Research Interests

Sandra has worked and published on a range of material culture issues and on aspects of both social and material life in exile (including the displacement of things as well as of people). She has particular interests in Burma (Myanmar), object engagements in the museum and elsewhere, dress and textiles, and India. Key to all her work are the intersections between human experience and the material world, particularly in relation to museums, forced migration and heritage.

Current projects

Sandra's forthcoming monograph, Displaced Things, draws on field research in Burma, on the Thai-Burma border, and in the UK, bringing together refugee, museum and personal objects. The book explores the movements of material things from one setting to another, arguing (i) that these movements be re-conceptualised as a series of displacements, (ii) that the object’s point of view be taken as the principal starting point of analysis, and (iii) that the displacement processes concerned can be explained and understood by using the anthropological theories of ritual set out by Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner. This approach has profound implications for envisioning the possibilities of things, and problematizes our notions of the settings through which they move – in particular (but not only) those of museum and ‘heritage’, definable as they are by their particular approaches to the re-contextualisations of things.

Sandra is also currently working with Professor Manvi Seth, of the National Museum Institute in New Delhi, on their collaborative British Council- and British Academy-funded projects that run from 2014 to 2017 respectively. Focused on object engagements, these involve research in three very different Indian and UK museums, training for PhD students, research networking with museum professionals, academics and students in India and the UK, and both academic and practice-oriented outcomes.

Past projects

Sandra have written extensively on Karenni refugees, most notably in Materialising Exile, which provides a material cultural approach to forced migration and focuses on previously neglected socio-cultural, personal, physical and affective aspects of what it means to be a refugee.

Previous projects have also embraced an interdisciplinary approach, seen for example in Sandra's collaboration with bioengineer Rodrigo Quian Quiroga (UoL Dept. of Engineering), which brought together neuroscience, anthropology and aesthetics in order to understand the fundamental basis of the human experience of art in the gallery. This led to an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with the Art Fund and Jennifer Binnie’s work on wellbeing and the perception of art, as well as other outputs.

Her edited volumes Museum Materialities and Museum Objects also have a strongly interdisciplinary flavour. Through a range of case studies and authorial approaches, they emphasise and argue for the role and place of the object and its properties in the museum and the engagements that take place there.

Sandra has won grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, British Academy, British Council, Royal Anthropological Institute, Evans Fund (University of Cambridge), and the Open Society Institute’s Burma Project.

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