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Department of Social Anthropology

Boats from Above, Malawi

Citizenship and political life

To study citizenship requires in part the study of how societies organise membership in – and, very importantly, exclusion from and marginalisation within – political communities. This must be investigated in combination with fine-grained ethnography of how people experience, understand and represent these processes. For most people today, the state is the dominant political community of which they are members, and so citizenship is principally understood to reference the relationship between individuals or groups and the national or local state. Yet in practice people are members of multiple and shifting political communities or constituencies, at different scales and articulated through different topologies: national but also transnational, local, city-based, networked or distributed, defined on the basis of residence, occupation, identity, territoriality and so on.

Citizenship and political life continued.

Economy, environment and wellbeing

The ways in which human beings interact with nature, produce, distribute and consume the fruits of their labour, and attend to the health and flourishing of themselves and those around them are core concerns of social anthropology.  Our Department has long-standing strengths in economic and environmental anthropology, and we have an established and growing commitment to medical anthropology.  Through the lenses of a range of theoretical approaches, and with an interest in the past as well as in contemporary societies, we explore such issues as class, labour, and corruption; cultural conceptions of life and death; the body; bioethics; land use; development, pastoralism; and the social causes and impacts of climate change.  Research in these areas is conducted throughout the Department, and it makes central contributions to work in the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit and to the interdisciplinary MPhil in Health, Medicine and Society.

Economy, environment and wellbeing projects

Art, media and material culture

Research across mass media, photographic and film practices and archives, historic collections, contemporary art and interactions and question of museum practice and museum futures is undertaken in the Department, through the Visual Anthropology Lab and is central to the work of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Visual and material culture play constitutive roles in social and cultural change, particularly in the expression of Indigenous, local, national and diasporic identities. Art, long a vital focus of anthropological inquiry into myth, belief, gender and sociality, is increasingly prominent in the public and transnational representation of place, history and political conflict. Art is also now a major arena of legal contention and innovation, and is a dynamic - or notoriously inflated - sector of the world economy.

Art, media and material culture continued

Moral life and change

Ethical concern and moral evaluation are everywhere crucial aspects of social life.  Only recently, however, have anthropologists begun to focus explicit attention on them. Work at Cambridge on such topics as self-making and diverse notions of flourishing, achievement and success, social deployments of concepts of justice, the motivational and structuring force of values, social practices of accountability, and the role of creativity and emotion in fostering people’s understandings of ethical accomplishment have helped in recent years to contribute to a profound rethinking of anthropological theories of practice and accounts of the nature of social organization.

Moral life and change continued