Research projects

Energy Ethics

Dr Mette M High is the principal investigator on a five-year research project funded by the European Research Council on finance moralities and environmental politics in the global oil economy. The project involves a team of researchers exploring ethnographically how multiple and conflicting valuations of oil intersect and inform global markets. Collectively, the research team considers how the production, distribution, consumption and waste of energy relates to what people consider to be right or good.

Applying insights and methods from anthropology and beyond, this project focuses on people as well as resources. Attending to people’s own perceptions of and direct involvement in energy economies, it is developing a truly novel framework for understanding the relationship between oil, money and climate change.

Electricity pylon in a field

Ethnographic Horizons: Time and the Ethnographic Horizon in Moments of Crisis

The Centre for Pacific Studies is exploring the time horizons that inform people's perceptions of crisis. The project will run for three years and is supported by the International Balzan Foundation, as part of the 2018 Balzan Prize in Social Anthropology awarded to Marilyn Strathern.

The Balzan Research Project responds to a conundrum at the heart of Social Anthropology. First-hand research is central to the fashioning of ethnography through fieldwork, yet always brings with it a specific temporal horizon. The ethnographer's present is not always the best vantage point from which to apprehend the nature of contemporary issues, notably with respect to perceptions of life in crisis. The Balzan research project is supporting one PhD student and four postdoctoral researchers.

Marilyn Strathearn

The Global War Against the Rat and the Epistemic Emergence of Zoonosis

Led by Dr Christos Lynteris and funded by the Wellcome Trust with an Investigator Award in the Humanities and Social Sciences “The Global War Against the Rat and the Epistemic Emergence of Zoonosis” (2020-2025) will examine the global history of a foundational but historically neglected process in the development of scientific approaches of zoonosis: the global war against the rat (1898-1948).

The project will explore the synergies between knowledge acquired through medical studies of the rat, in the wake of understanding its role in the transmission of infectious diseases (plague, leptospirosis, murine typhus), with knowledge acquired during the development and application of public health measures of vector-control: rat-proofing, rat-catching and rat-poisoning.

By examining the epistemological, architectural, social, and chemical histories of rat control from a global, comparative perspective, the project will show how new forms of epidemiological reasoning about key zoonotic mechanisms (the epizootic, the disease reservoir, and species invasiveness) arose around the epistemic object of the rat.

Watercolour of rats being dissected

India: a laboratory in which dead rats are being examined as part of a plague-prevention programme. Watercolour, by E. Schwarz, 1915/1935, courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.

Hidden Texts of the Andes: Deciphering the 'Khipus' (Knotted Cord Writing) of Peru

Professor Sabine Hyland is the principal investigator on a three-year project funded by the Leverhulme Trust and awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship to examine the Inca writing system of knotted cords (khipus). Her project considers the insights to be gained if we could read the Incas' own accounts of their history instead of relying upon biased Spanish chroniclers.

Khipus recorded histories and other information, yet remains undeciphered. Research has uncovered Peruvian villages where khipus, once thought extinct, were used until the 20th century, providing vital insights into how khipus functioned. Deciphering the more than 800 extant khipus would revolutionise understanding of Andean civilisation, presenting an insiders' view of practices like human sacrifice. This project analyses these unique instances of alphabetic and khipu interfaces using linguistic, historical, and anthropological methodologies.

Sabine Hyland and Khipu

Listening to the Zoo

Dr Adam Reed is co-investigator on a project entitled 'Listening to the Zoo', funded by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Transformative Research grant award. The principal investigator, Dr Tom Rice, and the rest of the project team are based at the University of Exeter.

This project brings together scholars from anthropology, anthrozoology and bioacoustics to consider the soundscapes of zoos. This includes a consideration of the diverse acoustic ranges of different captive species, the impact of human-created sound or 'noise' on animal welfare, the role of listening in visitor experiences of the zoo and in the care of captive species by keepers. The project works with two zoos in southern England: Paignton Zoo in South Devon and Bristol Zoo.

Sleeping tiger in a zoo

Rebellions and Alliances in Latin America

Funded by a three-year research project grant from the Leverhulme Trust, Professor Mark Harris has studied the past of contemporary societies of the Brazilian Amazon. The project sought lessons for the future that can benefit those who strive to build a fair and sustainable society. The project built on the success of the Centre of Amerindian and Latin American Studies (CAS) in combining the anthropological and historical study of the region.

This project was further consolidated through a British Academy and Leverhulme Senior Fellowship, focusing on the development and change that arose in relation to colonial rule in riverine societies along the Brazilian Amazon. While previous histories had separated people by period, ethnicity or nationhood, they were brought together by the river. The Amazon itself was key to their identity, and the project thus asked "what kinds of societies form along rivers?"

Sketch of an attack on a fortified village

Ferdinand Denis (1798-1890). "Desenhos a grafite copiados das clássicas obras dos viajantes e que serviram para ilustrar a obra “Bresil par Ferdinand Denis. Colombie et Guyanes", par M.C. Famin. ©Biblioteca Nacional (Brasil)

Renewable Energy and Extractive Economies in the Greek Economic Crisis

The Leverhulme Trust has funded a three-year project carried out by Dr Daniel Knight that focused on the temporal complexity of renewable energy initiatives in austerity Greece. Since 2011, the Greek government has advocated renewable energy generation and export as a way to repay national debt and decrease deficit. The project explored the impact of multinational investment in photovoltaic parks on the Plain of Thessaly, Greece, where impoverished farmers have ceased crop cultivation in favour of energy production. Yet energy generated on farmland rarely benefits the local community.

The project considered the extent to which renewable energy projects are seen as new forms of extractive economy, harnessing local natural resources for the benefit of foreign corporations. It thus addressed how economic uncertainty has created dynamic spaces for entrepreneurial opportunism while renewables are locally perceived as neo-colonial programs and new extractive economies.

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Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic

Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic (VR3PP) (@visualplague) was an interdisciplinary research project led by Dr Christos Lynteris (Principal Investigator) and funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant (under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme/ERC grant agreement no 336564) with 1.49 million Euros (HI 2013-2017, CRASSH, University of Cambridge; 2017-2018 Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews).

The project engaged in the analysis of the global and local histories of the visual representation of the third plague pandemic (1894-1959), and the role they played in the formation of scientific understandings and public perception of infectious disease epidemics in the modern era. The project has shown that plague photography contributed to the emergence of epidemic photography as a distinct photographic genre, and to the emergence and consolidation of the concept and experience of the "pandemic".

Plague under a microscope