Professor Sandra Dudley

Dr Sandra Dudley

Director and Head of School; Professor of Museum Anthropology

Tel: +44 (0) 116 252 3970

Professor of Museum Anthropology

Museum anthropology is sometimes divided into (i) what anthropologists and anthropological collections do in museums, and (ii) anthropological approaches to the practices, communities, and social roles of museums. In reality these overlap, and reflect the entanglement of the museum and its concerns with contemporary methodological, theoretical, ethical, practical and political issues in socio-cultural anthropology and the wider world. These issues are many and, of particular relevance to my research, include (re-)connecting people, places and things, and working out how best to enable different voices to speak and be heard, in many different contexts and including those in which colonial, post-colonial, conflictual, impoverished and migratory pasts and presents have been especially powerful.

My work focuses on intersections of materiality, sensory and emotional experience in contexts of the (forced) displacement of both people and things. This includes looking variously at museums, forced migration, conflict and post-conflict. Most recently, these areas have come together in my development of a displacement anthropology and other new approaches not only to the lives of things and to representation in museums, but to how museums might reposition and unsettle – displace, even – our encounters with others. My research and collaborations have been located around the world, most especially in Southeast Asia and South Asia (Burma [Myanmar], Thailand and India) and the UK.

I came to the University in 2003, since when I have served in most major roles in the School. I was appointed as Head of School in 2017. Prior to coming to Leicester, I held postdoctoral research posts at the University of Oxford (in the Pitt Rivers Museum and in the Department for International Development) and temporary teaching posts in Oxford’s School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography and at the University of East Anglia. I also worked for over ten years in curatorial and collections management posts at the Pitt Rivers Museum. In addition, I have made major field collections of contemporary textiles from Southeast Asia for two major UK museums, consulted on refugee and museum projects and been a Smithsonian Institution Graduate Fellow. I undertook my doctorate in social anthropology at the University of Oxford, where I was Old Members’ Scholar at Jesus College and recipient of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Sutasoma Starred Award. It was then that I began my work with encamped Karenni refugees living on the Thai-Myanmar border.

I am Joint Chief Editor of Berghahn’s international annual journal in museum studies, ‘Museum Worlds: Advances in Research’.


I contribute research-led teaching on objects, collections, cultures and communities to the School's fulltime MA in Museum Studies and to the distance learning Masters programmes. I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Research interests

My work is internationally focused and speaks to the cross-disciplinary worlds of museum studies, social and material anthropology, and refugee studies. I have worked on a range of museum and material culture issues and on aspects of social and material life in exile (including the displacement of things as well as of people). I have particular interests in Myanmar (Burma), object engagements and rethinking the possibilities of things in the museum and elsewhere, dress and textiles (e.g. Material visions, Textiles from Burma), and India.

Key to all my work are the intersections between human experience and the material world, particularly in relation to museums, forced migration and/or (post)conflict. Two of my edited volumes, Museum Materialities and Museum Objects, were ground-breaking in shaping a new object-centred perspective on museum studies and practice.

Meanwhile, my work on how forced migrants utilise material things, making, and ritual practice to attempt to feel ‘at home’ in the liminal sites that refugee camps represent, drew on my long-term field research in Karenni refugee camps on the Thai-Myanmar border in and since the 1990s (Materialising Exile). In that research, I demonstrated the structural nature of the displacement process (eg Ritual practice, material culture and wellbeing in displacement; Feeling at home: producing and consuming things). A major insight from this, was the similarity between this process and that undergone by the objects that end up in museums (e.g. Liminality and the object's point of view, in Basu's The Inbetweenness of Things; my forthcoming monograph Displaced Things), and the understanding that, from the perspective of objects, museums are not unlike refugee camps. This is no mere conceit; taking the object’s point of view is a methodological approach that enables new and important understandings not only of what happens in museums, but of how museums might do things differently and better (What, or where, is the (museum) object?; The power of things in Dean's A Companion to Public History).

My research expertise on Myanmar, museums, heritage and material culture, and its interlinkage with my student-led and object-centred approaches to teaching, has most recently come together in my working with the British Council on their International Museum Academy programme (from 2018).

