Professor Timothy Ingold

Professor Timothy Ingold
Professor Timothy Ingold
Professor Timothy Ingold


Emeritus Professor

Email Address
Office Address

Department of Anthropology
School of Social Science
University of Aberdeen
Aberdeen AB24 3QY
Scotland, UK

School of Social Science


Tim Ingold was born in 1948. He received his BA in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge in 1970, and his PhD in 1976. For his doctoral research he carried out ethnographic fieldwork (1971-72) among the Skolt Saami of northeastern Finland, and the resulting monograph ('The Skolt Lapps Today', 1976) was a study of the ecological adaptation, social organisation and ethnic politics of this small minority community under conditions of post-war resettlement. Following a year (1973-74) at the University of Helsinki, he was appointed to a Lectureship in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. Here he continued his research on northern circumpolar peoples, looking comparatively at hunting, pastoralism and ranching as alternative ways in which such peoples have based a livelihood on reindeer or caribou. His second book, 'Hunters, pastoralists and ranchers: reindeer economies and their transformations', was published in 1980. A further spell of ethnographic fieldwork, this time among Finnish rather than Saami people, was undertaken in the district of Salla, in northern Finland, in 1979-80. The purpose of this research was to examine how farming, forestry and reindeer herding were combined on the level of local livelihood, to investigate the reasons for the intense rural depopulation in the region, and to compare the long term effects of post-war resettlement here with those experienced by the Skolt Saami.

Ingold’s research on circumpolar reindeer herding and hunting led to a more general concern with human-animal relations and the conceptualisation of the humanity-animality interface, as well as with the comparative anthropology of hunter-gatherer and pastoral societies, themes which he also explored while teaching courses at Manchester in economic and ecological anthropology. These concerns led to a number of essays which were collected together in his book 'The Appropriation of Nature', published in 1986. The same year also saw the publication of another major volume, 'Evolution and Social Life', a study of the ways in which the notion of evolution has been handled in the disciplines of anthropology, biology and history, from the late nineteenth century to the present. Two important conferences also took place in that year: the World Archaeological Congress (Southampton), in which Ingold organised a series of sessions devoted to cultural attitudes to animals, and the Fourth International Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies (London), of which he was a principal organiser. Ingold edited one of the volumes to arise from the Southampton Congress, 'What is an animal?', published in 1988, and was co-editor of the two-volume work 'Hunters and Gatherers', consisting of papers from the London conference and published in the same year.

Through a reconsideration of toolmaking and speech as criteria of human distinctiveness, Ingold became interested in the connection, in human evolution, between language and technology. With Kathleen Gibson, he organised an international conference on this theme in 1990, and the resulting volume, edited by Gibson and Ingold ('Tools, language and cognition in human evolution'), was published in 1993. Since then, Ingold has sought ways of bringing together the anthropologies of technology and art, leading to his current view of the centrality of skilled practice. At the same time he has continued his research and teaching in ecological anthropology and, influenced by the work of James Gibson on perceptual systems, has been exploring ways of integrating ecological approaches in anthropology and psychology. In his recent work, linking the themes of environmental perception and skilled practice, Ingold has attempted to replace traditional models of genetic and cultural transmission, founded upon the alliance of neo-Darwinian biology and cognitive science, with a relational approach focusing on the growth of embodied skills of perception and action within social and environmental contexts of development. These ideas are presented in his book 'The Perception of the Environment' (2000), a collection of twenty-three essays written over the previous decade on the themes of livelihood, dwelling and skill.

Ingold was appointed to a Chair at the University of Manchester in 1990, and in 1995 he became Max Gluckman Professor of Social Anthropology. He was Editor of 'Man' (the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute) from 1990 to 1992, and edited the Routledge 'Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology', published in 1994. In 1988 he founded the Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory, and edited a volume of the first six annual debates ('Key Debates in Anthropology', 1996). He was elected to a Fellowship of the British Academy in 1997, and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2000. In 1999 he was President of the Anthropology and Archaeology Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 1999, Tim Ingold moved to take up the newly established Chair of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, where he has been instrumental in setting up the UK's youngest Department of Anthropology, established in 2002. In his latest research he has been exploring three themes, all arising from his earlier work on the perception of the environment, concerning first, the dynamics of pedestrian movement, secondly, the creativity of practice, and thirdly, the linearity of writing. These issues all come together in his current project, funded by a 3-year ESRC Professorial Fellowship (2005-08), entitled 'Explorations in the comparative anthropology of the line'. Starting from the premise that what walking, observing and writing all have in common is that they proceed along lines of one kind and another, the project seeks to forge a new approach to understanding the relation, in human social life and experience, between movement, knowledge and description. At the same time, and complementing this study, Ingold is researching and teaching on the connections between anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture (the '4 As'), conceived as ways of exploring the relations between human beings and the environments they inhabit. Taking an approach radically different from the conventional anthropologies and archaeologies 'of' art and of architecture, which treat artworks and buildings as though they were merely objects of analysis, he is looking at ways of bringing together the 4 As on the level of practice, as mutually enhancing ways of engaging with our surroundings.

