Department of Anthropology

Research themes

Economy and Ecology

We are a world leader in the anthropological study of economic life, focusing on global economic justice and how this intersects with environmental issues. This work links to five themes:

Industrial production, manufacturing and resource extraction

Market contexts

International trade

Magnus Marsden has conducted work on diasporic Afghan merchants from a range of social, ethnic and political backgrounds, and who work in different settings across the former Soviet Union.

He has started work on a large-scale European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant project: Trust, Global Traders, and Commodities in a Chinese International City and has published a book Trading Worlds: Afghan Merchants across Modern Frontiers on the topic.

Charity and philanthropy

  • Roderick Stirrat and Filippo Osella are conducting an innovative study looking at the role of charity and philanthropy in economic, social and health development with a focus on Colombo, Sri Lanka
  • Anne-Meike Fechter is conducting work into ‘Do-it-yourself-Aid’ and the role of small-scale, Western-based charities in developing countries.


Our interest in ecology covers issues including agrarian transformation, environmentalism and the commodification of nature (Pamela KeaJames FairheadEvan Killick and Peter Luetchford).

Economy and Ecology: current research projects

Centre for New Economies of Development

Critical Engagements with the Bottom of the Pyramid

Over the last decade, business has increasingly been cast as the engine of development. Private sector initiatives are now said to deliver 'win-win outcomes' both to the world's poor and the financial bottom line.

The Centre for New Economies of Development is a collaboration between anthropologists at the Universities of Sussex, Edinburgh and Oxford. Using ethnographic field-based studies, we examine the implications of market-centred paradigms for development and raise new questions about responsibility, accountability, entitlement and sustainability.

Trust, Global Traders and Commodities in a Chinese International City

Project led by Magnus Marsden

Yiwu in China is known by international traders as the world’s hub for the wholesale of ‘small commodities. 'Trust, Global Traders, and Commodities’ is an integrated research programme that will provide new data and comparative analysis on the global trade in low-grade Chinese-made commodities.

The project’s focus is on how transnational trading activities are conducted in Yiwu and its connections to the world through networks and flows of people, commodities and knowledge. Research from the project will yield new perspectives on the ways in which trade, while facilitating the exchange of commodities, does or does not simultaneously promote the transfer of practices, ideas and identities. 

Charity and Philanthropy in Development

An innovative study looking at the role of charity and philanthropy in economic, social and health development is being launched in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Conducted by Roderick Stirrat and Filippo Osella, they are investigating Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim and secular forms giving, assessing their contribution towards achieving development goals.

Run and Become

'Run and Become' is a Creative Campus Initiative cultural and research project run from Sussex Anthropology. The aim of 'Run and Become' is to improve understanding of the human factors involved in training for, and completing, a marathon. 

The two main themes are motivation and transformation including:

  • what motivates people to carry on training and running, through the dark days of winter, and when the pain of ‘the wall’ hits them?
  • how are people transformed through the act of training and running a marathon – bodily, emotionally, personally?
Politics and Activism

We have a long history of engagement with politics and activism in academic study and the contemporary world. Our work includes:

  • Andrea Cornwall and Paul Boyce’s work on sexuality in development including critical explorations of sexual rights and critiques of heteronormativity
  • Anne-Meike Fechter's work on International Development professionals and ‘Do-it-yourself-Aid’
  • Elizabeth Harrison's work on community engagement and participation in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Elizabeth Harrison and Andrea Cornwalls' work on developing new research strands concerning activism and protest relating to the global economic crisis
  • Raminder Kaur Kahlon's work on nuclear technology
  • Geert De Neve's work on electoral politics, democracy and citizenship in Tamil Nadu, South India.  

Politics and Activism: current research projects

Pathways of Women's Empowerment

Project led by Andrea Cornwall

Established in 2006, researchers involved in this international research and communications programme are working to understand and influence efforts to bring about positive change in women’s lives.

Perceptions of nuclear technology in India

Project led by Raminder Kaur 

This research looks at the way nuclear issues pervade peoples' lives in India, through focusing on their perceptions and representations of nuclear science and missiles. Through fieldwork, the research reassesses nuclear issues so that they do not remain simply as the concern of nation-states and political parties, but are closely linked to notions of self, community and imaginings of 'national' and 'international' communities.

This is complemented with a focus on how nuclear debates have entered into Indian popular culture and their reception. This research will contribute to literature on nuclear issues and film/popular culture in post-war Europe and America.

Ethics and Morality

This theme builds on our research into Development and Social Transformation to explore the intersection of economy, politics, ethics and morality. Examples include: 

This work also engages with broader aspects of religious practice:

Ethics and Morality: recent publications

Jon Mitchell,  Ritual, Performance and the Senses  (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015)

James Carrier & Peter Luetchford (eds.)   Ethical Consumption: Social Value and Economic Practice  (London: Berghahn Books, March 2012) 

Rights, Justice and Violence

Sussex has an international reputation as a leading force in the Anthropology of Rights and International Justice. Our work includes:

We also work closely with The Sussex Rights and Justice Research Centre

Health, Science and the Body

We are renowned for our work in medical anthropology and in the anthropology of science, technology and society. This work uses grounded ethnographic research to bridge the gap between particular contexts and broader global contexts.

Our work focuses on:

We also conduct research looking at gender issues including:

Health, Science and the Body: current research projects

Bionetworking in Asia – anthropology and transnational biomedical collaborations

Project led by Margaret Sleeboom-Faulkner

The three-year Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded project is studying transnational collaboration in the life sciences. Worth over £1.1 million, it includes researchers from China, India, Japan, Thailand and Europe. 

Researchers involved in the project are looking at bio-medical innovation, with a focus on how contemporary research is increasingly reliant on clinical research conducted through international collaborations with Asian countries.

It is also considering how these initiatives are challenged by uncertainties about research quality and therapeutic practices, and the variation between different states in their healthcare provision and socio-political regimes.

This work is being conducted through the International Science and Bioethics Collaborations research project, together with the University of Cambridge and Durham University 

Son preference in the UK

Project led by Maya Unnithan

Exploring generational changes in family-decision making, son preference and gender expectations among South Asian communities in the UK.

Ebola Response Anthropology Platform

Project led by James Fairhead

The Ebola Response Anthropology Platform is an innovative online resource. It is bringing anthropologists from around the world together to provide advice on how to engage with socio-cultural and political dimensions of the Ebola outbreak and build locally-appropriate interventions.