Home / Staff profiles / Dr Richard Irvine

Dr Richard Irvine


Email: rdgi@st-andrews.ac.uk

Phone: (01334 46) 1857

Office: Room 49, United College

Office hours: Thursday 2 - 4pm


Research information

My research interests span environmental anthropology and anthropology of religion, and I carry out fieldwork in the UK and Mongolia.

My PhD (University of Cambridge, 2011) was on Catholic religious life, and for my fieldwork I lived in an English Benedictine monastery, following the cycle of prayer, eating in silence, drinking tea, learning to read slowly, and making things in the carpentry workshop. Since completing my PhD, alongside my interest in the role of religion, belief, and unknowing in everyday life, I have become increasingly focussed upon human relationships with the changing landscape.

Most recently, I have been working in Orkney. The action of the sea is constantly reshaping and reducing the islands here, eroding the glacial till and the underlying sandstone. A continuous gnawing, but with moments of drama that thrust deep time into the full glare of consciousness. While my most recent research has been exploring religious belief and unbelief on the islands, it was a different research question that brought me to Orkney initially (as part of the interdisciplinary project "Orkney: Beside the Ocean of Time", which you can follow on twitter @orkneydeeptime): At what temporal resolution should we view human activity? In order to understand the processes of change that shape the landforms under our feet and the resources upon which we depend, we need to think beyond the short-term time-horizons of rapid economic transactions and electoral cycles – the days, months, and years of human time. Yet, if we attempt to place human activity against the backdrop of the vast and gradual time-scale of Earth’s geological history, the temporal span of a human life almost disappears. How can we expand the time-depth of our understanding, recognising the long-term ecological and geological processes that are the conditions of our existence, while remaining sensitive to the temporality of human experience?

This interest in the time-depth required to understand environmental change became central during my research on the project "Pathways to understanding the changing climate", which I coordinated between 2013 and 2016, and involved field research on the perception of environmental change in the UK (East Anglia), and in Mongolia (Tuv aimag). A key element of this work has been participatory research with children in primary schools (in both the UK and Mongolia), looking at their understanding of the changing landscape through play and narrative, and the ways in which they anticipate the future of the region. This not only offers a better understanding of perceptions of the environment throughout the life cycle, but also reveals key tensions between the ways that children learn to experience and value their environment, and the processes of change that they experience around them.

Selected publications

(under review) In the depths and the shallows: an anthropology of deep time, revised book manuscript complete and under review.

(in press) (lead author; with Barbara Bodenhorn, Elsa Lee, and D. Amarbayasgalan) Learning to see climate change: children’s perceptions of environmental transformation in Mongolia, Mexico, Arctic Alaska, and the UK, to appear in Current Anthropology

(2018) (lead author; with Elsa Lee) Over and under: children navigating terrain in the East Anglian fenlands, Children’s Geographies 16 (4): 380-392.

(2018) Our Lady of Ipswich: devotion, dissonance, and the agitation of memory at a forgotten pilgrimage site, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 24 (2): 366-384.

(2018) Seeing environmental violence in deep time: perspectives from contemporary Mongolian literature and music, Environmental Humanities 10 (1): 257-272.

(2017) Anthropocene East Anglia, The Sociological Review 65 (S1): 154-170.

(2016) (lead author; with Elsa Lee, Miranda Strubel, and Barbara Bodenhorn) Exclusion and reappropriation: experiences of contemporary enclosure among children in three East Anglian schools, Environment and Planning D 34 (5): 935-953.

(2016) (with David Berliner, Michael Lambek, Albert Piette, and Richard Schewder), Anthropology and the study of contradictions, Hau 6 (1): 1-27.

(2015) East Anglian fenland: water, the work of imagination, and the creation of value, in Waterworlds: Anthropology in Fluid Environments, ed. Kirsten Hastrup and Frida Hastrup, 23-45. Oxford: Berghahn.

(2014) Deep time: an anthropological problem, Social Anthropology 22 (2): 157-172.

(2013) (lead author; with Mina Gorji) John Clare in the Anthropocene, Cambridge Anthropology 31 (1): 119-132.

(2011) Eating in silence in an English Benedictine monastery, in Food and Faith in Christian Culture ed. Kenneth Albala and Trudy Eden, 221-237. New York: Columbia University Press.

(2011) The architecture of stability: monasteries and the importance of place in a world of non-places, Etnofoor 23 (1): 29-49.

(2010) How to read: lectio divina in an English Benedictine monastery, Culture and Religion 11 (4): 395-411.

Related news