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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. 



2018: Candea, M. Comparison in Anthropology: The Impossible Method. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2018: (Ed.) Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory. London: Routledge.

2016: (Ed.) The Social After Gabriel Tarde: Debates and Assessments (Second Edition). London: Routledge

2015: (Ed.) with Joanna Cook, Catherine Trundle, and Thomas Yarrow, eds. Detachment: Essays on the Limits of Relational Thinking. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

2010: Corsican Fragments: Difference, knowledge and fieldwork. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

2010: (Ed.) The Social After Gabriel Tarde: Debates and Assessments, London: Routledge.


Edited Journal Issues

2019: Censures Terrain: Anthropologie & Sciences Humaines 72

2012: (with Alcayna-Stevens, L.) Internal others: Ethnographies of naturalism. Special issue Cambridge Anthropology 30(2)

2012: (with Da Col, G.) Returning to Hospitality: Strangers, Guests and Ambiguous encounters. Special issue of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18(S1)

2006: (with Jeffery, L.) The politics of victimhood. Special issue of History and Anthropology. 17(4)


Peer-reviewed Articles

2021: ‘When I see what democracy is…’: bleak liberalism in a French court. Social Anthropology 29, 453–470.

2019: The Duelling Ethic and the Spirit of Libel Law: Matters and Materials of Honour in France. Law Text Culture 23, 29.

2019: Silencing oneself, silencing others: Rethinking censorship comparatively [introduction]. Terrain

2019: On Visual Coherence and Visual Excess. Social Analysis 63, 63–88.

2019: Behaviour as a thing. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 0, 1–11.

2018: Candea, M. 2018. The two faces of character: moral tales of animal behaviour. Social Anthropology 26, 361–375.

2016: “De Deux Modalités de La Comparaison En Anthropologie Sociale.” L’Homme 218 (2016): 183–218.

2014: “’There is something': Charlie Galibert’s Corsica”. Anthropological Quarterly 87(2): 525-540

2013: Suspending Belief: Epoché in Animal Behaviour Science. American Anthropologist 115 (3):423-436.

2013: Habituating Meerkats and Redescribing Animal Behaviour Science. Theory, Culture and Society 30 (7-8):105-128.

2013: The fieldsite as device. Journal of cultural economy 6 (3):241-258.

2012: (with Alcayna-Stevens, L.) ‘Internal Others: Ethnographies of naturalism’. Cambridge Anthropology 30(2), 36-47

2012: ‘Different Species, One Theory: reflections on anthropomorphism and anthropological comparison’ Cambridge Anthropology 30(2), 118-135

2012: ‘Derrida en Corse? Hospitality as scale-free abstraction’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18(S1), S34-S48

2012: (with Da Col, G.) ‘Introduction: The return to Hospitality’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18(S1), S1-S19

2012: (with Venkatesan, S., Bruun Jensen, C., Pedersen, M. A., Leach, J., Evans, G.) ‘The task of anthropology is to invent relations: 2010 meeting of the Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory’ Critique of Anthropology 31(2), 43-86

2011: ‘Our division of the Universe: making a space for the non-political in the anthropology of politics’ Current Anthropology 52(3), 309-334

2010: ‘”I fell in love with Carlos the Meerkat”: engagement and detachment in human-animal relations’. American Ethnologist, 37(2), 241-258.

2010: ‘Anonymous Introductions: Identity and Belonging in Corsica’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 16(1),

2010: (with Carrithers, M., Sykes, K., Holbraad, M., Venkatesan, S.) ‘Ontology Is Just Another Word for Culture: Motion Tabled at the 2008 Meeting of the Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory, University of Manchester’, Critique of Anthropology, 30 (2), 152-200.

2008: ‘Fire and identity as matters of concern’. Anthropological Theory. 8(2).

2007: ‘Arbitrary locations: In defence of the bounded field-site’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 13, 167-184

2006: ‘Resisting victimhood in Corsica’. History and Anthropology. 17:4, 369-384

2006: (with Jeffery, L.) ‘Introduction: The politics of victimhood’. History and Anthropology. 17:4, 369-384


Book Chapters

2023: The anthropology of science as an anthropology of ethics (and vice versa): elements, problems and possibilities. In Cambridge Handbook of the Anthropology of Ethics (ed) J. Laidlaw. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2022. Epilogue: On the topic of location. In Locating the Mediterranean: Connections and Separations across Space and Time (eds) C. Rommel & J. J. Viscomi, 219–227. Helsinki: Helsinki university press.

