Dr Zuzanna Olszewska

Zuzanna Olszewska

Associate Professor in the Social Anthropology of the Middle East

Key interests: Iran, Afghanistan, refugees, diaspora, cultural production, poetry, subjectivity and modernity, aspiration.

I specialise in the ethnography of Iran and Afghanistan, with a focus on Afghan refugees in Iran, the Persian-speaking Afghan diaspora, and the anthropology of literature and cultural production. I received my doctorate in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford in 2010, and have held post-doctoral fellowships at St. John's College (JRF, 2008-12) and LSE (LSE Fellow in Anthropology, 2012-13). My doctoral research was published as The Pearl of Dari: Poetry and Personhood among Young Afghans in Iran, an ethnographic inquiry into how poetic activity reflects changes in youth subjectivity in an Afghan refugee community, based on work with an Afghan cultural organisation in Mashhad, Iran. I presented this work as a lecture series titled Authentic Verses, Modern Selves: An Ethnography of Afghan Refugee Poetry and Personhood in Iran, as the Evans-Pritchard Lecturer for 2013 at All Souls College, Oxford. The book won the 2016 Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award from the Middle East Studies Association and the 2017 Middle East Section Book Award of the American Anthropological Association.

My current research takes a more global approach to Afghan cultural production, examining the affective and imaginative role Afghan diasporic communities are playing in creating (or thwarting) an elusive pan-Afghan national identity. I am particularly interested in how young emigre Afghans use new social media and both offline and online cultural activities to construct an Afghan national imaginary or other identities in vibrant and often heated conversations that receive little attention from the 'international community'.

I supervise postgraduate students working on cultural production, particularly literary work, in Middle Eastern communities and their diasporas, as well as on a variety of topics in the Persian-speaking world. 

I am currently (2019-22) the Research Methods Training Convenor for SAME, and am happy to address all queries related to this.


Email: zuzanna.olszewska@anthro.ox.ac.uk



I participate in core paper lecturing and tutorial teaching for the following degree programmes:

BA in Archaeology and Anthropology
BA in Human Sciences

MSc/MPhil in Social Anthropology

I also co-convene and teach on two options: 

Social Anthropology of the Middle East
Language and Anthropology

I offer occasional tutorials and dissertation supervision for students on the BA in Oriental Studies (Persian)

Teaching Administration

I currently hold the following roles:

Deputy Chair of the Standing Committee for the BA in Archaeology and Anthropology (2019-21)
Research Methods Training Convenor for SAME (2019-22)

External Examining

I am acting as an external examiner for:

  • the BA in Anthropology at the University of Exeter (2018-21)
  • Claiming an Individual Name: Revisiting the Personhood Debate with Afghan Poets in Iran

  • Writing in Diaspora

  • Writing in diaspora

  • The Poet's Melancholy: Depression, Structures of Feeling, and Creativity among Afghan Refugees in Iran

  • The Pearl of Dari Poetry and Personhood among Young Afghans in Iran

  • Classy kids and down-at-heel intellectuals: Status aspiration and blind spots in the contemporary ethnography of Iran

  • Quetta's sectarian violence and the global hazara awakening

  • An Overview of the Contemporary Ethnography of Afghanistan

  • A hidden discourse: Afghanistan's women poets

  • ‘Hey, Afghani!’ Identity Contentions among Iranians and Afghan Refugees

  • More