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Innovative research that builds on our disciplinary traditions

Exploring big questions about issues that matter. Undertaking long term fieldwork. Delivering cutting edge theory.

LSE Anthropology, we are proud to announce, came first in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) out of 26 submissions across Anthropology and Development Studies. We had the highest number of books and/or articles assessed as ‘world leading’, and our impact was assessed as being outstanding in its reach and significance.   

Read our impact case studies here. 

The contributions of Professor Bear and the Covid and Care research group have affected how issues of equality, the importance of co-production and socially grounded policy interventions have been taken up by the UK government over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially via the work of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPI-B). 

Professor James’s research on consumer debt challenges common assumptions about indebtedness, demonstrating how the structures propping up ‘credit apartheid’ in South Africa disadvantage its victims by enabling creditors to secure repayment with such ease that they have virtually no risk of default. She works with human rights NGO The Black Sash to pursue reforms for the better regulation (and reduced cost) of credit, and to educate poor consumers about the risks involved. 

Professor Shah – together with Dr Jens Lerche of SOAS – led a team of researchers investigating awareness and understanding of the economic and social oppression of Adivasis and Dalits in India. They revealed the socio-economic processes that perpetuate the oppression and disproportionate poverty among the worst-off groups, and helped to shape new policies supporting collective action for these people. 

Our environment was judged to be conducive to excellent research while also being inclusive and egalitarian. Our approach to research is to produce world-leading work that pioneers new theory and fields of study, while also achieving significant impact on public debates and policy. At the same time we retain our close-knit and cohesive departmental culture. Encouraging both teamwork and individual investigations, we are committed to our discipline’s practices of cross-cultural comparison and the ethnographic method, and use our research to inform our teaching, inspiring the next generation of investigators.

We carry out ethnographic research in diverse settings: urban America, rural China, the Peruvian Amazon, villages and cities in South Asia, Indonesia, London... the list goes on. The department is famous for innovative theory and for the pivotal contributions it has made -and continues to make- to core anthropological debates. 

Research themes

Our research, centred on five key themes, encompasses a commitment to comparative projects that are rooted in deep history, draw links between regional/spatio-temporal zones, and pose questions about the nature of humanity (concerning inequality, co-operation, vitality, and religiosity vs secularity). 

(i) Inequality and wealth in a capitalist world: our research on this theme owed (and owes) much to our late lamented colleague, David Graeber, who sadly died in 2020. This theme interrogates the interplay of hierarchy and egalitarianism (Graeber & Wengrow); of poverty and abundance; and how inequality is created and maintained—by the intersection of class, caste, ethnicity and gender (Shah & Parry ‘Persistence of Poverty amongst Adivasis and Dalits in India’ and ‘The Underbelly of the Indian Boom: Adivasis and Dalits), and within and between families (Stafford on Oklahoma). Within the rubric of anthropology of economy, Bear (‘Rebuilding Economics’), Gardner, and James & Koch (‘Ethnographies of Advice’) explore how inequality is constituted and reproduced in both core and more marginal sites of contemporary capitalism, and how processes of development and speculation; debt; austerity and insecurity, and the aspirations to modernity and wealth that underpin these, play out in a global context (James on indebtedness in South Africa and the UK; Bear on sovereign debt and austerity; Weszkalnys on oil in Sao Tome). Under this theme, we share interests and projects with the International Inequalities Institute (III, where James and Shah are involved) and the LSE South Asia Centre (where Banerjee was the inaugural Director). We also run a joint seminar – Anthropology of Economy/Inclusive Economies - with the Department of International Development. 