PhD supervision

I currently supervise students working on a range of research areas and am interested in supervising students working on topics around:

  • objects in museums
  • museum ethnography and material culture
  • displacement and exile
  • material and museum anthropology
  • tangible and intangible culture
  • changes in cultural practice and how it is experienced, represented and understood (particularly in South or Southeast Asia or the UK)
  • sensory engagement and experience

Past PhD students for whom I was primary supervisor:

  • Dr Jeanette Atkinson: Learning to respect: the perspectives of heritage professionals in Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Dr Vivian Ting: Communicating Chinese ceramics: a study of material culture theory in selected museums in Britain
  • Dr Julia Petrov: Dressing ghosts: museum exhibitions of historical fashion in Britain and North America
  • Dr Jennifer Binnie: Perception and well-being: a cross-disciplinary approach to experiencing art in the museum
  • Dr Chulani Rambukwella: Heritage representation in culturally diverse societies: a case study of the Colombo national museum in Sri Lanka
  • Dr Ashraf Melika: Pharaonic material culture and identity formation in contemporary Egyptian society
  • Dr Kirstin James: Gifting culture: comparing display practice at the British Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum
  • Dr Alexandra Woodall: Sensory engagements with objects in art galleries: material interpretation and theological metaphor
  • Dr Marin Hanson: Quilts in between: the material culture of commemorative community patchwork made for Chinese adoptees in the U.S
  • Dr Ryan Nutting: Model lives: the changing meanings of miniature ethnographic models from acquisition to interpretation at the Horniman Free Museum 1894-1898
  • Dr Natasha Barrett: Meshworks of meanings: photographs of Māori and their taonga
  • Dr Oonagh Quigley: A phenomenological approach to engagements with objects in the museum



Dudley, S. Forthcoming 2020. Displaced Things: Optimistic Object Encounters in Museums, Myanmar and Beyond. London & New York: Routledge.

Dudley, S. (ed.). 2012a. Museum Objects. Experiencing the Properties of Things. London & New York: Routledge. 397pp.

Dudley, S., A. J. Barnes, J. Binnie, J. Petrov & J. Walklate (eds). 2012. Narrating Objects, Collecting Stories. London & New York: Routledge. 286pp.

Dudley, S., A. J. Barnes, J. Binnie, J. Petrov & J. Walklate (eds). 2011 The Thing about Museums: Objects and Experience, Representation and Contestation. London & New York: Routledge. 396pp.

Dudley, S. 2010a. Materialising Exile: Material Culture and Embodied Experience among Karenni Refugees in Thailand. Oxford & New York: Berghahn. 206pp.

Dudley, S. (ed.). 2010b. Museum Materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretations. London & New York: Routledge. 305pp.

Dell, E. & Dudley, S. (eds.) 2003a. Textiles from Burma. London: Philip Wilson Publishers. 192pp.

Special journal issues

Dudley, S., C. Lloyd and F. Stewart (eds.). 2002a. Cultural Interfaces of Self-Determination Movements. Special issue of Oxford Development Studies, 30, 2.

Book chapters and peer-reviewed articles

Dudley, S. 2019. Displaced imaginations, bodies and things: materiality and subjectivity of forced migration. In R. Cohen and C. Fischer (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Diaspora, Abingdon and New York: Routledge, pp. 276-283.

Dudley, S. 2018. The power of things: agency and potentiality in the work of historical artefacts. In D. Dean (ed.), A Companion to Public History, London & New York: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 187-200.

Dudley, S. 2018. Displacement and the sensory in the art of Qasim Riza Shaheen. In M. A. Hushlak and M. B. Pearl (eds.),The Last Known Pose. Essays and Reflections on the Works of Qasim Riza Shaheen. Manchester: Cornerhouse.

Dudley, S. 2017. Liminality and the object's point of view: Burmese court artefacts in Oxford, London and Yangon. In P. Basu (ed.), The Inbetweenness of Things: Materializing Mediation and Movement between Worlds. London: Bloomsbury, pp. 39-58.

Dudley, S. 2015a. Ritual practice, material culture and wellbeing in displacement: ka-thow-bòw in a Karenni refugee camp in Thailand. In A. Horstmann and J. Jung (eds.), Building Noah’s Ark for Migrants, Refugees, and Religious Communities, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dudley, S. 2015b. What, or where, is the (museum) object? Colonial encounters in displayed worlds of things. In A. Witcomb & K. Message (eds.), Museum Theory, vol. I of The International Handbooks of Museum Studies, eds. S. Macdonald and H. Rees Leahy. London & New York: John Wiley & Sons. Online version published 2013

Dudley, S. 2014. What's in the drawer? Surprise and proprioceptivity in the Pitt Rivers MuseumThe Senses and Society, 9 (3): 296-309.

