Category Archives: Anthropology


Sun, burgers, good laughter, goodie bags and plenty of familiar and new faces – these were all part of the end of year Student Engagement and Academic Representation BBQ held at the RAM garden on campus. The event was organised by George Flower and Anna Hamilton from the College of Social Sciences and International Studies with the aim of rewarding students from the college for their dedication to the improvement of the student experience.


Plenty of awards recognizing the achievements of various projects and individuals were handed out. Within the department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology (SPA), members of the Sociology and Anthropology society were commended on their contributions to the department, alongside Global Exe, the youth project started by editor of this blog, Jason Chang.


The BBQ provided an opportunity for SPA to interact with other attendees from CSSIS. Attendees from the politics department who had set up the “Diplomatic Hub” conversed with attendees from Global Exe and exchanged various ideas between each other to improve and make progress to their own individual projects.


The melting pot of ideas and conversations did not simply stop at the projects and initiatives that students had set up. With the wealth of expertise in attendance, students from law to philosophy conversed about ideas for their future and also the sharing of good practice in their coursework. Among the many themes of discussion at the table included the study of linguistics, military law and even the sociology of name tags!

If you would like to join the table for such interesting conversations and would like to represent your cohort in a leadership position, places are still available to nominate yourself to be a representative for the Sociology, Philosophy or Anthropology SSLC positions! If you would like to find out more information or nominate yourself, email today!

Jason Chang

Anthropology Desert Island Books


Looking to do some anthropological summer reading to get you in the academic mindset but not sure where to start? Wanting a casual read that’s both fun and informative? Not sure whether to start with classic or contemporary literature? Then check out this Desert Island Books recommendation by Anthropology Editor Jess Wiemer, who provides her must-read anthropological favourites.


Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology: Humanity, Culture and Social Life

By Tim Ingold

This volume is a comprehensive guide to the main theories and arguments in cultural and biological anthropology. It contains sections on human evolution, the components of culture and their histories, and social processes. This volume is ideal in gaining a basic understanding of the field of anthropology. Its short, succinct sections work perfectly as a quick and easy reference.



Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

By Yuval Noah Harari

This volume is ideal for the budding biological anthropologist. This historical overview of humankind begins discussing ‘The Cognitive Revolution’ through an examination of human biological evolution. From there Harari moves on to discuss ‘The Agricultural Revolution’ and the beginnings of human culture, followed by ‘The Unification of Humankind’ and imperialism. He concludes by examining ‘The Scientific Revolution’ which includes an in-depth analysis of capitalism and industry. This volume exquisitely details the main events in human history and its consequences. Sapiens is a perfect resource to use when attempting to examine social events with philosophical, sociological, historical, biological, and cultural anthropological perspectives.



Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory

By Alfred Gell

This intriguing volume examines arguments surrounding the agency of art. Agency is define as the intentional will of an actor for a specific outcome to occur. Gell theorizes that art objects are actors with the capacity to enact agency on the viewers of the art objects. For anyone interested in Actor-Network theory, art, or technology, Art and Agency is a brilliant work conceptualizing contemporary ideas on the blurred lines between the human and non-human.



Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache

By Keith Basso

This ethnography examines conceptions of space and place by focusing on landscape ontologies of the Western Apache nation of east central Arizona. This fascinating volume delves into theories surrounding the symbiotic relationship between humans and landscape, and the agency and cultural meanings derived from both. Basso’s poetic writing engages the reader whilst remaining analytical in his research. Wisdom Sits in Places is and exciting read for those interested in landscape, the agency of objects, or theoretical ethnographies.



Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography

By James Clifford and George Marcus

This brilliant volume edited by Clifford and Marcus is an essential read for anyone interested in writing ethnographically. It delves into controversial ethical dilemmas surrounding ethnographic writing including issues of bias and problematic data. It examines the argument that being a distant, scientific observer is not only impossible to be as an anthropologist, but the attempt perpetuates ideas of Western supremacy of knowledge which stems from imperialism. This volume thoroughly analyses the changing dynamic of ethnography and cultural intervention in the postmodern era, and is critical for students learning how to research and write ethnographically.