(ii) Commitment, Conviction and Doubt explores how people dedicate themselves to received cosmologies, ontologies, religions, or secular ideologies. We pay particular attention to the fragile and fluctuating nature of such commitments, as investigated and theorised in studies of wonder (Scott on the Solomon Islands and in academia), happiness (Walker & Astuti on Amazonia), irony (Steinmüller on China), doubt, suspicion (Doughan on corruption and transparency) and ‘fragile conviction’ (Pelkmans on Central Asia). Questions of ethics, justice, and purpose are an integral part of these inquiries (Stafford on moral judgment and co-operation; Cannell on Mormon piety in a secular age). 

(iii) Mind, learning and human development centres on experiences of childhood (Allerton on stateless children); the self and conceptions of free will (Doughan on intentionality in political action); affect and altered states of consciousness (Long on hypnotherapy in Indonesia); moral judgement and the psychology of economic life (Stafford on everyday economic decision-making). We engage critically with psychology, cognitive science and related disciplines (Astuti on Madagascar). We examine how predispositions of the human mind—towards mutualism or the sense of fairness—are shaped by the specific historical and cultural circumstances in which people live (Walker on justice in Amazonia). 

(iv) Generative Vitalityprovides new perspectives on kinship (Cannell on Mormon kinship, Gardner on marriage and divorce in Bangladesh), gender and generative or productive processes, and forms of redistribution (Devlieger on disability in the Democratic Republic of Congo). This includes ritual practices (Bear on intimate economies in India), conceptions about the generation and end of life, and the nature of parental responsibility and of childhood (Allerton). Our research, rooted in households and local contexts, shows how these link to, and are productive of, global processes: how the powers of capitalism—both generative and destructive—produce and are reproduced within family and other forms of solidarity. This research theme also enables us to re-theorize phenomena such as attempts to access the hidden generativity and vitality that lies behind any visible form of power and productivity (Scott on so-called cargo cults in Melanesia). 

(v) The state, its reach, and beyond critically examines settings where government powers are mediated through, challenged or buttressed by market relations. It explores corporations, development (Gardner on Bangladesh), legal and economic bureaucracies (Bear with Mathur on the ‘New Public Good’, Graeber on ‘Bullshit Jobs’, Pia on water provision in China, Doughan on social justice in Jordan), and speculation and prospecting (Weszkalnys on oil in Sao Tome and on the UK’s oil sector, Bear on global speculation). It also investigates how the state is personalized or vernacularized in people’s daily lives (Long on Indonesia, Scott on rural Solomon Islands). Key areas where our research interrogates the reach and limits of state power are political participation, changing systems of democratic choice and their local meaning (Banerjee on democracy and republicanism in India, Long on democracy in Indonesia), conspiracy theorising and wilful blindness (Pelkmans on the politics of ignorance, Allerton on state non-recognition of migrants in Malaysia), revolutionary struggle (Shah on Naxalite Maoists in India), the politics of security and precarity (Doughan on the Jordanian-Syrian border) and transnational migration and the paradoxes and pain of being undocumented (Allerton on stateless children of migrants).

Departmental research units

Citizens advice bureau

An ethnography of advice

This anthropological study explores how, under conditions of continuing economic crisis, assumptions about the nature of society are being reshaped: particularly in respect of who receives assistance and who funds and arranges it. Where the 'usual' targets of welfare and benefits were the poor or destitute, they now include those who work but cannot make ends meet, and who experience increasing numbers of complex problems for which they need advice.


Inequality and poverty

The Inequality and Poverty Research Programme is dedicated to understanding the social relations through which some people are perpetually exploited, marginalized and subordinated, and to illuminating people’s creative and political responses to the conditions in which they find themselves. We are funded by the ESRC and an ERC Starting Grant. As part of our programme of research we run a series of seminars, lectures, workshops and conferences. To find out more about our research and events please go to Inequality and Poverty

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Justice, Morality, and the State in Amazonia

How, why and when do people make moral judgements about what is right or just? How are such judgements influenced by social and cultural factors, such as early childcare practices, local theories of mind, or the relative presence or absence of markets and the state?

