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Thomas White (2011)

Thomas White (2011)

Teaching Associate

Research Title: Transforming China’s Desert: Camels, Pastoralists and the State in the Reconfiguration of Western Inner Mongolia

Supervisor: Professor Dame Caroline Humphrey


I studied English Literature as an undergraduate at the University of Oxford, graduating in 2007. I then spent a year learning Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, before taking up a post teaching English Language and Literature at the China University of Geosciences in Beijing. In 2010 I arrived in Cambridge to study for an MPhil in Social Anthropology, and in 2011 I began my doctoral research in this department.

My PhD thesis consists of a study of human-animal relations in the context of environmental change. It draws on 18 months of fieldwork among Mongol pastoralists and their animals in Alasha, a region of vast, sparsely-populated deserts in the west of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, northern China. Central to my thesis is an analysis of the significance of the domestic Bactrian camel in the political ecology of this region, where traditions of extensive animal husbandry are threatened by policies designed to tackle desertification. My research brings anthropological discussions of human-animal relations into conversation with the ‘spatial turn’ in the social sciences, and with debates surrounding the political ecology of China’s borderlands.

Research Interests

Human-animal relations; pastoralism; space and place; mobility; China’s borderlands; Inner Asia; environmental change; political ecology; infrastructure; deserts.


SAN4/7: Anthropology of Inner Asia

MPhil Paper 2: Systems of Power and Knowledge: Anthropology and Politics

MPhil Research Methods Workshop

Key Publications

WHITE, T. 2016. From sent-down youth to scaled-up town: spatial transformations and early socialist legacies on the Inner Mongolian steppe. Inner Asia 18: 15-36.