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Department of Social Anthropology



I studied English Literature as an undergraduate at the University of Oxford, graduating in 2007. I then spent a year learning Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, before taking up a post teaching English Language and Literature at the China University of Geosciences in Beijing. In 2010 I arrived in Cambridge to study for an MPhil in Social Anthropology, and in 2011 I began my doctoral research in this department.

My PhD thesis consists of a study of human-animal relations in the context of environmental change. It draws on 18 months of fieldwork among Mongol pastoralists and their animals in Alasha, a region of vast, sparsely-populated deserts in the west of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, northern China. Central to my thesis is an analysis of the significance of the domestic Bactrian camel in the political ecology of this region, where traditions of extensive animal husbandry are being transformed by policies designed to tackle desertification.


Human-animal relations; pastoralism; space and place; mobility; China’s borderlands; Inner Asia; environmental change; political ecology; infrastructure; deserts.


Key publications: 


Forthcoming. Pastoralism after culture: environmental governance and human-animal estrangement at China’s ecological frontier. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

2020.     [co-written with Natasha Fijn] Introduction: Resituating domestication in Inner Asia. Inner Asia 22: 162-182

2020.     Religion, nationality, and ‘camel culture’ among the Muslim Mongols of Inner Mongolia. in R. Harris, G. Ha., and M. Jaschok (eds.) Ethnographies of Islam in China: Revivals, identities, and mobilities.

2020.     Domesticating the Belt and Road: rural development,  spatial politics, and animal geographies in Inner Mongolia. Eurasian Geography and Economics 61(1): 13-33.

2018.    [co-written with Matei Candea]  Animals. In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of  Anthropology  (eds.) F. Stein, S. Lazar, M. Candea, H. Diemberger, J.Robbins, A. Sanchez & R. Stasch. 

2016.   From sent-down youth to scaled-up town: spatial transformations and early socialist legacies on the Inner Mongolian steppe. Inner Asia 18: 15-36.

Teaching and Supervisions

Office hours: appointment by email
Dr Thomas  White