Liana Chua**



Following brief dalliances with History and museum work, I ‘converted’ to Social Anthropology in 2002, and obtained my PhD from Cambridge in 2007. Before joining Brunel, I held a Research Fellowship in Social Anthropology at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge (2007-2011), where I was also Evans Fund Fellow from 2011 to 2012.


  • PhD in Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge (2007)
  • MPhil in Social Anthropological Analysis, University of Cambridge (2003)
  • BA (Hons) in Modern History, University of Oxford (2001)

Research area(s)

  • Anthropology of religion
  • Materiality and museology
  • Development and conservation
  • Human-animal relations

Membership and affiliation

  • Executive Committee member, Association for Southeast Asian Studies in the UK (2011 - 2014 )
  • Fellow, Royal Anthropological Institute (2008 - )


Research interests

I have worked in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, since 2003. My PhD and early postdoctoral research centred on conversion to Christianity and ethnic and cultural politics among rural Bidayuh communities, while a second postdoctoral project entailed the study of landscape, morality and development in the context of a dam-construction and resettlement project in which four Bidayuh communities were entangled.

My fieldwork in Sarawak drew me to my current research interest: the social, political and affective dimensions of the global nexus of orangutan conservation. Having recently explored the aesthetics and dynamics of social media in mediating popular perceptions of orangutan conservation, I am currently developing a major research project that will explore the emergent socialities, intimacies and political possibilities of orangutan conservation through both small-scale fieldwork and larger-scale perspectives.

Beyond these specific ethnographic foci, I also have enduring research interests in theories of materiality, the body, indigenous museology and anthropological knowledge practices at large.

Research project(s) and grant(s)

The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (2014)

Who are ‘we’? Reimagining Alterity and Affinity project and workshop (co-organized with Nayanika Mathur)

USD 20,000

Brunel Research Initiative and Enterprise (BRIEF) Award (2014-15)

So far and yet so near: presence, intimacy and distance in orangutan conservation online


Evans Fund, University of Cambridge (2011-12)

The Social Life of the Orangutan: Environmentalism, Human-Animal Relations and Wildlife Conservation in Britain and Borneo


British Academy Small Research Grant (2008-2010)

Down to the Road: Landscape, Morality and Politics in Bidayuh Experiences of Resettlement


Crowther-Beynon Fund, University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Firebird Foundation, United States (2008-9)
Borneo and the Torres Strait Expedition: People, Places and Photographs, 1898 – 1899 exhibition, workshop and photographicrepatriation project
£1,063.05 + USD 2,304.00

William Wyse Studentship (2003-2006) and Gonville & Caius College (2007-2011), University of Cambridge – PhD and postdoctoral research on conversion to Christianity and ethnic and cultural politics among Bidayuhs in Malaysian Borneo




Module convenor

  • Ethnicity, Culture and Identity (UG and PG)
  • Anthropology of the Body (UG and PG)
  • Anthropology and the Contemporary World: Current Debates (UG)
  • Ethnographic Research Methods (PG)

Module contributor

  • Fieldwork Encounters: Thinking Through Ethnography (UG)


  • MRes degree convenor
  • Anthropology work placements convenor
  • Departmental coordinator, Brunel University Anthropology Society

Selected Publications

Journal articles

Chua, L.   (Accepted)   'Too cute to cuddle? "Witnessing publics" and inter-species relations on the social media-scape of orangutan conservation'. Anthropological Quarterly

Chua, L.   (2016)   'Gifting, Dam(n)ing and the Ambiguation of Development in Malaysian Borneo'. Ethnos. doi: 10.1080/00141844.2014.986152 Download publication 

Chua, L.   (2015)   'Horizontal and vertical relations: Interrogating "in/dividualism" among Christian Bidayuhs'. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 5 (1).  pp. 339 - 339. doi: 10.14318/hau5.1.016 Download publication 

Chua, L.   (2015)   'Troubled landscapes, troubling anthropology: co-presence, necessity and the making of ethnographic knowledge'. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 21 (3).  pp. 641 - 659. doi: 10.1111/1467-9655.12254 Download publication 

Chua, L.   (2012)   'Conversion, continuity, and moral dilemmas among Christian Bidayuhs in Malaysian Borneo'. American Ethnologist, 39 (3).  pp. 511 - 526. doi: 10.1111/j.1548-1425.2012.01378.x Download publication 

