fellowship). In my ethnography – House of Commons: an
anthropology of MPs’ work – I weave history, diversity and relationships into an analysis of
how parliament works. One aspect of this work, a mini-history of law-making, involved
following one clause of a bill about parenting, which inspired my on-going interest in how
MPs and peers engage with the public. I’m currently writing a history of the UK expenses
scandal (2000-2010) and a mini ethnography about the emotions, claims and performances
entailed in MPs’ constituency work.

Since 2014 I have also been co-ordinating programmes that have enabled scholars in
Bangladesh, Myanmar and Ethiopia to study the relationship between parliaments, politicians
and individuals/groups in society through grants and training (,
funded by the AHRC/Global Challenges Research Fund). With SOAS and other colleagues
in our Global Research Network on Parliaments and People, we are finding out: what might
be involved in working towards the democratising and decolonising of international research


Authored Books

Crewe, Emma and Walker, Andrew (2019) An Extraordinary Scandal: The Westminster Expenses Crisis and Why it Still Matters. London, UK: Haus Publishing.

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 and Mowles, Chris (2020) 'Audit as political struggle'. Development in Practice. [Forthcoming]

Crewe, Emma and Sarra, Nicholas (2019) 'Chairing UK Select Committees: Walking Between Friends and Foes'. Parliamentary Affairs, (72) 4, pp 841-859.

Crewe, Emma (2018) 'Flagships and tumbleweed: A history of the politics of gender justice work in Oxfam GB 1986–2015'. Progress in Development Studies, (8) 2, pp 110-125.

Crewe, Emma (2018) 'Ethnographies of Parliament: culture and uncertainty in shallow democracies'. Journal of Organizational Ethnography, (7) 1, pp 16-30.

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 (2017) '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 or Journals

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 and Sarra, Nicholas (2020) 'Constituency Performances: the “heart” of democratic politics'. In: Rai, S and Gluhovic, M and Jestrovic, S and Saward, M, (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Politics and Performance. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Forthcoming]

Crewe, Emma (2019) 'Anthropology of Parliaments'. In: Benoit, Cyril and Rozenburg, Olivier, (eds.), Handbook of Parliamentary Studies: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Legislatures. Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing. [Forthcoming]

Crewe, Emma and Axelby, Richard (2018) 'International Development, Anthropology in'. In: Callan, Hilary, (ed.), The Wiley Blackwell International Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons.

Crewe, Emma (2018) 'Anthropologie des parlements'. In: Rozenberg, O. and Thiers, E., (eds.), Traité d’études parlementaires. Bruxelles: Bruylant, pp 607-636.

Crewe, Emma and Evans, Paul (2018) 'The Significance of Rituals in Parliament'. In: Leston-Bandeira, Cristina and Thompson, Louise, (eds.), Exploring Parliament. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp 43-52.

Crewe, Emma (2017) 'Magi or Mandarins? Contemporary Clerkly Culture'. In: Evans, Paul, (ed.), Essays on the History of Parliamentary Procedure. Oxford; Portland: Hart, pp 45-68.

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 Friday, 4th December 2020, 14:26 Europe/London.