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School of Social and Political Science: Staff profiles


John Harries

John Harries
Dr John Harries
Senior Teaching Fellow and Deputy Director of the Undergraduate School (Progression and Student Experience)
5.25 Chrystal Macmillan Building Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
+44 (0)131 651 3065
Research Interests
Time and temporality, indigeneity and identity (particularly in postcolonial settler societies), matter and materiality, the senses and the environment, Canada, Newfoundland, the Beothuk, social memory, contentious heritage

Guidance and Feedback Hours

  • Tuesdays 15.00-17.00 or by appointment

Academic Profile

I received by PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Edinburgh in 2002. Since then I have held teaching posts the Critchton Campus of the University of Glasgow in Dumfries, the Centre of Canadian Studies and the School of Health and Social Science at the University of Edinburgh and, since September 2013, as a senior teaching fellow in Social Anthropology at the School of Social and Political Science. Of late my research and teaching has focused on issues of memory, materiality and identity in the context of settler colonialism, with particular reference to the politics of belonging in Newfoundland, Canada. 

Research Projects

Remembering the Beothuk

Over the last few years I have been conducting research concerning the ways in which the people of Newfoundland, Canada, remember the Beothuk, a native people of that island who became extinct (or were exterminated) in the early 19th century. Through this research I have been addressing the question of how we may theorise the presence of the past. This is particularly a concern with the material traces of past lives, be they human bones or scratches on stones, and how these traces are enfolded into the work of individual and collective memory, particularly in the context of settler colonialism.

The affective presence and emotive materiality of human remains

This concern with the material traces of the past and politics of heritage and commemoration has lead to an interest in human bones and specifically the techniques by which we constitute the "voice" of bones and how this "voice" speaks, or is made to speak, within contemporary politics of identity and recognition, particularly in the context of histories of violence and dispossession. This interest has led me to become  a founding member of the bones collective - a network of anthropologists, archaeologists, historians and artists who are concerned with the "emotive materiality" and "affective presence" of human remains. For more information see: The Bones Collective. Emerging from this collective have been a series of  colloborative arts interventions including "The Bones Beneath the Face", "Word of Mouth", as well as the "Dead Images" project.  

TRACES - Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts

Funded by a EU Horizon 2020 grant, TRACES is a colloborative project, concluding in Spring 2019, involving multidisciplinary teams artists and academics across  Europe. It focuses on the challenges and opportunities inherent in transmitting contentious cultural heritages in Europe, with a particular emphasis on the role of the arts and arts-based interventions in promoting collective self-reflection and a critical dialogue concerning the difficult pasts which haunt contemporary articulations of identity. My particular involvement is as part of the "Dead Images" project, one of five colloborative co-productions within TRACES. Working with a team of researchers ard artists - Linda Fibiger, Joan Smith , Tal Adler, Anna Szöke and Maria Teschler-Nicola - this project engages with the complex and contentious legacy of collections of human skulls kept by museums, universities and other public institutions in Europe. 

The "Third Space"

The thirds space project is a collaboration between academics with the Schools of Social and Political Science, Health in Social Science and Education, Edinburgh Global and EUSA Global. It is "a new series of activities which wrap around students’ international experiences giving them the tools to explore, reflect, engage, and share culture during the different stages of their time away". In particular, I have been involved in the design of a "tool box" which, drawing inspiration from the techniques of ethnographic research, provides a series of provocations, suggestions and invitations designed to encourage students to seek out and enjoy new intercultural experiences. For more information see: The Third Space.

Research Outputs

Peer-reviewed chapters and articles

2019, 'Disposing of dead images: reflections on contentious heritage as toxic waste', in A. Schneider (ed.) Art, Anthropology and Contested Heritage. London & New York: Bloomsbury. (forthcoming)

2018, 'Human remains: rights and responsibilities', in H. Callan (ed.) International Encyclopedia of Anthropology. New York: Wiley Blackwell. 

