Dr Thomas Cousins

thomas cousins
Associate Professor in Social Anthropology

Tutorial Fellow in Human Sciences, St Hugh's College

Director of ISCA

He 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. A book manuscript based on long-term fieldwork in northern KwaZulu-Natal is under review, titled: The Work of Repair: Amandla and Capacity in the Timber Plantations of South Africa. Ongoing research interests include anthropologies of global health; urban animals; metabolism and value; gender, sexuality, and kinship; material semiotics; and anthropologies of life.


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. He is currently working on a book manuscript on labour, value, and the gut in the timber plantations of KwaZulu-Natal. He is also working on two ongoing projects: the first is to establish the iSimangaliso Humanities Hub, with support from the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences in South Africa, which aims to encourage ethnographic research in northern KwaZulu-Natal. One of the initial foci is a project examining the processes and forces that impinge on health, environment, and livelihoods between conservation, plantations, and mining. Here he is particularly interested in how science, governance, identity, and nature are mediated by rivers, wetlands, forests, and mines – i.e. how various forms of life are composed and integrated in ordinary life.

The second is a comparative project, between Cape Town and New Delhi, titled “Urban animals, human livelihoods and health in the global south: a trans-species approach”, funded by the Wellcome Trust, and in collaboration with colleagues at Oxford, Cambridge, Kings College London, and UCL. The project brings together scholars in India and South Africa to examine non-human life in relation to new forms of the urban, and the ways in which health is distributed across and composed by various human and non-human actors and processes.

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

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