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Department of Anthropology


Chimpanzees can sniff out strangers

Chimpanzees’ sense of smell is more sophisticated than we thought with a new study showing that our closest relatives use their noses to smell danger.

The study shows that chimpanzees can smell who is a stranger and who is part of their family.

It was previously thought that they relied more heavily on their eyes than on their noses.

Knowing who is in their inner circle helps the chimps to not only spot a suitable ally but also avoid mating with close relatives or attacking their own offspring.

Who carried out the research?

Professor Jo Setchell from the Department of Anthropology at Durham University who is an expert in primate behaviour and Dr Stefanie Henkel from the University of Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutional Anthropology in Germany.

Where is the research published?

In the Royal Society Proceedings B. You can also see it in Durham Research Online.

Read more about the research with chimpanzees.

Find out more

(24 Oct 2018)

Life of Breath wins Health Humanities Inspiration Award

Life of Breath has scooped the first ever Health Humanities Medal Inspiration Award in recognition of the work the project has done to engage respiratory patients directly revealing their authentic stories and developing activities and materials aimed at reducing the stigma of breathlessness. 

Life of Breath, currently in its fourth of five years, is a collaboration between Durham and Bristol Universities, led by Professor Havi Carel and Professor Jane Macnaughton. The project, which is funded by a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award, aims to make breathlessness and the associated suffering more visible. An interdisciplinary research team has been exploring the lived experience of breathing and breathlessness through philosophy, literature, anthropology, arts and history. 

A close relationship with the British Lung Foundation and patient support groups has led to the development of various activities and materials aimed at reducing the stigma of breathlessness by exposing the prejudices, as well as making people aware of their breath and how to maintain respiratory health. This has included a ‘patient toolkit’, supporting them to think about their breathlessness in a non-medical way, a ‘Singing for Breathing’ group in Bristol and a pilot project offering a dance programme for respiratory patients in the North East.

The Health Humanities Medal is a new scheme coordinated by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), in association with the Wellcome Trust, which recognises the very best research, impact and leadership. Life of Breath was just one of 100 entries across the five categories which were assessed by a panel of academics, health practitioners and industry professionals. Professor Edward Harcourt, Director of Research, Strategy and Innovation at the AHRC said: “The AHRC has always seen the importance of backing the health humanities. We were struck by the exceptional quality of the applications, which express a more inclusive vision of health and wellbeing and how to achieve it in ways that are not driven by medical science alone.”

(13 Sep 2018)

Men's testosterone levels largely determined by childhood environment

Co-authored by Durham Anthropology's Prof Gillian Bentley, a Durham University-led study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution suggests that men who grow up in more challenging conditions where there are lots of infectious diseases, for example, are likely to have lower testosterone levels in later life than those who spend their childhood in healthier environments.

To read the study in full please click the link below:

Childhood ecology influences salivary testosterone, pubertal age and stature of Bangladeshi UK migrant men

And visit the links below for recent press coverage of the study:

Men’s testosterone levels determined by childhood conditions not genetics, study claims (Independent)

Healthier childhoods linked to increased prostate cancer risk (Telegraph)

(26 Jun 2018)

Research that helps parents and babies sleep better gets Royal approval

Research that has helped to shape the way babies sleep and how parents care for them at night-time has been given the Royal seal of approval.

Durham Anthropology's Parent-Infant Sleep Lab has been awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education - the highest accolade for any academic institution and part of the national honours system in the United Kingdom.

For more details see click here

(26 Jun 2018)

“Our Lives with Electric Things”: Durham anthropologists publish a new collection of writing to extend the energy humanities

Inspired by a Wenner-Gren funded workshop held at Durham in 2016, this new collection has been published in the Cultural Anthropology journal series ‘Theorizing the Contemporary’. The full collection includes 51 contributions, whose authors reflect on our lives with electric things, using electric artefacts to generate novel ethnographic insights.

Editor Professor Simone Abram says, ‘This collection is an inspiration for anthropologists and others to rethink how we live with electricity and reconsider the possibilities and limits of life with electric things’. With three co-editors from Edinburgh and Copenhagen, the collection covers electric fictions, backups, infrastructures, electric sustenance, electric air and more, making up 17 themes.

