Professor Catherine Allerton

Professor Catherine Allerton

Professor [Head of Department]

Department of Anthropology

Room No
Office Hours
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Bahasa Manggarai, English, Indonesian, Malay
Key Expertise
Eastern Indonesia, East Malaysia

About me

I am an anthropologist interested in the materialities and mobilities of everyday life. My research has focused on place, relatedness, childhood and migration, especially in island Southeast Asia. I have conducted ethnographic fieldwork in a two-placed village in Flores, Indonesia and in the capital city of Sabah, East Malaysia. My research to date has focused on 5 key themes:

Place and Kinship: Within and Beyond the House: My early research in Manggarai, eastern Indonesia forged a new paradigm for understanding the connections between bodies, relations and place. While the formation of ‘house societies’ and the meanings of the domestic have been long-term themes in anthropology, my approach generates a new emphasis on the temporally-produced ‘liveliness’ of houses. My book Potent Landscapes (2013) combines phenomenological analysis of rooms, houses and marriage paths with attention to the political and religious history of the landscape. My attention to the everyday life of kinship is also seen in my chapter, ‘What does it mean to be alone?’ (2007), which complicates our understanding of female ‘single-ness’, and in my article on ‘The secret life of sarongs’ (2007), which approaches woven textiles as sensual, intimate ‘super-skins’.

Spiritual Landscapes of Southeast Asia: I have forged a comparative approach to the significance of landscapes across Southeast Asia. In an edited special issue of Anthropological Forum (2009), I argued against Christian-inspired theorisations of ‘sacred’ place, highlighting instead a practice-oriented approach to ancestral and spiritual landscapes. In this and other publications, I also drew attention to the ongoing power of the ‘unseen realm’ of lived landscapes in Southeast Asia, arguing that landscapes are not fixed or unchanging but are a focus for political contestation and purification.

The Interdisciplinary Ethnography of Children’s Lives: I am committed to taking children seriously as research participants, and to rethinking the assumptions of adult-centred approaches to social life. My edited volume, Children: Ethnographic Encounters (2016) is the first book to discuss positive, negative and ambivalent experiences of participant-observation with children in multiple settings. In 2013, I launched ‘Childhood in the Migrant City’, an exhibition showcasing photographs taken by child participants in my ESRC-sponsored research in Sabah. This exhibition, in the corridors of the LSE’s Anthropology Department, draws attention to the power of photography as a method for uncovering the everyday lives of marginalised children. I am currently working on a book, Paradoxes of Childhood, which draws on the arguments I make in my unique LSE course, ‘Children and Youth in Contemporary Ethnography’, focused on key paradoxes that are essential to (re)conceptualising childhood.

Rethinking Child ‘Illegality’ and Statelessness: In recent years, my child-focused research has uncovered the impacts of an undocumented status on children of Filipino and Indonesian refugees and migrants in Sabah’s capital city of Kota Kinabalu. In a number of articles (2014, 2017, 2020), I have contributed to critical analyses of legalistic approaches to statelessness, arguing that it is not simply a question of lack of citizenship, but is fundamentally an issue of social, moral and political recognition. I have made a significant intervention into the analysis of migrant ‘illegality’ (2018) through a focus on children’s experiences of irregularity in the context of Malaysia’s postcolonial hierarchy of racialised belonging. My book manuscript, Impossible Children, further explores the complexities of this moral economy of belonging, in which places and persons are linked in exclusionary ways.

Temporalities of Migration and Care: I am fascinated by the implications of migration for understandings and experiences of time, particularly as these relate to kinship and care. In ‘Stuck in the Short Term’ (2020) I redeploy a theoretical paradigm from economic anthropology (the difference between short-term and long-term transactions) to argue for two temporal orders for the care of children in migrant families. In my recently-published Malinowski lecture (2023), I argue that the times of childhood have become discordant with the rhythms, timescales and temporal controls of contemporary migration, with often negative consequences for children’s lives. I hope to extend this intellectual project in new directions in the coming years.

