Katherine Swancutt
Katherine Swancutt - Demons and Gods on Display cover
Katherine Swancutt - Crafting Chinese Memories The Art and Materiality of Storytelling
Katherine Swancutt - Animism Beyond the Soul: Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge
Katherine Swancutt - Fortune and the Cursed: The Sliding Scale of Time in Mongolian Divination
Animism Beyond the Soul: Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledg

Katherine Swancutt

I am Reader in Social Anthropology at King’s College London, Director of its Religious and Ethnic Diversity in China and Asia Research Unit (REDCARU), and Project Lead for the ERC Synergy Grant titled ‘Cosmological Visionaries: Shamans, Scientists, and Climate Change at the Ethnic Borderlands of China and Russia’.

My area of research is Inner Asia, where I have conducted fieldwork on animistic and shamanic religions for upwards of two decades. I have worked among the Buryats of north-east Mongolia and China, the Deed Mongols of northern China, and the Nuosu of Southwest China.

Some main themes running through my work are the study of the human soul; dreams and fame; innovation; cosmology and the scientific; climate change; freedom and irony; hospitality and slavery; sacrifice and ethics; economies of prestige and value; favours and anti-favours; the nature of challenges and ordeals; pedagogy and virtuosity; wonder and the uncanny; joking and the environment; play and parody; imagination and materiality; aesthetics and ideas; storytelling, memory and art; nostalgia and traditional mediation; reflexivity in fieldwork; ethnographic film; affinity and alterity; the ‘anthropology of anthropology’; and the social sciences within China.

I also have long-standing interests in concepts of fortune, luck and fate; the heuristics of time and space; divination; games; conflict and witchcraft; and Buddhism. Lifelong training and ongoing interest in the performing arts, and in ballet dance especially, has informed my work.

I teach on a wide range of topics, with an especial focus on the anthropology of religion and the ethnography of Inner Asia and East Asia.