‘We are excited to bring together anthropologists from around the world to think about such pressing issues and invite readers to enjoy the collection and the inspiration it offers’ adds Prof Abram.

The collection can be read at:

(25 Jun 2018)

Why the World Needs Anthropologists: Powering the Planet Oct 28-29 2017

A hundred and forty two people from twenty countries attended this two day symposium at Durham. It was the fifth such symposium to be organised on behalf of the Energy Network of the European Association of Social Anthropologists Participants were drawn from a range of academic disciplines engaged in energy research as well as representatives from industry and third sector organisations. The Saturday programme for the first day of speakers and discussion panel is now available online (see below). The first day also featured twelve organisations with stands and publicity materials. These included two anthropology consultancies from Scandinavia; the EASA Energy Ethics Network; Low Carbon Energy for Development; Mygrid; Energethics and Access for Women in Energy. Sunday featured five well attended workshops located across the Durham campus, covering energy and development, corporate responsibility, local history and careers for anthropologists beyond the academy. 

Thanks to all those at Durham who helped make the event such a success and to our several sponsors see 

(11 Dec 2017) » More about Why the World Needs Anthropologists: Powering the Planet Oct 28-29 2017

PEOPLE project chosen as exemplar to spotlight 30 years of Erasmus funding

The Erasmus Plus PEOPLE Project, which is running within Durham Energy Institute’s MSc Energy and Society programme (2016-19), has been selected to be one of a range of projects to feature in the Erasmus+ 30th anniversary campaign: In the spotlight: Quality in teaching and learning as an example of quality in teaching and training in Europe. 


 “It is a great honour to be chosen as one of 10 projects showcasing a European programme that has been running for 30 years and through its projects has enriched the lives of more than 9 million direct participants, “ said Professor Simone Abram, and we are proud to represent Durham University at the heart of a European collaborative educational programme’. 


PEOple-centred development approaches in Practical and Learning Environments /

This exciting new project, funded through the Erasmus+ Programme, brings together Higher Education Institutions from the social sciences with Industries from the sustainable living and energy sector to develop people-centred development approaches to the design of products and services. At the core of the project is the idea that understanding people should become an indispensable part of industrial development processes as well as new categories of products, services, or business strategies that truly address people’s needs and lead to sustainable innovation. At the same time, this approach offers a means to achieve practical-based education in the social sciences and humanities.

The project has teams in four different countries across Europe consisting of an industry partner and a higher education partner:



The PEOPLE project addresses the needs of both graduates and companies: Energy industries benefit through improved products, services and processes and developing innovation in rapidly evolving technology. Graduates apply the skills learned through their training primarily in sociology, psychology and anthropology to real-life and work situations, enhancing their skills and employability prospects. The project will have long-lasting impact on Higher Education Institutions and society at large by improving the relevance of social science teaching and research.

According to PEOPLE project coordinator Gregor Cerinsek, ‘We think that meaningful products and services in the sustainable living and energy sectors can only be developed with the people who use them.’ Read the rest of the Erasmus Campaign spotlight article on the PEOPLE project.


Energy Masters students at Durham  have the opportunity to take part in the project as a module of the MSc Energy and Society course. The selected students are working in collaboration with a UK company, Kemuri Ltd to help develop user the company’s current products and services in the field of telecare. Students also take part in project workshop events and exchange visits in one of the participating countries outside the UK.

The project held a two-day workshop  in September in collaboration with ‘CESI’ (Centre for Energy Systems Integration)offering practical advice and guidance on developing collaborations between Higher Education and companies or third sector organisations. The in-depth training had a particular focus on bringing social science research into product design. It addressed how entrepreneurs can be trained, and what kind of collaboration is needed for defining R&D goals, mentoring students, locating expert knowledge, or evaluating outcomes?

Further information about the project and activities can be found at

Professors Sandra Bell and Simone Abram from Durham’s Anthropology department are leading the project from Durham University.

(23 Nov 2017)

July 2017

Professor Helen Ball has written an article titled ''Battle lines are being drawn on the best way for babies to sleep''. Read the full article here.

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