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Department of Social Anthropology



Dr Maryon McDonald is a Fellow and Director of Studies at Robinson College.  Her research interests include European Union institutions; medical anthropology and anthropology of the sciences; rethinkings of ‘cognition’; language and linguistics; social theory.  And her teaching interests span a wide range of courses, from Theory to the Anthropology of Europe; she has been most recently been involved in organising and teaching Medical Anthropology, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.


Medical anthropology, ‘Science and Society’ issues, European anthropology, the EU, linguistics, rethinkings of ‘cognition’, bioethics and accountability, management, bureaucracy, collaborative anthropology and practices of detachment, Europe: UK, France and EU institutions.

Maryon McDonald has been Fellow in Social Anthropology at Robinson College, Cambridge, since 1997. She was previously Reader in Social Anthropology at Brunel University, and has held visiting appointments at the Universities of Rennes (France) and Oxford (UK), where she was also elected ‘O’Donnell Lecturer’ in recognition of her contribution to Celtic linguistics and scholarship. She has often been asked to speak to medical teams about subsequent work she has done on health issues, or to new recruits in Brussels and UK civil servants following her work on EU institutions.

Dr McDonald has long engaged with the anthropology of Europe, and has advised the European Commission on several topics. In Cambridge, she has run courses on European Anthropology, Medical Anthropology and Science and Society, and is a member of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Medical Anthropology Committee and of the European ELPAT group (Ethical, Legal, and Psychosocial aspects of Organ Transplantation). Along with Professor Marilyn Strathern, Dr McDonald founded and ran a research group on Comparative Issues in Biotechnology and Accountability (CBA), and was subsequently engaged in a large Leverhulme-funded research project examining changing understandings of the human body. Her current focus is on the related theoretical and empirical issues that have arisen, including professional detachment and the problematic category of ‘ethics’, and the contribution of anthropology to life and death issues in the medical field. One recent focus has been on questions surrounding the early detection of cancer. She also teaches and researches in the field of anthropological theory more generally.



Authored and Edited books

2009:  Social Bodies (ed., with H. Lambert). Oxford and New York: Berghahn.

1994:  Gender, Drink and Drugs (ed.) . Oxford and New York: Berg.

1989:  ‘We are not French!’  Language, Culture and Identity in Brittany. London and New York: Routledge.

1989:  History and Ethnicity (ed., with E. Tonkin and M. Chapman. ASA volume 27). London and New York: Routledge.

Articles and Book Chapters

2018 'From "the body" to "embodiment", with help from phenomenology' in M. Candea ( ed) Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory. Oxford and New York: Routledge.

2017 ‘The ontological turn meets the certainty of death in Anthropology and Medicine July 2017: 1-16

2015 ‘Some merits and difficulties of detachment’ in Yarrow,T., M. Candea, C. Trundle, and J. Cook (eds) Detachment. Essays on the limits of relational thinking. Manchester University Press.

2015 ‘EditorialThe Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 33 (1)

2015, ‘Conversing with the Anthropologist‘, CLOD Log

2014 ‘Bodies and cadavers’ in Penny Harvey et al (eds) The Routledge Companion to Objects and Materials. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

2014 ‘EditorialThe Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 32 (2)

2014 ‘EditorialThe Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 32 (1)

2013 ‘EditorialThe Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 31 (1)

2013 ‘The Body in the Age of Technology’, with Oliver Harris and John Robb, in J. Robb and O. Harris (eds.) The Body in History, Cambridge University Press (This publication has received the following PROSE awards from the American Publishers’ Association for professional and scholarly publishing: 2013 Award for Excellence in Archaeology and Anthropology and 2013 Award for Excellence in the Social Sciences as a whole).

2012 ‘EditorialThe Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 30 (1)

2012 ‘Medical Anthropology and Anthropological Studies of Science’ in U. Kockel, M. Nic Craith and J. Frykman  (eds.) Companion to the Anthropology of Europe. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

2012 ‘Putting Culture in its Place: anthropological Reflections on the European Commission’ in European Societies vol 14 (4).