Books and Special Issues
2023 Demons and Gods on Display: The Anthropology of Display and Worldmaking. Special issue of Asian Ethnology, 82(1).
2021 Crafting Chinese Memories: The Art and Materiality of Storytelling. New York and Oxford: Berghahn. Blog entry available here.
2018 Animism Beyond the Soul: Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge. New York and Oxford: Berghahn. Initially published as a Special Issue of Social Analysis. 60(1), 2016, co-edited with Mireille Mazard. Excerpt available here.
2012 Fortune and the Cursed: The Sliding Scale of Time in Mongolian Divination. New York and Oxford: Berghahn. Excerpt available here.
Journal Articles
2023 ‘Guest Editor’s Introduction. Demons and Gods on Display: The Anthropology of Display and Worldmaking’ in Katherine Swancutt (ed), special issue of Asian Ethnology, 82(1).
2023 ‘The Time of Red Snowfall: Steering the Social and Cosmic Orders through Display in Southwest China’ in Katherine Swancutt (ed). ‘Demons and Gods on Display: The Anthropology of Display and Worldmaking’, special issue of Asian Ethnology, 82(1).
2021 ‘The Chicken and the Egg: Cracking the Ontology of Divination in Southwest China’ in William Matthews (ed). ‘Calculation and Agency: Ontologies of Divination’, special issue of Social Analysis. 65(2):19-40.
2021 ‘“It’s Scientific!” Play, Parody, and the Para-Ethnographic in Southwest China’ in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 27(3):559-578.
2020 ‘Animal Release and the Sacrificial Ethos in Inner Asia’ in Thomas White and Natasha Fijn (eds). ‘Multispecies Co-existence in Inner Asia’, special issue of Inner Asia. 22(2):199-216.
2016 ‘Introduction - Anthropological Knowledge-Making, the Reflexive Feedback Loop, and Conceptualizations of the Soul’. Social Analysis. 60(1):1-17, co-authored with Mireille Mazard.
2016 ‘The Art of Capture: Hidden Jokes and the Reinvention of Animistic Ontologies in Southwest China’ in Social Analysis. 60(1):74-91.
2016 ‘Religion through the Looking Glass: Fieldwork, Biography, and Authorship in Southwest China and Beyond’ in Religion and Society: Advances in Research. 7(1):51-67.
2012 ‘The Captive Guest: Spider Webs of Hospitality among the Nuosu of Southwest China’ in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 18(S1):S103-S116.
2012 ‘Fame, Fate-Fortune, and Tokens of Value among the Nuosu of Southwest China’ in Social Analysis. 56(2):56-72.
2008 ‘The Undead Genealogy: Omnipresence, Spirit Perspectives, and a Case of Mongolian Vampirism’ in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 14(4):843-864. [Republished in the 7 September 2020 Virtual Issue on ‘Distance’ in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute].
2007 ‘The Ontological Spiral: Virtuosity and Transparency in Mongolian Games’ in Inner Asia. 9(2):237-259.
2006 ‘Representational vs. Conjectural Divination: Innovating out of Nothing in Mongolia’ in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 12(2):331-353.
2006 ‘Fortuna, Sort i Destí a Mongòlia’ (Fortune, Luck and Fate in Mongolia) in Revista d’Ethnologia de Catalunya. 28:70-82.
2001 ‘Sources of Charisma: Ritual, Household Knowledge and Inspiration in Mongolia’ in North Atlantic Studies. 4:39-43.
Book Chapters
2022 ‘The Threshold of the Cosmos: Priestly Scriptures and the Shamanic Wilderness in Southwest China’ in Diana Espírito Santo and Matan Shapiro (eds). The Dynamic Cosmos: Movement, Paradox, and Experimentation in the Anthropology of Spirit Possession. London, New York, Oxford, New Delhi, and Sydney: Bloomsbury. Pp. 119-131.
2021 ‘Introduction - Materiality, Imagination and the Memorable’ in Katherine Swancutt (ed). Crafting Chinese Memories: The Art and Materiality of Storytelling. New York and Oxford: Berghahn. Pp. 1-22.
2021 ‘Jailhouse Blues, Storytelling and Becoming the Stuff of Legends in Southwest China’. Katherine Swancutt (ed). Crafting Chinese Memories: The Art and Materiality of Storytelling. New York and Oxford: Berghahn. Pp. 181-205, co-authored with Jiarimuji (嘉日姆几).
2021 ‘Conclusion - Layers, Traces, Fields and Storehouses of Memory’ in Katherine Swancutt (ed). Crafting Chinese Memories: The Art and Materiality of Storytelling. New York and Oxford: Berghahn. Pp. 206-219.
2020 ‘Ethnic Minorities and Religion’ in Kevin Latham (ed). Routledge Handbook of Chinese Culture and Society. London and New York: Routledge. Pp. 447-460.
2018 ‘The Anthropological Imaginarium: Crafting Alterity, the Self, and an Ethnographic Film in Southwest China’ in Liana Chua and Nayanika Mathur (eds). Who Are ‘We’?: Reimagining Alterity and Affinity in Anthropology. New York and Oxford: Berghahn. Pp. 95-127.
2018 ‘Introduction - Anthropological Knowledge-Making, the Reflexive Feedback Loop, and Conceptualizations of the Soul’. Katherine Swancutt and Mireille Mazard (eds). Animism Beyond the Soul: Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge. New York and Oxford: Berghahn. Pp. 1-17, co-authored with Mireille Mazard.