Internal Memberships

Head, School of Social Science, 2008-2011


Research Overview

Geographical: Finland, Lapland, northern Europe, northern circumpolar (including N America, Siberia).

Interests relating to past fieldwork: Work, environment and identity among Saami and Finnish people in Lapland; reindeer herding and husbandry in northern Finland; domestic organisation and rural economy among northern Finnish farmers; migration and rural depopulation; long-term effects of displacement and resettlement; social and environmental aspects of technical change.

Theoretical interests: Ecological approaches in anthropology and psychology; comparative anthropology of hunter-gatherer and pastoral societies; human-animal relations; theories of evolution in anthropology, biology and history; relations between biological, psychological and anthropological approaches to culture and social life; environmental perception; language, technology and skilled practice; anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture; the anthropology of lines and line-making.

Current Research

Learning is understanding in practice: exploring the relations between perception, creativity and skill (2002-2005). See

This project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board, was undertaken in conjunction with the School of Fine Art at the University of Dundee. The project combines approaches from fine art and anthropology to examine the relation between perception, creativity, innovation and skill, through an empirical study of the knowledge practices of fine art. The research has also explored the potential of a practice-based approach to teaching and learning in both disciplines.

Culture from the ground: walking, movement and placemaking (2004-2006). See

This project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, builds on a previous study that focused specifically on recreational rambling and hillwalking in Scotland. The current research is designed to reveal the sociality of walking over a broader canvas. Through an ethnography of everyday pedestrian movements we are exploring how walking binds time and place in people’s experience, relationships and life-histories

Lines from the past: towards an anthropological archaeology of inscriptive practices

This project is to convert a series of six public lectures delivered in Edinburgh in May 2003 into a short book, Lines from the past, scheduled for completion early in 2006. These were the Rhind Lectures, sponsored by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. In them, I sketched an initial agenda for the comparative anthropology of the line, focusing on the themes of: language, music and notation; traces, threads and surfaces; the gestural trace and the point-to-point connector; writing and drawing, and the significance of the straight line.

Explorations in the comparative anthropology of the line (2005-2008)

This project, funded by a Professorial Fellowship from the Economic and Social Research Council, pursues the implications of treating the human being not as a self-contained entity but as growing along a way of life. Every such way is a line of some kind. Through a comparative and historical anthropology of the line, the research will forge a new approach to understanding the relation, in human life and experience, between movement, knowledge and description. As a work of intellectual synthesis, the research will be library- based, spanning literatures in several disciplines within and beyond the social sciences. It will lead to the production of two major books. 'Life on the line' will explore how, in the transition from the trace to the connector, the growing line was shorn of the movement that gave rise to it. 'The 4 As' will examine the relations between anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture as disciplinary paths along which environments are perceived, shaped and understood.


Bringing things back to life: creative entanglements in a world of materials (2011-2013)

Conventionally, creating things has been understood as imposing form onto matter. Funded by a Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust, in this project I aim to challenge this ‘hylomorphic’ model of creation and to replace it with an ontology that assigns primacy to forces and materials. I will show that: (1) that things are not reducible to objects; (2) they are generated within processes of life; (3) a focus on life-processes requires us to attend to flows of materials; (4) these flows are creative, and (5) creative practice unfolds along a meshwork of interwoven lines.


Knowing From the Inside: Antropology, Art, Architecture and Design (2013-18)

This project, funded by an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council, promises to reconfigure the relation between the practice of academic inquiry in the human sciences and the knowledge to which it gives rise. Conventional research protocols expect the scholar to treat the world as reserve from which to draw empirical material for subsequent interpretation in light of appropriate theory. Against this, we will establish and trial an alternative procedure whereby theory is not applied after the fact, to a corpus of material already gathered, but rather grows from our direct, practical and observational engagements with the stuff of the dwelt-in world. Theoretical thinking, then, is embedded in observational practice, or knowing in being, rather than vice versa. This way of knowing, by studying with things or people instead of making studies of them, has long been key to anthropology. It is also, however, central to arts practice, as it is to the contingent disciplines of architecture and design. All four disciplines offer paths to knowing-in-being which challenge the division between data gathering and theory building that underwrites normal science. By bringing them together, this project will customise this general approach to knowing to specific contexts of practice including landscape management, craft heritage, environmental conservation, building and restoration, drawing and notation. Our method will be distinguished by observation and experiment, the outcomes of which will be not just written texts but works of art or craft, performances and installations. The project will contribute to both education and design for sustainable living through a renewed emphasis on the improvisational creativity and perceptual acuity of practitioners. It will promote the dissemination of knowledge through shared experience, and advance a new view of interdisciplinarity as an intertwining of lines of interest.


Teaching Responsibilities

Introduction to Anthropology I (one-semester course for around 200 Level 1 students, taught from 1999 - when teaching in Anthropology receommenced at the University of Aberdeen - until 2004). Course code AT1002.

Anthropological Theory (one-semester course for around 30 Level 3 students, 2001-03). Course code AT3501.

The 4 As: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture (one-semester course for around 12 Level 4 students, 2004 to present). Course code AT4511.


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