Chloe Nahum-Claudel

Chloe Nahum-Claudel


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Personal profile


Before joining the University of Manchester in 2022, I worked at the LSE as a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow (2017-2021) and at the University of Cambridge (2012-2017) as a junior research fellow at Pembroke College and an affiliated lecturer at the Centre for Latin American Studies and the Department of Social Anthropology. In 2013-14 I was a postdoc at the Centre for Research on the Americas, School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS, Paris, 2013-2014). During that time and until 2016, I was a principal researcher on a French National Research Agency project on intangible cultural heritage in the Indigenous Americas. I continue to be involved in French anthropology and became a board member of the Société des Américanistes in 2021.

Between 2006 and 2013, during my Master’s and then my PhD at the University of Cambridge, I conducted 18 months fieldwork with the Enawenê-nawê in Brazil’s Mato Grosso state at a time when several hydropower dams were being constructed in their fishing waters. Throughout this research I was supported by mentors and peers at the Museu Nacional, which is part of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Since 2015 I have been researching witch-hunts in the central highlands of Papua New Guinea with the support of PNG’s National Research Agency in Port Moresby and my partner, the anthropologist Anthony Pickles.


I am a social anthropologist. My work is about ritualized political innovation in Indigenous communities faced with colonial and postcolonial ruptures. I work on an agribusiness and hydropower frontier in Brazil and in peri-urban highland Papua New Guinea. 

Vital Diplomacy in Brazil's Amazon region

I received my PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2012 for research with Enawene-nawe people in Brazil's Mato Grosso state, a soya agriculture and hydropower frontier in the southern fringes of the Amazon river watershed. I focused on the political dimensions of the community's everyday ritual activity in a context of hydropower exploitation. Hydropower developments involved the community in diplomatic encounters that put state sovereignty over natural resources to the test.

By conceptualising diplomacy I think about the ways ritualised social action is inherently political not only when it involves road blocks, high-level meetings in Brasilia, and acts of political warfare, but also playing flutes, dancing, and feasting in the centre of a panoptic circular village. I connect semiotic and processual analyses of ritual with political-economy perspectives to ask: How do people who build fishing dams themselves deal with the construction of concrete dams upriver? In an animist cosmology in which the environment - the palms, the fish, the manioc - is understood to respond with potential aggression to human impacts, how does a relationship with a predatory state-sponsored hydropower company unfold? 

Like all anthropological work mine is holistic. My theorisations of ritualised political life - both diplomacy at the borders of states and egalitarian collectivism - is grounded in understandings of kinship processes, agricultural labour, fishing practices, and food systems. I seek to understand how Enawene-nawe people are social, how they manage to live with others: creating unity out of difference; creating conditions for peace after a history of colonial violence; generating vitality when death and illness always loom; and arranging sex and work to favour equality between people. 

These are all themes I explore in my book Vital Diplomacy: the ritual everyday on a dammed river in Amazonia (Berghahn 2018) and in other published work:

2020 ‘Pyrotechnical Mastery and Humanization: Amazonian Cuisine, Care and Craft in Evolutionary and Semiotic Perspective’ Current Anthropology 61(4) 419-440

2020 ‘Anthropology and Diplomacy: Is another form of diplomacy possible?’ Special Issue Introduction with Emmanuel de Vienne. Terrain 73: 4-25 

2019 ‘Cosmology and Practice in Amazonia’ Special Issue Introduction with Olivier Allard. Tipití: The Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America 16 (2) 1-19. 

2019 ‘The Anthropology of Traps: Concrete Technologies and Theoretical Interfaces’ Special Issue Introduction with Alberto Corsín Jimenez. Journal of Material Culture 24 (4) 383-400

2019 ‘From Mastery to Subjection: An Embodied Ethics of Entrapment in Amazonia’. Journal of Material Culture 24 (4) 473-490

2019 ‘In Permanent Transition: Multiple Temporalities of Communitas in the Enawenê-nawê Ritual Everyday’ Anthropology Today 35 (3) 11-15

2019 ‘The Curse of Souw among the Amazonian Enawenê-nawê’ The Culture of Invention in the Americas: Anthropological Experiments with Roy Wagner (eds.) P. Pitarch and J. A. Kelly. Pages 211-233. Hereford: Sean Kingston

2017 ‘Feasting’ Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Anthropology

2017 ‘Pourquoi Filmer sa Culture ? Rituel et Patrimonialisation en Amazonie Brésilienne (Karajá, Enawenê-nawê, Suruí du Rondônia)’ Co-written with Nathalie Pétesche & Cédric Yvinec Journal de la Société des Américanistes 103 (2)

2016 ‘The To and Fro of Documents: Vying for Recognition in Enawene-nawe Dealings with the Brazilian State’ Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 21 (3) 498–516

2012 ‘Enawene-nawe “Potlatch Against the State”’ Social Anthropology: Journal of the European Association of Social Anthropologists 20 (4) 444–457

Witch hunts and gender violence in Papua New Guinea and in Anthropology

Since 2015 I have spent 9 months in Papua New Guinea's Simbu Province collecting oral history testimonies of persons accused of witchcraft, their torturers, and the masterminds of recent witch hunts. I am currently developing a feminist analysis of witch hunts (termed "Operations" in Tok Pisin, Melanesia's creole) as ritual innovations that arise from the encounter between local and colonial patriarchal sovereignties, exacerbating misogynistic violence. This research is very much in progress!

Back to Brazil, Amazonianist anthropology and feminism

This work in PNG has opened new kinds of questions in my Amazonian research around how gender relations may be transformed with the emergence of new patterns of conflict and violence on the capitalist periphery. With Brazilian anthropologists Aline Regitano and Marta Amoroso at the Unviersity of São Paulo, in 2021 I co-organised an international workshop to focus attention on neglected issues of gender, power and coloniality in Amazonianist scholarship. 

The resulting special issue on Feminist Perspectives in Indigenous Amazonia has just been published

2021    Aline Regitano & Chloe Nahum-Claudel 'Perspectivas Feministas na Amazonia Indígena' Cadernos de Campo 30 (2)

My teaching is inspired by feminist and Indigenous issues, by my love of ethnography, and my deep engagement with anthropological theory, especially as it emerges from different regional traditions.

You can find my publications here: