Dr Sarah Bennison

Dr Sarah Bennison

STACEES Research Fellow

Researcher profile



Research areas

I am an interdisciplinary Andeanist specialising in irrigation customs and community water governance in the Peruvian highlands, with specialist expertise in the Huarochirí province of Lima. I am particularly interested in the following areas in relation to Huarochirí and throughout the Andean region:

  • ritual management of water
  • customary law
  • ritual functions of khipus ('quipus')
  • local texts
  • twentieth century nation-building, social change and linguistic transformation
  • indigenous/ancestral ontologies of landscape
  • Andean ontologies of the body and particularly the female reproductive organs

My area of expertise also includes the early colonial Quechua Huarochirí Manuscript.

In 2021, I took up a post as Research Fellow of the recently launched St Andrews Network for Climate, Energy, Environment and Sustainability (STACEES). 

In 2022, I took up a further role as Research Fellow in the School of Geography and Sustainable Development, working on a UKRI-funded project exploring climate change in northern Peru; led by Prof Nina Laurie. I currently work 50% FTE in this role and 50% in my STACEES role.

Book in press:

The Entablo Manuscript: Water Rituals and Khipu-Boards of San Pedro de Casta, Peru. University of Texas Press. 2023.


My research has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including Anthropological Linguistics, Latin American Research Review and Indiana. I  have also written multiple peer-reviewed book chapters, with one published and another in press.

I have authored/co-authored/contributed to a number of research-focussed media outlets, including Sapiens magazine. My writing (an opinion contribution on research culture) has also been featured in Times Higher Education.

I co-edited The Sustainability Series; a digital booklet showcasing research at the University of St Andrews on climate, energy, environment and sustainability.

Link to my report for the Latin America Bureau on water harvesting and the June 2021 Peruvian election runoff debate: Peru: why #cosechadeagua is a trending topic | Latin America Bureau (lab.org.uk) 

Research background:

In 2016, I completed an interdisciplinary Latin American Sudies PhD at Newcastle University. My research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council explored irrigation rituals and customary law in Huarochirí, home to the Quechua Huarochirí Manuscript of c.1608. The thesis also explored indigenous legislation at the international and national level (in Peru), problematising the criteria for Prior Consultation Law. Since groups from Huarochirí define themselves as Spanish-speaking and non-indigenous, according to the Peruvian State criteria they cannot be conferred the right to prior consultation.

Between 2017 and 2021, I worked on the Leverhulme Trust-funded research project: "Hidden Texts of the Andes: Deciphering the 'Khipus' (Cord Writing) of Peru", led by Prof Sabine Hyland (Social Anthropology, St Andrews University).

My research draws on insights into Peruvian society gained through twenty years of extended stays in the country, including over a decade of ethnographic fieldwork trips in Huarochirí. I also lived in Cusco during my late teens.

Having carried out doctoral fieldwork in Huarochirí with my baby throughout 2012, I am interested in the intersection between researcher identity/positionality and methodology. 

Leadership & service work

I served as Director of the Centre for Amerindian, Latin American and Caribbean Studies in 2018/2019 during the centre's 50th anniversary year. I ran a regular seminar series in addition to a series of anniversary-focussed events including the centre's first interdisciplinary networking event. I also built and launched a new centre website.

In 2017, I co-founded the Early Career Women's Network at St Andrews University and co-led the network until 2020.

From 2017-2020, I served as representative for the School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies on the University of St Andrews Staff Forum and latterly its Research Staff Forum.


I am passionate about disability inclusion, research ethics and integrity. More generally, I am enthusiastic about contributing positively to a supportive, diverse and fair research environment.

Selected publications


See more publications