Dr Jo Vergunst

Dr Jo Vergunst
Dr Jo Vergunst
Dr Jo Vergunst

Senior Lecturer

Email Address
Telephone Number
+44 (0)1224 272738
Office Address
G21 Edward Wright Building
Old Aberdeen Campus
Dunbar Street
AB24 3QY

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School of Social Science


Present position: Senior Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen.
I am also an Honorary Curatorial Fellow in the University Museums, University of Aberdeen.

Previous positions and education:
Research Fellow, RCUK Academic Fellow and Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen since 2004. Head of Department 2018-2021.
Research Fellow, Arkleton Institute for Rural Development Research, University of Aberdeen, 2002-2004.
PhD Land Economy - University of Aberdeen 2004.
MA Environmental Anthropology - University of Kent 1999.
BA (Hons) Archaeology & Anthropology - University of Oxford 1996.

My research is about people's relationships with their environments. Most of my fieldwork has been in Scotland and I focus particularly on the intersection between everyday experience and wider political circumstances. My early work was on farming and rural development, and over recent years I have worked on a wide range of themes - from walking in rural and urban areas, to landscape history and heritage, and wood as a craft material and landscape. I am especially interested in anthropology that works with artists and through creative practice.


Current Research

Solar Power in the UK - Planning for a Sustainable Future (2023-25) ESRC £700k. Co-investigator (PI David Toke)
This research explores local authority planning processes involving solar photovoltaic farms, using survey, interview and ethnographic research techniques.

Voices of the Future: Collaborating with Children and Young People to Re-imagine Treescapes (2021-24)
NERC £1.5m. Co-Investigator (PI Kate Pahl, Manchester Metropolitan University)
This project aims to re-imagine future treescapes (trees, woods, forests) with children and young people, working with local and national partners. In Aberdeen we are working with schools on ways of finding and enacting the curriculum with trees. Project website

Creative Landscape Futures: Making Decisions with the Arts and Humanities (2020-23)
AHRC £35,846. Principal Investigator
As part of a wider RCUK programme on landscape decision-making, this research network is exploring the ways that research in the arts and humanities can contribute to how decisions are made about landscape in rural Scotland. It involves a range of network partners and stakeholders.

Past Research

Enacting the Past: Stories from the Colony to the Tatra (2017-18) AHRC £79,911. Co-Investigator (PI Elizabeth Curtis) This project built on our previous AHRC-funded work on heritage and communities, aiming to widen the range of people engaged in learning about and contributing to the local heritage in north east Scotland. It included stories, song and drama as ways of engaging with lived heritage.

Artist in Residence - Alec Finlay (2016-17)Leverhulme Trust £15,000.This was a collaboration with poet and artist Alec Finlay on place names in the landscape in Scotland, particularly Upper Deeside. 

Heritage Legacies (2014-15) AHRC £76,691. Principal Investigator. This project explored the processes and outcomes of community heritage research, with a view to enhancing its legacies. Key themes are enskilment, temporality, material assets and ethics. It is a collaboration with the Universities of Sheffield, Leeds and Cardiff and the Bailies of Bennachie. Project website

Knowing from the Inside: Anthropology, Art, Architecture and Design (2013-2018) European Research Council €2.5m. Co-Investigator (PI Tim Ingold) My research for KFI invovled working with wood as material and landscape, using collaborative and arts-based methodologies. Project website

Sharing All Our Stories Scotland (2013-14)AHRC £66,384. Co-Investigator (PI Elizabeth Curtis)This grant focused on public engagement with community groups in Scotland who are carrying out heritage research. The groups are funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund's 'All Our Stories' initiative and we are supporting them through direct work with projects, regional workshops, and an interactive digital community learning hub.

Bennachie Landscapes: Investigating Communities Past and Present at the Colony Site (2013-14)AHRC £79,739. Co-Investigator (PI Jeff Oliver) This expanded the 2012 Bennachie project (below). It was a collaborative effort between the Bailies of Bennachie and the University of Aberdeen to shed light on the history of the 19th century farming community there. As well as oral history work I led an ethnographic reflexive strand on learning from community heritage research.  

