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Department of Social Anthropology


Timothy Cooper is an anthropologist of ethics and comparative media. His research sits at the interface between visual culture, sound studies, and the digital humanities.


His regional focus is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where his work is driven by a set of interrelated questions: What shapes public understandings of ethical life? How do media infrastructures foster relations across different religious and moral communities? What happens to core concepts in the digital, sonic, and moving-image arts when lived or interpreted through post-secular or theological frameworks?


His first ethnographic project and book Moral Atmospheres: Islam and Media in a Pakistani Marketplace was conducted in a large electronics market in the Pakistani city of Lahore. This research investigated varied views on what the relationship between film and faith should look, sound, and feel like for Pakistan’s Muslim-majority public. It brings together the anthropology of religion with insights from contemporary media studies that account for how environmental forms can store, transmit, and transform knowledge. At once a vivid ethnography of a market street and a generative theorization of atmosphere, the book won the 2022 Claremont Prize for the Study of Religion and has been described as a ground-breaking intervention in media studies of the global South. Other publications from this project include articles on the epistemic decolonizing of film exhibition, religious ontologies of moving image media, and data migration. Several public outputs also followed, including three ethnographic films screened at film festivals and exhibited in galleries around the world, and the curation of a landmark film retrospective at the British Film Institute.


Timothy’s second ethnographic project and next book project, Live Mourning: The Arts and Ethics of Islamic Videography aims to rethink the relationship between theology and media theory. It documents how Pakistan's largest religious minority established an immersive style of videography in the face of violent persecution. This research follows the establishment of digital videography collectives among Shi‘a Muslims and their commitment to publicizing acts of commemorative mourning for figures in early Islamic history. Publications from this project range from interventions in the study of death in the digital age, the threshold qualities of amplified sound, and a reappraisal of the role of narratology in visual anthropology. Public outputs from this research include a multiplatform film and sound essay and the donation of a representative collection of objects to a major anthropological museum.


In 2023, Timothy began a new ethnographic project entitled Intermittent Connections. Based in the Karakorum Mountain Range of Central Asia, it studies what forms of assembly and collectivity arise in the discontinuity of internet provision. Based primarily in the Gojal Valley, it examines how state anxiety about this constitutionally ambiguous region of Pakistan means that villages are granted only a few hours of intermittent internet and electricity supply per day. To what do digital collectives reliant on stable communication connections – such as heritage, data migration, or creative practice – aspire without the infrastructural means of storage or access? Activities emerging as part of this research include a collaborative project studying the disjuncture of the present as a temporal frame and a co-founded digital archive of Wakhi-language sound and video recordings, with seed-funding provided by the Silk Roads Programme at King’s College, Cambridge and the ESRC Social Sciences Impact Fund.


Timothy is passionate about widening the frame of anthropological thought and practice to include new ways of doing critique. As Reviews Editor of the Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, he introduced two new sections for the first time in the journal’s history that invite the inclusion of non-English scholarship and multimodal outputs. He has been the editor of Camthropod: The Cambridge Anthropology Podcast for several years, commissioned dozens of new episodes, and held regular workshops advocating for a sound essay form unique to anthropological analysis.


Since completing a PhD in Anthropology at University College London, Timothy has been a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and at the Max Planck-Cambridge Centre for Ethics, Economy and Social Change. Since 2020, he has taught courses on ethical life and the anthropology of the subject; the anthropology of Islam; the anthropology of digital, auditory and visual worlds; circulation and breakdown; public culture in South Asia; introduction to ethnographic film; and film and faith, and supervised many postgraduate dissertation ethnographies.


His research has been funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and the Centre for Critical Heritage Studies. He was a Digital Stories Fellow at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, and has most recently been an Early Career Fellow funded by the Leverhulme Trust and Isaac Newton Trust.





2024    Moral Atmospheres: Islam and Media in a Pakistani Marketplace. (Columbia University Press). Book Series: Religion, Culture, and Public Life. Winner of the 2022 Claremont Prize for the Study of Religion.




