Skip to main content

Social Anthropology:


Richard Baxstrom

Richard Baxstrom
Dr Richard Baxstrom
Senior Lecturer; Director of the Undergraduate School - SPS; Co-Director, Atelier: Creative Arts and the Social Sciences network; Co-Editor, Visual Culture in Britain
5.29 Chrystal Macmillan Building 15a George Square Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
+44 (0)131 650 4051
Research Interests
Urban anthropology, Cinema, Art, popular culture, Southeast Asia, Anthropology and Philosophy, Anthropology of ethics, Religion And Ritual, Witchcraft, History of anthropology, North America, Neoliberal Governmentality, Neoliberalism

Guidance and Feedback Hours

  • Tuesdays, 13:00-15:00

Research Interests:

  • Cinema, Art and Popular Culture
  • Urban Anthropology
  • Small-town neoliberalism and 'enterprise' as a form of life, United States (Southwest)
  • The history of ideas in anthropology and the human sciences
  • Malaysia and Southeast Asia
  • Witchcraft

PhD Supervision:

Interested in supervising students in areas related to:

  • Art and popular culture, particularly cinema and visual anthropology
  • Everyday life in urban settings
  • Small-town neoliberalism and 'enterprise' as a form of life, United States (Southwest)
  • Malaysia and Southeast Asia
  • Witchcraft

Biographical Statement:

Richard Baxstrom's research interests include art, cinema, and popular culture, everyday life in urban settings, Malaysia and Southeast Asia, the history of ideas in anthropology and the human sciences, and the anthropology of neoliberalism and entrepreneurial forms of life. His first book, Houses in Motion: The Experience of Place and the Problem of Belief in Urban Malaysia was published by Stanford University Press in 2008. Richard also co-edited with Todd Meyers (New York University - Shanghai) a volume and DVD entitled anthropologies that was released the same year. In 2016, Realizing the Witch: Science, Cinema, and the Mastery of the Invisible, was published by Fordham University Press in 2016 and concerns Benjamin Christensen's notorious 1922 film Häxan. Written with Todd Meyers, the book show how Häxan and its expression of the witch in 16th century Europe serves as a fascinating window onto wider debates in the 1920s regarding the relationship of film to objective scientific evidence, the evolving study of religion from historical and anthropological perspectives, and the complex relations between popular culture, artistic expression, and ideas and concepts in medicine and psychology. Richard's latest book, Violence's Fabled Experiment (2018), was also written with Todd Meyers and examines how violence and unmarked, stubbornly persistent conceptions of 'nature' and 'trauma' are woven into the fabric of the human in the recent work of three important filmmakers, Werner Herzog, Joshua Oppenheimer, and Lucian Castaing-Taylor. Richard is also co-editor of the Routledge journal Visual Culture in Britain and has been published in a variety of journals, including Parachute: review d'art contemporain, Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Rue Descartes, Esse: arts + opinions, and Focaal: A Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology. Richard is currently the Director of the Undergraduate School, School of Social and Political Science, and has served as Postgraduate Advisor for Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. Richard was active in the early days of the Scottish Training in Anthropological Research (STAR) programme and served as Lead Coordinator for the 13th Royal Anthropological Institute's International Festival of Ethnographic Film, held in Edinburgh in 2013. His ongoing intellectual projects include a study of the figure of the 'entrepreneur' in small communities in the Southwestern region of the United States and the history of the concept of 'naturalism' in anthropology and the human sciences as manifested in film and other visual artefacts. Richard received his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 2006 and, in addition to the University of Edinburgh, he has taught at Johns Hopkins University, the Maryland Institute College of Art and Gettysburg College.

Selected Publications:


2018. Violence's Fabled Experiment. (co-author: Todd Meyers). Berlin: August Verlag.

2016. Realizing the Witch: Science, Cinema, and the Mastery of the Invisible. (co-author: Todd Meyers). New York: Fordham University Press (Forms of Living series).

2010. Transforming Brickfields: Governance and Development in a Malaysian City. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press (republished version of Houses in Motion for Asian market with new Preface).