Studying for a degree? Consider doing work experience!

One of the most useful things about studying for a degree is the opportunity for work experience and the extra-curricular activities it brings. These endeavours can not only enhance your CV, but also broaden your understanding of the subject and how it relates to the wider world.

I was lucky enough to be accepted to intern at the local office of Ben Bradshaw MP, and I can honestly say that as well as demonstrating the practical applications of sociology the experience was a rewarding one, helping me judge in which direction I wish to take my life.

Exeter’s MP since 1997, Ben Bradshaw. (Image:

As Exeter is holding elections for its City Council next month, most of my week was taken up by canvassing. We spent the week traversing the length of Exeter, often accompanied by Ben Bradshaw, which though physically tiring gave me a great opportunity to learn more about the city and its residents. Indeed, any kind of volunteer work within a city broadens your knowledge of the area and makes you feel more a part of it. This was furthered by the fact I was able to meet not only the local MP, but also the council leader and various councillors who were able to share their experiences of working in local government and information about Exeter’s communities and the problems they face. Meeting residents was also very informative; issues raised ranged from housing and schooling to their dislike of Labour’s new direction.

From a sociological point of view, what was most interesting was how demographics offer a key indicator of voting behaviour. While working-class areas and council estates proved more likely to support Labour, they were also far more likely to want to vote to leave the European Union. This ties in with findings that show that people in areas that generally possess a lower level of education and are more directly affected by immigration are more likely to wish to leave the EU. Similarly, while middle-class areas were more likely to vote for the Conservatives, they were also more likely to vote Green, which corresponds to the idea that people who have less to lose are more likely to risk voting for principles rather than out of pragmatism.

Anyone studying for a Social Science degree should make sure they learn something of the society and people about which they are theorising and back up their ideas with hard evidence. An ideal way to do this is through work experience in the political, journalistic or charity fields. University is about more than just studying for a degree, and the excellent connections and services of Exeter University and its SPA department provide students with perfect opportunities to pursue the fields in which they are interested.

Third year? Don’t forget to fill in the National Student Survey!


If you are a third year studying Sociology, Philosophy or Anthropology at Exeter you have until April 30 to fill in the National Student Survey (NSS). If you have not done so already, we strongly urge you to do so. Departments which fail to receive feedback from 70% of their students do not get a grade in the following year’s league tables. Currently, the SPA department is only slightly further than halfway to reaching this threshold, meaning that the department, currently in the UK’s Top 10, could become ungraded. Obviously, it is in students’ interests that the department receives a grade, as this will affect the value of our degrees.

For every completed survey, Exeter University will donate one pound to RAG and those who complete the survey will be able to claim a free bar of fairtrade chocolate, or vegan alternative, from Amory reception. Theodore Stone, Subject Chair for SPA, writes: ‘It’s extremely important that finalists provide as much feedback as possible in order to locate problems within the college and improve standards.’

Completing the survey takes less than five minutes, and could make a real difference to your degree. So please, if you’re a third-year SPA student, fill in the NSS at and urge any friends you have who are also finalists to do likewise!


Modern Anthropology and the Repatriation of Material Culture

Portrait of Chief Crowfoot (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Portrait of Chief Crowfoot (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Anthropology is often seen by the general population as a discipline which deals solely with broad, theoretical concepts. Being a discipline based in theory, it is not seen to have much practical use outside of academia. Until I began studying anthropology at the University of Exeter, I was among those who felt that way. I thought anthropology was interesting, but not very applicable. However, with a growing globalised world, anthropology is more relevant to practical life than ever before. Anthropology is necessary in international and European policy-making organisations, advocacy and aid groups, tourism, heritage sites, diplomacy, journalism, and day-to-day life. There are many examples of the uses of anthropology in Exeter, which I have come to learn about through my studies. One example is the recent debate over the repatriation of a collection of artefacts from the RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum) and how this involves changing attitudes toward ownership and the importance of material culture and heritage.

