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Professor in the Department of Anthropology+44 (0) 191 33 41624


Thomas Yarrow did his undergraduate degree in archaeology and anthropology (Cambridge University, 2000), before undertaking his PhD in social anthropology (Cambridge University, completed 2006). After completing his PhD he held a Leverhulme fellowship in anthropology at the University of Manchester. He has also lectured in anthropology at the Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham and at the School of Environment Natural Resources and Geography, at the University of Wales, Bangor.

Research Summary

The key theoretical and empirical focus of my research has been to better understand the practices and social relations through which expert knowledge is produced and circulated. Rather than understand such knowledge as abstract propositional claims, my research demonstrates how expertise is grounded in a range of practices that are indisollubly social and material. Through a series of projects I have examined how different kinds of expertise are linked to social and material interventions that can have a range of more or less intended consequences.

My most recent research explores how the historic environment is produced through the intersecting practices of a range of professionals, including conservation experts, craft practitioners, architects, conservation scientists and planners. These issues are examined through ongoing ethnographic research based at Historic Scotland (British Academy funded). I am exploring similar issues through a project on the effects of conservation science on understandings of historic value and significance of historic monuments (AHRC funded),and through a project on the tensions between heritage conservation and energy conservation in the built environment (EPSRC and AHRC funded). Collectively these projects help to illuminate the complex social dynamics through which heritage practice constructs the historic environment, and with what broader social consequences.

A second strand of my research examines ‘development’ as an idea that sustains multiple and conflicting practices (Differentiating Development: Beyond an Anthropology of Critique, Berghahn). Research on the Volta Resettlement Project, Ghana, (funded by a Leverhulme fellowship) focuses on the materialisation of ideas of ‘development’ and ‘modernity’ and how these ideas are embedded in the everyday lives of resettlers. Research on Ghanaian NGOs, looks at the social relations and practices through which they pursue various forms of ‘social action’ (Development Beyond Politics, Palgrave Macmillan). The theoretical significance of this work lies in its challenge to the political reductionism of prevailing development scholarship, and the ‘Afro-pessimism’ of wider social theory pertaining to the post-colonial state in Africa. More recently my work has increasingly focused on the problematic relationship between anthropology and development, arguing for the need for approaches that bridge this gap by being ‘useful’ but not narrowly ‘applied’.

A final strand of my research focuses on the construction of archaeological knowledge (Archaeology and Anthropology: understanding similarity, exploring difference, Oxbox).Ethnographic work on excavation constitutes a new perspective on the processes by which archaeological data is produced .

  • July 2016-September 2019. (CI). 'Iron Age and Roman
    Heritages: exploring ancient identities in modern Britain' (AHRC, £689,802)
  • June 2014 - June 2016: (PI) Building on the Past: understanding contested heritage futures through a study of renovation and retrofit to historic buildings (£120,271, AHRC)
  • February - December 2013: Materiality, Authenticity and Value in the Historic Environment: a study of the effects of material transformation and scientific Intervention (CI with J.Hughes, PI, and S. Jones, CI) (£98,610, AHRC)
  • October 2012 - March 2013: (PI) Building on the Past: interdisciplinary explorations of the relation between authenticity, energy and the built environment (EPSRC/ Durham Energy Institute, £9,600)
  • April 2012 - October 2012: Negotiating historic value and low carbon futures (PI, £2000, University of Durham)
  • 2010 - 2012: Craft and Conservation: an ethnographic study (CI with S. Jones) (£5,400, British Academy)
  • 2009 - 2011: Reconsidering Detachment (CI with M. Candea, J. Cook and C. Trundle) (ESRC, £40,000)
  • 2006 - 2008: Contesting Development and Modernity: the Volta Resettlement Project, Ghana. (Leverhulme Trust, Early Career Fellowship)
  • 2008 - 2009: Developing Anthropology: Towards a reflexive approach to Development (with S. Venkatesan) ($10,000, Wenner Gren Foundation; £2000, Critique of Anthropology)
  • 2002 - 2006: Knowledge and Information in the Practice of International Development (ESRC PhD Studentship)

Research interests

  • Activism
  • Development knowledge and practice
  • Heritage Conservation
  • Intersections between Archaeology and Anthropology
  • Life history and personal narrative
  • NGOs and Civil Society
  • Space and Place
  • The social construction of policy knowledge
  • West Africa


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Supervision students