Justice, Morality, and the State in Amazonia (JUSTAM) is a five-year research project that will explore these questions with an empirical focus on the indigenous peoples of Western Amazonia. It will use ethnographic as well as experimental research methods to develop a comprehensive picture of how people throughout the region pursue and enact forms of justice in their everyday lives.

Find out more.

Christianity Judaism Islam

Religion and Global Society 

The LSE Religion and Global Society research unit is an interdepartmental initiative dedicated to exploring the multiple ways religion and religious communities influence – and is influenced by – contemporary socio-political and cultural change. With a special focus on environmental depredation, women of faith and conflict, and grassroots initiatives that foster interfaith (and intra-faith) dialogue, we aim to foreground the role of religion and religiosity in the everyday experiences of individuals and offer insight into the transformative potential of interreligious encounters. To find out more about our research, seminar series, events, and blog, please go to Religion and Global Society.


Research programmes


Programme for the study of religion and non-religion

The Programme for the Study of Religion and Non-Religion aims to bring together staff and research students from across LSE, and within the wider academic and policy communities, working on issues to do with religion, secularism, and “non-religious” practices, beliefs, and traditions.

Popular economies

Programme in anthropology and economy

Anthropology at the LSE was founded by academics such as Malinowski and Firth who engaged with the key categories of the discipline of economics. This tradition has been strengthened through the years by the work of Bloch and Parry on monetary exchange and Fuller and Parry on globalisation, industrialisation and class. Faculty (including Bear, Gardner, Graeber, James, Shah and Weszkalnys) are currently taking these streams of analysis in new directions drawing on a wide range of theories and ethnographic settings. 

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Taiwan Research Programme

The Programme has operated at the LSE since 2003 under the co-directorship of Prof Stephan Feuchtwang and Dr Fang-long Shih (  Its aim is to contextualize processes of modernization and globalization through interdisciplinary studies of significant issues using Taiwan as a lever of comparison.  There is a twofold agenda: to act as a forum and catalyst for the development of evocative analytical perspectives through comparative dialogue with Taiwan-engaged research; and to make enhanced sense of Taiwan-related events and experiences by invoking contemporary theoretical perspectives.

Responding to COVID

COVID and Care Research Group

The Covid and Care Research Group are building a conversation between policy makers and the UK population over issues of disadvantage and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Congratulations to Professor Laura Bear who has been made Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her services to Anthropology and the COVID-19 response.

Research ethics guidance

All anthropologists undertaking research must carefully consider the ethical issues that might arise in their research and writing, and act with responsibility to the people they study, research assistants, colleagues and the discipline.

Recognising the specificity of the nature of anthropological research, the American Anthropological Association Code of Ethics (2009) states: 

“No code or set of guidelines can anticipate unique circumstances or direct actions in specific situations. The individual anthropologist must be willing to make carefully considered ethical choices and be prepared to make clear the assumptions, facts and issues on which those choices are based.” 

Before completing an ethics review for your research, please refer to the following frameworks which convey the prevailing disciplinary consensus on ethics in anthropological research: 

Association of Social Anthropologist Ethics Guidelines for Good Research Practice (1999)

American Anthropological Association Ethics Forum  

AAA Committee on Ethics Briefing Papers on Fieldwork Dilemmas

All staff and students undertaking ethnographic research must complete the online LSE ethics review form, instructions for which can be found here. In addition to the disciplinary guidance above, staff and students should also be familiar with the LSE Research Ethics Policy. It is assumed that long-term projects carried out over years will only need to complete an ethics review form once, however if there are any significant changes to the research or fieldsite circumstances, it should be updated (in the first instance please contact

Specific instructions for students and staff
PhD students: besides discussions of concrete ethical issues that may take place in the context of meetings with supervisors throughout the pre-fieldwork (MRes) year, students have a dedicated two-hour session of general ethics training as part of AN471, the fieldwork methods course. This culminates in the writing of the research proposal; at the same time they are required to complete and submit an ethics review form. Supervisors will review this and approve it or, where necessary, submit it to the School's Research Ethics Committee for approval. The process is monitored by the Department's Doctoral Programme Director.

