Katherine Swancutt

Katherine Swancutt I am a Lecturer in the Anthropology of Religion at King’s College London.

My area of research is China and Mongolia, where I focus on ‘animistic’ or ‘shamanic’ religions and the ‘anthropology of anthropology’. Having carried out fieldwork on new magical practices among Buryat Mongols for over a decade, since 2007 I have expanded my field of study into Southwest China, where I work among a Tibeto-Burman group called the Nuosu on dreams, ritual practice and the ethnological work of ‘text-reading shamans’. I have also carried out fieldwork among the Deed Mongols of northern China.

Currently, my research focuses on dreams and sacred texts, the translations of ‘traditional culture’ undertaken by a new generation of Chinese social scientists, and the relationship between traditional mediation and ethics. Some main themes running through my newest work are the study of aesthetics and ideas; freedom and irony; the nature of hospitality; economies of prestige and value; the nature of challenges and ordeals; pedagogy and virtuosity; and the study of the social sciences within China. I also have long-standing interests in concepts of fortune, luck and fate; heuristics of time and space; divination; conflict and witchcraft; games; objects and imagination; 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.

Publications

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
Books
2012 Fortune and the Cursed: The Sliding Scale of Time in Mongolian Divination. Oxford: Berghahn. Excerpt available here.
In Preparation The Soul-Spider’s Captive: Predation and the Ethnographic Dream in Southwest China.
Edited Volumes
2016 ‘Animism Beyond the Soul: Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge’ in Social Analysis. Vol. 60, No. 1. (Special Issue edited with Mireille Mazard)
Articles and Book Chapters
2016 ‘Introduction - Anthropological Knowledge-Making, the Reflexive Feedback Loop, and Conceptualizations of the Soul’ in K. Swancutt and M. Mazard (eds). Social Analysis, Vol. 60, No. 1, Special Issue on ‘Animism Beyond the Soul: Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge’. Pp. 1-17.
2016 ‘The Art of Capture: Hidden Jokes and the Native Reinvention of Animistic Ontologies in Southwest China’ in K. Swancutt and M. Mazard (eds). Social Analysis, Vol, 60, No. 1, Special Issue on ‘Animism Beyond the Soul: Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge’. Pp. 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.
2016 ‘The Anti-Favour: Ideasthesia, Aesthetics, and Obligation in Southwest China’ in N. Makovicky and D. Hennig (eds). Economies of Favour after Socialism: A Comparative Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2016 ‘Freedom in Irony and Dreams: Inhabiting the Realms of Ancestors and Opportunities in Southwest China’ in H. Steinmüller and S. Brandtstädter (eds). Irony, Cynicism and the Chinese State. London: Routledge. Pp. 138-154.
2015 ‘Imaginations at War: The Ephemeral and the Fullness of Life in Southwest China’ in Ø. Fuglerud and L. Wainwright (eds). Objects and Imagination: Perspectives on Materialization and Meaning. Oxford: Berghahn. Pp. 133-159.
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.
2012 ‘Masked Predation, Hierarchy and the Scaling of Extractive Relations in Inner Asia and Beyond’ in M. Brightman and V. Grotti and O. Ulturgasheva (eds). Animism in Rainforest and Tundra: Personhood, Animals, Plants and Things in Contemporary Amazonia and Siberia. Oxford: Berghahn. Pp. 175-194.
2008 ‘The Undead Genealogy: Omnipresence, Spirit Perspectives, and a Case of Mongolian Vampirism’ in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 14(4):843-864.
2007 ‘The Ontological Spiral: Virtuosity and Transparency in Mongolian Games’ in Inner Asia 9(2):237-259. Special issue on perspectivism.
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 Cultures de la temporalitat. Barcelona: 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 Reviews
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 Royal Anthropological Institute. 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 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. In The China Quarterly. 208:1041-1042. [Also translated by Mumei Gui for publication in 世界民族 (World Ethno-National Studies, a leading ethnological journal in China): 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.

Languages

Mandarin Chinese; Mongolian; Nuosu (known in Chinese as Liangshan Yiwen and traced to a Tibeto-Burman language family of Southwest China); Russian; some knowledge of other European languages.