Skip to main content

School of Social and Political Science: Staff profiles


Jamie Furniss

Jamie Furniss
Dr Jamie Furniss
Lecturer in International Development
+44 (0)131 651 5675
Research Interests
Middle East and North Africa, Anthropology of development, Egypt, Waste and waste collectors

Feedback and Guidance hours

Semester 1, 2017/18: Thu 4:30-6:30pm. While you are welcome to drop in without an appointment at these times, I give priority to those who have pre-booked in order to save everyone time and manage the flow of appointments. Please book here or directly below:

Check out my profile on:

Biographical Statement

My first degrees were in civil and common law and I worked for a time at the Supreme Court of Canada before passing the Bar of Ontario. Things took a different turn, however, when I decided to take a break--or so I thought at the time--from law in order to study Arabic in Cairo and International Development in Oxford...

Teaching Statement


As a post-doctoral fellow at the CNRS/University of Lyon 2’s Groupe de recherches et d'études sur la Méditerranée et le Moyen-Orient, I taught a variety of regional courses focussed on the Middle East, and one introductory International Development class. These were taught to geography and political science students:

  • International Development and the Global South
  • Introduction to the Middle East and North Africa
  • Socio-economic and territorial change in the Middle East and North Africa
  • Middle Eastern Society: groups, individuals, practices and representations

In 2013 I joined the University of Edinburgh as a full-time permanent lecturer. I have been programme director for the MSc in International Development and have convened/sole taught the following courses:

  • Social Development
  • Urban Development
  • International development: research design and practice
  • Anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa
  • Fundamentals: Studying Anthropology

Courses convened by others on which I have delivered a portion of the teaching include:

  • Sustainable Development
  • Politics and Theories of International Development
  • Ethnography Seminar

These are principally masters and honours (3rd/4th year undergrad) level, however many of them are introductory. Class sizes have varied from small seminars of twelve students to large amphitheatres of 120.


I have successfully supervised approximately 30 honours undergraduate and masters dissertations, of which a number have been 8 week ‘work-based placements’.

I have co-supervised 1 PhD student to completion and currently supervise 3 other PhD’s at various stages of completion. Their topics include Palestinians in Israel, Syrian refugees in Jordan, and topics related to waste economies in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.


Having been myself educated in Canada and the UK, and having taught students from a range of disciplinary and national backgrounds (often together in the same classroom), in both the French and British systems, in large and small classrooms, I have experience with a range of different lecture, discussion and evaluation techniques and am well aware of the differences in 'teaching cultures' betwee North America, the UK, and continental Europe. Having consolidated this experience through a Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice in which I was enrolled at the University of Edinburgh. The following aspects characterize my current teaching philosophy:

I am especially committed to developing assessment modes and timelines that maximize student development and ensure feedback leads to improvement. This includes incorporating ‘formative’ feedback and ‘feedforward’ that provide information about learners’ progression at frequent and timely intervals on low/medium-stakes assessments. I also encourage students to develop critical skills with respect to their own work and that of others through self-review and peer assessments. Self and peers are critical sources of feedback and giving feedback helps students to approach their own work critically.

Whenever possible I prioritize a seminar-style with weekly readings and discussions. In order to encourage participation and structure students’ independent learning hours, I generally require weekly reading responses from students. In class, I employ a variety of activities, including student presentations, debates, break-out or ‘buzz’ groups, and extended Socratic style dialogues with a single student or small group.

Research Statement

Follow me on for details of my publications, drafts of works in progress, and other aspects of my academic work.

My doctoral dissertation explored different ways of thinking about development and ‘waste’ through a study of how groups like the World Bank, religious actors, and the Egyptian state have imagined and intervened on Cairo’s informal sector waste collectors and recyclers (Zabbaleen).

I describe the Zabbaleen in this TEDx talk as well as in this ARTE documentary, on which I was assistant director.

In addition to a book proposal currently under consideration, the outputs of this project include three book chapters/journal articles on private Sector reform of solid waste management, part of the neoliberal turn that affected many sectors of the Egyptian economy in the late 1990s. Two of these examined how the private sector reforms recast longstanding aesthetic and symbolic concerns in the vogue idiom of the day, one that played well with international funders. This showed how 'neoliberal globalization' did not merely come ‘from the sky’ but was reworked from within by local actors who appropriated its symbols, practices, and ideas—often for ends extrinsic to the logic underpinning them at the origins. The third article examined how the Zabbaleen maintained access to waste through a series of street-level actions, including bribes, clever uses of time, and a degree of collaboration with the foreign companies such that the contracts served to perpetuate, transform, and to some degree accentuate ‘informality’ in the sector.