Repatriation of museum-based artefacts is an issue that many museums across the UK are currently facing. The RAMM in Exeter has held ethnographic collections from across the world for over a hundred years. One particular exhibit houses artefacts from various First Nations peoples of Canada, some of which were acquired during the colonization of Canada at a time of enforced power hierarchies between indigenous peoples and colonists. Museum curators must now re-examine the roots of these artefact acquisitions and the underlying ethical problems. They must also consider the educational value of these items, and where that value is best put to use. Of particular interest is Crowfoot’s regalia in the RAMM’s ethnographic exhibit.

Crowfoot’s regalia is a collection of items which once belonged to Issapoomahsika (or Crowfoot, ‘Leader of the Blackfoot’ of Canada). 110 years after it was sold to the museum, it received a visit from home. In November 2013, the RAMM welcomed representatives of the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai nations of Canada and the Blackfeet nation of the United States. This visit was conducted in an effort to attain better understanding of the artefacts through the interpretations of the Blackfoot people, but moreover it has opened up further discussion of repatriation. The collection hadn’t been seen by the Blackfoot people for 130 years. It contains a decorated deerskin shirt, leggings, a ceremonial knife, two pouches, a bow-case and quiver, bows and arrows, two quirts and a bear-claw necklace. They served as emblems of Crowfoot’s earned authority and status as a leader. It was sold to the museum for £10 in 1904 by Cecil Denny, then a member of the North West Mounted Police. It is unclear how Denny came to acquire Crowfoot’s possessions, but he did acquire them sometime before the signing of the 1877 Treaty and it was widely known that he and Crowfoot were friends. (Eccles 2015)

Physical possession of Crowfoot’s regalia is extremely important to the Blackfoot people, because they believed him to have been a significant leader in their history of whom many can learn from. Crowfoot was not the leader of all Blackfoot nations as some thought, but was acknowledged as one who could speak for all. He urged the Blackfoot to sign Treaty 7 in 1877 between the Crown, Blackfoot nations, Sarcee and Atsinas nations in the desire for peace and the only alternative to war. The treaty put the First Nations under the rule of the Crown, by which England could then implement various institutions into First Nation societies. Despite prejudice and unethical treatment of the First Nation peoples under the law, the treaty meant they were now required to obey the Crown. By signing this treaty, life for the Blackfoot, like many aboriginal nations, was characterised by cultural upheaval. Despite this, Crowfoot is seen by the Blackfoot people as a strong leader who always vied for peace. (Eccles 2015)

The RAMM has been in conversation with the Siksika Blackfoot elders to return the regalia to Bow Crossing, Alberta, Canada (Eccles 2015). Herman Yellow Old Woman, a cultural curator at the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park museum east of Calgary on Siksika Nation, stated that repatriating the regalia would be ‘bringing [Crowfoot’s] spirit home’ (Dempster 2014). He went further to say, ‘To bring back these artefacts to our community will give us a sense of pride… Our children are starting to lose their identity and I think for these kind of artefacts to come back will give them a boost and a positive energy to connect back to who they are as Blackfoot people’ (Dempster 2014). Repatriation of the regalia would evidently contribute to the remembrance of cultural and historical identities of Blackfoot nations and be an educational asset to Canadians visiting the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park museum. The museum itself also supports the repatriation.