2018, with L. Fibiger, T. Adler, J. Smith & A. Szöke, 2017, 'EXPOSURE: The ethics of makings, sharing and displaying photographs of human remains', Human Remains and Violence, vol. 4, no 1. 

2018, 'A clearing with a view to the lake, the bones of a caribou and the sound of snow falling on dead leaves: sensing the presence of the past in the wilds of Newfoundland'. In F Polack (ed.), Traces of Ochre: Changing Perspectives on the Beothuk. University of Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

2016, 'A stone that feels right in the hand: tactile memory, the abduction of agency and presence of the past' Journal of Material Culture, vol 22, no 1, pp. 110-130. 

2016, 'Disarticulated bones' Journal of Techniques and Culture, special issue Fixing the World: Excess, Leftover and Innovation, number 65-66. 

2016, 'A "Beothuck Indian" Skeleton (not) in a Glass Case: Rumours of Bones and the Remembrance of an Exterminated People in Newfoundland', in J.-M. Dreyfuss & E. Anstett (eds.) Human Remains in Society. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 

with A. Cook & G. Huby, 2015, 'Education for integration: four  pedagogical principles' Journal of Integrated Care, vol 23, no 6.

2015, 'A dog story from Newfoundland (revisited)' Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology, vol 5, no. 2, special Issue Doing Things with Stories, pp 37-51.

2014, 'Communicating your research and writing up', in N Konopinski (ed.), Doing anthropological research: a practical guide. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 118-143.

with A. Cook, 2014, 'Zipping up or zipping down: reflections on integration at the front lineJournal of Integrated Care, vol 23, no. 3.

with J. Fontein, 2013, 'The vitality and efficacy of human substances' Critical African Studies, vol 5, no. 3, pp. 115-126.

with P. Filippucci, J. Fontein & C. Krmpotich, 2012, 'Encountering the past: Unearthing remnants of humans in archaeology and anthropology', in D Shankland (ed.), Archaeology and Anthropology: Past, Present and Future: ASA Monographs 48. Berg, London, pp. 197–217.

with G. Huby & S. Grant, 2011, 'Contributions of ethnography to the study of public services management' Public Management Review, vol 13, no. 2, pp. 209-225.

2010, 'Of bleeding skulls and the postcolonial uncanny: bones and the presence of Nonosabasut and Demasduit' Journal of Material Culture, vol 15, no. 4, pp. 403-421.

with C. Krmpotich & J. Fontein, 2010, 'The substance of bones: The emotive materiality and affective presence of human remains' Journal of Material Culture, vol 15, no. 4, pp. 371-384.


with G. Huby,P. Warner, E. Donaghy, R. Lee, L. Williams, P. Huxley, S. Evans, C. Barker, J. White & S. Philpin, 2010, Supporting the reconfiguration of social care roles in the UK. London: Department of Health. 

Art Installations and Events

Summer 2018, with T. Adler (artist), A. Szöke, J. Smith, L. Fibiger, M. Teschler-Nicola, F. Lanz and J. Leveratto, DEAD IMAGES: Facing the history, ethics and politics of European skull collections, Edinburgh College of Art, part of the Edinburgh Arts Festival. 

October 2015, Unearthings (a hastely abandoned explorer's tent, with an anonymous  skull as speciman), an installation curated as part of Remains, Waste, Metonymy "a critical intervention into Arts/Scholarship", hosted by the BIEA, Nairobi, Kenya.

June 2014, with J. Smith, J. Fontein, C. Douglas, J. Nowak, L. Fibiger, E. Kranioti, D. Zamora and J. Cheeseman. The Bones Beneath The Face, an interactive installation curated as a fringe event for meeting of the Association of Social Anthropologists (ASA), Edinburgh.

Topics interested in supervising

Indigeneity and the politics of identity in settler societies (particularly in Canada); social memory and contentious heritage; materiality and memory (particularly with reference to the unearthing, keeping and repatriation of human remains)

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

PhD in Social Anthropology; MSc (R) Social Anthropology