My original interest in the Zabbaleen from a development perspective has expanded over time to include the related topics of recycling economies and urban informality more broadly. For example, based on fieldwork in Egypt I have published a paper arguing that  contemporary recycling economies by no means all conform to North-South directionalities, nor to the other assumptions about agency, vulnerability and environmental damage that inhere in the 'neo-colonial geographies of inequality' paradigm that typically frames analysis of global waste flows, for instance in legal instrument governing transboundary waste flows like the Basel Convention. The paper also sought to apply empirical/ethnographic approaches to the study of markets, focusing on PET (plastic) sales from Egypt to Chinese business people. I also co-edited a very large, bilingual special issue of the  journal Techniques & culture on the topic of ‘waste, excess, and remainders.’

I have also published an article on post-revolution land encroachment, focusing on the case of Manshiet Nasser. This paper examines the exacerbation of entrenched economic inequalities through the encroachments (contra ‘heroic’ squatter stories) and argues that in a context of generalized ‘illegality,’ practical norms and de facto recognitions are more important than formal law to tenure security. With respect to theoretical debates about the production of urban space, the paper also critiques the De Certeauian paradigm, in which urban marginals poach or hijack others’ spaces evanescently, for the way it fails to account for the way such encroachments produce permanent new spaces. 

I have also conducted more historical and theoretical work, in particular on twentieth century shifts in the Catholic concept of mission, in particular its transformation from the salvation of souls (conversion) to the betterment of people’s temporal lives (social service and humanitarian action). This formed the basis of a special issue I edited, on religion, development and humanitarianism. In addition to the issue’s general introduction, I authored a paper showing how the French Mother Theresa figure Sœur Emmanuelle was important catalytic and federative force in development projects in Cairo, including at the level of ‘non-religious’ actors like the World Bank and its consultant engineers. The paper thus argued that Sœur Emmanuelle is an exemplary figure in mission’s evolution toward the secular materialist priorities around which religion, humanitarianism, and development have converged in the contemporary era.

Ongoing and future projects

  • I continue to be interested in the topic of waste and the environment. Broadening my fieldwork base while maintaining a focus on the Arabic speaking countries of the Middle East and North Africa, I have begun some preliminary fieldwork on related themes in Tunisia.
  • I have begun a new project on tobacco consumption, the ambition of which is to expand our understanding of new/emergent patterns of smoking in Egypt and the Middle East.

"Knowledge Transfer" and "Impact" Activities

My research has significant public appeal, and I have a solid track-record of making it accessible to broad audiences. This includes:

  • Associate researcher and member of consultative committee for a forthcoming exhibition on waste and recycling around the Mediterranean at the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (Marseille, 2017) in which my research on Cairo features prominently.
  • ESRC Impact Accelerator (£16,000) funded web-doc/online catalogue accompanying the MuCEM exhibition
  • ESRC Impact Accelerator (£4,000) funded series of shows about Cairo’s waste collectors by a former Cairo Opera House violinist.
  • TEDx talk ‘The World’s Best Recyclers Aren’t Environmentalists’, >7000 youtube views.
  • Assistant-director of ARTE  documentary ‘Petites Histoires de nos ordures,’ shown on television in France and Germany.
  • Assistant-director of a television profile of Cairo in the series ‘Trashopolis,’ shown in North America on the Smithsonian Channel, the History Channel, and the National Geographic Channel.

In Lyon, where I lived prior to coming to the University of Edinburgh, I worked for the police, courts and prisons interpreting for anglophones facing criminal charges or deportation, particularly those of African origin.

I am also contracted from time to time for academic translations of articles or books, of which the most notable is François Laplantine's Le social et le sensibleintroduction à une antrhopologie modale, appearing in 2015 in a series on Sensory Studies edited by David Howes (Concordia) and published by Bloomsbury.

Laplantine Cover (Le social et le sensible)

Topics interested in supervising

Middle East; Waste; Environment; International Development

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

PhD in Social Anthropology; PhD in International Development; MSc (R) Social Anthropology