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RESEARCH



I received my PhD in Evolutionary Anthropology from University College London (UCL) in 2017, where my first supervisor was Professor Volker Sommer and my second supervisor was Professor Christophe Soligo.

 

Since receiving my doctorate, I have taught evolutionary theory and space science for a year at a left-wing Enlightenment-based bankers’ academy in a German forest, followed by a postdoctoral position at Queen Mary University of London studying social identity theory in the context of older adults attending an amazing entertainment social club called The Posh Club (ongoing). I also teach or have taught biological anthropology at UCL, City Literary Institute and the Westminster School (all in London, UK), and no-budget filmmaking at the Saturday Academy in Portland, Oregon.

 

I specialise in studies of ambiguity tolerance in humans and other great apes, in particular evolutionary theory applied to ingroup/outgroup distinctions in the context of social identity theory. My research interests include essentialism, ingroups/outgroups in an evolutionary context, hybridity, cyborg studies, bisexuality in humans and other great apes, human-animal studies, primatology, infrahumanisation and dehumanisation (including racial and age-based prejudice). The title of my Ph.D. thesis was “The evolving binary: Perspectives on infra- and ultrahumanisation”. It focused on ambiguity (in)tolerance towards liminal categories amongst four well-known dichotomies (human—animal, human—machine, heterosexual—homosexual, male—female), i.e., prejudice directed towards non-polarised/ambiguous sets such as non-modern hominins; non-human great apes; transmission of diseases between human ad non-human animals; xenotransplantation (e.g., baboon or pig body parts in humans or vice versa) and other human/non-human animal medical intermingling; concepts of humans as apes/mammals/animals; humans equivalised with non-human animals; non-human animals equivalised with humans; cyborgs; human-machine intermixing via prosthetics; life-support machines; machine-enabled virtual reality/speculative experiences; machines equivalised as humans; humans equivalised as machines; bisexuals; pansexuals; straight-identified men and women who have romantic or sexual behaviour and/or desire towards the same sex; gay- and lesbian-identified men and women who have romantic or sexual behaviour and/or desire towards the opposite sex; transgender people; so-called gender-non-conforming people, intersex people and non-binary people. I hypothesised a potential social mechanism that might be used to counter infrahumanisation that I coined as “ultrahumanisation”.

My most recent publication is “Ambiguity tolerance toward nonbinary sexuality concepts: Evidence from British newspapers” (I am the first author, followed by Christophe Soligo and Volker Sommer), published by the Journal of Bisexuality (Taylor & Francis) January 2019. You can read the abstract here.

I also have written a book analysis of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, in the style of “Cliff Notes” that was published by Routledge on 2016. It was co-written with Nadejda Josesphine Msindai (also an evolutionary anthropologist).

CONFERENCES & PRESENTATIONS

2019 Evolutionary Psychology Pre-Conference/Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) Annual Convention, Portland, Oregon, USA, UK – “Ambiguity and evolutionary theory: Towards a new gradualist paradigm?”, poster presentation (Spring 2019)

 

2017 Radical Anthropology Group, London, UK – “Bisexuality and ambiguity tolerance in humans and other apes”, oral presentation (Autumn 2017)

 

2016 Figuring Animals: Images and Imaginaries in Anglophone Literary and Media Texts, Mid-Sweden University, Sundsvall, Sweden – “Print media and ambiguity tolerance in humans”, oral presentation (15-16 August 2016)

 

2015 What Separates Humans from Animals? 3-person panel debate hosted by UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist

Society, UCLU Buddhist Society and UCLU Catholic Society, with Kathleen Bryson, the Venerable Upananda and Fr Hugh MacKenzie. UCL, London, UK – “The Human Animal”, oral presentation (27 October 2015)

 

2014 Humanity and Animality in 20th/21st Century Culture: Narratives, Theories, Histories, UCL, London, UK – “Ambiguity and evolutionary theory: Towards a new gradualist paradigm?”, oral presentation (Summer 2014)

 

2014 Primate Society of Great Britain Spring Meeting (PSGB), Oxford, UK – “Ambiguity and evolutionary theory: Towards

a new gradualist paradigm?”, poster presentation (Spring 2014)

 

2013 London Evolutionary Research Network Annual Conference (LERN), London, UK – “Liminality and evolutionary

theory: Towards a new gradualist paradigm?”, podium presentation (November 2013)

 

2013 Würzburg Summer School for Cultural and Literary Animal Studies, Würzburg, Germany – 7-day seminar series, full

scholarship recipient (September 2013)

 

2012 Minding Animals: Building Bridges Between Science, the Humanities and Ethics, Utrecht, the Netherlands –

“Categorising evolution: Natural, cultural and political perspectives”, oral presentation (July 2012)

 

2012 UCL-Max Planck Society Conference, South Cloisters, UCL – “Categorising evolution: Are we already living on The

Planet of the Apes?”, poster (June 2012)

 

2012 American Association of Physical Anthropologists 81st Annual Conference (AAPA), Portland, Oregon, USA –

"Categorising evolution: Are we already living on The Planet of the Apes?", poster (April 2012)

