Photo of Jane CowanJane Cowan
Professor of Social Anthropology


Jane Cowan's early work concentrated on issues of gender, power, identity and the body. Dance and the Body Politic in Northern Greece (Princeton, 1990; Winner of the 1991 Chicago Folklore Prize) focused on social dancing as a site for the construction and negotiation of social identities and relations, especially gender. She has also analysed the cultural politics of popular music, ritual production (pre-Lenten Carnival) and everyday socialising in contemporary Greece. Her fieldwork in the ethnically mixed, multilingual Macedonian region alerted her to its population's multiple and complex responses to nation-building practices. Macedonia: The Politics of Identity and Difference (Pluto, 2000) addressed the unresolved Macedonian controversy that re-emerged with the break-up of Yugoslavia, and the debates it triggered - political and theoretical - about nationalism, ethnicity, minority status, cultural rights and citizenship. Many of these themes were explored further in her co-edited volume (with M. Dembour and R.Wilson), Culture and Rights: Anthropological Perspectives (Cambridge, 2001).

Jane continues to be preoccupied with the ambiguities, contingencies and contested character of rights processes. She is currently working on two major, interrelated projects regarding rights. First, in a project that has received funding from the Macarthur Foundation and the British Academy-Leverhulme, she is tracing a longer-term history of intersections between claims for rights to difference and international mechanisms. This project focuses on the interwar League of Nations' 'supervision' of minority treaties when, with the demise of empires and emerging hegemony of the nation-state form, 'minority' is consolidated as a legal-political category. In a series of articles, she has been investigating claims for rights and for Macedonian nationhood made on behalf of the so-called 'Bulgarian minorities' in Yugoslavia and Greece. She is exploring the interactions these petitions generated between civic organisations, revolutionaries, minority claimants, international bureaucrats, diplomats, internationalists, proto-NGOs and the press.

In academic year 2018-2019 Jane held the prestigious invited position of the Jane and Aatos Erkko Visiting Professor in Studies on Contemporary Society at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. Her primary obligation was to work on a monograph on this League of Nations research, which is provisionally entitled 'Minority or nation? Competing justice projects at the League of Nations'.

In October 2010, Jane initiated a second major project, funded by the British Academy-Leverhulme, examining the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a new mechanism of human rights monitoring within the reformed Human Rights Council in Geneva. It explores the social processes and contested meanings of this new mechanism among the actors engaged in it: state delegations, UNHCHR staff, NGOs, experts and members of civil society. UPR is approached as a public audit ritual grounded in a wider social, political and legal field and constituted through specific encounters, institutional codes, norms and knowledge practices, and documentary processes. Building on her work on minorities treaties supervision in the League of Nations, Jane is situating this emergent form of international rights monitoring in a wider historical frame, as well as in relation to debates on governance and audit.

Jane's work has been translated into French, Greek, Turkish, Italian and Spanish.

Her article, "Culture and Rights after Culture and Rights" was one of the Top 25 Anthrosource Articles in 2009 (i.e. the most-downloaded, ranked 21). You can find it and download a free copy here:



Former Doctoral Students, successfully completed:

Karen Boswall - Mozambican musicians and gender performance (CHASE funded, PhD completed December 2021)

Evie Browne - Queering Cuba: How have women engaging in non-normative sexualities and gender identities participated in political, economic and social life? (PhD completed April 2022)

Kristina Ilieva - Responses to refugees in a Bulgarian town (ESRC funded, PhD completed March 2022)

Georgina Christou - Human rights, racialisation and securitisation of 'minor' subjectivities in Cyprus (DPhil completed September 2018)

Nick Gallie - The conjunction between human rights and socio-technical dynamics in climate change (ESRC funded, DPhil completed March 2018)

Aleksandar Dimitrovski - Changing Labour Relations and Subjectivities in the Post-Soviet Republic of Macedonia (Soros Foundation, DPhil completed January 2016)

Jamie Barnes -Stories, senses and the charismatic relation (ESRC funded, DPhil completed June 2015)

Vesselina Ratcheva - Nationalist organisations in contemporary Bulgaria (ESRC funded, DPhil completed June 2014)

Dimitra Varvarezou - Healing practices and disability perceptions among the Navajo (Greek Government Scholarship; transferred to Arizona State University in summer 2013)

Lauren Greenwood - Changing conceptions of identity in military stabilisation support operations (ESRC funded: DPhil completed May 2013)

Deniz Duru - Inter-household exchanges, sociability and coexistence on a multi-faith, multi-ethnic island network in Istanbul, Turkey (ORSAS scholarship; DPhil completed Dec 2012)

Ali Chouseinoglou - The Western Thrace Minority of Greece in the post-Cold War Era (DPhil completed spring 2012)

Simone Hary - Gender, citizenship and identity among young Korean-German women in Frankfurt (DPhil completed spring 2012)

Sam Hardy - Interrogating archaeological ethics: reconciling professional responsibiities with humanitarian duties (ESRC funded, DPhil awarded 2011)

Julie Billaud - Malalay's sisters: women's political participation in post-war Afghanistan (ESRC funded, DPhil awarded 2010)

Marica Rombou-Levidi - Cultural practices and identification processes in Eastern Macedonia, Greece (DPhil awarded 2009)

Natalie Djohari - Post-conflict youth in Guatemala (DPhil awarded 2008)

Antigoni Papanikolaou - 'Halk verilmez, alinir' (Rights are not granted, they are taken): The 'politicization' of rights in the case of the Turkish-Muslim minority of Western Thrace, Greece (Greek State Scholarship: DPhil awarded 2008)

Kathryn Tomlinson - Indigenous rights, land and the power line conflict in Venezuela (ESRC funded: DPhil awarded 2005)

Niamh Moore - The ecofeminist politics of Clayoquot Sound, Canada: theorising activist narratives (DPhil awarded 2003)

Fani Keramida - Relocating: bureaucratic and migrant practices concerning the resettlement of Pontian Greeks from the former Soviet Union in Northern Greece (DPhil awarded 2001)

Maxine Lattimer - Abortion discourses: an explanation of the social, cultural and organisational context of abortion decision-making in contemporary Britain (DPhil awarded 2001)

Emmanouil Spyridakis - On the Perama waterfront: the social, economic and cultural aspects of employment structure in a suburb of Piraeus (DPhil awarded 2001)

Giorgos Tsimouris - On memory and history among refugees from Turkey to Leros (DPhil awarded 1998)


Postdoctoral Fellows mentored by Jane:

Lyndsay McLean Hilker, "Rwanda's Youth: Routes into and out of Violence" (ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, August 2009 - March 2012, part-time)

Heath Cabot, "The Lacunic City: Athens, Migration and the New Nation" (January-June 2010)