The ethics review, along with the student's Research Proposal, must be submitted ahead of their upgrade as these will be discussed at the upgrade viva.

Undergraduate students doing research must complete and submit an ethics review form.  The class teacher or the director of the summer ethnography project, as appropriate will review this and will either approve it or, where necessary, submit it to the School's Research Ethics Committee for approval. Where deemed necessary, the Undergraduate Tutor can be consulted. 

Academic and research staff must complete and submit an ethics review form. The Department’s Research Ethics Champion (the Research Committee) will review and approve it or, where necessary, submit it to the School's Research Ethics Committee for approval. Staff are advised to consult the department’s Principles of best practice for collaborative research:  ‘data’ ownership, authorship and power.

Research news

MPhil and PhD theses

A list of MPhil and PhD theses submitted in the Department of Anthropology since 1927, and of MA theses up to 1969, has been compiled from departmental records, the catalogue card index of theses in the BLPES and (for very early theses) the index in the Senate House library, and the University of London's serial publication, Subjects of dissertations and theses (from 1937).

This publication is the most complete source, but it does contain omissions as revealed by the other sources, and it is likely that the following list is still not comprehensive, mainly because theses in anthropology have sometimes been misrecorded under 'economics' or other disciplines. Conversely, the list may contain some entries which should not have been filed under 'anthropology'. The Department would be grateful if any errors could be communicated to the Departmental Manager.

Theses are listed by year of examination, alphabetically within each year until 1984 and in chronological order of examination since 1985.

Copies of recent theses are held by the LSE Library. Enquiries to

Read the list of theses. 

Video and audio


Several current and former members of staff have been interviewed on BBC Radio about their research. You can listen to their interviews again via the BBC's weblinks:

Dr Alpa Shah: Is capitalism eliminating social inequalities? 

Laura Bear's
 BBC World Service debate on debt - Beware Bankers Bearing Gifts.

Mathijs Pelkmans and Alpa Shah on Thinking Allowed in January 2014, speaking about the role of doubt in religious and political conviction.

David Graeber on BBC Radio 4's Start the Week in May 2013, talking about democracy.

Adam Kuper on Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time in May 2013, talking about Levi-Strauss, and on dirt on Thinking Allowed in June 2011.

Alpa Shah on India's Red Belt on Crossing Continents, and discussing Spending Time with Maoist Rebels on From Our Own Correspondent, both in May 2010. In conversation with Akhil Gupta and Laurie Taylor on the fight against poverty in India on Thinking Allowed in December 2012.

Matthew Engelke on his study of the Bible Society of England and Wales on Thinking Allowed in February 2012, and on Christians who don't read the Bible on Thinking Allowed in October 2005.

Deborah James on land reform in South Africa on Thinking Allowed in June 2007.

Maurice Bloch on the need for grand theory in anthropology on Thinking Allowed in July 2005.

Charles Stafford on numbers and China on Thinking Allowed in October 2004.

Workshops and events

Trans-European perspectives on migrants’ social navigation of uncertainty: An interdisciplinary approach

September 8, 2023 
Vera Anstey Room,
Old Building, LSE


Malinowski and the Argonauts: a hundred years of economic anthropology and the ethnographic method

Centenary Workshop  
4–5 July 2022

Organizers: Deborah James (Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics)
Chris Hann (Max Planck/Cambridge Centre for Ethics, Economy and Social Change)

Click here to view the programme.


Attention: An Interdisciplinary Workshop

14th and 15th September 2022, 2pm – 6pm (BST) on both days
This workshop will serve as a forum for researchers and practitioners interested in attention to engage meaningfully with each other's work and ideas. It seeks to contrast theories, findings and insights about attention with a particular focus on the potential impact of these ideas on society at large.