Tony Eccles, curator of the RAMM, was very supportive of the repatriation, stating, ‘Isn’t it about time Crowfoot came home?’ (Dempster 2014). Herman Yellow Old Woman planned to have the regalia returned to the Blackfoot Crossing museum by spring of 2015 (Dempster 2014). Unfortunately, though the regalia is no longer on display, this has yet to occur. Eccles stated that there is still a long way to go before the return of the regalia is agreed upon between involved parties, but was happy to say the RAMM and Exeter City Council are heavily involved in these negotiations. The content of this continuing discourse is not yet open to the public, but readers are urged to keep an eye out for the next issue of the Journal of Museum Ethnography, which will include an article written by Tony Eccles, Alison Brown, and Anita Herle about their involvement with the Blackfoot.

Even small cities like Exeter are alive with international culture and discourse. As an anthropology student, I find places like the RAMM fascinating, not only for its historical ethnographic information but for its involvement with current cultures today. The repatriation of Crowfoot’s regalia is but one example of how anthropology can be used practically to aid in the sustainability of heritage in a modern world. This goes to show that anthropology is so much more than an academic discipline. Studying anthropology at Exeter has given me so much more insight into its applications in ways I never would have considered: anthropological theory does not need to be restricted to academic writing but has many uses for a range of topical cultural and political issues.


Eccles, T. 2015: RAMM Meets Blackfoot Representatives, RAMM: World Cultures. [online] Accessed at on 18/02/2016.

Dempster, A. 2014: Chief Crowfoot’s Regalia to Return Home to Alberta, CBC News. [online] Accessed at on 18/02/2016.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. Crowfoot: Blackfoot Chief, Encyclopaedia Britannica. [image] Accessed at on 19/02/2016.

Interview with the Joint Presidents of the Sociology and Anthropology Society

One of the ways you can get more involved in the SPA department is through the Sociology and Anthropology Society, who put on both social and academic events and are a good port-of-call for any issues students may have. In this interview, we talk to Joint Presidents Lily Francis and Rachel Reed about studying at Exeter and the society itself.

Introduce yourselves!

LF: Hi, my name is Lily Francis, I am a third year sociology student and Joint President of the Sociology and Anthropology Society!

RR: I’m Rachel, Joint President of the Sociology and Anthropology Society and a third year BA Sociology Student.

Why did you choose to study Sociology?

LF: I chose to study Sociology because I always knew I was interested in people and why we act in the ways that we do. Once I studied Sociology at A level I knew it was the subject for me! I love the range of topics you can cover in sociology, anything from media, to health, to globalisation and I honestly feel that it relates to the actual world we live in, rather than being too theoretical!

RR: I was supposed to study Biology as an A level but I got put off by the course. I started scrolling through the courses at college and came across Sociology. After reading about it and researching it, I discovered that it was something I’d rather be doing. I preferred looking at different aspects of society, particularly education and childhood. So I quickly changed my Biology A level to Sociology. After working hard and getting an A*, I realised it was something I enjoyed and should carry on pursuing.

What’s your favourite thing about studying in Exeter?

LF: The range of subjects that we can study, and the flexibility of the courses here. I’ve taken modules in Sociology, Anthropology, and Philosophy which means I’ve been able to widen my knowledge and be more than simply a Sociology student. I also love the campus! It’s so pretty and green, and I am always finding new places that I hadn’t yet discovered like the gardens surrounding Reed Hall.

RR: The campus! It’s so green and open. Although the hills are a struggle; it’s a good workout!

Why did you get involved with the Sociology and Anthropology Society and why should others do the same?

LF: I thought it would be a great way to make friends – and I was right! Most of my really close friendships at Exeter have originated from the society, whether we met at my fresher’s meet and greet picnic, or at a social in 2nd year, I have found some amazing people to hang out with! I think being part of the committee only strengthens those relationships, but also is a great way to develop yourself as a person! I have gained lots of confidence by being on the committee, and have developed vital skills that will (hopefully) impress future employers!

RR: I joined SocAntSoc as a member in first year. At the end of first year I realised that I hadn’t been getting involved in as much activities as I would have liked to. The AGM for SocAntSoc arrived and I decided I should run and got the place as the academic and careers rep. Then this year I got the joint role of president. It allowed me to take a break from studies, explore what Exeter has to offer outside of the University and to make new friends. Not only that, but it can allow students to help each other with their modules

Do you have any study tips for your fellow students that you consider vital?

