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'Beyond Description’ and ‘Ecologies of Mind’: Reflections on Anthropological Knowledge

Wednesday 29th November 2023


The Department of Anthropology is delighted to announce an afternoon of events focussed on anthropological knowledge practices, disciplinary epistemology, and the ways in which anthropologists imagine the nature of their contribution to contemporary challenges like global mental health.


  1. Book Launch: Beyond Description - 14.00-14.45, W309. 

Edited by Paolo Heywood and Matei Candea, this volume brings anthropologists and other social scientists together to combine ethnographic studies of explanatory practices in a range of contemporary contexts with reflection on the status of explanation as a practice in ethnographic writing. The launch will feature a panel discussion with contributors to the book: Professor Tanya LuhrmannProfessor Matei CandeaProfessor Tom YarrowDr Adam Reed, and Dr Paolo Heywood, and is planned to include an Introduction by Michael Carrithers, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Durham. 


  1. The Layton Dialogue – 15.00-17.00, W309.

‘Ecologies of Mind’ Revisited: Nature, Culture, and Mental Health in the 21st Century’

Our annual Robert Layton Dialogue celebrates what anthropology can bring to understanding human life past, present and future by integrating or juxtaposing methods, questions and areas of enquiry across disciplinary sub-fields. This year’s theme invites leading scholars in the sub-fields of social and evolutionary anthropology to reflect on the ways in which we theorize the relationships between mind and environment. In his 1972 book Steps to an Ecology of Mind, anthropologist Gregory Bateson made the case for a conceptualization of “mind” that transcends the individual organism. Mind, he argued, is immanent in pathways and flows of information outside the body, and thus, in wider social and biological ecosystems. This Dialogue invites scholars to consider the relevance of Bateson’s “ecology of mind” in making sense of climbing rates of mental distress and disorder in the world today. The first two decades of the 21st century have seen distinctive threats both to mental wellbeing and to natural ecosystems globally. From discussions of “climate anxiety” to a burgeoning interest in “green social prescribing,” the relationships among nature, culture, and mental health are being thought in new ways. How might Bateson’s work aid us in understanding and responding to surging mental dis-ease in the present moment? And how might a closer look at contemporary ecologies of mind throw new light on long-running anthropological debates about the nature of mental illness?


Professor Tanya Luhrmann, Stanford University

Professor Daniel Nettle, École Normale Supérieure, Paris 


Dr Anjana Bala, London School of Economics

Dr Anna Stenning, Durham University

Professor Rob Barton, Durham University


  1. Drinks Reception - 17.00, [PCL214, Law Common Room, 2nd Floor, Palatine Building]. An opportunity to talk to our visiting speakers about their contributions to the day. PGR students and early career scholars are especially encouraged to come along and take advantage of this opportunity to meet our guests.


For further information, please contact Kate Payne (