School of Social and Political Science

Research subject area content

Research subject area content

Research

Research content

We have an active and inclusive research environment in which collaborative research practices and individual research trajectories thrive. We work together as well as sustain many local and international research partnerships.

We welcome early-career researchers and build networks among ourselves and with those around us to exchange ideas and collaborations. We have an inclusive research culture that brings together established and emerging academics with a shared commitment to engagement beyond the subject.

Our research findings and outcomes reach many different audiences through academic journals, popular and mainstream media, blogs and podcasts, as well as creative forms such as film screenings, curated programmes and exhibitions.

Core areas of research

Health and wellbeing

We are home to the Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology (EdCMA), established in 2016 and the largest centre for medical anthropology in Europe. Medical anthropology is concerned with how people understand and respond to health and illness. Medical anthropologists research everything from local uses of medicinal plants, to the inner workings of hospitals and the World Health Organization.

Our core areas of research are mental health, global health, human-animal relationships, infectious disease, diagnostic technologies, and sexual and reproductive health.

EdCMA hosts four networks (Beyond Resistance, Blood Group, Global Mental Health and Reproduction) and organises regular seminars with external speakers, annual conferences, periodic workshops and roundtables.

Research projects related to EdCMA take on many different topics within medical anthropology, including mission-based development in Nepal; responses to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Pakistan; kinship in Palestine; hospital infrastructures in Papua New Guinea; military veterans in the UK, US, Netherlands and Israel; happiness; the emergent role of diagnostic devices in global and public health; experiences of diabetes in Delhi; and indigenous literary practices in community engagement with public health.

Colleagues associated with EdCMA are developing the anthropological subfields of mental health and multi-species ethnography, and more-than-human research as it relates to human health and wellbeing, including trailblazing veterinary anthropology as a new subfield of medical anthropology. These research projects feed into our teaching of courses such as Anthropology of Health and Healing​; Anthropology of Food; Contagion; Humans and Other Species; Anthropology of Health and Illness​; Anthropology of Global Health​; Happiness; and Anthropology of the Body.

Colleagues in EdCMA also collectively edit the open-access online journal Medical Anthropology Theory and run the COVID-Perspectives blog of research on COVID-19. Dr Rebecca Marsland is co-editor of Medical Anthropology.

Core members of the centre are:

  • Jane Carsten
  • Jessica Cooper
  • Jacob Copeman
  • Stefan Ecks
  • Alexander Edmonds
  • Chisomo Kalinga
  • Rebecca Marsland
  • Ayaz Qureshi
  • Lotte Buch Segal
  • Jeevan Sharma
  • Alice Street
  • Michelle Taylor
  • Neil Thin
  • Emilija Zabiliute
Religion in society

We are at the forefront of the study of religion, in particular Christianity. We're home to the Anthropology of Christianity Bibliographic blog (AnthroCyBib) and the UK’s only working group on the anthropology of Christianity. Research interests in this area are taken forward in projects looking at Pentecostal Christianity in the Zambian Copperbelt; practices of feeding and avoidance within Orthodox Christian society; and the study of Catholicism. Beyond the study of Christianity, colleagues are committed to fresh approaches to religion and society more broadly, including religion and secularism in India, and changing relations between religious communities in Sri Lanka and religious identities in Bangladesh. These research projects feed into our teaching of courses such as Ritual and Religion; Shamanism; Magic, Science and Healing; Anthropology of Christianity; Anthropology of Monsters; and Anthropology of Death.

Colleagues associated with Religion in Society are:

  • Tom Boylston
  • Sophie Haynes
  • Delwar Hussain
  • Maya Mayblin
  • Jacob Copeman
  • Jonathan Spencer
  • Dimitri Tsintjilonis
Relatedness and relationships

Social Anthropology at the University is one of the key departments revitalising the anthropology of kinship. Colleagues associated with this research cluster have sustained expertise on relationships and sexualities. The interest in questions of relatedness and rethinking kinship are expressed in projects on topics as diverse as the transforming nature of marriage in comparative perspective; 'generation' and 'inheritance' as powerful idioms in Poland; the multiple meanings of blood internationally; loss, mourning and grief amongst the families of Palestinian political prisoners; the desire and agency of young male migrants from rural Nepal; siblingship and inheritance in Filipino communities; and the anthropological study of cohorts.

Research expertise on sexuality encompasses projects related to motherhood and reproductive justice in Kenya; HIV/Aids activism; Hijra identity in South Asia; and comparative pornographies. These research projects feed into our teaching of courses such as Anthropology of Sex and Reproduction; Introduction to Queer Studies; Kinship; Social Anthropology 1a: the life course; and Consumption, Exchange and Technology.

