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School of Social and Political Science: Graduate school


R. Elliott Oakley

R. Elliott Oakley
R. Elliott Oakley
Social Anthropology School of Social and Political Science University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh UK
Research Interests
Environmental anthropology, Amazonia, Guyana, Indigenous Peoples, Conservation and development, Waiwai people, personhood

PhD Title

Opening the Waiwai ewto: Indigenous social and spatial relations in Guyana


Dr Casey High

Dr Magnus Course


I completed my PhD in Social Anthropology based on research in southern Guyana on indigenous livelihoods and environmental conservation.  My work focuses on how indigenous ideas about land, the village (ewto), and sociality shape engagements with the state, environmental NGOs, and other outsiders.

My thesis presents an indigenous analysis of social and spatial relations in southern Guyana through the histories, perspectives and practices of people in Masakenyarï, considered by its approximately 250 residents to be a Waiwai village. The chapters examine the multiple ways in which people in Masakenyarï understand and act within broader political and economic processes, which are analytically framed through Waiwai ideas about the desired and potentially dangerous relation between exteriority and interiority. Themes such as leadership, gender, development, exchange, and identity are explored to elaborate interiority and exteriority as dynamic spatial but also conceptual relations. Taken together, the chapters demonstrate the persisting importance of the exterior – which includes state, NGO and other itinerant actors – as a source of value for Waiwai people for the village-based livelihoods that they desire. Rooted in the anthropology of Latin America and indigenous Amazonia, the thesis speaks to broader questions about indigenous ideas of living well, both in relation to village sociality and contemporary indigenous livelihoods amidst large-scale political and economic transformation.


I have written about my work in The Guardian and on Cultural Anthropology's Theorizing the Contemporary forum.

I am currently producing and editing an ethnographic film based on my research in Guyana. I will post updates on my Vimeo page.