Roy Dilley trained as a Social Anthropologist at Oxford and conducted research for his doctorate in Senegal, West Africa, from 1979 to 1983. He subsequently carried out further research projects in Northern Ireland and in Scotland (1984-86 and 1986-88 respectively), in Senegal again (from 1996 onwards) and then in France (from 2004). Appointed to a Lectureship at the University of St Andrews in 1988, he became Professor of Social Anthropology in 2006. In 2001, he was elected to the Sir Edward E. Evans-Pritchard Lectureship at All Souls College, Oxford, and took up a Visiting Research Fellowship at the same College in 2003. He has held visiting professorial research positions at the Centro Incontri Umani, Switzerland, the University of Konstanz, Germany and elsewhere. He has twice served as Head of Department of Social Anthropology at St Andrews, and was Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Divinity from 2009 to 2011.
His early research interests were concerned with forms of socio-economic organisation among members of occupationally specialised groups within specific cultural contexts, with reference to notions of political and cultural identity, skilled practice, knowledge and forms of learning. He has published widely on this body of research including: a monograph entitled Ulster Fishermen: A Study in Social Organisation and Fisheries Policy (1989) and his edited thematic volumes Contesting Markets: Analyses of Ideology, Discourse and Practice (1992), The Problem of Context (1999) (on the methodological problems of interpretation in social and cultural anthropology), and Regimes of Ignorance: Anthropological Perspectives on the Production and Reproduction of Non-Knowledge (2015).
His research in West Africa focuses on the anthropology of religion and Islam in Africa, knowledge practices and apprenticeship among Islamic clerics, craftsmen, artisans and musicians. See, for example, his books entitled Senegal (1994), Between the Mosque and the Termite Mound (2004). His latest research project is entitled Colonial Lives, Imperial Contexts, one aspect of which has been the publication in 2014 of a biography of a French colonial administrator-scholar, Henri Gaden (1867-1939) under the title Nearly Native, Barely Civilized: Henri Gaden’s Journey across Colonial French West Africa (1894-1939). This book has appeared in French translation as Henri Gaden à travers l’Afrique de l’ouest (1894-1939): Fils de Bordeaux, aventurier africain (Paris 2015). He currently working on a collection of colonial photographs of French West Africa.
Henri Gaden à travers l'Afrique de l'ouest (1894-1939): Fils de Bordeaux, aventurier africain, Paris: l'Harmattan. 405 pp.
Regimes of Ignorance: Anthropological Perspectives on the Production and Reproduction of Non-Knowledge, Oxford: Berghahn. (Edited with Thomas G. Kirsch)
'Attributions of Evil among Haalpulaaren, Senegal', in W. Olsen & W. van Beek (eds), Evil in Africa: Encounters with the Everyday. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 195-209.
'The Historical Imagination and Imagining Madness: Henri Gaden and the French Colonial Experience in West Africa', M. Harris & N. Rapport (eds), Reflections on Imagination, Ashgate: Farnham, pp. 79-97.
'Apprenticeship: Anthropological Aspects', The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences and Behavioural (26 Volumes), 2nd Edition. Elsevier/Pergamon Press, pp. 865-869.
Nearly Native, Barely Civilized: Henri Gaden's Journey across Colonial French West Africa (1894-1939) (African History Series, Volume 3).Leiden & Boston: Brill. 450 pp.
'Wissenspraktiken und das Problem der Ignoranz', in Marcus Twellmann (ed.), Nichtwissen als Ressource. Baden-Baden: Nomos-Verlag, pp. 41-69.
‘Questions of Authenticity and Legitimacy in the Work of Henri Gaden (1867-1939)’, in Thomas Fillitz & A. Jamie Saris (eds),Debating Authenticity: From Art to Wilderness. Oxford: Berghahn Press. pp. 175-195.
'Markets', in A. Barnard & J. Spencer (eds), The Routledge Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology, 2nd Edition, London: Routledge, pp. 440-444.
‘Dahiras and Mutual Aid Associations as Contexts of Worship in Senegal’, Anthropos, 106 (1): 185-92.
'Reflections on knowledge practices and the problem of ignorance' In:Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 16, 2, p. 176-192.
'Specialist Knowledge Parctice of Craftsmen and Clerics in Senegal'. In:Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 79, 1, p. 53-70.
'The Construction of Ethnography Knowledge in a Colonial Context: the Case of Heri Gaden (1867-1939)'. In: Harris, Mark (ed.), Ways of Knowing: Anthropological Approaches to Crafting Experience and Knowledge, Oxford, Berghan.
The Visibility and Invisibility of Production in Different Social Contexts among Senegalese Craftsmen' In: Geschiere, P. and van Binsbergen, W. (eds.). Commodification: Things, Agency and Identities (The Social Life of Things Revisited), LIT Verlag. p. 227-41.
'Time-shapes and Cultural Agency among West African Craft Specialists'. In: James, W. & Mills, D. (eds.). The Qualities of Time: Anthropological Approaches. Berg p. 235-248.