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Durham University

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Dr Alex Flynn

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Assistant Professor (Research) in the Department of Anthropology

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I work on aesthetics, politics and subjectivity and have conducted ethnographic research on these issues in Brazil since 2007. Working with social movements as well as with actors from within contemporary art, my research explores how activist intervention and artistic practice can be understood as relational and transformational processes, prompting the theorisation of fields such as the production of knowledge, the configuration of the ‘Global South’, and the unmaking of utopian horizons. 

My fieldwork is primarily based in two sites: the South of Brazil with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), and in the contemporary art circuits of São Paulo, with connections to Berlin and Paris. This latter fieldwork was funded by a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship that I held from 2014 to 2017 and focused on the participatory and open-ended potential of the contemporary art research process, departing from a premise that conceived of the artist as a producer of knowledge and theorising agent. Located on the porous border between anthropology and art, the white cube and extra institutional space, the project proposed an undoing of epistemological hierarchies and sought to create an interstitial positionality. In this manner, from 2016 to 2017, I worked as co-curator of the Residência Artística Cambridge, an artistic residency programme based within an occupied building in downtown São Paulo. For this curatorial practice I was the recipient of the São Paulo Association of Art Critics Awards' 2016 APCA Trophy. 

Horizontal approaches to research are key to my practice and in late 2017 I conducted an art research residency based between the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris to test the potential and limits of collaborations between anthropology and art. In the resulting project « Concrete Mirror » myself and an artist realised a series of dialogues, workshops and a exhibition, the project based itself between the processual elements of anthropology and contemporary art research, moving beyond art as a methodological or illustrative ancillary for the social sciences to instead engage with the particular genres of knowledge and ethics that contemporary art proposes.

Cuurently I am deputy-PI on an AHRC/GCRF research grant, 'Cartonera Publishing in Latin America: Relations, meaning and community in movement'. The project focuses on a contemporary phenomenon that sits between cultural trend and social movement, activist intervention and sustainability project that emerged in the aftermath of the 2001 crisis of Argentina. ‘Cartonera’, or in English, ‘waste-picking’ publishers, are collectives that recycle materials gathered from the street, producing low-cost books with unique hand-painted covers that make both the consumption and production of literature accessible to wider society. The research concretises my interest in linking art objects (the books produced by the cardboard publishing movement) to how people envision social change thus arguing for an understanding of social mobilisation premised on the indivisibility of aesthetic and social forms.


Research Groups

Department of Anthropology

Research Interests

  • Contemporary art
  • Politics and aesthetics
  • Prefigurative politics
  • Social mobilisation
  • Subjectivity
  • Utopia


Chapter in book

Edited book

Edited Journal

Journal Article

Other (Digital/Visual Media)