Dudley, S. 2012b. Encountering a Chinese horse: engaging with the thingness of things, in Dudley, S. (ed.), Museum Objects. Experiencing the Properties of Things. London & New York: Routledge, pp. 1-15.

Dudley, S. 2012c. Introduction: objects, collectors and representations, in S. Dudley, A. J. Barnes, J. Binnie, J. Petrov & J. Walklate (eds.), Narrating Objects, Collecting Stories. London & New York: Routledge, pp. 1-10.

Dudley, S. 2011a. Material visions: dress and textiles, in M. Banks & J. Ruby (eds), Made to be Seen: Perspectives on the History of Visual Anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 45-73.

Dudley, S. 2011b. ‘Introduction: museums and things’, in S. Dudley, A. J. Barnes, J. Binnie, J. Petrov & J. Walklate (eds.) The Thing about Museums: Objects and Experience, Representation and Contestation. London & New York: Routledge, pp. 1-12.

Dudley, S. 2011c. Feeling at home: producing and consuming things in Karenni refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border. Population, Space and Place, 17(6): 742-55.

Quian Quiroga, R., S. Dudley & J. Binnie, 2011. Looking at Ophelia: a comparison of viewing art in the gallery and in the lab, ACNR 11(3): 15-18.

Dudley, S. 2010c. Museum materialities: objects, sense and feeling, in S. Dudley (ed.), Museum Materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretations. London & New York: Routledge.

Dudley, S. 2008a. A sense of home in exile. Forced Migration Review, 30: 23-4.

Dudley, S. 2008b. Karenic textiles, in Green, A. (ed.), Eclectic Collecting: Art from Burma in the Denison Museum. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 19-48.

Dudley, S. 2008c. The fragility, mobility and resilience of culture: Karenni refugees and 'heritage' in forced displacement. In R. Amoeda, S. Lira, C. Pinheiro, F. Pinheiro & J. Pinheiro (eds.), World Heritage and Sustainable Development. Vol. 1. Barcelos, Portugal: Green Lines Institute for Sustainable Development, pp 111-119.

Dudley, S. 2008d. Reflecting on representation in museum practice, in Yksinpuhelusta vuoropuheluun [From Monologue to Dialogue] Turku, Finland: Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova, pp.16-20.

Dudley, S. 2006a. Re-shaping Karenni-ness in exile: education, nationalism and being in the wider world, in M. Gravers (ed.), Exploring Ethnicity in Burma. Copenhagen: Nordic Institute for Asian Studies (NIAS) Press, pp. 77-106.

Dudley, S. 2006b. 'External' aspects of self-determination movements in Burma, in F. Stewart, E. FitzGerald & R. Venugopal (eds.), Globalization, Violent Conflict, and Self-Determination. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 203-224. A longer version also available as a Queen Elizabeth House (University of Oxford) working paper, at

Dudley, S. & C. Lloyd. 2006. Global-local cultural links: diaspora, transnationalism, solidarities and the media, in F. Stewart, E. FitzGerald & R. Venugopal (eds.) Globalization, Violent Conflict, and Self-Determination. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 48-71.

Dudley, S. 2003a. Whose textiles and whose meanings?, in E. Dell and S. Dudley (eds.), Textiles from Burma, Philip Wilson Publishers, pp. 37-48.

Dudley, S., J. Barker, S. Fraser-Lu, V. Joshi, L. Maddigan & M. Toyota. 2003. Textile traditions of Burma: an overview, in E. Dell and S. Dudley (eds.), Textiles from Burma, Philip Wilson Publishers, pp. 49-94.

Dudley, S., F. Franklin, R. Isaacs, V. Joshi & M. Toyota. 2003. Burma textiles in local contexts , in E. Dell and S. Dudley (eds.), Textiles from Burma, Philip Wilson Publishers, pp. 95-142.

