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Department of Social Anthropology



I am a social anthropologist interested in understanding ethics, epistemics, materiality, and politics, with an emphasis on the analysis of conceptual and social forms and formalisms. I have studied the place of knowledge and materiality in the politics of belonging on the island of Corsica; the ethical formation of behavioural scientists working with non-human animals; and the theory, practices and heuristics of anthropological comparison. Currently I am working on the outcomes of the ERC-funded Risking Speech project, which explored the ethical imaginaries, political subjectivities and material semiotics of debates over ‘freedom of speech’ in a range of European locations. My fieldwork has regionally centred in Europe and the Mediterranean, with a particular focus on France.


From 2016-2022, I was the PI on the Risking Speech project, a comparative study of the ethics, epistemics, politics and material infrastructures of freedom of speech in a range of locations in and beyond Europe. Risking Speech was funded by a European Research Council (ERC) grant entitled ‘Situating Free Speech’ under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. 

My doctoral research (PhD Cambridge 2006) focused on identity, alterity and belonging on the island of Corsica. The resulting book, Corsican Fragments (2010), and a range of associated publications explored a number of interrelated themes: the historical politics of knowledge and mystery surrounding the island of Corsica and its emergence as a potent ‘internal other’ for France; the contemporary intersection between materiality, languages and senses of place on the island; the ways in which intimations of alterity and relatedness arise from everyday micro-interactions in village space; the politics and poetics of hospitality; dynamics of identity, racism and republicanism in contemporary France. 

This ethnographic research led me to reconsider a number of classic methodological and theoretical questions: in particular, the practice of bounding and extending ethnographic field-sites; the effect of current anthropological understandings of the category of ‘the political’; the question of what it might mean to ‘take seriously’ the people one is working with. This launched an enduring interest in anthropological heuristics, whose current instance is a book on the theory and practice of anthropological comparison, Comparison in Anthropology: The Impossible Method, published with Cambridge University Press (2018). 

My first post-doctoral work took the question of knowledge and alterity to a different field: that of inter-species relations in scientific research. I studied the conceptual and material relations between humans and other animals in behavioural biology, with a particular focus on researchers who study meerkats. As in the Corsican case, the focus was on the ways in which understandings of similarity and difference emerge from situated interactions, the intersections of materiality, sociality and language, and the ways in which knowing and not-knowing constitute and emerge from social, ethical and political relations. A key theme running through this research has been the role of detachment as a simultaneously ethical and epistemic goal, as explored in my coedited book, Detachment: Essays on the limits of relational thinking, published with Manchester University Press (2015).  

Alongside these empirical research projects, I have also been involved in the rediscovery and re-evaluation of the works of the forgotten 19th century French social theorist Gabriel Tarde, whose work provided a challenge to some key elements of what later became the Durkheimian canon, and arguably prefigured some recent developments in philosophy and the social sciences (see Candea (ed.) The social after Gabriel Tarde, Routledge 2010). The book was reissued in a revised and expanded edition in 2016. 

Aside from Cambridge, where I was a lecturer from 2006-2009, I also taught at the University of Durham (2009-2013) and held the position of Velux Visiting Professor at the University of Copenhagen (in Summer-Autumn 2014). I am a fellow and director of studies at King’s College, and was the honorary editor of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (2013-2016). In 2016, I was awarded the Pilkington Prize for teaching excellence. 

Research interests 

Europe; the Mediterranean; France; The anthropology of Free Speech; science, ignorance and doubt; human-animal relations; Politics of language; Identity, alterity and belonging; French republicanism and its critics; Ethnographic method; The history of social theory; Anthropological heuristics, and in particular the theory and practice of anthropological comparison. 




  • Candea, M., 2018. Comparison in Anthropology The Impossible Method
    Doi: 10.1017/9781108667609
  • 2017

  • 2017. Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory
    Doi: 10.4324/9781315388267
  • 2012

  • 2012. The Social After Gabriel Tarde
  • 2010

  • Candea, M., 2010. Corsican fragments: Difference, knowledge, and fieldwork
  • Journal articles

    2021 (Published online)

  • Candea, M., Wright, F., Fedirko, T. and Heywood, P., 2021 (Published online). Freedom of Speech Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology,
    Doi: 10.29164/21speech
  • 2021

  • Candea, M., 2021. ‘When I see what democracy is…’: bleak liberalism in a French court Social Anthropology, v. 29
    Doi: 10.1111/1469-8676.13038
  • 2019

