Personal profile

Research overview

I conducted my original research (1994-1995) in a maximum-security prison just outside Port Moresby, the national capital of Papua New Guinea. That work focuses on issues around cultures of incarceration, including attention to colonial & postcolonial governmentality, the politics of vision, money, aesthetics of documents, articulations of loss and exile and popular narratives of nationhood, the city and crime.

More recently (1999-present), I have conducted research in the UK, working with members of a British literary society (fans of a particular novelist) as well as with various groups of London knowledge producers (walking tour guides, Internet journal keepers). Out of these projects come my continuing interests in popular theorizations of the city and urban imaginations, cultures of fiction reading & writing, senses of place, the material culture of books & other artefacts of literary culture, memory, mind and literary subjectivities.

In the last ten years, I have begun a new arm of research: an anthropological study of ethical campaigning in Scotland. This projects looks at the organizational ethics and ethical subjectivation at play in animal welfare campaigning, and is the beginning of a wider project that engages with the anthropology of ethics. This interest, in tandem with my interest in Anthropology and Literature, has recently led me to explore the concept of character, within Anthropology and across disciplines. 

Finally, I have completed a pilot project working with Papua New Guinean migrants to Western Australian. This project looks at skilled labour migration from Papua New Guinea and in particular at the relationship to resource extraction; it focuses on concepts of 'skill', innovations in death ritual and on the influence of Pentecostalism in the migrant expereince. 

Research interests

1] Law and Society: I am interested in the general field of legal anthropology, with particular reference to legal subjectivities and colonial and postcolonial disciplining institutions. This interest emerges from my early archival work on colonial sexualities in the Massim region of Papua, but also through my fieldwork in a maximum security prison in Port Moresby, the national capital of Papua New Guinea. The ambition there was to explore the experience of incarceration in that country and hence to open up an alternative perspective on both the depiction of modern disciplined or total institutions as described by Goffman and Foucault and the conventional depictions by anthropologists of Melanesian societies. In addition, that project examined popular representations of crime in the city and the popular discursive figures of the criminal in Papua New Guinea. It also looked at the aesthetics of prison documententation and popular theories of the relationship between the actions of money and the causes of illegality. Finally, I am interested in the material culture of incarceration; in particular, the role smoking and cigarettes play in the generation and dissolution of prison sociality.

2] Anthropology of the City: leading on from my work on popular narratives of Port Moresby, I have developed an interest in the whole field of urban anthropology. More precisely, I am concerned to explore what anthropological modes of analysis might add to the tradition of urban theory. This has led me to conduct fieldwork in London, to examine that city as an artefact and generator of particular kinds of knowledge [the switch to London was prompted by a desire to locate myself in an urban environment at the centre of classic urban theory, sketch writing and literature]. This has led me to work with two groups of Londoners who explicitly claim a knowledge of the city: self-employed walking tour guides and webloggers or Internet journal keepers. My concern is to trace the dynamic qualities of their interpretive strategies for knowing London, to use them as a basis for contextualising some of the guiding conventions and assumptions of urban theory. The focus is very much on an anthropology of the city, as opposed to the more traditional attention upon an anthropology in the city. By defintion, the project also aims to contribute to the anthropology of knowledge. 

3] Anthropology and Literature: my central interest in recent years has been to develop an anthropological approach to the study of literature and literary cultures. While I draw on the existing tradition within the discipline of providing anthropological readings of novels and poetry, my work vitally differs in its desire to identify an ethnographic project at the heart of this engagement. More particularly, this means conducting fieldwork with readers, writers, publishers and other subjects who articulate a relationship to literature. My own ethnography looks at a British literary society, a group of readers who come together to celebrate their love of a favourite author. This project examines the significance of landscape in literary imaginations, but also focuses attention on the event of reading and the crucial location of agencies in rapturous reading. I am also interested in the material culture of books and other literary artefacts, cultures of cataloguing, readers' theories of interriority and personhood and writers' theories of composition and inspiration. The wider ambition is to develop a sub discipline within anthropology for the study of literature that might rival in size and scale already established fields such as the anthropology of art. Necessarily this project involves a close interdisciplinary engagement with the fields of literary criticism, literary history & reception theory. Most recently, this has manifest itself through an interest in exploring the value of the concept of character in anthropological description and analysis.

4] Anthropology of ethics: my interest in this sub discipline has emerged in the laste five years, and is explored through a long term ethnographic project on animal welfare and ethical campaigning in Scotland. The ambition is to explore the relationships between ethical subjectivation and forms of organizational ethics. In particular, I am interested in how the source of ethical feeling gets invoked or redeployed and how that feeling is negotiated with bureaucratic forms such as organization role and office holding.

5] Anthropology of Migration: Melanesia: this interest has emerged in the last two years and is centred through a pilot project conducted with Papua New Guinean migrants in Western Australia. I am interested in how borrowed concepts such as 'skill', 'character' and 'vision' become deployed by migrants to explain their lives abroad and to provide points of critique on life back home. The relationships between Pentecostalism and work culture is a central concern.

Future research

1] Ethical Subjects: I have conducted new research for the last five years that engages with popular ethics in Scotland and debates in moral philosophy. My ethnographic work will be with groups of ethical campaigners and ethical subjects with strong views on the kinds of ethical debates that dominate popular debate in Scotland today.  This is the beginning of a wider project on the anthropology of ethics that seeks to locate a description language to account for ethical subjectivation and organizational ethics.

2] Anthropology and Character: this is a new and developing interest. I am interested in the potential of the concept of character for anthropological analysis and description, and in exploring the diverse ways in which the concept of character is deployed in different academic fields and in professional and everyday contexts beyond the academy. In particular, I am interested in a dialogue between Anthropology, English, Law and Moral Philisophy.

3] Papua New Guineans outside Papua New Guinea: this new project, so far based on a pilot project with Papua New Guinean migrants in Western Australia, seeks to extend my earlier interest in new social forms in Melanesia by considering the perpsectives on Papua New Guinea from those living abroad.

Industrial relevance

My work on incarceration in Papua New Guinea has interest with NGOs and other bodies overlooking the maintenance and reform of prison systems around the world. My new project on ethical debate and ethical debates in Scotland will involve me working closely with charitable and other NGO organisations.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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