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Nils Ole Bubandt


Nils Ole Bubandt
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Publication Cover             Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet  The Empty Seashell: Witchcraft and Doubt on an Indonesian Island      Democracy, Corruption and the Politics of Spirits in Contemporary Indonesia      Ethnos      Experiments in Holism - Theory and Practice in Contemporary Anthropology      Varieties of Secularism in Asia: Anthropological Explorations of Religion, Politics and the Spiritual     



  • In August 2020, I will take up a one-year Carlsberg Foundation Monograph Fellowship. The result will be the monograph The Last Paradise on earth, a multispecies ethnography about corals, ecotourism, conservation and The Second Coming of Christ on an Indonesian island.  I gratefully acknowledge the trust and support of the Carlsberg Foundation.
  • In March 2020 Sanne Krogh Groth from Lund University and I began a three-year research project funded by the Swedish Research Council. Java-Futurism studies noise and experimental music in Indonesia from an interdisciplinary aesthetic-anthropological perspective. It traces the linkages between mysticism, politics, and temporality in Indonesian experimental sound art and demonstrates how the vibrant experiments in noise and sound arts in Southeast Asia challenge the universalist pretensions of Western music history and aesthetic theory. 
  • In 2021, Heather Swanson and I start up a four-year reseach project entitled: BLUE: Multispecies Ethnographies of Oceans in Crisis. The project is financed by the Danish Research Foundation and investigates four of the global crises that the world's oceans currently face: rising water temperatures, acidification, micro-plastics, and invasive species.

Just off the press:

Swimming with Crocodiles (Orion Magazine 2020)

  • Anna Tsing and I swim with crocodiles in Papua and experience the ancient fears that we humans are reviving in the Anthropocene. Orion Magazine is a leading online magzine on the environment in the US. Read the article here.

Of Wildmen and White Men: Cryptozoology and Inappropriate/d Monsters at the Cusp of the Anthropocene (2019)

  • On the island of Halmahera, the strangest monster in the forest is a Westerner! This article has just been published by Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. See more here

A Non-secular Anthropocene: Spirits, Specters and Other Nonhumans in a Time of Environmental Change (2018)

  • A collection of eight papers that pursue what the volume calls a “nonsecular approach to the Anthropocene”, i.e. empirical studies of environmental change that accommodate the interrogation of biological nonhumans - animals plants and bacteria, for instance - and that of ethereal nonhumans - spirits, ghosts and specters, for instance - within the same critical observational frame. Arguing that the Anthropocene is a time in which the uncanny is multiplying in unexpected places - labs, mega-farms, eco-systems and the stratosphere - the introduction to the volume describes the contours of an Anthropocene Uncanny. The volume is the third online volume of the More-than-Human working paper series published by AURA. It is available for free here.

Anthropologists Are Talking ... About Capitalism, Ecology, Apocalypse. (Ethnos, 2018)

  • An interview with Bruno Latour, Isabelle Stengers and Anna Tsing about the overlaps in their studies about the future of capitalist modernity...and the world. The journal Ethnos offers free download here.

Feral Dynamics of Post-Industrial Ruin (Journal of Ethnobiology 2018, 38.1)

  • A special section (co-edited with Anna Tsing) of the "Journal of Etnobiology". The special section gathers six ethnographic and critical natural history studies by scholars from AURA of the former brown coal mining site in Søby in central Denmark. The studies use the place as a lab from which to study a particular, Northern European instantiation of the patchy Anthropocene . For more see here.

The Poetics and Politics of Al-Ghayb (Journal of Contemporary Islam, 2018)

  • A special issue of the journal "Contemporary Islam" (co-edited with Mikkel Rytter and Christian Suhr) that explores invisibility across politics and quotidian life in Islam and explains why invisibility is a theoretical and analytical challenge to social theory more generally. For more see here.


When I am not teaching, I am:

  • Editor-in-Chief (with Mark Graham) of Ethnos, an international, peer-reviewed journal of anthropology.  Ethnos is included in the Social Citation Index and  in 2019 had an impact factor of 1,681 in the Thompson Citation Report, making it one of the highest-ranking journals of anthropology in the world.  For more information see here.
  • Visiting Professor II at UiT, The Arctic University of Norway from 2019-2020.
  • Participant in the research project  Java-Futurism: Experimental Music and Sonic Activism in Indonesia.  The project is directed by Sanne Krogh Groth from Lunds Universitet and financed by the Swedish Research Council. Follow the project here.
  • Participant and member of the management committee of the EU COST project “Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories (COMPACT)”.  See more here
  • Between 2016 and 2017 I was a guest professor with Arken: Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen to provide academic sparring for the exhibition Nature (Re)turns, an exhibition about the site-specificity of the Anthropocene.  See the exhibition description here.