Dell, E. & S. Dudley. 2003b. Introduction, in E. Dell and S. Dudley (eds.), Textiles from Burma, Philip Wilson Publishers, pp. 9-14.

Dell, E., S. Dudley & L. Maddigan. 2003. Green’s collections and their historical and present contexts, in E. Dell and S. Dudley (eds.), Textiles from Burma, Philip Wilson Publishers, pp. 15-36.

Dudley, S. 2002a. Diversity, identity and modernity in exile: 'traditional' Karenni clothing, in A. Green and R. Blurton (eds.), Burma: Art and Archaeology, British Museum Press, pp. 143-151. Reprinted in S. Knell (ed.), 2007, Museums in the Material World, London: Routledge, pp. 335-345.

Dudley, S. 2002b. Local identities and global flows of objects and images. Oxford Development Studies, 30, 2: 165-176.

Lloyd, C., S. Dudley and F. Stewart. 2002b. Introduction. The global and the local: the cultural interfaces of self-determination movements. Oxford Development Studies, 30, 2: 133-136.

Dudley, S. and A. Petch 2002. Using multi-media tools to teach anthropology: 'Pitt Rivers, anthropology and museum ethnography in the nineteenth century'. Journal of Museum Ethnography, 14: 14-23.

MacArthur, J., S. Dudley and H. Williams 2001. Approaches to facilitating health care acceptance: a case example from Karenni refugees. In H. Williams (ed.) Caring for Those in Crisis: Integrating Anthropology and Public Health in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies. National Association for the Practice of Anthropology Occasional Bulletin No. 21: 56-69.

Dudley, S. 1999. ‘Traditional' culture and refugee welfare in north-west Thailand. Forced Migration Review, 6: 5-8.

Dudley, S. 1996. Burmese collections in the Pitt Rivers Museum: an introduction. Journal of Museum Ethnography, 5: 57-64.

Other articles, reports

McCarthy, C. & S. Dudley, 2018. Editorial. Museum Worlds: Advances in Research. 6: vii-ix.

Dudley, S. & C. McCarthy. 2017. Editorial. Museum Worlds: Advances in Research. 5: vii-viii.

Dudley, S. 2015. A collaboration between the UK and India. Museums Journal 115 (07): 63.

Dudley, S. 2015. Civilizing museums. Editorial. Museum Worlds: Advances in Research, 3: 1-6.

Message, K. & S. Dudley. 2014. Editorial. Museum Worlds: Advances in Research. 2: 1-9. Berghahn.

Dudley, S. & K. Message. 2013. Editorial. Museum Worlds: Advances in Research. 1: 1-6. Berghahn.

Dudley, S. 2012. Materiality matters: experiencing the displayed object. University of Michigan Working Papers in Museum Studies, No. 8.

Dudley, S. 2000a. Celebration and memories of home: a 'traditional' festival in a Karenni refugee camp. Cultural Survival Quarterly, 24, 3: 29-31.

Dudley, S. 2000b. Displacement and identity: Karenni refugees in Thailand. DPhil thesis, University of Oxford.

Dudley, S. 1998a. Lucy Margaret Eyre. In A. Petch (ed.) Collectors 2: Collecting for the Pitt Rivers Museum. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, pp. 18-20.

Dudley, S. 1998b. Aspects of research with Karenni refugees in Thailand. Bulletin of the International Committee on Urgent Anthropological and Ethnological Research (UNESCO), 39: 165-84.

Dudley, S. & A. Petch 1998. Pitt Rivers, anthropology and museum ethnography in the nineteenth century. A multimedia educational resource published on

Dudley, S. 1997a. ‘Sir Richard Carnac Temple.’ In A. Petch (ed.) Collectors: Collecting for the Pitt Rivers Museum. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, pp. 45-48.

Dudley, S. 1997b. ‘New arrivals in Karenni Camp 2: an ethnographic report.’ Unpublished but public report on consultancy carried out for the International Rescue Committee, Thailand. 94pp.

Book and exhibition reviews in American Anthropologist (2017), Journal of the History of Collections (2011), Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the UK Newsletter (2007, 2001), Bulletin of the Burma Studies Group (1998), Great Plains Quarterly (2009), Journal of Museum Ethnography (2006, 2005), International Institute of Asian Studies Newsletter (2006), Journal of the Society of Archivists (2005).

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