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Department of Social Anthropology





I am a political anthropologist who studies labour politics and social movements. My research focuses on collective politics in two quite different contexts: trade unions in Buenos Aires, Argentina and collective mobilisations of various kinds in El Alto, an indigenous and mixed-ethnicity city in the Bolivian Andes. I have worked on how ethics, politics and kinship come together in collective politics of these kinds, but also have interests in citizenship, social movements, and the anthropology of Latin America more generally. I am currently writing a book on labour politics, which takes a global and comparative perspective and explores labour agency in different sectors of the economy.


The focus of my research is collective politics in two quite different contexts: Buenos Aires, Argentina, and El Alto, an indigenous and mixed-ethnicity city in the Bolivian Andes. 

My most recent research has been an exploration of labour movement activism, with a focus on Argentina. I take an ethnographic approach to show how labour politics is embedded in daily life and personal experience. That has resulted in a book, called The Social Life of Politics: Ethics, Kinship and Union Activism in Argentina, published in June 2017 by Stanford University Press. The book is an exploration of the themes of subjectivity, kinship, class, morality and economy. I examine the lives of unionists in two public sector trade unions, focusing on the ways that they become activists, how that activism becomes a part of their personality and values, and how it is transmitted across generations. The second part of the book outlines the collective ways that the union delegations come into being, care for their members, enact their political projects, solve problems, and negotiate or mobilise for better working conditions. All this social, ethical and political action takes place within a particular contemporary political-economic context and a history of labour mobilisation, informed by Peronism and anarchosyndicalism. 

The emphasis on labour politics has been important for my consideration of social movements and citizenship action more broadly. I have edited a book which explores the role of workers in moments of mass social upheaval in the Arab Spring of the Middle East and North Africa, in European anti-austerity movements, and in the ‘turn to the left’ in Latin America. The book is called Where are the Unions? Workers and Social Movements in Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe, published by Zed Books. This collection resulted from a conference I co-organised in 2014, called Bread, Freedom and Social Justice: Workers and Mass Mobilization in the Middle East, Latin America and Europe.  Participants included anthropologists, sociologists, activists, literary scholars, journalists, historians, and the edited collection maintains this interdisciplinary focus.

Another workshop on Labour Politics in an Age of Precarity, in April 2017, explored labour politics from a different perspective. Contributors discussed case studies of how labour is organised in different contexts across Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia and Europe, and what effects such organization has on labour relations in conditions of economic precarity. The workshop examined precarity as a condition of life and one of the bases for a collective politics of labour, but without prejudging how that politics might look. This speaks to debates about the continuing relevance of labour-based mobilisation for economic justice, rights and well-being in a contemporary political context that often overlooks its very real impact across the globe.

My previous work was an ethnography of citizenship in El Alto. In the early 2000s, El Alto became one of the most important centres of political radicalism in Bolivia. In 2003-5, street protests concentrated in El Alto forced two of Bolivia’s presidents to resign, and in December 2005 Bolivians elected their first indigenous president, Evo Morales.  I researched the processes and conflicts that lie behind this political power at the local level, considering in particular everyday practices and experiences of citizenship that structure the relationships between residents of El Alto and the Bolivian state. This resulted in a book: El Alto, Rebel City: Self and Citizenship in Andean Bolivia, published by Duke University Press, which combines anthropological methods and theories with political philosophy.

Research Interests

Latin America (specifically Argentina and Bolivia); social movements, especially labour movements; ethnography of the state, democracy and citizenship; gender; the city; and the anthropology of politics and development.



2023: How we Struggle. A political anthropology of labour Pluto Press

2019:  Cómo se construye un sindicalista. Vida cotidiana, militancia y afectos en el mundo sindical. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI (Spanish translation of The Social Life of Politics)

2017: The Social Life of Politics: Ethics, Kinship and Union Activism in Argentina Stanford University Press

2017: Where are the Unions? Workers and Social Movements in Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe Zed books

2013: ‘El Alto, Ciudad Rebelde’. La Paz: Plural (Spanish translation of El Alto, Rebel City).

