Dr Jo Vergunst

Dr Jo Vergunst

Senior Lecturer

Dr Jo Vergunst
Dr Jo Vergunst

Contact Details

work +44 (0)1224 272738
The University of Aberdeen Office: Room G21, Edward Wright Building Post address: Department of Anthropology, School of Social Science Edward Wright Building University of Aberdeen Dunbar Street Aberdeen AB24 3QY Scotland


Present position: Senior Lecturer and Head of Department, 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.
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

Creative Landscape Futures: Making Decisions with the Arts and Humanities (2020-22)
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.

Enacting the Past: Stories from the Colony to the Tatra (2017-18)
AHRC £79,911. Co-Investigator (PI Elizabeth Curtis)
This project builds 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 includes stories, song and drama as ways of engaging with lived heritage.

Artist in Residence - Alec Finlay (2016-17)
Leverhulme Trust £15,000.
I am working 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)
I am conducting research on wood as material and landscape, using collaborative and arts-based methodologies. Project website

Sharing All Our Stories Scotland
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
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
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. The project facilitated public engagement with the region's landscape heritage and provides training and development opportunities for community research. 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, and fieldwork happens in art and anthropology. It included field trips to Ilulissat, 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 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. £3000
This pilot project developed innovative methodologies for interdisciplinary collaboration around the role of small urban rivers in Scotland. We took case studies of Water of Leith in Edinburgh, the Dighty in Dundee and the Denburn in Aberdeen, and used shared walks to explore sustainable urban drainage, biodiversity and public access.

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)
PI: Professor Tim Ingold
I was a Research Fellow on this project, which 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. The theoretical argument is that landscape can be investigated through phenomenological approaches that include political and historic change. The central findings are that the changing structure of farming in Orkney, towards the amalgamation of farms, is seen as regrettable but inevitable by many, and results in different perceptions of kinship, history and power in landscape.


Teaching Responsibilities


Courses recently and currently taught include -
AT1003 Introduction to Anthropology 1
AT1502 Introduction to Anthropology 2
AT3020 Doing Anthropological Research
AT3528 Medical Anthropology
AT4543 Anthropology and Landscape

From 2012-2016 I was External Examiner for Social Anthropology at the University of Roehampton.


I teach on the MRes in Social Anthropology including -
AT5033 Research Skills in Anthropology
AT5532 Research Design and Practice in Anthropology
and contributions to AT5019 Understanding People and Environment

I currently co-supervise nine PhD students and welcome approaches from potential postgraduate research students.
Frances Davis (University of Edinburgh) - Situating artistic-anthropological research.
Rebecca Ford (University of the Highlands and Islands) - Community, creativity and change: the role of language in the negotiation of identity.
Morven Gregor (Glasgow School of Art) - Diverting the path: Alternative approaches to owning and accessing art.
Paolo Maccagno - Run the limit.
Simon Peres - Dwelling, water and land on the coasts of Hokkaido: A phenomenological exploration of the states of matter.
Annemiek Prins - 'Caught up in traffic' - Experiences of congestion among rickshaw pullers in Dhaka.
Elishka Stirton - Crafting light: Making and perceiving with light
Denisa Tomkova - Biopolitical art as Participatory and Socially Engaged Art in Eastern Europe since 1989.
Judith Winter - Untitled (Bauhaus 1919–1933): Listening to what the Bauhaus has to tell us in the present.

Christine Moderbacher, 2019 - Crafting lives in Brussels : making and mobility on the margins.
Enrico Marcore, 2019 - Rebuilding for dwelling in the post-quake environment
Agota Abran, 2018 - An anthropological investigation of the production of plant-based remedies in Romania
Mike Anusas, 2017 - Beyond objects: an anthropological dialogue with design.
Marc Higgin, 2017 - In the making: an anthropological study of how materials become works of art.
Jennifer Clarke, 2016 - Working between art and forestry: Towards an ecology of practices.
Louise Senior, 2015 - Anthropology in the wind: People, power and environment in Caithness, Scotland.
Amanda Thomson, 2013 - In the forest, field and studio: Art/making/methodology and the more-than-written in the rendering of place.
Jennifer Fagen, 2013 - ‘The Fowk an the Lan, the Lan an the Fowk’: Community Identity and the Landscape Heritage of Bennachie.
Veronika Simonova, 2013 - Living taiga memories: How landscape creates remembering among Evenkis in the North Baikal, Siberia.
Elizabeth Curtis, 2011 - Bringing stone circles into being: practices in the long 19th century and their influence on current understandings of stone circles in north east Scotland.
Maria Nakhshina, 2011 - Sands of longing: identity, dwelling, scale and power in a Russian coastal village.



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