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Katherine Ambler


KA headshot.jpeg

“The ‘Manchester School’ of Social Anthropology 1949-1968”

My thesis explores the development and operation of the ‘Manchester School’ of social anthropology: Max Gluckman and his peers and students, including A L Epstein, Victor Turner, Ronald Frankenberg and J Clyde Mitchell. The Manchester School is closely associated with the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). Yet the group also undertook extensive ethnographic research in Britain itself, as well as in India, Israel and Melanesia. My thesis explores the development and operation of this ‘Manchester

School’, and examines broader issues in the construction of knowledge within the social / human sciences in the 20th century through a consideration of the multiple entanglements of the Manchester School anthropologists. In particular, I am interested in how ideas about empire, identity, class, labour relations, social change and capitalism are reflected in the work and working lives of these social scientists. I am also interested in the wider dynamics within the world in which these scholars operated, namely: the impact of the Cold War and the end of empire on intellectual practices; the role of expertise, patronage and public engagement; and debates about modernity, ‘community’, social mobility, and the expansion and purpose of higher education.

1st Supervisor: Dr Chris Manias   

2nd Supervisor: Professor Sarah Stockwell


Prior to beginning my PhD, I worked for a strategic advisory firm specialising in trade and investment with and within Africa. In this role, I worked with governments, donors and corporate clients on stakeholder engagement, communications and corporate social responsibility projects in the fields of agriculture, infrastructure, philanthropy, education and media. Before this, I completed a MA in Social Anthropology at SOAS and a BA in History and French at Warwick.

Papers Given:


May 2020: Conference Presentation: ‘“There is some prejudice against the name of the subject”: The struggle to ‘decolonise’ British anthropology in the 1950s-60s’. Decolonisation Workshop, Institute of Commonwealth Studies 

February 2020: Conference Presentation: The Social Impact of Industrialization in Africa: UNESCO, social science and the challenges of ‘westernisation’, Worlds of Social Policies Conference, University of Coimbra 

September 2019: Conference Presentation: US foundations and the social sciences in 1950s Britain: ideas, influence and institution-building, KCL-UNC Workshop of Transatlantic Historical Approaches, University of North Carolina

June 2019: Conference Presentation: ‘From Tribe to Town’: Anthropology, industry and the end of empire, Empire’s Metropolitan Afterlives Conference, University College London


May 2019: Conference Presentation: From Central Africa to Manchester: social anthropology and the study of British society at the end of empire, KCL-UNC Workshop on Transatlantic Historical Approaches, King’s College London


December 2018 Conference Presentation: “The Manchester School of Social Anthropology and bringing ‘colonial science’ home at the end of empire”, After Empire Conference, University of Leeds.


November 2018: Panel Chair: From fiction to truths: different uses of sources, History Day Conference, Senate House London


October 2019: Blogpost: Researcher’s View from the collections at the Univeristy of Manchester for History Day conference at Senate House


September 2018: Panel Chair: Geography and Exploration, European Society for the History of Science Conference, University College London

Grants, Awards, and Prizes:

London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP): Full Research Studentship

2019 Rockefeller Archive Centre Research Stipend Award

2020 Platzman Memorial Fellow, University of Chicago Library

Professional affiliations and activities:

I am one of the convenors of the Colonial/Postcolonial New Researchers Workshop at the IHR.

Postgraduate Member of the Royal Historical Society

Student Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Member of the British Society for the History of Science

Member of the History of Science Society

Member of the Forum for the History of Human Science 

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