2013: The Anthropology of Citizenship. A Reader, Boston and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
El Alto, Rebel City: Self and Citizenship in Andean Bolivia, Durham, Duke University Press.

2003: with Maxine Molyneux Doing the Rights Thing: Latin American NGOs and Rights-based Development, ITDG Publishing.


Journal Special Issues

2019: Labour Politics in an Age of Precarity. Special Issue of Dialectical Anthropology 43.1; edited with Andrew Sanchez; co-authored introduction.

2013: Citizenship, the Self and Political Agency. Special Issue of Critique of Anthropology 33.1, edited with Monique Nuijten; introduction and article: ‘Citizenship, Political agency and technologies of the Self in Argentinean Trade Unions’.

2006: The Millions Return? Democracy in Bolivia at the Start of the 21st Century, Special Issue of Bulletin of Latin American Research Vol. 25 – April 2006, edited with John McNeish; Introduction and article: ‘El Alto, Ciudad Rebelde: Organisational Bases for Revolt’.


Articles and Book Chapters


2023: ‘Una antropología ‘del parentesco en la política’. Interés, sujeto colectivo y parentesco en los sindicatos argentinos’ RUNA, Archivo Para Las Ciencias Del Hombre, 44(2), 45-67. (Spanish translation of JRAI2018 article)

2023: ‘Activism and Political Organization’ in The Cambridge Handbook for the Anthropology of Ethics, edited James Laidlaw, pp. 791-816

2022: Labour Organization: ‘Traditional’ Trade Unions and Beyond, in Handbook of the Anthropology of Labor, eds. S Kasmir and L. Gill, Routledge, pp.  95-106

2022: Afterword, Critique of Anthropology Special Issue on the Social Contract 

2022: ‘Anthropology and the politics of alterity. A Latin American dialectic and its relevance for ontological anthropologies’. Anthropological Theory 22 (2)

2021: Vocation and political activism: sacrifice, stigma, love, utopia? Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, 29: 108-122.

2020: “Social Movement Research, Class And ProtestProgress in Political Economy blog, 19 November; translated and published in Spanish in Yeiya, 2022

2019 “Citizenship.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Anthropology. Ed. John Jackson. New York: Oxford University Press.

2018: ‘Spontaneity, antagonism and the moral politics of outrage. Urban protest in Argentina since 2001.’ in Worldwide Mobilizations. Class Struggles and Urban Commoning edited Don Kalb and Mao Mollona, Berghahn Press, pp. 92-117

2018: A ‘kinship anthropology of politics’? Interest, the collective self, and kinship in Argentine unionsJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 24.2: 256-274  Read-only version.

2018: ‘Postscript’ in eds. M Ystanes and I Asedotter Stronen, The Social Life of Economic Inequalities and Contemporary Latin America. Decades of Change, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 275-282 

2018: Attention to Infrastructure offers a welcome reconfiguration of anthropological approaches to the political: The 2015 meeting of the Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory (GDAT), Laura Bear, Penny Harvey, Sian Lazar, Laura Rival, AbdouMaliq Simone, Soumhya Venkatesan. Critique of Anthropology 38.1: 3-52

2017: ‘VIII Conferencia Esther Hermitte, 2011: Lenguajes no-­verbales de la acción política y la movilización callejera’; Estudios de antropología social Volumen 1 numero 2, julio-diciembre 2016.

2016: ‘Notions of work, patrimony and production in the life of the Colón Opera House’ Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 21.2: 231-253 Open Access Version

2016: “Learning to live with crisis: How Brexit brought Latin America home to me.” FocaalBlog, 16 August. 

2016: “‘The happiness revolution has begun’: Argentina and the end of post-neoliberalism?” FocaalBlog, 17 March. 