  • Candea, M., 2019. Silencing oneself, silencing others: Rethinking censorship comparatively Terrain,
    Doi: 10.4000/terrain.18773
  • Candea, M., 2019. The Duelling Ethic and the Spirit of Libel Law: Matters and Materials of Honour in France LAW TEXT CULTURE, v. 23
  • Candea, M., 2019. On visual coherence and visual excess: Writing, diagrams, and anthropological form Social Analysis: international journal of cultural and social practice, v. 63
    Doi: 10.3167/sa.2019.630404
  • Candea, M., 2019. Behaviour as a thing Interdisciplinary Science Reviews,
    Doi: 10.1080/03080188.2018.1561064
  • 2018

  • Candea, M., 2018. The two faces of character: moral tales of animal behaviour Social Anthropology, v. 26
    Doi: 10.1111/1469-8676.12547
  • 2017

  • Candea, M., 2017. This is (not) like that HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, v. 7
  • 2016

  • Candea, M., 2016. De Deux Modalités de la Comparaison en Anthropologie Sociale Homme (France),
  • 2014

  • Candea, M., 2014. "There is something": Charlie Galibert's Corsica Anthropological Quarterly, v. 87
    Doi: 10.1353/anq.2014.0028
  • 2013

  • Candea, M., 2013. Habituating Meerkats and Redescribing Animal Behaviour Science Theory, Culture & Society, v. 30
    Doi: 10.1177/0263276413501204
  • Candea, M., 2013. Suspending Belief: Epoché in Animal Behavior Science American Anthropologist, v. 115
    Doi: 10.1111/aman.12026
  • Candea, M., 2013. THE FIELDSITE AS DEVICE Journal of Cultural Economy, v. 6
    Doi: 10.1080/17530350.2012.754366
  • 2012

  • Candea, M. and Alcayna-Stevens, L., 2012. Internal Others: Ethnographies of Naturalism The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, v. 30
    Doi: 10.3167/ca.2012.300203
  • Candea, M., 2012. Different Species, One Theory: Reflections on Anthropomorphism and Anthropological Comparison The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, v. 30
    Doi: 10.3167/ca.2012.300208
  • Candea, M., 2012. Derrida en Corse? Hospitality as scale-free abstraction Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, v. 18
    Doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9655.2012.01759.x
  • 2011

  • Candea, M., 2011. Endo/exo Common Knowledge, v. 17
    Doi: 10.1215/0961754X-2010-046
  • Candea, M., 2011. "Our division of the Universe": Making a Space for the non-political in the anthropology of politics Current Anthropology, v. 52
    Doi: 10.1086/659748
  • 2010

  • Carrithers, M., Candea, M., Sykes, K., Holbraad, M. and Venkatesan, S., 2010. Ontology Is Just Another Word for Culture Motion Tabled at the 2008 Meeting of the Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory, University of Manchester CRIT ANTHROPOL, v. 30
    Doi: 10.1177/0308275X09364070
  • Candea, M., 2010. "I fell in love with Carlos the meerkat": Engagement and detachment in human-animal relations AM ETHNOL, v. 37
    Doi: 10.1111/j.1548-1425.2010.01253.x
  • Candea, M., 2010. Anonymous introductions: identity and belonging in Corsica J ROY ANTHROPOL INST, v. 16
  • 2008

  • Candea, M., 2008. Fire and identity as matters of concern in Corsica ANTHROPOL THEOR, v. 8
    Doi: 10.1177/1463499608090791
  • 2007

  • Candea, M., 2007. Arbitrary locations: in defence of the bounded field-site J ROY ANTHROPOL INST, v. 13
  • 2006

  • Jeffery, L. and Candea, M., 2006. The politics of victimhood History and Anthropology, v. 17
    Doi: 10.1080/02757200600914037
  • Candea, M., 2006. Resisting victimhood in corsica History and Anthropology, v. 17
    Doi: 10.1080/02757200600914045
  • Candea, M., 2006. ANTHROPOLOGY OF CROSS-CHANNEL DEBATES: A response to Fassin (AT22[1]) and Bazin et al (AT22[2]) Anthropology Today, v. 22
    Doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8322.2006.00453.x
  • Book chapters


  • Candea, M., 2018. Paradoxical pedagogies and humanist double Binds
    Doi: 10.1017/9781108605007.008
  • 2016

  • Candea, M., 2016. We Have Never Been Pluralist: On Lateral and Frontal Comparisons in the Ontological Turn
  • 2012

  • Candea, M., 2012. Arbitrary locations: In defence of the bounded field–site
  • Teaching and Supervisions


    SAN1: The comparative perspective: Anthropological Theory

    SAN3: Anthropological theory and methods: Schools of Anthropological Theory


    Research supervision: 
    Professor of Social Anthropology
    Director of Undergraduate Education and Chair, Undergraduate Education Committee
    Fellow and Director of Studies, King's College
    Office hours: appointment by email
    Dr Matei  Candea

    Contact Details

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