ACADEMIC AFFILIATIONS

ACADEMIC WRITING

2017   University College London, London, UK PhD Anthropology September 2010 — February 2017

Doctoral thesis title: “The evolving binary: Perspectives on infra- and ultrahumanisation”

 

Supervisors: Professor Volker Sommer and Dr. Christophe Soligo

Examiners: Professor Gary Marvin and Dr. Camilla Power

Abstract: We often pigeonhole our surroundings into dualistic categories, e.g., nature/culture. Perhaps evolutionary forces favoured dichotomous brains, or dualistic categories may be only social constructs. Do juxtaposed mechanisms of dichotomous black-and-white (essentialist) cognitive patterns exist; and, if so, how do such mechanisms affect cultural and scientific concepts of reality? My thesis focussed on four classic modes of othering (Human–Animal, Human–Machine, Male–Female, Heterosexual–Homosexual) oft-cited in biological anthropological studies, aiming to reconstruct the developmental forces that can bring about, stabilise or modify such binaries. My thesis therefore also was situated in discourses of media theory, AI studies, sociology, psychology, animal studies and gender/sexuality studies. I explored how rigid – respectively, fluid – the above exemplary alterities were by gathering data on the perceptions of their boundaries as reflected in electronic archives covering 16 years of newspaper reporting in the UK (1995–2010) and then subjecting this data to both a quantitative and qualitative analysis, measuring the fluctuation of ambiguity tolerance. My results strongly indicate similar temporal patterns of ambiguity tolerance across three out of four dichotomies – including a distinct “millennial effect” of intolerance in these three seemingly unrelated alterities – and a remarkably stable Male–Female dichotomy. This suggests firstly that received understandings of concrete descriptions such as “human”, “animal”, “species”, “machine”, “homosexual” and “heterosexual” may function as cultural concepts considered to be natural kinds, but also are temporally malleable in both popular and academic discourse; and, secondly, that we may have natal (arguably plastic) gender schemata. I show quantitatively and qualitatively that essentialist thinking – as expressed by ambiguity (in)tolerance in socially empowered individuals – functions as an infrahumanisation mechanism to protect one’s perceived ingroup, be that humans, males or heterosexuals, resulting instead in an othering of adjacent hybrid categories such as great apes, “dangerous” cyborgs, transgender people and bisexuals. I argue instead for an ultrahumanisation that may allow for less anthropocentrism, less androcentrism and less heterocentrism.

 

2013 “Schrödinger's Ape: Evolving Human-Animal Liminality in Modern Britain”, article, Anthropolitan magazine

 

2012 Grand Prize: UCL Graduate Research Poster Competition, University College London,  Schools of Arts & Humanities, Laws, Social & Historical Sciences for "Categorising evolution: Are we already living on The Planet of the Apes?".

 

2011 “Primate Society of Great Britain Conference Talk Summaries”, PSGB Conference Liverpool 2011, Spring 2011 issue of Primate Eye by the Primate Society of Great Britain.

 

1997 “(In) Tolerable Structures: Gender Fluidity, The Internet & The Mutable Category”, Second-Year M.A. Dissertation, London College of Printing/University of the Arts, London MA Independent Film & Video Theory 1998

 

Abstract: I examined here the phenomenon of existing inside structures into which one does not fit. The dissertation investigates how structures are made tolerable by those who do not fit the structure’s prescription through a concept I call the mutable category, through which one morphs the prescriptions and labels dictated by the structure. In this context, ideas of flow and rigidity are discussed through the examination of a series of binary structures and boundary trajectories with contemporary Western culture. A very specific aim in this examination is to highlight that many traits considered biological "essences" in our society are in fact culturally ascribed. A result of these social prescriptions is the prevalence of unbalanced categorically dichotomised structures, where often one-half of a dichotomy is more normalised than the other. I look at the Internet as an interactive new media tool (or set of tools) through which to facilitate the morphing of heavily structured categories. I refer to observations of the Internet connecting it with “feminine” qualities such as fluidity, uncontrollability, covertness, diffuseness. I make the point that “masculinity” and “femininity” are not biological essences of either sex, but rather that they are acculturated traits imposed by gender codification; this is filtered through a discussion of the Internet as a system where, theoretically, one’s gender designation is not immediately available. In relation to this discussion of Internet gender and other points, I suggest the application of the mutable category as a tool through which to see how things can fit and not fit in simultaneously.

 

1996   “Sucked inside: Subjective realism as a mode of spectator identity”, First-Year M.A. Dissertation, London College of Printing/University of the Arts, London MA Independent Film & Video Theory 1998.

 

I qualitatively explored the phenomenon of character subjective realism – experienced as viewer surrealism – in the films Clockers (Spike Lee, 1995) and Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson, 1994).

1992 University of Washington, Seattle, USA BA Anthropology 1992. Senior essay title: “The case for Neanderthal hybridism”

1992 University of Washington, Seattle, USA BA Swedish 1992. Senior essay title: “Seasonality in the works of Tove Jansson”