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Department of Social Anthropology



My teaching and research sits at the intersection of conversations about the mind, care, and ethics. I focus in particular on adults with significant 'intellectual disabilities' - that is, cognitive impairments that place them in need of dedicated care throughout their lives. What are the consequences of lacking some of the crucial mental abilities we tend to take for granted in our lives and our relationships? What does adulthood mean for those who depend on the intimate care we typically associate with childhood? 

I explore these questions through comparative ethnographic research in the UK and India. My research in the UK focuses on the ethical life of a care home for adults with intellectual disabilities that is run by a Christian charity called L’Arche: the moral dilemmas of care work, the complexities of intimate relationships that go beyond the contractual, and the possibility of being becoming as an equal adult in contemporary Britain while still relying on dedicated support.

I also work with adults with intellectual disabilities and their families in South India where I am exploring how changing kinship relations open up new problems and solutions to questions about who cares for these individuals throughout their lives. 

This research forms the basis of my teaching on care, religion, dependence, disability, cognition, and ethics; and it also takes me to Kerala where I am affiliated with the Mahatma Gandhi University of Kottayam and the Kerala Council of Historical Research in Thiruvananthapuram.


Anthropology of Religion

Anthropology of Christianity

Medical Anthropology

Anthropology of Care

Anthropology of Disability

Intellectual and Mental Disability

Psychological Anthropology

Dependence and Welfare

Anthropology of Ethics

Moral Philosophy

The Ethics of Care


Key publications: 

McKearney, P. (2020) Experiments in Friendship in Ford, D. & Randall, I. (eds.) ‘A Kind of Upside-Downness’: Learning Disabilities and Transformational Community. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

McKearney, P. (2019) Everyday Ethics in Lamb, M. and B. Williams (eds.), Everyday Ethics: Moral Theology and the Practices of Ordinary Life. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

McKearney, P. (2019).The Ability to Judge: Critique and Surprise in Theology, Anthropology, and L’Arche. Ethnos.

McKearney, P. (2019). The Ethics of Care. EASA Network of Ethnographic Theory.

McKearney, P. (2019). The Weight of Living: Autonomy, Care, and Responsibility for the Self. Journal of Disability and Religion
McKearney, P., & Zoanni, T. (2018). Introduction: For an Anthropology of Cognitive Disability. The 
Cambridge Journal of Anthropology36(1), 1–22.
McKearney, P. (2018). Receiving the Gift of Cognitive Disability: Recognizing Agency in the Limits of the Rational Subject. The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology,36(1), 40–60.
McKearney, P. (2017). L’Arche, Learning Disability, and Domestic Citizenship: Dependent Political Belonging in a Contemporary British City. City & Society29(2), 260–280.
McKearney, P. (2016). The Genre of Judgment. Journal of Religious Ethics44(3), 544–573.

Teaching and Supervisions


SAN3: Anthropological Theory and Methods

Belief and the Anthropology of Christian Life

SAN5: Ethical Life and the Anthropology of the Subject

Personhood, Cognition, and Ethics

SAN13: Gender, Kinship, and Care

Disability, Dependence, and Care

Research Associate, Max Planck - Cambridge Centre for Ethics, Economy and Social Change
Affiliated Lecturer, Department of Social Anthropology
By-Fellow, Churchill College
Dr. Patrick  McKearney