Dr Lotte Buch Segal co-edits Tidsskriftet Antropologi (Danish Journal of Anthropology). Colleagues associated with Relatedness and Relationships are:

  • Janet Carsten
  • Hsiao-Chiao Chiu
  • Siobhan Magee
  • Eirini Papadaki
  • Koreen Reece
  • Kath Weston
  • Juli Huang
  • Delwar Hussain
  • Lucy Lowe
  • Resto Cruz
  • Lotte Buch Segal
  • Jeevan Sharma
  • Emilija Zabiliute
  • Lotte Hoek
  • Ayaz Qureshi
Cultures of media, art and heritage

We have a number of overlapping research interests in the intersections between the arts, humanities and social sciences. The anthropology of media and art asks how human experiences are mediated and shaped by old and new technologies. We work with filmmakers, artists, curators, designers and game developers. We do research in galleries, studios and in online spaces. The department is linked to the Edinburgh College of Art through Atelier, the Creative Arts and Social Sciences Network, and Chitra: Connecting Histories of Indian and Transregional Art.

Our anthropologists have been awarded prizes for their designs and films and we're developing expertise in cultural heritage.

The interest in cultures of media are expressed in projects on topics as diverse as ‘the witch’ in early 20th century cinema; screen cultures in South Asia; culture and language in Hebridean fishing; contentious cultural heritages; media censorship; endangered languages documentation, the intergenerational transmission of Chagossian cultural heritage; the emotive materiality in the exhibiting of human bones; games and gaming; conscientious objectors; creative engagements with forced displacement.

These research projects feed into our teaching of courses such as The Anthropology of Games and Play; Pictures: Anthropology of Images and Mediation; Visual Anthropology; Anthropology by Design; and South Asian Public Culture: Keywords; Anthropology of Language.

Professor Richard Baxstrom is co-editor of Visual Culture in Britain. Dr Lotte Hoek is co-editor of BioScope:

South Asian Screen Studies Colleagues associated with Cultures of Media, Art and Heritage are:

  • Richard Baxstrom
  • Lotte Hoek
  • Tom Boylston
  • John Harries
  • Magnus Course
  • Tobias Kelly
  • Laura Jeffery
  • Andreas Hackl
Politics and law

At the University we seek to understand the key political questions of our time, from migration and nationalism, to political violence and social movements. We take an approach that looks for politics in unexpected, often everyday places, whilst simultaneously understanding the broader structures which dominate our lives.

We have a long-established tradition of work on politics and law, and a strong commitment to the study of peace and conflict including on political violence.

We have carried out research in human rights organisations, court rooms and parliaments, often working collaboratively to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people. The interest in the anthropology of politics and law is expressed in projects on topics such as political violence; human rights and justice; and migration and displacement.

Projects engage the contradictory role of religion in Sri Lanka; the protection of torture survivors' conscience, ethics and human rights; the cultural and political significance of conviction in moments of crisis; the documentation of torture; peace settlements; popular imagery of Amazonian violence and indigenous political activism; the gendered forms of loss in situations of prolonged armed conflict; and violence in documentary film.

These research projects feed into our teaching of courses such as Empires; Culture and Power; Cultures of Human Rights​; and Invention of History.

Professor Tobias Kelly co-edits Humanity: Interdisciplinary Journal of Development, Human Rights and Humanitarianism.

Colleagues associated with Politics and Law are:

  • Tobias Kelly
  • Jonathan Spencer
  • Lotte Segal
  • Jeevan Sharma
  • Casey High
  • Laura Jeffery
  • Ann-Christin Zuntz
Infrastructures and innovation

Social Anthropology in Edinburgh has gone from strength to strength in the study of international and sustainable development. We pursue an intersectional, bottom-up and decolonial approach to the study of development. That means that we are interested in development interventions that happen in the Global North and South, and we privilege the perspectives, knowledge and agency of local aid providers and beneficiaries.

In our teaching, we foreground themes like social justice and environmental sustainability. Many of our lecturers have previously worked or still collaborate with aid organisations. Our sustainable development research focuses on resource extraction/conservation, food and water security, environmental health, climate change and energy transitions. Research projects associated with infrastructures and innovation deal with the off the grid city; flood resilience; connective infrastructure in the Maldives and Chinese; energy transitions; degrowth; entrepreneurial development agents; extractive industries; and agriculture and rural livelihoods.

Dr Jeevan Sharma is co-editor of Himalaya. Colleagues associated with infrastructures and innovation are:

  • Agustin Diz
  • Jacob Doherty
  • Sophie Haines
  • Juli Huang
  • Laura Jeffery
  • Jamie Cross
  • Andreas Hackl,
  • Jose-Maria Muñoz
  • Jeevan Sharma
  • Jonathan Spencer
  • Kath Weston
  • Aaron Kappeler
  • Ann-Christin Zuntz

Research impact

Learn more about how the impact on society of Social Anthropology research here:
Social Anthropology research impact examples