Dr Thomas Cousins

thomas cousins

Clarendon-Lienhardt Associate Professor in the Social Anthropology of Africa

Tutorial Fellow in Human Sciences, St Hugh's College


Thomas is an anthropologist of southern Africa with a particular interest in health, labour, and kinship, especially nutrition and pharmaceuticals and their attendant forms of value and life. His fieldwork to date has been in South Africa on topics including global health surveillance, welfare, communications technologies, and zoonosis. His book, titled The Work of Repair: Capacity after Colonialism in the Timber Plantations of South Africa (Fordham University Press, 2023), is a fine-grained exploration of the relationships between laborers in the timber plantations of KwaZulu-Natal, and the historical decompositions and reinventions of the milieu of those livelihoods and lives.

Ongoing research interests include anthropologies of global health; urban animals; metabolism and value; gender, sexuality, and kinship; material semiotics; and anthropologies of life.

In the academic year 2023-2024, Thomas has a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, working on an ethnography of “post-tuberculosis”.


Email: thomas.cousins@anthro.ox.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1865 274686

Teaching and research interests

Thomas Cousins’s research interests include African anthropology, medical anthropology, science studies, kinship and sexuality, ordinary language, and labour/value. His recent book is titled The Work of Repair: Capacity after Colonialism in the Timber Plantations of South Africa (Fordham University Press, 2023). He is currently working on an ethnography of the emerging category of “post-tuberculosis” among young people. He continues to work on a range of projects concerned with health, environment, and livelihoods, including non-human life in relation to new forms of the urban; metabolism, quality of life, immunity, and living with viruses – in short, how various forms of life are composed and integrated in ordinary life.


As well as contributing to the anthropology of southern Africa and health, Cousins’s research engages with the anthropology of food and pharmaceuticals, the microbiome and non-human relations, and the governance of life in the global south. He welcomes applications for doctoral research and other collaborations in any of those areas.

Selected publications


2023. The Work of Repair: Capacity after Colonialism in the Timber Plantations of South Africa. New York: Fordham University Press.


Journal articles:

2022. With Michelle Pentecost and Lesley van Helden. 2022. Containment and Conversion: Urban livelihoods and the circulation of value amid South Africa's avian influenza outbreak. American Ethnologisthttps://doi.org/10.1111/amet.13083.

2021. With Michelle Pentecost, Alexandra Alvergne, Clare Chandler, Simukai Chigudu, Clare Herrick, Ann Kelly, Sabina Leonelli, Javier Lezaun, and Jamie Lorimer. 2021. “The Changing Climates of Global Health.” BMJ Global Health 6 (3): e005442.

2019. With Michelle Pentecost. “‘The Good Doctor’: The Making and Unmaking of the Physician Self in Contemporary South Africa.” Journal of Medical Humanities.

2018. With Gerber B, Pentecost M, Wainwright M. “Critical orientations for humanising health sciences education in South Africa”. BMJ Medical Humanities.

2018 . With Michelle Pentecost M. "The Second Shift: Informal Economies and Avian Influenza in South Africa" . Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology website, July 26, 2018. 

2018. With Michelle Pentecost. “The Temporary as the Future: Ready-to-use therapeutic food and nutraceuticals in South Africa”. Anthropology Today 34(4): 9-13.

2018. Anthropology and the Development of Conscience: Reflections on the work of Pamela Reynolds. In: The Ways We Stretch Toward One Another: Thoughts on Anthropology through the Work of Pamela Reynolds. T Meyers (ed). Bamenda: Langaa Research and Publishing.

2017. With Michelle Pentecost. Strata of the Political: Epigenetic and Microbial Imaginaries in Post-apartheid Cape Town. Antipode 49 (5): 1368-1384.

2016. Antiretroviral Therapy and Nutrition in Southern Africa: Citizenship and the Grammar of Hunger, Medical Anthropology. (Special Issue, “The Politics and Practices of Evidence-Based Medicine: a Critical Discussion between STS and Medical Anthropology”)

2016. Sex, Gender, and Kinship in the Timber Plantations of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: A Minor Otherwise. Social Dynamics 42(1).

2015. A Mediating Capacity: Toward an Anthropology of the Gut. Medicine Anthropology Theory 2 (2): 1-27

2015. HIV and the Remaking of Hunger and Nutrition in South Africa: Biopolitical Specification After Apartheid. BioSocieties 10, 143–161

2014. Knowledge of life: health, strength and labour in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Anthropology Southern Africa 37 (1-2): 30-41

Current DPhil students