LF: 1) Actually do work in first year (I know, boring!). But it helps you to prepare for the next two years, rather than it being a shock when you find yourself with 3 pieces of coursework that you had never properly practised before!

2) Learn how to reference properly and quickly. Find a method that works for you, and try and do it as you are going along – it saves lots of time in the future.

3) Find a favourite place to work. Mine is at my desk in my flat, but many students like the library, the sanctuary, or even Costa! Wherever you work best – stick to it!

Lastly, I know everyone says it, but actually give yourself a break and have some fun! I guarantee your lasting memories of university will be the good times you shared with your friends rather than slouched over a desk at 2am.

RR: Organise your time – Write down when all of your deadlines are. Make quality notes! They’ll help you out with revision and essays. Finally, get enough sleep!

Finally, what are your post-graduation plans?

LF: To go travelling for a month around South-East Asia, and after hopefully find a job! I am aiming to work in customer services management in the South West area.

RR: I’m going back home to Cornwall as I have a place on a postgraduate SCITT programme. I’m going to (hopefully) become a primary school teacher!

Seasons Greetings from your New Editors!

Welcome to Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology (SPA) Undergraduate News! It’s almost Christmas and we thought we’d introduce you to this year’s editors of the blog – Jason Chang, Jess Wiemer and Samuel Fawcett.

Given that Christmas is around the corner, we thought we’d add in a bit of a festive cheer with some festive questions to the editors!



Jason Chang

Third Year Sociology major continuing with SPA Undergraduate News this year. Jason runs Global Exe, a youth project on campus dealing with conflict resolution and cultural integration through interactive theatre. He is a massive fan of cafés and people watching, and you can often find him holding a baguette down the high street. He is also a keen hiker who recently completed several of the tallest mountains in the Swiss Alps. Check out his personal blog here:

Festive Question – What’s your favourite Christmas song?

A: Last Christmas by Wham! I know the lyrics sound awfully depressing, but I have quite an odd taste in music, often first liking the tunes before researching the lyrics. And this song has a great tune – if only the lyrics were as joyous!

Festive Question – What’s your favourite Christmas decoration for the home?

A: Probably some snowflakes with fairy lights in the background. I’m quite a fan of winter and snow and this creates quite a unique ambiance in the house.

Festive Question – What are you hoping for from Santa’s bag of presents this year?

A: A bag full of hiking equipment! Crampons, walking sticks, ropes etc. I eventually hope to do alpine climbing more regularly in the future, so the basic equipment for survival will be much welcomed!


Jess Wiemer

Jess Wiemer

Second Year BSc Anthropology major and a new addition to the SPA Undergraduate News team. Jess is the Deputy Subject Chair of Anthropology in the SSLC in which she is currently undergoing an employability Change Agents project and is a student mentor within the SPA Buddy Scheme. Originally from Canada, but now living in Belgium when she’s not over-caffeinating herself at the University of Exeter. She loves to travel and is planning to fly to Laos this summer to help at an elephant conservation and children’s school. As a lover of fine art, history, theatre and writing, you’ll often find her sipping wine at the Bike Shed or strolling through the RAMM.

Festive Question – What is your favourite Christmas tradition?

A: My family and I used to visit a Christmas tree farm in Canada every year. We’d hop onto the wagon’s hay bales and be driven out to that year’s plot, trudge through the snow to pick out our tree, and saw it down. Then we’d head back with soggy boots to be welcomed by an open fire and free hot chocolate and cookies. I miss the scent of pine needles.

Festive Question – What is your favourite winter sport?

A: Ice skating. I grew up near the Rideau Canal, which is the longest skating rink in the world and home to the best homemade maple taffy. I think I learned to skate before I could run.

