skip to content

Department of Social Anthropology



I am a sociocultural and linguistic anthropologist with a strong commitment to anthropological theory and its elaboration through close dialogue with ethnography. My research focuses on how social relations are mediated by processes of representation, including particularly visual representations and visual acts.  In my work on vision and allied communicative and perceptual channels, I am concerned with improving anthropological understandings of processes of representation to include levels of practice that are not typically examined via tools of semiotic and symbolic theory. My regional interests include Indonesia, Melanesia, and the Pacific.


I have long-term fieldwork experience with Korowai people in West Papua, Indonesia, who across the time I have been involved with them have also become internationally famous in the mass media and in the tourism industry. I am writing an ethnography of encounters between Korowai and tourists, filmmakers, and magazine journalists. My earlier book, Society of Others: Kinship and Mourning in a West Papuan Place (2009), is an ethnography of relations among Korowai themselves, centred on how they make forms of otherness the central focus of social bonds. This book deals with topics such as landownership and residential dispersion, political egalitarianism, linguistic person reference, face-to-face bodily interaction, domestic architecture, attachment between parents and children, spousal love, affinal obligations, experiences of death and mourning, and ways of relating to deities or monsters. I am ongoingly engaged in comparative theorization of these levels of social life.

In my work on tourism and other new articulations between indigenous societies and national or international institutions, I have examined culturally distinctive ways in which people understand otherness and change to be routine, productive aspects of social life. I have looked at how these forms of cultural openness and multiplicity are often central to historical processes of cross-societal interaction and transformation, complicating questions of different actors’ causal agency in their meetings. I am also working on an archival and oral historical study of a 1936 Dutch-led overland survey expedition in southern New Guinea, which locates the social order of the trekking party, and Papuans’ responses to them, within the wider political order of the Dutch East Indies colony.

Research interests

Social relations; kinship and marriage; photography, visual culture, and cultures of sight; mass media; semiotic mediation; linguistic anthropology; ritual; space and time; tourism; primitivism; exoticizing stereotypy; working misunderstandings; egalitarianism; state formation at the state periphery; historical anthropology of colonialism; Indonesia, Melanesia, and the Pacific.



2009. Society of Others: Kinship and Mourning in a West Papuan Place. University of California Press.

Edited Volumes

2019. [co-edited with Christos Lynteris] Photography and the Unseen, Visual Anthropology Review 35(1). Editors’ introduction: “Photography and the Unseen.”

2015. Primitivist Tourism. Ethnos 80(4). Editor’s introduction: “Double Signs and Intrasocietal Heterogeneity in Primitivist Tourism Encounters.

2014. Rituals and Annals: Between Anthropology and History , by Valerio Valeri. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, Classics Series, Volume 2.Editor’s Introduction.”

2012. [co-edited with Alan Rumsey] Interlingual Articulations in Asia and the Pacific: Figuring Sociocultural Otherness through Otherness of Linguistic Codes. Afterword: “On Relationality of Codes and the Indexical Iconicity of Linguistic Otherness within Wider Value Formations.


2019.    Primitivist Tourism and Anthropological Research: Awkward Relations. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 25(3):526-545.

2017.   Afterword: Village space and the experience of difference and hierarchy between normative orders. Critique of Anthropology 37(4): . Special issue on rural and urban edited by Jenny Chio.

2016.   Dramas of Otherness: ‘First Contact’ Tourism in New Guinea. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6 (3):7-27.

2016.  Singapore, Big Village of the Dead: Cities as Figures of Desire, Domination, and Rupture among Korowai of Indonesian Papua. American Anthropologist 118(2):258-269.

2016.   The iconicity and indexicality of “life” in Korowai sago grub feasts. In Des êtres vivants et des artefacts / Of Living Beings and Artefacts. The Articulation of Vital and Technical Processes, edited by Perig Pitrou, Ludovic Coupaye and Fabien Provost. Paris: Musée du Quai Branly. Les actes.

2015. How an Egalitarian Polity Structures Tourism and Restructures Itself around It. Ethnos 80(4): 524-547.

2014. Powers of Incomprehension: Linguistic Otherness, Translators, and Political Structure in New Guinea Tourism Encounters. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4 (2): 73-94.

