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Research Projects

We carry out research projects in a diverse range of topics covering social anthropology, evolutionary anthropology and the anthropology of health. In each of these fields we are opening up new areas of enquiry and have world-leading expertise in a range of topics such as primatology, aesthetics, the evolution of brain and cognition, cultural evolution, rhetoric and public persuasion, energy use, and infant sleep.

Examples of our research projects include:

Transforming the field of cultural evolution and its application to global human futures

PI: Professor Rachel Kendal
Funder: John Templeton Foundation


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Transformation in mental healthcare - An anthropological study of open dialogue

PI: Dr Liana Chase
Funder: Economic and Social Research Council


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Forms and Fears of Failure

PI: Professor Catherine Alexander
Funder: Leverhulme Trust

The trope of failure dogs contemporary British political and public discourse from the catchphrase ‘Broken Britain’ to public services being tagged as failed or individuals feeling vulnerable to ever-increasing expectations. This ethnographic project excavates this discourse asking what failure and its identification do? What measures are used to avoid or contain failure and do they disable the very things they are meant to allow, particularly in publicly-funded undertakings that are trammelled into goal-driven, measurable projects? What is failure’s salience in the lives of those animating such work, for, where lives and careers are also translated into projects, then ideas of a life well lived may also be vulnerable to sharpened expectations of achievement. Through three, large, complex organizations, often respectively labelled as a ‘success’, a ‘failure’ or seen as ‘barely surviving’, the project traces the proliferating forms and fears of failure and their entailments, across domains and scales from the intimate to the geopolitical.

INCLUsive Decarbonisation and Energy Transition (INCLUDE)

PI: Professor Simone Abram
Funder: Research Council of Norway

The need for a transition away from carbon intensive activities is urgent, but is it possible to decarbonise in a fair and just way? What would a socially-inclusive energy transition look like? INCLUDE is a multi-institution research centre funded by the Norwegian Research Council and is based in Oslo. Our team in Durham is taking an international perspective, based on case studies in the UK and international research networks. Our initial focus is on the role of local government as ‘change agents’ in the climate transition.

Life of Breath

PI: Professor Jane Macnaughton
Funder: Wellcome Trust

Breathing isn’t just a bodily function. The personal and cultural meaning of breathing goes beyond the simple act of keeping us alive. Breathlessness is also a very personal experience. It can be fleeting or a sign of something more serious. Some people deal with breathlessness better than others. As a result, doctors find it hard to measure and difficult to treat. This interdisciplinary team led by Jane Macnaughton and Havi Carel (Bristol) are working together to find new ways of answering questions about breathing and breathlessness and their relationship to both illness and wellbeing.

Animals, Livelihoods and Wellbeing in Africa

PI: Dr Hannah Brown
Funder: European Commission

Animals are central to the livelihood strategies of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. However, entanglements between humans and animals often have deeply problematic consequences for health, wellbeing and the environment in terms of threats to biodiversity; risk of zoonotic disease transmission; and farming practices that threaten to exacerbate anti-microbial resistance. Meanwhile, against a backdrop of climate-change induced pressures, development projects try to change human-animal relations in order to enhance productivity and economic resilience. This project seeks to reappraise the role of animals for contemporary livelihoods; the implications of human-animal relations for the wellbeing of multi-species communities; and the mechanisms of governance that seek to manage human-animal relations. A deeper understanding of human-animal relationships has important implications for sustainability across species and will help to shift thinking around health and livelihoods in Africa towards a post-humanist vision that enables multi-species stewardship.