2019: Comparison, re-placed. In Going to Pentecost: An Experimental Approach to Studies in Pentecostalism. Berghahn Books (available on-line: http://www.jstor.or

2018: "Paradoxical Pedagogies: Reassembling Individual (Animal) Subjects". In Recovering the Human Subject. Martin Holbraad, James Laidlaw, and Barbara Bodenhorn, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2018: Severed Roots: Evolutionism, Diffusionism and (Structural-)Functionalism. In Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory (ed) M. Candea. London: Routledge.

2018: No Actor, no Network, No Theory: Bruno Latour’s Anthropology of the Moderns. In Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory (ed) M. Candea. London: Routledge.

2016: “We Have Never Been Pluralist: On Lateral and Frontal Comparisons in the Ontological Turn.” In Comparative Metaphysics: Ontology after Anthropology, edited by Charbonnier, Pierre, Gildas Salmon, and Skafish, Pierre. London: Rowman & Littlefield

2013: ‘Objects made out of action’ in Casella E. et al. Objects and Materials Companion. London: Routledge

2010: ‘Revisiting Tarde’s House’. In The Social After Gabriel Tarde: Debates and Assessments, (Ed, Candea, M.). London: Routledge.

2009: ‘Arbitrary locations: In defence of the bounded field-site (reprinted with a new afterword) IN Falzon, M.-A. (ed.) Multi-Sited Ethnography: Theory, Praxis and Locality in Contemporary Social Research London: Ashgate

2009: ‘Multi-Sited Ethnography’. In Barnard, A. and J. Spencer Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology London: Routledge


Comments, Reviews

with T. Fedirko, P. Heywood & F. Wright 2021. Freedom of Speech. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology (available on-line:, accessed).

2019. REVIEW: The Mediterranean Incarnate: Region Formation between Sicily and Tunisia since World War II. Mediterranean Historical Review 34, 234–238.

(with Tom White) 2018. Animals. Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology (available on-line:, accessed 4 February 2020).

2017:  Science. Felix Stein, Sian Lazar, Matei Candea, et al., eds. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology.

2017:  This Is (Not) like That. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7(1): 517–521.

2014: “The Ontology of the Political Turn.” Fieldsights - Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology Online

2012: ‘Towards an anthropology of relations themselves. A review of Stasch, R. 2009. Society of others : kinship and mourning in a West Papuan place. Berkeley: University of California Press.’ In Cultural Anthropology 27:4

2012: “Review: Latour, B. and V. A. Lépinay (2009) The science of passionate interests : an introduction to Gabriel Tarde’s economic anthropology.” In the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

2011: Comment on Carrithers, M. ‘Can a Species Be a Person?: a Trope and its Entanglements in the Anthropocene Era’ Current Anthropology, 52 (5), 661-685

2011: ‘Fragments d’identité’. Revue Fora!, 8, 49-51.

2011: ‘Endo/Exo (Symposium: Comparative relativism)’. Common Knowledge, 17(1), 146-150.

2011: ‘”We both wait together”: Poaching Agustin Fuentes’. Kroeber Anthropological Society, 100(1), 148-151.

2011: Two hopes built on swarms. (A review of Seeley, T.D. 2010. Honeybee democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press. and Parikka, J. 2010. Insect media : an archaeology of animals and technology. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.). Biosocieties 6,365-369

2008: (with T. Yarrow) ‘Lessons for life: Student reflections on the teaching of Sue Benson’. Cambridge Anthropology. 27(2). 77-89

2008: ‘Thinking Through Tourism. ASA Conference, London Metropolitan University, 10-13 April 2007’ Anthropology Today 24(1)

2006: ‘Anthropology of cross-channel debates’. Anthropology Today. 22:4, 24

2006: ‘Bringing the past into the present: AAA 2005’ In Anthropology Today Vol. 22, n.2

2002: “Review: History in Person (Holland, D. and J. Lave, eds.)” In Cambridge Anthropology, vol. 23, n. 1:76-78

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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