Sustainable Community Heritage in Scotland's North East: Bennachie and Beyond (2012) AHRC £25,000. Co-Investigator (PI Gordon Noble) This is an interdisciplinary community-centred research project on the past, present and future of one of north-east Scotland's most significant cultural and physical landmarks: the hill of Bennachie and its environs. I led oral history research on landscape memories and family connections with the hill. Project website

Exploring Environmental Change Through New Connections in Art and Anthropology (2010-12) Royal Society of Edinburgh £2787, Carnegie Trust £1000, Russell Trust £3000, University of Aberdeen Principal's Excellence Fund £500.The project explored how art practice can produce alternative renderings of environmental change. It included field trips to Greenland in May and October 2010. An exhibition was on show at King's Museum, University of Aberdeen from February to May 2012, and another took place in Ilulissat, Greenland in October 2011.

Making Space for Water, Biodiversity and People in Scotland's Cities (2009-10) Scottish Crucible Project Fund, with Rebecca Wade, Abertay University. £3000This pilot project developed innovative methodologies for interdisciplinary collaboration around the role of small urban rivers in Scotland.

Bennachie Histories and Colony Project (2007-2009) Bailies of Bennachie £8000. With Jennifer Fagen.In conjunction with the Bailies of Bennachie community group, this was an oral history and archival project about the history of the hill of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire. It has developed into a programme of AHRC-funded research (see above).

Landscapes Beyond Land (2006-2007) AHRC. With Arnar Árnason, Nicolas Ellison and Andrew Whitehouse. This is a series of seminars exploring themes in the ethnography of landscape and environment. Papers are published in a book Landscapes Beyond Land and special issue of the journal Landscape Research.

Culture from the ground: walking, movement and placemaking (2004-2006) ESRC PI: Professor Tim Ingold. This project investigated the sociality of walking through a study of the ways people walk in everyday contexts.  Ethnographic fieldwork in and around the city of Aberdeen focused on how walking connects past, present and future time in personal and collective biographies, and also links places within networks of movement.

Restructuring in marginal rural areas (RESTRIM) (2002-2004) Funded by the European Commission (5th Framework Programme) PI: Professor Mark Shucksmith I was Research Fellow on this project. RESTRIM was an examination of rural development networks and social capital in six case study areas of Europe, co-ordinated by the University of Aberdeen. The findings have been published by Ashgate.

PhD: Landscape, Farming and Rural Social Change in Orkney, Scotland (2004)My thesis examines processes of change in farming and rural society in the islands of Orkney in Scotland


Teaching Responsibilities


Courses recently and currently taught include -
AT1003 Introduction to Anthropology 1
AT3035 Doing Anthropological Research
AT3528 Medical Anthropology
AT4046 Anthropology and Art: On Place, Landscape and Materials


I teach on the MRes in Social Anthropology including -
AT5033 Research Skills in Anthropology
AT5532 Research Design and Practice in Anthropology

I also teach an online course open to anyone Introduction to Ethnographic Research Methods.

I welcome approaches from potential PhD students. Current supervised PhD students:

Þórný Barðadóttir (University of Iceland) - Meeting grounds on the margin: Melrakkaslétta on the move.
Christina Bosbach - Everyday mobilities in rural and remote Scotland.
Li Qingyang - A Paddy hiding in the mountains: Anthropological Research with the Pu people in Naduo Village, Yunnan Province, China.
Luis Dos Santos - Macao diaspora communities in Europe.
Sian MacGregor - Valuing young audiences: how children experience live theatre and dance.
Edda Starck - Landscapes of Music: Crafting the more-than-human lives and politics of string instruments.
Peter Stewart - Researching the politics of the past in Scotland: heritage, identity, and archaeology in times of political polarization.
Jessica Wood - Health, wellbeing and heritage in the Western Isles.


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Books and Reports

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