James Staples**


James Staples_opt.jpg

After completing a first degree in anthropology in 1990 I worked for nearly ten years as a journalist before my ongoing fascination with South India drew me back to SOAS, University of London, to undertake a PhD. Thanks to ESRC and British Academy Fellowships I was able to stay on there for four years after completion as a post-doctoral fellow, broadening out my initial research on the social consequences of leprosy to consider how attitudes towards negatively construed bodily differences in India are shaped by – and shape – ideas about what constitutes human completeness. A further 16-months’ fieldwork in Hyderabad examined how the category of disability is constituted in multiple ways, and how it is experienced by disabled people in their day-to-day interactions. I joined Brunel as a lecturer in January 2007, returning regularly to my original field site to pursue new research on various topics, including food and social mobility, and suicide.


  • PhD Social Anthropology (SOAS, London) 2003
  • BA (Hons) Social Anthropology (SOAS, London) 1990
  • PG Cert (Brunel) 2008

Research area(s)

  • South Asia
  • Medical anthropology (leprosy, disability, the body and pain)
  • Suicide
  • Anthropology of food
  • Biography and life history

Membership and affiliation

  • Vice-President, Royal Anthropological Institute (2015-2018)
  • Chair of Publications Committee of the Royal Anthropological Institute (2013-)
  • Honorary Reviews Editor of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society (JRAI) (2007-2013)
  • Member of Council, Royal Anthropological Institute (2011 - 2014)
  • Publications Officer and Committee member of the Association of Social Anthropologists (ASA) (2008 - 2013)
  • Editorial board member of the journal Ethnographica: Journal of Culture and Disability (EJCD)
  • External Examiner, SOAS MA Medical Anthropology (2013 - 2016)
  • External Examiner, BA Anthropology Programmes at Goldsmiths, London (2012 - 2015)


Research interests

I am a social anthropologist with a regional interest in South Asia and a long-standing fascination in how bodily differences are experienced, socially and viscerally, that continues to shape my work. I return regularly to the South Indian leprosy colony I have been visiting since 1984 to pursue ongoing fieldwork that has taken me in several directions, including a study of suicide; ongoing work on food and social mobility; and the writing of a detailed biographical account of a leprosy-affected man’s life.

Research project(s) and grant(s)

Holy cows and chicken Manchuria: food and social mobility in provincial South India
2012 -
James Staples (PI)
This project develops my existing work on food in South Asia by documenting and then analysing how major socio-economic and ecological changes in the region – beginning with the Green Revolution in the late 1960s and continuing through the liberal economic reforms of the 1990s and beyond – also transform how people consume and relate to food on an everyday basis. In particular, through life history interviews and participant observation I aim to explore how the people I work with in rural and small-town South India, often on the peripheries of what was described as an ‘emergent middle class’, utilise food and dining relationships to assert positive identities and affect social mobility.



British Academy (SG-47129)
Suicide, youth and farmers in South India
July 2007 - September 2009
James Staples (PI)

Disabled lives: understanding disability through ethnographic biography
2009 - 2010
James Staples (PI)




Undergraduate Programmes

Module convenor

  • Research Methods in Anthropology
  • Ethnography of a Selection Region - South Asia (level 2 & 3)
  • Anthropology of the Body (level 3)

Module contributor

  • Fieldwork Encounters: Thinking Through Ethnography (level 1)

Postgraduate Programmes

Programme convenor

  • MSc Medical Anthropology 

Module convenor

  • The Body: Anthropological Perspectives


  • Head of Anthropology
  • Undergraduate convenor

Research supervision

Michelle Carter: Learning to be a nurse;

Thea Vidnes: Maternal health among Nepali migrants in Norway

Eva Luksaite: The intimate state: female sterilisation, citizenship and the body in North India; Submitted Dec 2015

Gemma Clay: Tibetan monks in exile; Submitted Oct 2015

Pat Mahon-Daly: Blood, society and the gift: an ethnography of change in the giving relationship; Submitted June 2012

Selected Publications

Journal articles

Staples, J.  and Klein, JK.   (2017)   'Introduction: Consumer and Consumed'. Ethnos: journal of anthropology, 72 (2).  Download publication 

Staples, J.   (2017)   'Beef and beyond: exploring the meat consumption practices of Christians in India'. Ethnos: journal of anthropology, 72 (2).  Download publication 

Staples, J.   (2014)   'Putting Indian christianities into context: Biographies of christian conversion in a leprosy colony'. Modern Asian Studies, 48 (4).  pp. 1134 - 1159. doi: 10.1017/S0026749X12000595 Download publication 

Staples, J.   (2014)   'Communities of the afflicted: constituting leprosy through place in South India'. Med Anthropol, 33 (1).  pp. 6 - 20. doi: 10.1080/01459740.2012.714021 Download publication 

Staples, J.   (2012)   'Culture and carelessness: Constituting disability in South India'. Medical Anthropology Quarterly: international journal for the cultural and social analysis of health, 26 (4).  pp. 557 - 574. doi: 10.1111/maq.12007 Download publication 

Staples, J.   (2012)   'Suicide in South Asia: Ethnographic perspectives'. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 46 (1-2).  pp. 1 - 28. 