Festive Question – What is your favourite Christmas film?

A: How the Grinch Stole Christmas – the original 1966 cartoon directed by Chuck Jones. I think I’ve watched it every year since birth.


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Samuel Fawcett

Second Year BA Sociology student and new to the SPA Undergraduate News team. Sam is one of the two Social Secretaries for the Sociology and Anthropology Society. He also studies French through the Foreign Language Centre and does an evening class in Italian. Aside from Sociology, Sam likes literature and poetry, and is a long-suffering member of the Labour Party, having worked as a Press Officer in Taunton Deane during the 2015 election. When not at university, Sam will either be found at home in Somerset, or attempting to drunkenly convey the virtues of Émile Durkheim in a local pub.

Festive Question – What is your favourite Christmas tradition?

A: Christingle. I haven’t been for ages due to the slight issue of not believing in God, but when I was younger my family and I always went to the local church on Christmas Eve and everyone would sing carols etc and then we’d get an orange with loads of sweets stuck into it on little skewers. Admittedly my sister and I went more for the sweets than anything else, but the communal feel was lovely and gave a real festive feel to the occasion.

Festive Question – What’s your favourite Christmas song?

A: ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ by Greg Lake. It’s a very deceptive song, as it has a lovely melody and chord progression which all sounds very festive, but actually it’s a massive downer. ‘They said there’ll be snow at Christmas, they said there’ll be peace on Earth. But instead it just kept on raining: a veil of tears for the virgin birth’. Merry Christmas.

Festive Question – Quality Street or Roses?

A: Roses. Every time it’s Roses. Them or maybe the big tins of Heroes that tower over you every time you walk in to any British supermarket at Christmas.

What SPA students think of studying at Exeter

We asked students what it’s like study to study Sociology, Philosophy or Anthropology at Exeter. Here’s what they said!

Dan Mason, BA Philosophy, Year 1:

“Studying Philosophy at Exeter is a fulfilling experience: the subject has a lot of freedom and it rewards hard work and determined effort. The department contains world class staff ready to support us students.”

James Beeson, BA Politics, Philosophy and Economics, Year 2:

“Studying Philosophy at Exeter has been a challenging but rewarding experience. I have really enjoyed the wide variety of modules on offer, and found the topics to be stimulating. The seminars are always well prepared and led, making for an enlightening experience.”

Katharina Becker, BA Philosophy and Sociology, Year 3

“What makes studying Philosophy at Exeter so great is the lecturers; they’re all simply fantastic people. Also studying Philosophy at university is probably the last time you can concern yourself with things most people find trivial such as what human nature is and what matters most to us existentially.”


Gemma Joyce, Jason Chang and Ciarán Daly

5 important tips for SPA graduates

Graduation isn’t all about goodbyes – there are plenty of ways to stay connected to the University! Check out these tips to find out how you can continue to benefit from services offered at Exeter:

1. You have access to My Career Zone for 3 more years!

This means you’ll be able to access their resources and search for internships and jobs even while you’re not in Exeter. All of the details on careers services you can access once you graduate are available here.

2. Exeter alumni continue to get special access to library resources!

While you might not miss spending hours puzzling over what floor the Communist Manifesto is on or getting annoyed at someone for eating crisps in the silent study rooms the library can continue to offer you learning opportunities after you graduate. Exeter alumni have free access to online resources like JSTOR and becoming a member means you can still take out books from the library and use inter-library loans!

3. Join the Exeter Alumni groups on social media

Don’t forget to join the Exeter alumni group on LinkedIn – it’s a great way to stay connected and there could be potential for a career boost if you’re lucky! There’s also a Facebook and Twitter page to stay up to date with.

4. Make the most of Graduation Week

Sadly this could be the last time you and all of your course friends are all together. Since most SPA graduations will take place early on in the week you’ll have plenty of time to party and take photos – enjoy!