  (2011)   'Soul encounters: Emotions, corporeality, and the matter of belief in a bornean village'. Social Analysis, 55 (3).  pp. 1 - 17. doi: 10.3167/sa.2011.550301 

Chua, L.   (2009)   'What's in a (Big) Name? The Art and Agency of a Bornean Photographic Collection'. Anthropological Forum, 19 (1).  pp. 33 - 52. doi: 10.1080/00664670802695608 

Chua, L.   (2009)   'A Cambridge anthropologist in Borneo: The A.C. Haddon photographic collection, 1898-1899'. Borneo Research Bulletin, 40 pp. 129 - 146. 

Chua, L.   (2009)   'To know or not to know? Practices of knowledge and ignorance among Bidayuhs in an “impurely” Christian world'. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 15 (2).  pp. 332 - 348. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9655.2009.01556.x Download publication 

  (2007)   'Fixity and flux: Bidayuh (dis)engagements with the Malaysian ethnic system'. Ethnos, 72 (2).  pp. 262 - 288. doi: 10.1080/00141840701387937 

Chua, L.   (2006)   'Looking for the Tambok: Some ethnographic notes on contemporary Bidayuh basketry'. Sarawak Museum Journal, 62 (83).  pp. 1 - 32. 


Chua, L.  and Elliott, M.   (2013) Distributed Objects: Meaning and Mattering After Alfred Gell. Oxford:  Berghahn Books 

Chua, L. , Cook, J. , Long, N.  and Wilson, L.   (2012) Southeast Asian Perspectives on Power.  Routledge 

Chua, L.   (2012) The Christianity of Culture: Conversion, Ethnic Citizenship, and the Matter of Religion in Malaysian Borneo.  Palgrave MacMillan 

Chua, L. , High, C.  and Lau, T.   (2008) How Do We Know? Evidence, Ethnography, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge.  Cambridge Scholars Publishing 

Book chapters

Chua, L.  (2017)   'Animal internet stardom', in Parrenas, R. (ed.) Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbook of Gender and Animals.  Macmillan Reference USA 

Chua, L.  (2015)   'Anthropological perspectives on ritual and religious ignorance', in Gross, M.  and McGoey, L. (eds.) Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies.  London and New York Routledge pp. 247 - 255. 

Chua, L.  (2014)   'Everyday religiosity and the ambiguation of development in East Malaysia: Reflections on a dam-construction and resettlement project', in Platzdasch, B.  and Saravanamuttu, J. (eds.) In Religious Minorities in Muslim-Majorities Localities in Southeast Asia: Areas of Toleration and Conflict.  Singapore Institute of Southeast Asian Studies pp. 400 - 417. Download publication 

Chua, L.  and Elliott, M.  (2013)   'Introduction: Adventures in the Art Nexus', in Chua, L.  and Elliott, M. (eds.) Distributed Objects: Meaning and Mattering After Alfred Gell.  Oxford Berghahn Books 

Chua, L.  (2012)   'The problem with 'empty crosses': Thinking through materiality in Bidayuh religious practices', in The Spirit of Things: Materiality and Religious Diversity in Southeast Asia.  Ithaca, New York Cornell University Press pp. 111 - 128. 

Chua, L. , Cook, J. , Long, N.  and Wilson, L.  (2012)   'Introduction', in Chua, L. , Cook, J. , Long, N.  and Wilson, L. (eds.) Southeast Asian Perspectives on Power.  Routledge pp. . 

Chua, L.  and Salmond, A.  (2012)   'Artefacts in Anthropology', in Fardon, R.  and Gledhill, J. (eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Social Anthropology.  Sage Publications Ltd pp. . 

Chua, L.  (2010)   'Eating one’s way through fieldwork: Reflections on food and (Malaysian) sociality', in Lee, JCH. (ed.) The Malaysian way of life.  pp. 73 - 77. 

Chua, L. , High, C.  and Lau, T.  (2008)   'Introduction', in Chua, L. , High, C.  and Lau, T. (eds.) How Do We Know? Evidence, Ethnography, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge.  Cambridge Scholars Publishing pp. 1 - 19. 

Page last updated: Tuesday 08 March 2016