Seminar Abstracts

Below, you'll find the abstracts from the Seminars in reverse date order.

Alexa Hagerty: The Melancholy of Bones: Forensic Exhumation as Elegiac Transformative Experience


Since the early 1990s, forensic exhumation of mass graves in the wake of violent conflict has become an increasingly important humanitarian intervention. Exhumation has two stated aims: to document evidence of atrocity for judicial proceedings and to return bodies to families to bring psychological closure. Exhumation is premised on an idea that opening graves brings mourners closure, but little research has been done to examine how humanitarian exhumation affects families of the missing. In this talk, I consider the return of the exhumed remains to families and reflect on the relationship between mourning, violence, and transformation. I argue that humanitarian forensic exhumation is underwritten by a model of grief derived from Freud’s distinction between mourning and melancholy. Drawing on fieldwork in Argentina, I claim that this model ultimately proves inadequate to capture the varieties of experience described by families of the missing. I develop “elegiac transformation” as a theoretical lens to explore experiences of exhumation. While forensic discourse emphasizes “closure,” the return of bodies to families may be more generatively conceived as opening memories, old wounds, and new possibilities for healing, transforming its participants.  


I am an anthropologist and STS scholar. In the past I have worked on issues of technology and death at the meeting of high-tech end of life care in hospitals and low-tech ‘home funerals’. My doctoral dissertation research considers the forensic exhumation of mass graves in the wake of political violence, examining the role of mourning and how exhumation acts as a technologically mediated form of mortuary ritual. My current work investigates the societal impacts of AI/ML systems, particularly biometric surveillance technologies like emotion recognition systems. I am a research associate at the University of Cambridge Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, as well as a member of the Ada Lovelace Institute’s JUST AI network.

Sharon Macdonald: Making Differences in Berlin

This talk will discuss an ongoing multi-researcher ethnography that I have been directing in Berlin. The work focuses on a range of museum and heritage developments, all of which, in various ways, have been attempting to ‘do difference differently’ from how it was perceived to have been done previously. A significant focus of the work has been on the Humboldt Forum, a major new exhibition space, which will display collections from the Ethnological Museum, the Museum of Asian Arts and the University, among others. Housed in a partial reconstruction of a Prussian palace, the Humboldt Forum has been the subject of considerable public controversy and activism, including over memory of the German Democratic Republic, colonialism and restitution. 

Professor Fernanda Pirie: Moral laws and persuasive proverbs: ethical practices in historic Tibet

An anthropologist specialising in Tibetan societies, Fernanda uses both ethnographic and historical methods to study and compare legal practices and texts. She has argued for a new anthropology of law, which engages both with legal theory and legal history: The Anthropology of Law (OUP, 2013). This builds on themes and debates developed in the Oxford Legalism project, which brought together scholars from anthropology, history, and other disciplines to compare wide-ranging empirical examples.

Tim Ingold, Martin Mills, Johan Rasanayagam, Jo Vergunst and Jen Walklate: Research and teaching as the practice of anthropology: Decolonizing Roundtable


One of the questions that has arisen in discussions with our students about decolonising our teaching programme is about epistemology or knowing. Do modes of knowing and argument that underly our teaching privilege some lived experiences and exclude or undervalue others? Tim Ingold has written that ‘an education in anthropology … does more than furnish knowledge about the world ... it rather educates our perception of the world, and opens our eyes and minds to other possibilities of being’. Can teaching, and not just research, be that encounter or conversation with alterity/difference that opens us, equally lecturer and student, to those possibilities? Can we re-think what research-led teaching is all about? Should a teacher be more than, or different from, an expert guide taking students along a path that they have marked out. Do some of the structures for argument and conceptions of evidence and validity that underpin scholarly thinking emerge from and reproduce structures of domination? What do we do with notions such as ‘critical enquiry’, ‘rigour’, ‘rationality’, and ‘expertise’? Do they privilege a normative experience or vision of being, a normative quality of person, and so should they be abandoned (we don’t need experts!) in a move to recognise and enable the expression of diverse experiences of living? Or are critical enquiry, rigour, rationality, and expertise essential foundations for sincere investigation that, in fact, enable productive and meaningful engagements with alterity and underpin self-reflection, creativity and communication? Should we re-think them?


Arnar Árnason, Cristina Douglas, Jo Vergunst, Jen Walklate and Martin Mills: Death, Caring, Walking, Worrying: Perspectives on the Pandemic


This panel event will present new research from the University of Aberdeen’s Department of Anthropology on the coronavirus pandemic.


With a focus on social and cultural perspectives, Dr Arnar Árnason, Ms Cristina Douglas, Dr Jo Vergunst,Dr Jen Walklate, and Dr Martin Mills (University of Aberdeen) will explore how the pandemic has affected everyday life and death. 


This event will be LIVE and will include an audience Q&A session. 


This event is part of the Festival of Social Science so you will need to register beforehand. Please follow this link.

Nadia MosqueraState relations with Afro-descendant social movements in Venezuela

In this presentation, I offer an ethnographic exploration of the links between political clientelism and cultural policies implemented in Venezuela during the period known as the Bolivarian Revolution (1999-present). Using the case of Afro-Venezuelan political activists and cultural producers, I show how relationships between the state and Afro-Venezuelan populations politically organised unfold. I argue that despite the state's recognition of the cultural identity of Afro-Venezuelans, the state has stymied Afro-Venezuelans political mobilisations through diverse modes of subordination. This research draws on thirteen months (2015-16) of ethnographic research in the Parroquia Caruao, a territory located in La Guaira state on the northern Venezuelan coast. This presentation contributes to debates that explore the relationships between the state’s cultural policies and mechanisms that regulate the political representation of Afrodescendants’ movements in Venezuela.




My research in Venezuela explores three overlapping areas: race and blackness; antiracist social movements and structural racism from an ethnographic perspective. I earned a BA in International Studies at the Central University of Venezuela, a Master’s degree in Development Studies at the University of Sussex and a PhD in Development Studies at the same university. Currently, I am a Research Associate at the Institute for Latin American Studies, School of Advanced Studies, University of London where I held a Stipendiary Postdoctoral Fellowship (2019-2020).