Dr Richard Irvine

Department Assistant Teacher at Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

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Department Assistant Teacher, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

Dr Irvine's current research takes as its focus a particular British landscape (the East Anglian fenlands), exploring it from an ethnographic and historical perspective. The Fens remain a contested environment, represented variously as a natural flood barrier, a carbon sink, a key element in Britain’s food security, and a tourist attraction. Dr Irvine's work explores how wetland is enclosed as a resource, and examines the politics that surround the kind of resource that it becomes.

As part of the Climate Histories network, he collaborates with other researchers in order to better understand environmental change and climate vulnerability and adaptation from a variety of regional and disciplinary perspectives. In this way, they are able to take a global and long-term view of climate, while remaining rooted in the particular experience of humans in different parts of the world. Out of this research, they are developing collaborations with engineers and land economists in order to build their expertise into policy solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Dr Irvine also retains an interest in the anthropology of Christianity, and his ongoing research in this area aims to provide an ethnographic account of the institutional life of an English Benedictine monastery. He is trying to reach an understanding of the different elements of monastic life, especially ritual, mysticism, reading (lectio divina), and work. Fieldwork consisted of a year spent in and around Downside Abbey in Somerset, eating in silence in the monastic refectory, learning to make things in the carpentry workshop, drinking tea, and following the daily cycle of prayer. He views the Benedictine monastery as a continuing experiment in Christian living, and argue that the Benedictine monk takes on the role of the ‘virtuoso of ordinary Christian life’.