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Professor in the Department of Anthropology+44 (0) 191 33 43312
Fellow of the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing+44 (0) 191 33 43312


I received my BA in Human Sciences from Oxford University in 1980. In 1984 I completed a Masters degree in Biomedical Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania with a thesis about the controvery surrounding the use of Depo-Provera, an injectable contraceptive. After returning to the UK I moved to the Inner Hebrides where I worked as a senior desk officer for Project Trust, an educational charity sending school-leavers overseas to do voluntary work. I completed my DPhil at Oxford in 1992, based on fieldwork carried out in the hills of East Nepal amongst the Yakha, an ethnic group previously unstudied by anthropologists.

My current research primarily focuses on tobacco, its use and control. I am a founder member of the interdisciplinary Smoking Interest Group, a collaboration between the Medical Anthropology Research Group and the Centre for Medical Humanities. I work closely with colleagues in the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies and FUSE – the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, as well as FRESH, the northeast of England’s tobacco control office. My research spans the following topics:

  • Phenomenology - understanding smoking as an embodied physical and emotional experience, taking seriously the aesthetic pleasure people who smoke derive from this activity.
  • Identity - how those who smoke, both long-term and recent, can feel themselves constituted in some way by their smoking.
  • Relationships - cigarettes as agents in multiplex relationships with the rest of the human and non-human world.
  • Spatial aspects – where smoking takes place and its consequential effects on the use and designation of space.
  • Temporal aspects - smoking punctuating time through significant daily, weekly and sometimes annual rituals and routines, decisions to start and to ‘quit’ through the life course, the notion of the ‘hardened smoker’, the experience and treatment of the acute and chronic illnesses that are associated with smoking.
  • Historical aspects - the changing landscape of tobacco, and the potential to view cigarettes as a historical aberration of late 19th and 20th century industrial capitalism.
  • Institutions - the institutional forms that arise from the production, distribution, use, attempts to control, and research tobacco.
  • Policy relevance - what the social scientific and humanities-derived perspectives outlined above might contribute to policy and therapeutic interventions not only in tobacco but other areas of public health.

I am happy to supervise students working on any branch of public health anthropology, chronic illness and engaged anthropology topics.

In my spare time I like to organise travel on the internet for myself, friends and family. I also enjoy walking, reading the papers in bed on Saturday mornings, exploring the wonderful north-east region, and going to the gym.

Teaching Achievements

I gained an award from the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme in 2010. My textbook for medical students, 'The Social Basis of Medicine', won the British Medical Association's student textbook of the year award in 2009. I also have a Durham Vice-Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Doctoral Supervision.

Research interests

  • Medical anthropology
  • Tobacco (its use and control)


Authored book

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Supervision students