Dr Rachel Smith
Dr Rachel Smith

Dr Rachel Smith


Accepting PhDs



I am a Lecturer in Anthropology and teach in Museum Studies. My background is in social and economic anthropology, and anthropology of religion, and have long-standing interests and experience in material and visual culture, and museums.

My core research focused on local perspectives on development and social change in Vanuatu, an island nation in the Western Pacific. My doctoral project (2011-2016) focused on the ‘domestic moral economy’ in a rural Vanuatu community undergoing economic transformation due to a high degree of engagement in a labour mobility programme, touted as a ‘triple win’, ‘pro-poor’ alternative to development aid.

My most recent research project (since 2018) extends my interest in work, consumption, moral economy, development, and value by focusing on the ethics and economy of kava, a crop traditionally grown and consumed as a relaxant beverage across the Pacific islands. Burgeoning international markets means demand for this commodity has soared, and kava is widely spoken of as ‘green gold’ by rural farmers in the small island nations of Vanuatu and Fiji, where it has become the main export commodity. In both the labour migration and kava projects I am interested in how socio-economic change is mediated by semiotic, material, and ritual processes.

In addition to my work in economic anthropology, I continue to collaborate with an interdisciplinary team, including from Psychology and Neuroscience, formed at Stanford for the Templeton-funded ‘Mind and Spirit’ project (2016-2018). Through interdisciplinary and mixed method research, we examined the relation between understandings of mind and self, and religious experience. This has led to a range of workshops and publications, including scientific articles in PNAS and Nature Human Behavior.

I have also published from archival research on land and labour in Vanuatu, and am developing research interests based on ethnobotanical collections related to kava, and Scottish Pacific collections and archives. 

Internal Memberships

Honorary Curatorial Fellow, Museums and Special Collections

Museum and Special Collections Academic Forum

Latest Publications

View My Publications


Research Areas

Accepting PhDs

I am currently accepting PhDs in Anthropology.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss your research ideas further.

Email Me


Accepting PhDs

Museum Studies

Research Specialisms

  • Anthropology
  • Museum Studies
  • Social Anthropology
  • Social Sciences
  • Religion in Society

Our research specialisms are based on the Higher Education Classification of Subjects (HECoS) which is HESA open data, published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence.


I welcome queries from prospective postgraduate research students, particularly those interested in political and economic anthropology, materialities, moralities and/or regional specialisations in the Pacific islands.


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Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings

Contributions to Journals