2024    “The situation of the interface: Pashto master-copies and data migration in Sharjah”, American Ethnologist 51 (2): 181-192. Open Access CC BY [funded by RCUK/COAF]


2024    (with Michael Edwards and Nikita Simpson) “Introduction: Back/s to the Present”, In “Back to the Present” edited by Timothy P.A. Cooper, Michael Edwards & Nikita Simpson, American Ethnologist website Open Access


2023    (with Liana Chua and Marilyn Strathern) “Editorial,” The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, Vol 41, No 2: v–vii Open Access


2023    “Recitations on the threshold: the ethics and virtue affects of Pakistani Shi’i qaṣīda”. Journal of Ethnomusicology 67 (2), 219-242.


2023    (with Liana Chua and Natalia Buitron), "Editorial", The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, Vol 41, No  1: v–vii Open Access


2022    ““Live has an atmosphere of its own”: Azadari, ethical orientation, and tuned presence in Shi’i media praxis”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 28 (2): 651-675. Open Access CC BY [funded by RCUK/COAF]


2022    “Mood As Medium: Reconstruction and the Material Speculations of “New Heritage”, Journal of Material Culture, 27 (2): 124–146 Open Access CC BY [funded by RCUK/COAF]


2021    “Essence in Excess: Heritage and the Problem of Potentiality”. Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale. 29 (4): 1099-1105Open Access CC BY [funded by RCUK/COAF]


2021    “3D Ziyarat: Lenticularity and technologies of the moving image in material and visual piety.” Material Religion, 17 (3), 291-316. Open Access CC BY [funded by RCUK/COAF]. 


2020    "The Kaččā and the Pakkā: Disenchanting the Film Event in Pakistan." Comparative Studies in Society and History 62 (2): 262-295.


2018    “Cinema Itself: Cinephobia, Filmic Anxieties, and Ontologies of the Moving Image in Pakistan”, Visual Anthropology 31 (3), 253-267


2017    “Raddi Infrastructure: Collecting Film Memorabilia in Pakistan: An Interview with Guddu Khan of Guddu’s Film Archive” BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies 7 (2), 151-171


Edited Collections


2024    “Back to the Present”, edited with Nikita Simpson and Michael Edwards, American Ethnologist Online. Contributing essays from: Chika Watanabe, Kelly Fagan Robinson, Geoffrey Rathgeb Aung, Charis Boutieri, Anthony Pickles, Stefan Tarnowski, Emilie Glazer, Joana Nascimento, Deborah A. Thomas.


Book Chapters (Selected)


2024    (Forthcoming) “On Moral Thresholds: Shi’i Islamic media and the surface tension of public affect in Pakistan” in Affect as Cultural Critique: Methods for Anthropological Discovery. Book edited by Dan White, Emma Cook and Andrea De Antoni.


2024    (Forthcoming) “Thinking with Film at Evernew Studios” in Lahore Viaduct: An Alternative Guide to Lahore. edited by Chris Moffat, Ammara Maqsood, and Fizzah Sajjad. UCL Press. (2000 words) Open Access


2020.   “The Circulatory Dynamics of Pakistani Film”, in Film and Cinephilia in Pakistan: Beyond Life and Death. Ali Nobil Ahmad and Ali Khan eds. (London & Karachi: Oxford University Press): 211-229. [Fieldwork photograph featured as book cover].


2015.   “‘The Black Market Archive: The Velocity, Intensity, and Spread of Pakistani Film Piracy” in Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Knowledge Production in the Middle East, Anthony Downey ed, (London: I.B Tauris): 401-418.


Book Reviews / Critique


2023 Everyday Shi'ism in South Asia by Karen G. Ruffle. in Religion and Society 13 (1): 258-259.


2023 Lahore Cinema: Between Realism and Fable by Iftikhar Dadi in South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 46 (3): 718-720


2023 Film Review: The absence of apricots. Daniel Asadi Faezi, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 29 (3): 706-707


2022 Religious Television and Pious Authority in Pakistan by Taha Kazi in Visual Anthropology Review 38 (1): 171-174.


2022 Dying to Serve: Militarism, Affect, and the Politics of Sacrifice in the Pakistan Army by Maria Rashid in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 28 (4): 1385-1386.