2014. Primitivist Tourism and Romantic Individualism: On the Values in Exotic Stereotypy about Cultural Others. Anthropological Theory 14(3):191-214.

2013. The Poetics of Village Space When Villages are New: Settlement Form as History-Making in West Papua. American Ethnologist 40(3): 555-570.

2011. Ritual and Oratory Revisited: The Semiotics of Effective Action. Annual Review of Anthropology 40:159-174.

2011. Korowai Treehouses and the Everyday Representation of Time, Belonging, and Death. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 12(3): 327-347.

2011. Textual Iconicity and the Primitivist Cosmos: Chronotopes of Desire in Travel Writing about Korowai of West Papua. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 21(1):1-21.

2011. Word Avoidance as a Relation-Making Act: A Paradigm for Analysis of Name Utterance Taboos. Anthropological Quarterly 84(1):101-120.

2011. The Camera and the House: The Semiotics of New Guinea “Treehouses” in Global Visual Culture. Comparative Studies in Society and History 53(1):75-112.

2010. The Category ‘Village’ in Melanesian Social Worlds: Some Theoretical and Methodological Possibilities. Paideuma, Mitteilungen zur Kulturkunde 56:41-62.

2008. Knowing Minds is a Matter of Authority: Political Dimensions of Opacity Statements in Korowai Moral Psychology. Anthropological Quarterly 81(2): 443-453.

2008. Referent-Wrecking in Korowai: A New Guinea Abuse Register as Ethnosemiotic Protest. Language in Society 37(1):1-25.

2003. The Semiotics of World-Making in Korowai Feast Longhouses. Language & Communication 23(3/4):359-383.

2003. Separateness as a Relation: The Iconicity, Univocality, and Creativity of Korowai Mother-in-law Avoidance. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (n.s.) 9(2):311-329.

2002. Joking Avoidance: A Korowai Pragmatics of Being Two. American Ethnologist 29(2):335-365.

1996. Killing as Reproductive Agency: Dugong, Pigs, and Humanity among the Kiwai, circa 1900. Anthropos 91: 359-379.

Book Chapters

2018 [with Nigel Clark and Jon Bialecki] Can We Have Our Nature/Culture Dichotomy Back, Please?. In An Anthropology of the Enlightenment: Moral Social Relations Then and Today, ed. Nigel Rapport and Huon Wardle, pp. 99-117. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

2018. Structuralism. In Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory, ed. Matei Candea, pp. 60-78. London: Routledge.

2017. Tourism. In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology (eds) F. Stein, S. Lazar, M. Candea, H. Diemberger, J. Robbins, A. Sanchez & R. Stasch.

2015. From Primitive Other to Papuan Self: Korowai Engagement with Ideologies of Unequal Human Worth in Encounters with Tourists, State Officials, and Education. In From 'Stone-Age' to 'Real-Time': Exploring Papuan Temporalities, Mobilities, and Religiosities, ed. Martin Slama and Jenny Munro, pp. 59-94. Canberra: ANU Press. 

2014. Afterword: Strangerhood, Pragmatics, and Place in the Dialectics of Monster and Norm. In Monster Anthropology in Australasia and Beyond, ed. Yasmine Musharbash and Geir Presterudstuen, pp. 195-214. Palgrave Macmillan.

2014. Toward Symmetric Treatment of Imaginaries: Nudity and Payment in Tourism to Papua’s “Treehouse People”. In Tourism Imaginaries: Anthropological Approaches, ed. Noel Salazar and Nelson Graburn, pp. 31-56.  Berghahn.

2014. Linguistic Anthropology and Sociocultural Anthropology. In The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Anthropology, ed. N.J. Enfield, Paul Kockelman, and Jack Sidnell, pp. 604-621. Cambridge University Press.


Teaching and Supervisions

Professor of Social Anthropology
Director of Postgraduate Education and Chair, PhD Committee
Visual Anthropology Lab Manager
Fellow and Director of Studies, Sidney Sussex College
On sabbatical, returning Mich 24
Dr Rupert  Stasch

Contact Details

Email address: 
Takes PhD students