5. Be proud!

Congratulations, you’ve done it! You’re now joining an enormous and diverse group of incredible Exeter alumni. Just don’t forget where it all began and remember that there are all kinds of opportunities the University can offer its graduates after they leave.


Gemma Joyce

Anthropology Speaks: Dr Andrea Butcher

Could you tell us about your research in climate change, sustainability and conservation?

I’m interested in the different ways that development and climate are defined beyond the normative. Development is a bastion of contemporary global governance, and climate change is one of the biggest global challenges of our times. However, how people conceptualise development and climate differs cross-culturally, and this has implications for how projects and management strategies behave. It is therefore essential that we understand these diverse conceptualisations and behaviours, that we take into account the choices that ‘beneficiaries’ make, and are thus better able to develop workable solutions.

Take my own field research. Ladakh, North-West India, is a former Buddhist Kingdom. The majority of the population follow Tibetan Buddhism, although only marginally so (Ladakh has a sizeable Muslim population as well). A narrative has been constructed of the region as the quintessential sustainable society due to the Buddhist followers’ beliefs and practices, and for which it receives much financial aid and technical expertise. However, normative understandings of sustainability don’t take into account the wider cosmology, and ceremonial role of Tibetan Buddhist governance in mediating this cosmology. What intrigued me was how the successes of social life are managed with the participation of enlightened rulers, transcendental protector deities, sacred technology, and supernatural beings inhabiting the landscape. Development now forms part of this social life.

Whilst I was doing fieldwork, Ladakh experienced a series of cloudbursts and flash flooding that devastated much of the region, which is where climate change came in. Hearing how people accounted for the disaster, its causes, and the strategies to prevent future disasters helped me understand how there is more than one conceptualisation of weather and nature going on here. There are other things to consider beyond the scientific explanations, for example karmic explanations and the participation of supernatural local guardians. All three contribute to and direct responses and adaptation to a changing climate.

What sort of development programmes have been taking place in India? How have they changed social and religious practices for Tibetan Buddhists?

It’s probably best to think about how development and religion encounter and transform each other. Becoming part of the Indian Union and the world’s largest liberal democracy radically changed the local economy. For example, prior to economic liberalisation, the Buddhist households were legally required to offer patronage to the monasteries to which they were attached. In return, households would receive land to work, and ritual services from the monks. It was definitely not the idyllic system portrayed in popular positive representations of Tibetan Buddhism. However, to describe it as feudal in the European sense doesn’t do justice to the nuances. The legal requirement to support monasteries no longer exists; nevertheless a good deal of household wealth is diverted to the monasteries to sponsor religious rites aimed at protecting the wealth and wellbeing of their households, and to generate the merit required for peace and happiness in the domain. In some cases, the successes and failures of development are dependent on how far the development ‘beneficiaries’ can exploit its fruits for ceremonial purposes. Modern education, opportunities to travel, the influence of a more rationalised and modern Buddhist practice, and normative ideologies of development and sustainability have transformed the way people ‘do’ religion, but the need to generate the merit required for a peaceful, stable domain remains. It’s when development and ceremony meet each other that things get interesting.

To give you an indication of actual development initiatives, national development programmes implemented in Ladakh are delivered through Hill Development Councils. These include rural development programmes, health and education programmes, five-year micro-level planning and NREGA, or the National Rural Employment Generation Act. There is also a network of NGOs that assist the Hill Development Councils. They also have smaller-scale projects that they deliver independently. Due to the region’s proximity to the disputed borders with Pakistan and China, there is a sizable military presence, and both the Hill Development Council and the army deliver transport and communication programmes in the region.

What impact do you think climate change will have on traditional religious communities in the future?

This is a tricky — perhaps impossible — question to answer. There are so many variables that are transforming the way people do religion that you can’t really consider climate change on its own. If one considers how changing climates will impact upon societies with strong material and vital ties to the land, then I’d say these societies are likely to experience increased levels of anxiety and disturbance as the ecosystems services that they rely on to feel protected come under threat. If they can successfully transfer some of these systems elsewhere, then we will notice some interesting new social and cosmological assemblages!