2011 ‘Deceased organ donation, culture and the objectivity of death’ in Weimar, W.  (ed) Organ Transplantation: Ethical, Legal and Psycho-Social Aspects. Eichengrund: Pabst Science Publishers.

2010 Public Care. Comments for the Nuffield Bioethics Council consultation ‘Give and Take?’

2009  ‘Organ Transplants’ in A. Herle, M. Elliott and R.Empson (eds) Assembling Bodies. Cambridge: MAA

2006  ‘Neo-nationalism in Europe: occupying the available space’ in A. Gingrich and M. Banks (eds) Neo-nationalism in Europe and Beyond: Anthropological Perspectives. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.

2006  ‘Towards a rigorously empirical anthropology’, postscript in The Voice of Prophecy: the works of Edwin Ardener. M.Chapman (ed.) Oxford: Blackwell (2nd Edition; first edition 1989).

2006  ‘Trying to be European in Brussels’ in Studying Through Europe: Europakonzepte in der Europäischen Ethnologie (eds. A. Vonderau and K. Pöhls), special issue of Berliner Blätter. Ethnographische und Ethnologische Beiträge, 2006, October.

2005  ‘EU Policy: a challenge for Anthropology’ in Anthropology Today, vol. 21(1). 

2004  ‘Debating the EU’ in Anthropology Today, vol. 20(6)

2000  ‘Anthropology, Accountability and the European Commission’ in Strathern, M. (ed.) Audit cultures: anthropological studies in accountability, ethics and the academy. London and New York: Routledge.

1999  ‘A Deadly Linguistics? Tales from the Celtic fringe’, in T. Allen and J. Eade (eds) Divided Europeans: understanding ethnicities in conflict.  London: Kluwer.

1997  ‘Identities inside the European Commission’, in Neill Nugent (ed.) At the Heart of the Union: Studies of the European Commission. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

1996  ‘ “Unity in Diversity”: some tensions in the construction of Europe’ in Social Anthropology, 1996, 4(1). 

1994  ‘Women and Linguistic Innovation’ in P. Wilkins (ed.) Bilingual Women.  Oxford:Berg

1994  ‘Drinking and Social Identity in the West of France’, in M.McDonald (ed.) Gender, Drink and Drugs. Oxford and New York: Berg.

1993  ‘The Construction of Difference: an anthropological approach to stereotypes’ in S. Macdonald (ed.) Inside European Identities. Oxford and New York: Berg.

1991  ‘Postmodernism, socialism and ethnography’ in Anthropology Today, 7 (5).

1990  ‘Pour comprendre la culture du boire en Bretagne’ in vol. 1 of G.Caro and E.Morin (eds.) De L’Alcoolisme au Bien Boire. Paris: L’Harmattan.

1990  ‘Anthropology: Commentary and Introduction’ in P.Lowe and M Bodiguel (eds.) Rural Studies in Britain and France. London: Bellhaven/Wiley and Sons.

1989  ‘The exploitation of linguistic mis-match: towards an ethnography of customs and manners’ in R.Grillo (ed.) Social anthropology and the politics of language. Sociological Review Monograph Series.

1987  ‘Tourism: chasing culture and tradition’ in Who From Their Labours Rest? Conflict and Practice in Rural Tourism (eds.) M.Winter and M.Bouquet.  Aldershot: Gower.

1987   ‘The politics of fieldwork in Brittany’ in A. Jackson (ed.) Anthropology at Home (ASA volume 25). London and New York: Tavistock.

1987  ‘L’identité minoritaire en France.’ in M.Piault (ed.) Vers des Sociétés Pluriculturelles. Paris: Editions de l’ORSTOM.

1986  ‘Celtic Ethnic Kinship and the Problem of Being English’. (with invited comments and reply) in Current Anthropology, vol.27(4).

Teaching and Supervisions