I am keen to supervise PhD students interested in children and youth, kinship and gender, migration, (non)citizenship, place, and Southeast Asia.

The following publications, and the Introductions from both books, are available to view and download at

Expertise Details

Eastern Indonesia; East Malaysia; place and landscape; houses; kinship and marriage; childhood and youth; migration; temporalities.

Selected publications

2023. Discordant Temporalities of Migration and ChildhoodJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.  29(4): 763-783.

(2020) 2023. “Childhood”. In The Open Encyclopedia of Anthropology, edited by Felix Stein.

2020. Invisible Children? Non-Recognition, Humanitarian Blindness and Other Forms of Ignorance in Sabah, Malaysia. Critique of Anthropology. 40(4): 455-470.

2019. Stuck in the Short Term: Immobility and Temporalities of Care among Florenese Migrants in Sabah, MalaysiaEthnos. Special Issue on ‘Care and Control in Asian Migrations’.

2019. Najwa Latif – ‘Sahabat’. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society. 43(2): 84-87. Special Section, ‘The Fieldwork Playlist’.

2018. Impossible Children: Illegality and Excluded Belonging among Children of Migrants in Sabah, East Malaysia. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. 44 (7): 1081-1097.

2017. Contested Statelessness in Sabah, Malaysia: Irregularity and the Politics of Recognition. Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies. 15(3): 250-268.

2016. 'Introduction: Encountering Children' and 'Guide to Further Reading.' In Catherine Allerton (ed.) Children: Ethnographic Encounters. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

2016. ' "Difficult" Children: Ethnographic Chaos and Creativity in Migrant Malaysia.' In Catherine Allerton (ed.) Children: Ethnographic Encounters. Londn: Bloomsbury Academic.

2014. Statelessness and the Lives of the Children of Migrants in Sabah, East Malaysia. Tilburg Law Review. Special Issue on Statelessness. 19: 26-34.

2013. Potent Landscapes: Place and Mobility in Eastern Indonesia. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

2012. Visible relations and invisible realms: speech, materiality and two Manggarai landscapes. In Landscapes Beyond Land (eds) A. Arnason, N. Ellison, J. Vergunst and A. Whitehouse. Oxford: Berghahn, EASA Series.

2012. ‘Landscape, power and agency in Eastern Indonesia’ In Southeast Asian perspectives on power (eds) Liana Chua, Joanna Cook, Nicholas Long and Lee Wilson. London: Routledge, pp67-80.

2012. Making guests, making 'liveliness': The transformative substances and sounds of Manggarai hospitalityJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Special Issue, 'Returning to hospitality: Strangers, guests and ambiguous encounters' (eds) M. Candea and G. da Col. 18: S49-S62.

2009. Introduction: Spiritual Landscapes of Southeast AsiaAnthropological Forum. Special Issue on "Spiritual Landscapes of Southeast Asia: Changing Geographies of Religion and Potency" Vol. 19 (3): 235 - 251.

2009. Static Crosses and Working Spirits: Anti-Syncretism and Agricultural Animism in Catholic West FloresAnthropological Forum. Special Issue on "Spiritual Landscapes of Southeast Asia: Changing Geographies of Religion and Potency" Vol. 19 (3): 271 - 287

2007. What does it mean to be alone? In Questions of Anthropology. Rita Astuti, Jonathan Parry and Charles Stafford (eds). Oxford: Berg. Read the chapter.

2007. Lipsticked brides and powdered children: cosmetics and the allure of modernity in an eastern Indonesian village. In Body arts and modernity, Michael O'Hanlon and Elizabeth Ewart (eds). Wantage: Sean Kingston. 

2007. The secret life of sarongs: Manggarai textiles as super-skinsJournal of Material Culture 12(1): 22-46. 

2004. The path of marriage: journeys and transformation in eastern IndonesiaBijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (BKI) 160(2/3): 339-362.

2003. Authentic housing, authentic culture? Transforming a village into a "tourist site" in Manggarai, eastern IndonesiaIndonesia and the Malay World 31(no. 89): 119-128.

My research

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