The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Staff Profile

Professor Cathrine Degnen

Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology


Roles and responsibilities 

January 2019-2020: On research leave

Autumn 2018, teaching SOC3077

2014-2017: Undergraduate Degree Programme Director, Sociology 

2009-2012: MA Degree Programme Director, Sociology

2015-2019: Honorary Secretary and Executive Committee Member for the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and the Commonwealth (

2008-2011: Member, Faculty Promotions Committee, Newcastle University

2005-2008: Undergraduate Admissions Officer, Sociology


PhD in Anthropology, McGill University, Canada
MA in Medical Anthropology, McGill University, Canada
BA (Hons) in Anthropology and French, University of Connecticut, USA
Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, Newcastle University
Year-long academic exchange program, Université Laval, Canada

Previous Positions

2003–2005 Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester
1999–2003 Associate Lecturer, Faculty of Social Science, The Open University in Yorkshire
1994–99 Teaching Assistant, Department of Anthropology, McGill University
1997–98 Research Assistant, Department of Sociology, Concordia University
1993 Research Assistant, Département de la Santé Communautaire, Québec


Fellow, The Higher Education Academy (UK)
Fellow, The Royal Anthropological Institute
Member, Association of Social Anthropologists
Member, American Anthropological Association
Member, European Association of Social Anthropologists
Member, Society for Medical Anthropology

Honours and Awards

2012 Association of Social Anthropologists and the Higher Education Academy award for excellence in teaching anthropology
2002 Honourable Mention, Margaret Clark Essay Competition
1996 Dean's Honour List, MA thesis, McGill University
1994 Phi Beta Kappa Honour Society, University of Connecticut
1993-94 University Scholar, University of Connecticut (the most prestigious academic position that can be awarded to an undergraduate student)
1994 President’s Commission on the Status of Women and the Women’s Center Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement, University of Connecticut
1994 The Diane M. Greenfield Memorial Scholarship, University of Connecticut, Department of Anthropology


English; French


Research Interests

I am an anthropologist whose research is first and foremost concerned with how people create meaning and make sense of their social worlds in contexts of social transformation. I have built a significant body of work exploring this central interest in two key empirical areas: older age and everyday life, and the anthropology of Britain.


In my career to date, I have engaged with social transformation at multiple levels of scale, from the macro level of post-industrial rupture, to emergent shifts in social identity politics, to the development of new technologies (genetic and digital), to more micro levels of transformation, such as when our ageing bodies begin posing dilemmas for our sense of self and of personhood. As an anthropologist and ethnographer, all of my research is grounded in a fundamental commitment to the lives of the people I have worked with, and to what matters to them in their everyday experiences. By attending to these experiences and forms of meaning-making in a richly detailed and finely grained way, I have contributed via my publications to shaping debates in contemporary social theory on personhood and on self; on identity, belonging and social memory; and on the creative affordances of place.


My work on ageing challenges assumptions of later life in Western society, generally represented as a series of problems - medical, social, economic - to be solved. My research refocuses attention on the rich complexity and experiences of real people and their everyday lives as they age, highlighting the perspectives of older people themselves about what it is to grow older. This includes the importance of both social memory and of place for negotiating profound social transformation. It also includes developing a critique of an implicitly middle-aged, universalised self, one which does not allow for the distinctiveness and vitality of older age as lived that I argue demands recognition.


In Cross-cultural Perspectives on Personhood and the Life Course (2018) I build on and extend some of my research interests in later life to explore the category of the person across the life course. In it, I explore the question "what does it mean to be a person?". I consider how answers to this question vary cross culturally as well as through the life course. Broader theoretical considerations that stem from these questions include anthropological concepts of relatedness (how people create and dismantle connections with each other and the world as they move through the life course) and ontology (ideas about states of being and existence, with reference to how these might shift through stages of life).

Other recent writing projects include the 2017 Sociological Review Monograph, Reconfiguring the Anthropology of Britain: Ethnographic, Theoretical and Interdisciplinary Perspectives, co-edited with Dr Katharine Tyler (Exeter). My research monograph  Ageing Selves and Everyday Life in the North of England: Years in the Making (2012) was reviewed in the Journal of The Royal Anthropological Institute, Times Higher Education and Ageing & Society

Ethnographic areas: the north of England (South Yorkshire; Cheshire); Labrador.

Research projects

2018-2021 £749,00. ESRC. Identity, Belonging and the Role of the Media in Brexit Britain. PI Katharine Tyler (Exeter). This substantial piece of ethnographic research is exploring how everyday experiences of identity inform people's attitudes to immigration and their senses of belonging (or not) to local places, the nation and Europe in Brexit Britain.