Selected Journalistic Essays


2023  “Film, Market Demand and the Moral Alibi in Pakistan” LSE Blog, 19/06/23 

2018  “Sacred Hunger: The Cinema of Jamil Dehlavi” Sight and Sound Magazine Vol 28, Issue 9

2016  “Diverse Documents: Surrealism, Anthropology, and Michel Leiris,” FriezeMasters Magazine, Issue 5.


Ethnographic Filmmaking


2021                This is a Majlis: A Sound Essay 

                        (Licensed on the Royal Anthropology Film Catalogue)

                        Directed by Timothy Cooper and Abeera Arif-Bashir,


Screenings:       Official Selection, Short Film Prize Category,

                        17th Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival.

                        Screened in Decolonising the Archive shorts category

                        Intangible Cultural Heritage Category, Festival Kolektiv .

                        Vizantrop, Belgrade, Serbia


2019                Scratches on Celluloid

                       Directed by Timothy Cooper & Vindhya Buthpitiya,

                       2018, 53mins.

Screenings:      CUSAS, University of Cambridge

                       South Asia Forum, University of Zurich.

                       Divvy Film Festival 2021, PILAC, Lahore, Pakistan

                       Colomboscope Biennial 2021. Ishara Art Foundation,

                       Dubai. (over 600 viewers)

                       SOAS Ethnographic Film Series, Russell Square,

                       London UK.

                       Library Selection, 16th Royal Anthropological Institute

                       Film Festival.

                       Official Selection, 12th Biannual Film SouthAsia Festival.

                       Kathmandu, Nepal.


2018                The Storehouses of the World

                       Directed by Timothy Cooper and Abeera Arif-Bashir,

                       2018. 27mins.

Screenings:      Visual Image Network Conference, University of

                       Manchester, UK.

                       Library Selection, 16th Royal Anthropological Institute

                       Film Festival.

                       SOAS Ethnographic Film Series, Russell Square,

                       London UK.


2017                The King of the Cockroaches

                       Directed by Timothy Cooper,


Screenings:      Official Selection, Student Prize Category, 15th Royal

                       Anthropological Institute Film Festival & Q&A.

                       SOAS Ethnographic Film Series, Russell Square,

                       London UK.


Public Impact Projects


2023 – present    Co-Founder of Piwand: The Wakhi Digital Archive with Didar Ali of Bulbulik Heritage Centre, Pakistan. Includes ongoing digitisation of audio, video, and photograph archives in Gojal Valley. Pilot Funding provided by the Leverhulme Trust, Isaac Newton Trust, Silk Roads Programme at King’s College, Cambridge. Other funding applications currently ongoing.


2021    Exhibition and discussion of 5 specially commissioned short films. Colomboscope Biennial 2021. The Space of the Cinema in the Post-Crisis City with Vindhya Buthpitiya. Curated by Natasha Ginwala. Held at Ishara Art Foundation, Dubai, UAE. Facebook Live event watched by 500+ users.


2021    Three-part, multi-platform sound essay on Shi’a piety, ritual, and recording media in Pakistan,

            Part 1, This is a Majlis: A Sound Essay.  Screened at the Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival

            Part 2, The Recorded and the Live: Shi’i Islamic Media in Pakistan. With Charles Hirschkind, Karen Ruffle, and Abeera Arif-Bashir. Hosted on Camthropod; Part 3, Recitations for Muharram and Ashura. Broadcast and archived on NTS Radio.


2020     Cambridge Centre for Digital Humanities / Cambridge Digital Library. Funded digitisation of large-format Pakistani devotional religious posters collected during field, to be made accessible online


2018    Public Film Retrospective, British Film Institute, London

           Between The Sacred and Profane: The Cinema of Jamil Dehlavi,

Co-curator with Ali Nobil Ahmad. Three-day season of films, a study day and symposium including chairing public interview with director Jamil Dehlavi. Resulted in BFI restoration and DVD/Blu-Ray release of focal film The Blood of Hussain.

Leverhulme Trust / Isaac Newton Trust Early Career Fellow
Research Associate, Max Planck - Cambridge Centre for Ethics, Economy and Social Change
College Research Associate, King’s College

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