Staples, J.  and Widger, T.   (2012)   'Situating suicide as an anthropological problem: Ethnographic approaches to understanding self-harm and self-inflicted death'. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 36 (2).  pp. 183 - 203. doi: 10.1007/s11013-012-9255-1 

Staples, J.   (2012)   'The suicide niche: Accounting for self-harm in a South Indian leprosy colony'. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 46 (1-2).  pp. 117 - 144. 

Staples, J.   (2011)   'At the intersection of disability and masculinity: Exploring gender and bodily difference in india'. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17 (3).  pp. 545 - 562. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9655.2011.01706.x Download publication 

Staples, J.   (2011)   'Interrogating leprosy 'stigma': why qualitative insights are vital'. LEPROSY REVIEW, 82 (2).  pp. 91 - 97. 

Staples, J.   (2011)   'Nuancing 'leprosy stigma' through ethnographic biography in South India'. LEPROSY REVIEW, 82 (2).  pp. 109 - 123. 

Staples, J.   (2008)   ''Go on, just try some!': Meat and meaning-making among South Indian Christians'. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 31 (1).  pp. 36 - 55. doi: 10.1080/00856400701874700 Download publication 

Staples, J.   (2007)   'The “leper” and the State in South India'. Economic and Political Weekly: a journal of current economic and political affairs

Staples, J.   (2005)   'Leprosy in South India: The paradox of disablement as enablement'. Review of Disability Studies, 1 (4).  pp. 13 - 28. 

Staples, J.   (2005)   'Becoming a man: Personhood and masculinity in a south Indian leprosy colony'. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 39 (2).  pp. 279 - 305. doi: 10.1177/006996670503900204 

Staples, J.   (2004)   'Delineating disease: Self-management of leprosy identities in South India'. Medical Anthropology: cross-cultural studies in health and illness, 23 (1).  pp. 69 - 88. doi: 10.1080/01459740490276075 

Staples, J.   (2003)   'Disguise, revelation and copyright: Disassembling the South Indian leper'. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 9 (2).  pp. 295 - 315. doi: 10.1111/1467-9655.00151 


Staples, J.   (2014) Leprosy and a life in South Asia: journeys with a Tamil Brahmin. Lanham, Maryland:  Lexington Books 

Staples, J.   (2012) Ethnographies of Suicide (Special Issue of 'Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry.  Springer 

Staples, J.   (2007) Peculiar people, amazing lives: leprosy, social exclusion and community making in South India. New Delhi:  Orient Longman 

Staples, J.   (2007) Livelihoods at the margins: Surviving the city. Walnut Creek, CA:  Left Coast Press 

Book chapters

Staples, J.  and Mehrotra, N.  (2016)   'Disability Studies: Developments in Anthropology', in Grech, S.  and Soldatic, K. (eds.) Disability in the Global South: the critical handbook.  Springer (International Perspectives on Social Policy, Administration, and Practice) : pp. 35 - 49. 

Staples, J.  (2016)   '‘We are one caste, one disease, and one religion’: biographies of Christian conversion in a South Indian leprosy colony'', in Malekandathil, P. , Pachuau, JLK.  and Sarkar, T. (eds.) Christianity in Indian History: Issues of Culture, Power and Knowledge.  Primus 

Staples, J.  (2016)   'Food, Commensality and Caste in South Asia', in Klein, JA.  and Watson, JL. (eds.) The Handbook of Food and Anthropology.  Bloomsbury pp. 74 - 93. 

Staples, J.  (2016)   'Leprosy's Journey in India', in Medcalf, A. , Saavedra, M. , Romera Sa, M.  and Bhattacharya, S. (eds.) Leprosy: A Short History.  Hyderabad, India Orient BlackSwan pp. 76 - 86. 

Staples, J.  (2015)   'Personhood, agency and suicide in a neo-liberalising South India.', in Broz, L.  and Muenster, D. (eds.) Suicide and Agency: Anthropological perspectives on self-destruction, personhood and power.  Farnham Ashgate pp. 27 - 46. Download publication 

Staples, J.  and Smith, K.  (2015)   'Introduction: The Interview as Analytical Category', in Staples, J. , Smith, K.  and Rapport, N. (eds.) Extraordinary Encounters: Authenticity and the Interview.  Oxford Berghahn Books (28) : pp. 1 - 18. 

Staples, J.  (2015)   'An ‘Up and Down Life’: Understanding Leprosy through Biography', in Staples, J. , Smith, K.  and Rapport, N. (eds.) Extraordinary Encounters: Authenticity and the Interview.  Oxford Berghahn Books (28) : pp. 60 - 82. 

Staples, J.  (2014)   'Civilizing Tastes: From Caste to Class in South Indian Foodways', in Klein, JA.  and Murcott, A. (eds.) Food Consumption in Global Perspective: Essays in the Anthropology of Food in Honour of Jack Goody.  New York Palgrave Macmillan pp. 65 - 86. Download publication 

Staples, J.  (2009)   'Body', in Barnard, AJ.  and Spencer, J. (eds.) The Routledge encyclopedia of social and cultural anthropology.  Taylor & Francis 

Staples, J.  (2007)   'When things are not as they seem: Untangling the webs that hold together a South Indian NGO', in Smith, M. (ed.) Negotiating Boundaries and Borders: Qualitative Methodology and Development Research.  Oxford Elsevier (8) : pp. 131 - 154. 

Scholarly Editions

Staples, J.   (2012) Contributions to Indian Sociology: Suicide in South Asia: Ethnographic perspectives (special issue).   

Page last updated: Monday 17 October 2016