2015: "Of autocracy and democracy, or discipline and anarchy: when organizational structure meets political ideology in Argentine public sector trade unions". Political and Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR) 38.2: 279-299.

2015: ‘This is not a parade, it’s a protest march’. Intertextuality, citation, and political action on the streets of Bolivia and Argentina. American Anthropologist 117.2: 242-256. Open Access Version

2014: ‘Historical narrative, mundane political time and revolutionary moments: coexisting temporalities in Argentine and Bolivian social movements.’ In Special Issue of JRAI: ‘Doubt, Conflict, Mediation: The Anthropology of Modern Time’, edited by Laura Bear. (published in Spanish in 2016: ‘Narrativa histórica, tiempo político ordinario y momentos revolucionarios: temporalidades coexistentes en la experiencia vivida de los movimientos sociales’ in ed. María Inés Fernández Álvarez, Hacer juntos(as): dinámicas, contornos y relieves de la política colectiva, Buenos Aires: Biblos)

2014: ‘Citizenship’, in A Companion to Urban Anthropology, edited by Don Nonini, Boston and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwel.

2012: ‘Citizenship Quality: a new agenda for development?’. Journal of Civil Society, 8(4): 333-350.

2012: ‘Group belonging in trade unions: idioms of sociality in Bolivia and Argentina’, in eds. N Long and H Moore, Sociality. New Directions, Berghahn Press.

2012: ‘A desire to formalize work? Comparing trade union strategies in Bolivia and Argentina’ Anthropology of Work Review 33.1

2012: ‘Disjunctive comparison: Citizenship and Trade Unionism in Bolivia and Argentina’ Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18.2.

2010: ‘Schooling and Critical Citizenship: Pedagogies of Political Agency in El Alto, Bolivia’, Anthropology and Education Quarterly

2009: ‘Citizenship’ and ‘Latin American Anthropology’ in A. Barnard and J. Spencer Encyclopedic Dictionary of Social and Cultural Anthropology, London, Routledge.

2008: ‘Eso es luchar sindicalmente. Ciudadanía, el estado y los sindicatos en El Alto, Bolivia’ number 27 of Cuadernos de Antropología Social, Journal of the Social Anthropology Section of the Instituto de Ciencias Antropológicas, Universidad de Buenos Aires.

2007: ‘In-betweenness at the Margins: Collective Organisation, Ethnicity and Political Agency among Bolivian Street Traders’, in James Staples (ed), Livelihoods at the Margins: Surviving the City, Left Coast Press.

2006: Co-editor (with John McNeish), ‘Special Issue: The Millions Return? Democracy in Bolivia at the Start of the 21st Century‘ , Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 25, April 2006; Introduction and article: ‘El Alto, Ciudad Rebelde: Organisational Bases for Revolt’ 

2006: ‘Movilización Social en El Alto’, in ed. Pilar Domingo: Democracia, Gobernabilidad y Participacion en Bolivia: 1993-2003, Universidad de Salamanca

2005:  ‘Citizens despite the state: everyday corruption and local politics in El Alto, Bolivia’, in D. Haller and C. Shore eds., Corruption: Anthropological Perspectives, London: Pluto Press, pp. 212-228

2004:  ‘Education for Credit. Development as Citizenship Project in Bolivia’, Critique of Anthropology 24 (3)

2004:  ‘Personalist Politics, Clientelism and Citizenship: Local Elections in El Alto, Bolivia‘, Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 23 Issue 2 pp.228-243

2003: (Maxine Molyneux and Sian Lazar) Doing the Rights Thing: Latin American NGOs and Rights-based Development, ITDG Publishing

2002: The politics of the everyday: populism, gender and the media’ in La Paz and El Alto, Bolivia‘, Goldsmiths, GARP 6


Teaching and Supervisions

Professor of Social Anthropology
Head of the Department of Social Anthropology
Fellow, Clare College
Office hours: 11:30 - 12:30 Thursdays
Dr Sian  Lazar

Contact Details

Takes PhD students