2018 ‘The Art of Capture: Hidden Jokes and the Reinvention of Animistic Ontologies in Southwest China’ in Katherine Swancutt and Mireille Mazard (eds). Animism Beyond the Soul: Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge. New York and Oxford: Berghahn. Pp. 74-91.
2018 ‘The Return to Slavery? Nostalgia and a New Generation of Escape in Southwest China’. James Laidlaw, Barbara Bodenhorn and Martin Holbraad (eds). Recovering the Human Subject: Freedom, Creativity and Decision. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 131-147, co-authored with Jiarimuji (嘉日姆几).
2016 ‘The Anti-Favour: Ideasthesia, Aesthetics, and Obligation in Southwest China’ in David Henig and Nicolette Makovicky (eds). Economies of Favour after Socialism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. 96-116.
2016 ‘Freedom in Irony and Dreams: Inhabiting the Realms of Ancestors and Opportunities in Southwest China’ in Hans Steinmüller and Susanne Brandtstädter (eds). Irony, Cynicism and the Chinese State. London and New York: Routledge. Pp. 138-154.
2015 ‘Imaginations at War: The Ephemeral and the Fullness of Life in Southwest China’ in Øivind Fuglerud and Leon Wainwright (eds). Objects and Imagination: Perspectives on Materialization and Meaning. New York and Oxford: Berghahn. Pp. 133-159.
2012 ‘Masked Predation, Hierarchy and the Scaling of Extractive Relations in Inner Asia and Beyond’ in Marc Brightman, Vanessa Elisa Grotti and Olga Ulturgasheva (eds). Animism in Rainforest and Tundra: Personhood, Animals, Plants and Things in Contemporary Amazonia and Siberia. New York and Oxford: Berghahn. Pp. 175-194.
Encyclopaedia Entries
2019 ‘Animism’ in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology.
Invited Commentaries
2022 ‘Comment’ on ‘Reduction, Generation, and Truth: A Comparative Approach to Divinatory Interpretation’ by William Matthews in Current Anthropology. 63(3):344-345.
Book Reviews
2021 Review of Graham M. Jones. Magic’s Reason: An Anthropology of Analogy. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2017, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 27(2):444-445.
2020 Review of Geng Li. Fate Calculation Experts: Diviners Seeking Legitimation in Contemporary China. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019, in Religion & Society: Advances in Research. 11(1):214-215.
2020 Review of Matthew W. King. Ocean of Milk, Ocean of Blood: A Mongolian Monk in the Ruins of the Qing Empire. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019, in Inner Asia. 22(2):347-349.
2019 Review of Donatas Brandišauskas Leaving Footprints in the Taiga: Luck, Spirits and Ambivalence among the Siberian Orochen Reindeer Herders and Hunters. New York and Oxford: Berghahn, 2016, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 25(4):844-845.
2018 Review of Erik Mueggler. Songs for Dead Parents: Corpse, Text, and World in Southwest China. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2017, in The China Quarterly. 234:587-588.
2018 Review of Bjørn Thomassen. Liminality and the Modern: Living through the In-Between. London and New York: Routledge, 2016, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 24(1):217-218.
2014 Review of Manduhai Buyandelger. Tragic Spirits: Shamanism, Memory, and Gender in Contemporary Mongolia. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2013, in Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford. 6(2):218-220.
2014 Review of Rane Willerslev. On the Run in Siberia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012, in Social Analysis. 58(2):140-141.
2014 Review of Andrew Kipnis (ed). Chinese Modernity and the Individual Psyche. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 20(1):182-183.
2012 Review of Esther Eidinow. Luck, Fate and Fortune: Antiquity and Its Legacy. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2011, in The Classical Review. 62(1):221-223.
2011 Review of Chuan-kang Shih. Quest for Harmony: the Moso Traditions of Sexual Union and Family Life. Stanford University Press, 2009, in The China Quarterly. 208:1041-1042. [Also translated by Mumei Gui for publication in 世界民族 (World Ethno-National Studies): 评施传刚著《追寻和谐:摩梭传统的性联盟家庭生活》 [英] Katherine Swancutt (苏梦林) 著,桂慕梅 译]
2011 Review of Rebecca M. Empson. Harnessing Fortune: Personhood, Memory, and Place in Mongolia. Oxford University Press, 2011, in Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford. 3(1):107-115.
Films
2016 1956. A Briton in the Cool Mountains of China. [Chinese Title: 1956. 一个英国人在凉山, Nuosu Title: 1956. ꑱꇩꊿꂷꆀꎭꃅꈌꇁꊈꂮ]. (68 minutes). Produced with Jiarimuji (嘉日姆几).
Translations
2011 Chinese-to-English translation of a Nuosu folkloric tale gathered by Xiao Jianhua (肖建华) and Qiu Zhongquan (邱忠泉), titled ‘Yi Shuang Cai Hong (一双彩虹)’ [A Double Rainbow]. Published under my Chinese name of 苏梦林 in Yi Wen (彝文). Yunnan Sheng Shehui Kexueyuan Ninglang Minzu Wenhua Yanjiusuo. 2:30-33.
Languages
Mandarin Chinese; Mongolian; Nuosu (known in Chinese as Liangshan Yiyü and part of the Tibeto-Burman language family of Southwest China); Russian; some knowledge of other European languages.