2008. Houses in Motion: The Experience of Place and the Problem of Belief in Urban Malaysia. Stanford: Stanford University Press (Cultural Memory in the Present series).

Edited Volumes/Special Issues/Forums

2013/2014. Co-editor with Stefanos Geroulanos, special forum, “Conflict of the Faculties: The Human Sciences in the 19th Century" in Republics of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics and the Arts  (Arcade/Stanford University: General Editor, Daniel Edelman). 3:3.

2008. anthropologies (with Todd Meyers). Baltimore: Creative Capitalism.

Articles, Book Chapters, and Occasional Papers

2017. "Force, Dwelling, and the Personhood of Things in Urban Malaysia," in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (special forum: "Dwelling"). 37:3.

2014. “Can Law do Justice? Everyday Ethics and the Transformation of Urban Life in Kuala Lumpur,” in The Other Kuala Lumpur: Living in the Shadows of a Globalising Southeast Asian City (Yeoh Seng Guan, ed). London: Routledge.

2013. “Knowing Primitives, Witches, and the Spirits: Anthropology and the Mastery of Nonsense”, in Republic of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics and the Arts (special forum: “Conflict of the Faculties: The Human Sciences in the 19th Century"). 3:2.

2011/2013. “Even Governmentality Begins as an Image: Institutional Planning in Kuala Lumpur,” in the special issue “Anthropology and Planning”, Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, No. 61. Article republished as a book chapter in Elusive Promises: The Anthropology of Planning (Simone Abram and Asa Boholm, eds.) as part of the Dislocations series. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

2012. “Living on the Horizon of the Everlasting Present: Power, Planning and the Emergence of Baroque Forms of Life in Urban Malaysia”, in Southeast Asian Perspectives on Power (Chua, Cook, Long, and Wilson, eds) as part of the Modern Anthropology of Southeast Asia series. London: Routledge.

2008. “One Dead, One Missing; or ‘My Favorite Moments From a Dead Century,’” in anthropologies (Baxstrom and Meyers, eds.) Baltimore: Creative Capitalism.

2007. “Living Between Promise and Danger: The Law, Urban Development, and the Transformation of Everyday Life in Kuala Lumpur,” in Edinburgh Papers in South Asian Studies. Edinburgh: Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh.

2006. “Dead Man de Jim Jarmusch: La Poésie du fusil Arriflex” (En: “Arriflex Shotgun Poetry: Jarmusch’s Dead Man”), with Todd Meyers, Stefanos Geroulanos (French translator: Paola Marrati), in Rue Descartes. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France (PUF). No. 53 (special issue: A quoi pense le cinéma?).

2006. “Cinema Thinking Affect: The Hustler’s Soft Magic,” with Todd Meyers, in Parachute: review d’art contemporain. Montreal. No. 121 (special issue: Extra Humain/Extra Human).

2005. “Networks Actual and Potential: Think Tanks, War Games and the Creation of Contemporary American Politics” with Deborah Poole, Bhrigupati Singh, Naveeda Khan, in Theory and Event. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Vol. 8, No. 4.

2000. "Governmentality, Bio-Power and the Emergence of the Malayan-Tamil Subject on the Plantations of Colonial Malaya," in Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University. Vol. 14, No. 2.

Topics interested in supervising

I welcome applications from students who are interested in any combination of the following areas: (1) Cinema, art, and popular culture; (2) Small-town neoliberalism and 'enterprise' as a form of life in the Southwestern region of the United States; (3) contemporary societal change and emergent forms of living; (4) the experience of contemporary urban life, particularly in Southeast Asia; (5) concepts of 'the human' and of 'nature', accounting for the limits of such concepts (limits - the virtual, the animal, the 'monster', the 'beast', the 'thing').

If you are interested in being supervised by Richard Baxstrom, please see the links below for more information:

PhD in Social Anthropology; MSc (R) Social Anthropology; MSc (R) Socio-Cultural Studies