Recent publications that I am quite happy with include: 

(2019) Patchy Anthropocene. The Frenzies and Afterlives of Violent Simplifications (Current Anthropology) 

  • A collection of 12 fantastic analyses of a "patchy Anthropocene" across biology, history, ecology and anthropology.  The special issue argues that the Anthropocene deserves spatial as well as temporal analysis. “Patchy Anthropocene” is our conceptual tool for noticing landscape structure, with special attention to what we call “modular simplifications” and “feral proliferations.” The special issue is based on a Wenner-Gren Symposium. Get the full issue here.

(2018) Feral Dynamics of Post-industrial Ruin: An Introduction (Journal of Ethnobiology)

  • The introduction - co-written with Anna Tsing - for the special section of Journal of Ethnobiology (38.1) on the landscapes of the former brown coal mine at Søby in Denmark. The introduction proposes that this sedate and undramatic site in a Northern European welfare state allows for a focussed analysis of the multispecies and feral effects of industrial ruin in a patchy Anthropocene. For more see here.

(2017) Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet (University of Minnesota Press)

  • An anthology (co-edited with Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson and Elaine Gan) with contributions by a long list of leading scholars from the natural sciences and the arts. Sold in over 5000 copies, the anthology is an experimental and trans-disciplinary exploration of curiosity and humility as the basis for a better understanding of the chances for co-species survival and conviviality in the Anthropocene. For more see here.

(2017) From Head-hunter to Organ-thief: Verisimilitude, Doubt, and Plausible Worlds in Indonesia and Beyond (Oceania)

  • The article follows the historical change of mythical head-hunters in Indonesia into organ-theives, arguing that this transformation entails a change in the verisimilitude of these figures that, in turn, requires an analytical re-orientation of rumour away from a representational to a "more-than-representational" approach. See more here. 

(2015) The Dark Side of Empathy: Mimesis, Deception, and the Magic of Alterity (Comparative Studies in Society and History)

  • A comparative study of hunting in Siberia and violence in Indonesia - co-written with Rane Willerslev) that focuses on what we term 'strategic empathy'. Strategic empathy refers to the acts of the imagination that one performs when placing oneself in the shoes of another, not to help or understand this other but to harm, deceive or kill the other. Arguing that strategic empathy has been unduly ignored in empathy research so far, the article suggests that a focus on strategic empathy may reveal new insight into human sociality, its evolution as well as its modern conditions of possibility. See more here.

(2014) The Empty Seashell. Witchcraft and Aporia on an Indonesian Island (Cornell University Press)

  • A book about witchcraft as doubt and modernity as hope. Based on over three years of fieldwork in Halmahera - the largest of the renowned Indonesian 'Spice Islands' – the book is a critique of conventional notions of witchcraft as explanation, function, and belief. For people on Halmahera the suanggi (witches) are at once real and impossible, and skepticism rather than faith characterizes their relationship to witchcraft. Based on an analysis inspired by Jacques Derrida’s concept of aporia or paradox the book traces the over one hundred-year engagement of people on Halmahera with the modern world in a desperate but so far unsuccessful attempt to liberate themselves from the impossible reality of witchcraft. The book received Honorable Mention of the 2015 Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion. See more about the book here.
  • The Empty Seashell has been reviewed in Oceania, American Anthropologist, Anthropological Forum, Anthropology of This Century, Sojourn, Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft, Anthropology Review Database and other journals. In 2017 The Empty Seashell was the object of a book symposium in the journal HAU. See more here.


I am currently tinkering with:

1. A book on corals, conservation and the Second Coming of Christ

2. A book about experimental music and political imaginaries in Indonesia (with Sanne Krogh Groth)

3. A book entitled Animal Magic, under contract with Cambridge University Press

4. An article about stones, geology and spirits in the Anthropocæne.

5. An article about Trump, conspiracies, Argentina and Indonesia (with Noa Vaisman)

6. An anthology about Philosophy on Fieldwork (with Thomas Schwartz Wentzer). To be published with Routledge in 2021

7. An anthology about methods for the empirical study of the Anthropocene (with Astrid Oberbeck Andersen and Rachel Cypher). To be published with Universioty of Minnesota Press in 2021

8. An article about bird-keeping, species extinction, and how humans teach birds to sing the songs of other species for bird competitions on Java (with Sanne Krogh Groth)

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