What five books would you recommend to undergraduates interested in your area, and why?

I’ll start with two that focus on the Himalaya:

Himalayan Dialogue by Stan Royal Mumford (1987, the University of Wisconsin Press) is a really good one for introducing people to the various social and ritual dynamics of Himalayan societies. He concentrates on a Nepali valley, and the dialogue between one village governed by the presence of a lama and Buddhist temples, and one governed by an older shamanic priesthood. The ethnography is extremely rich, and his use of three temporal cultural layers in which to situate various levels of discourse and experience is really useful.

Mapping Shangrila, edited by Emily Yey and Chris Coggins (2014, University of Washington Press) is an excellent reader. Its four sections examine how Zhongdian prefecture (renamed Shangrila in 2001) in Eastern Tibet’s Kham region (China’s Yunnan Province) is brought into contemporary being through state projects, tourism, and nature conservation. It is a useful anthology for thinking through some of the new social assemblages and religious transformation that I observed in my own research. Mountain deities are a ubiquitous presence throughout, and one begins to understand how they emerge as contemporary political actors.

Do Glaciers Listen by Julie Cruikshank (2005, University of British Columbia Press) is another really nice ethnography. Set in Alaska, Cruikshank is concerned with how colonial histories, scientific categories, travel accounts, and native concepts construct the contemporary ‘identity’ of Alaska’s glaciers. It is an excellent introduction into the idea of sentient ecology. She also demonstrates the dynamism of social narrative, and you can read about possible qualitative methodologies that a potential student of this kind of research may find useful.

Anna Tsing’s Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (2005, Princeton University Press) is a great read for those interested the diverse impacts of modern institutions and governance systems in non-western settings. As with Mapping ShangrilaFriction examines the diverse situations and interactions that illustrate the capitalist encounter in the Indonesian rainforest. Tsing’s aim is to highlight the messy and unpredictable positives as well as the negatives that are produced within this encounter: imperfect and unstable but opportunities for creative engagement nonetheless. Tsing manages to convey complex ideas in a straight-forward manner that students will find accessible. She also provides ‘a portfolio of methods’ with which to study global connections that potential ethnographers will find useful.

And finally….

If you have the stamina, try Politics of Nature, by Bruno Latour (2004, Harvard University Press). I confess that I am currently making my way through this book. Here Latour elaborates on some of his older contemplations of the separate and purified realms of nature (what can be explained using scientific mechanisms) and politics (what is available for public discussion and debate). In this book, Latour assembles a new political order that allows for collectives: ‘a community incorporating humans and non-human’ that brings them into communication. Latour’s argument is complex, quite dense, and not without fault. What he does manage, however, is to create a space where it is possible to imagine bringing the supernatural into the political sphere as actors ── crucial for my work.

Finally, what advice would you give to anthropology undergraduate students looking to enter postgrad?

I don’t need to tell you that academia is going through a profound transformation right now, and that the potential postgrad is likely to be feeling pretty anxious about the uncertainties, higher costs and shrinking funds. The thing to do in this situation is to adopt Anna Tsing’s conceptualisation of ‘friction’ and the movements and actions it produces. Funding is increasingly coming from public engagement and impact ventures. Academics are expected to team with interdisciplinary or non-academic partners, and this is creating new ways of doing research that are highly rewarding. If you have an idea you want to research then think about potential collaborations. Think synergies. What type of organisation will benefit from your research? How can you sell it to them? Look at the research council websites to see what partnership schemes are on offer. The good news for potential anthropologists is that project managers are increasingly looking for researchers with qualitative skills to help them better interpret quantitative data or unexpected project outcomes. It does require a good deal of energy, hard work, and dedication (more than ever), but the experience that you get from collaborating will be well worth it.