My approach to anthropology

I came across Anthropology almost by chance when looking through a catalogue of part-time masters programmes. I have no idea where I might be now had I gone further into the alphabet, but the entry on Anthropology captivated me. I was caught by the very basic question of what it means to be human, alongside the methodological commitment to try to extend thought beyond one’s own established habits and preconceptions.

I had previously studied Spanish literature and linguistics and with that background I went on to do a part-time Masters and then a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics, supervised by Maurice Bloch and Michael Sallow.

Ethnographic research has been at the centre of all my work, which began with a study of the politics of language and the ways in which meaning is negotiated in everyday interactions. I lived for two years with a family of peasant farmers in the Peruvian Andes, observing the ways in which people interacted with each other and with me.

In 1992 Spain hosted a Universal Exposition in Seville (Expo ’92) under the general theme of The Age of Discoveries — a stock taking of the modern age that stretched back 500 years to the arrival of the Europeans in the Americas.  It was at this event that I began to work ethnographically on technology, combining approaches from STS with a more focused attention on the anthropology of the modern state.

Communication and an interest in ambiguity, uncertainty, affect and the politics of expertise has inflected my more recent work on engineering and the material and political entanglements of infrastructural projects.