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Dr Paolo Heywood

Assistant Professor

Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology 


Paolo Heywood studied social anthropology at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he received his MA, MPhil, and PhD degrees (2010, 2011, 2015). After receiving his PhD he was employed as a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge (2014-2016), and then appointed to a Junior Research Fellowship at Homerton College, Cambridge, and a Research Associateship in the Department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge (2016-2020). He came to Durham as an Assistant Professor in Social Anthropology in 2020. As of 2021 he is also the Honorary Reviews Editor of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Research Groups:

Social Anthropology

Research Summary

My research is broadly focussed on the ways in people seek to live well in the lives in which they find themselves, and how they work to shape themselves to fit the ideals and constraints they live by and with. In particular, I am interested in how ethical and moral ideals inform political projects and practices. 

My first book (After Difference, 2018) examined queer activism in Italy, and the ways in which pursuing the virtue of 'difference' animates much of such activism. It describes both the work involved in cultivating 'difference' as a value, and the resulting complications and tensions in relation to broader Italian society and within the activist movement itself. 

My second book, currently in preparation, is an ethnography of Predappio the village in northern Italy in which Mussolini was born and is buried, and which for that reason is Italy’s premier site of neo-fascist tourism. My interest here is in how the inhabitants of this village learn to live in the shadow of this difficult heritage by self-consciously pursuing the value of 'ordinariness'. But this is no ordinary 'ordinariness' : it is a concrete value that requires work and cultivation to realise. People in Predappio, knowing just how extraordinary they and their home appear to the wider world, put a great deal of conscious effort into appearing instead to be as ordinary as possible. This book will examine how this pursuit of the ordinary as an antidote to the ghost of Mussolini permeates a range of dimensions of social life, from ritual through to kinship and local politics.

In addition to these empirical interests, I also have a sustained interest in the status of anthropological theory. I am the author of several contributions to debates on the 'ontological turn' in the social sciences, and am presently editing a volume on the status of 'explanation' as an anthropological practice. 

Research interests

  • Activism
  • Anthropological Theory
  • Ethics and Morality
  • Fascism
  • Heritage
  • History and Memory
  • Italy
  • The Ontological Turn


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