2016-2018 £1.1 million. AHRC. Creative Fuse North East (CFNE). PI Eric Cross. I was Co-I on this project, leading an ethnographic work package exploring the anthropology of knowledge production via the ‘fusion’ of creativity, culture and digital technology,with postdoctoral researcher Audrey Verma.

I have also been involved in a series of projects that develop my interests in ageing and in place:

2014-2017 £1.7 million. EPSRC Health and Wellbeing for the Built Environment Programme. "Mobility and Place for the Age-Friendly City Environment" (MyPLACE). PI Pete Wright.

2011-2013  £253,799. MRC Life Long Health and Wellbeing Programme.  "Ageing Creatively: a pilot study to explore the relation of creative arts interventions to wellbeing in later life". PI Eric Cross. See this link for more information on our research.

In 2009-2010, I collaborated with Michiko Nitta, a speculative designer and artist, on our shared interest in people's relationships (past, present and future) with nature as part of the Interventions Project. Please visit our project page for more details. The outcome of this project was exhibited 29th June - 9th July 2010, ExLibris Gallery, Fine Art Building, Newcastle University with other Interventions Project colleagues.

Other Expertise

I am co-convenor of the Anthropology of Britain network. The aim of the network is to provide a forum which will facilitate a greater level of communication between researchers with an ethnographic interest in contemporary British society. Visit our website here:

In 2009, I organised a symposium entitled 'Embodiment, Subjectivity and Ageing: Emerging Areas of Exploration'. This offered the opportunity to open up conversation amongst anthropologists, sociologists and researchers in assistive technology with a shared interest in ageing. Visit this site for more details of speakers and papers.

Postgraduate Supervision

I would be happy to discuss potential postgraduate supervision with any student interested in any of the following topics: ageing; identity and the self; anthropology and sociology of the body; social memory; experiences of place and of social change; new genetics and society; human relations with the natural world; anthropology of Britain; using ethnographic methods.

Currently supervising:

Bethan Griffith (ESRC DTC funding) Exploring the impact of social prescribing on health and wellbeing. Co-supervised with Suzanne Moffatt.

Silvia Maritati (Newcastle University Research Excellence Academy Funding) Asylum, Inequality, and sense of place in peripheral Europe. Co-supervised with Silvia Pasquetti.

Dr Ceri Black (ESRC funded, 1 3) "Virginity Practices: Sociological Perspectives on Agency, Identity and the Body". Co-supervised with Steph Lawler.

Dr Anu Vaittinen (School of GPS scholarship funding) "Embodiment, Sensuous Experience and Mixed Martial Arts". Co-supervised with Monica Moreno Figueroa and Peter Phillimore.

Dr Deborah Burn (ESRC 1 3) "The Social World of the Allotment". Co-supervised with John Vail.

Dr Constance Awinpoka Akurugu (funded by Ghanaian Ministry of Education) "Marriage, Power and Performativity: Theorising Gender Relations in Rural Northern Ghana". Co-supervised with Carolyn Pedwell.

Dr Kate Gibson (ESRC 3) "Feeding the Middle Classes: Taste, Classed Identity and Domestic Food Practices". Co-supervised with Lisa Garforth and Alison Stenning.

Dr Simona Palladino (EPSRC and FMS funded) "Place Identity and Place Attachment among Italian Older Migrants in Newcastle upon Tyne". Co-supervised with Katie Brittain.

Dr Jane Nolan (SELLLS funded) "Narrating Employability from English Studies: An Ethnographic Study".  Co-supervised with Jennifer Richards. 

Esteem Indicators

2015-ongoing: Committee Member and Special Edition Assessor, Royal Anthropological Institute, Publications Committee

2012-ongoing: Editorial Board member, Ageing & Society

I was invited to appear on BBC Radio Four's Thinking Allowed to discuss one of my publications, 'On Vegetable Love: Gardening, Plants and People in the North of England'.

Other Funding 

2010 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Newcastle University, £3600
2008 Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness, £2000
2008 School of GPS Research Committee, £1750
2008 HaSS Faculty Small Grants, £500
2007 HaSS Faculty Futures Collaborative Project Award, £5,500 (shared)
2007 School of GPS Research Committee Small Bids, £495.75
2003 The Association of Social Anthropologists/Radcliffe-Brown Trust Fund Prize
2001 Flexible Fund Grant, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University
2000 Research Funding Grant, Faculty of Graduate Studies & Research, McGill University
1999 Fellowship, Faculty of Graduate Studies & Research, McGill University
1995-96 Max Bell Fellowship for Canadian and Northern Studies, McGill University
1995 Research Funding Grant, Fac. of Grad. Studies & Research, McGill University
1994-95 Max Bell Fellowship for Canadian and Northern Studies, McGill University