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An Ethnography of Advice

An Ethnography of Advice: Between Market, Society and the Declining Welfare State

This anthropological study explores how, under conditions of continuing economic crisis, assumptions about the nature of society are being reshaped: particularly in respect of who receives assistance and who funds and arranges it. Where the 'usual' targets of welfare and benefits were the poor or destitute, they now include those who work but cannot make ends meet, and who experience increasing numbers of complex problems for which they need advice. And where the 'usual' provider of such things, at least in the post-war years, has been the state, this is increasingly not the case. As the economic crisis proceeds apace and the state's role is being whittled down, access to the counsel of experts is nonetheless increasingly essential. The project will investigate novel arrangements and their unintended consequences. It will explore innovations in advice giving provided by existing offices (under more traditional state-funded regimes), by new sources and novel agencies (under non-governmental and market-driven schemes), and by the social movements, self-help and informal network-based arrangements to which many are increasingly having to turn for counsel and support.

The project investigates selected sites and cases in the UK (specifically England where a very particular set of legal/welfare arrangements is in operation), 'drilling down' to examine specific institutional settings, themes and topics different scales and levels. Particular attention will be given to the three specific areas of housing, debt and immigration advice (both within and beyond particular institutional settings), and law courts where litigants have started to engage in self-representation. It also uses two cross-national comparisons in order to illuminate, and gain a critical perspective on, aspects of UK welfare-related advice processes which are often taken as natural/inevitable by local policy-makers.

Across these different settings, the project will:

  • document the ongoing effects on advice giving of the withdrawal of legal aid funds, including the rise of self-litigation;
  • explore the new roles assumed by bureaucrats, intermediaries and self-help groups, who are increasingly important in the advice encounter;
  • investigate whether funding cuts have caused the dwindling of the much-vaunted empathy that advice-givers are often required to deliver and whether, in the process, advisers are becoming less effective at shaping the behaviour of those they counsel;
  • explore variations between selected national settings, to illuminate the changing and context-dependent character of advice in the UK.

Ana GAna Gutierrez specialises in migration, labour, gender, morality and personhood. She received her PhD in Anthropology from the London School of Economics in 2014. Her doctoral research was a study of Latin American women migrants in London who work in the domestic and sex work industries and who experience personal dislocations which derive from the everyday challenges they face as illegal migrants and intimate labourers, their downward status mobility and the uncertainties they feel towards the future. She has also done research on cooperation and inequality in Oklahoma with Hispanic migrant families. 

Ana has taught a number of courses on anthropological theory, gender theory, material culture, economic anthropology and anthropology of the person, receiving a departmental teaching award in 2014.

In her work as part of the ESRC-funded project  ‘An Ethnography of Advice: Between Market, Society and the Declining Welfare State’, she aims to analyse the role of advice as a form of struggle in the rapid dismantling of the Spanish welfare state, exploring the networks and practices of counsel offered by different non-profit organisations that have emerged from the need to counteract the lack of empathy and welfare cuts implemented by the Spanish state.

Please click here to view Ana's full profile on the LSE's Anthropology Department website. 

Anna TAnna Tuckett specialises in political and legal anthropology, with a specific focus on migration in Italy and the UK, and is particularly interested in how people experience and manage the state, law and bureaucracy in their everyday lives. She received her PhD from the London School of Economics in 2014. Her doctoral research, which examined migrants’ encounters with what she calls the ‘documentation regime’ – the system through which migrants attain and maintain ‘legal status’, bring in relatives through family reunification and access citizenship – offers insights into how law and the state are experienced by migrants in Italy on an everyday basis. Her research has been funded by the ESRC, the Newby Trust and the Central Research Fund. 

Anna has taught courses in political and legal anthropology, culture and globalisation, theory and ethnography, and the anthropology of personhood, as well as a number of interdisciplinary modules, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.  

Anna’s current research in London, as part of the ESRC-funded project ‘An ethnography of advice: between market, society and the declining welfare state’, explores the dynamics of immigration-related advice provisions in light of the new excision of such advice from legal aid in the UK context. It will explore the role of different agents, organisations, collaborations and processes which are emerging in the wake of cuts to these services. 

Please click here to view Anna's full profile on the LSE's Anthropology Department website.

RyanRyan Davey’s  work combines anthropological political economy with the study of subjectivity. He completed his PhD in Social Anthropology in 2015 at the University of Cambridge. His doctoral research, based on ethnographic fieldwork on a housing estate in the south of England, focused on the relation between social class and debt in England. It explored how class is formed through subjects’ optimistic responses to the potential for coercive forms of legal sanction, in the areas of consumer debt, tenancy and motherhood.Previously, he led an applied research project for the Royal College of Psychiatrists investigating the way frontline staff in the UK debt collection industry responds to debtors who disclose mental health problems. He has also carried out ethnographic research with the psychiatric survivor movement in London, focusing in particular on “survivor research,” in which psychiatric survivors and service users produce research based on first-hand experience.

He taught undergraduates in supervisions in Cambridge for two years, on a course on political economy and social transformation. He also co-ordinated a summer school for prospective anthropology undergraduates and has worked as a freelance workplace trainer. 

Ryan joined the LSE in October 2015, as part of the ESRC-funded project ‘An Ethnography of Advice: Between Market, Society and the Declining Welfare State’,  to conduct research on debt advice in England. His research will focus on the changing relation between the voluntary sector and the market in the field of debt advice.

Please click here  to view Ryan's full profile on the LSE's Anthropology Department website.


Matt Wilde received his PhD from the LSE in 2013. He specialises in research on popular and egalitarian politics, the state, ethics and morality, urban environments and political economy. To date his work has explored the lives of working-class residents in two very different contemporary cities: Valencia in Venezuela and London in the UK.

Matt’s first research project examined change, continuity and crisis in a Venezuelan barrio amid the political movement often known as the Bolivarian Revolution. It traced the experiences of local residents and activists as they developed new political institutions in their communities as part of a broader drive to reshape Venezuelan society. The project highlighted the complex ideological and institutional entanglements that were produced through the launch of neighbourhood councils and communes, showing how a host of competing motivations, understandings and imaginaries characterised participation in new political spaces at the local level. Matt’s work on Venezuela draws attention to the role of the country’s oil economy in simultaneously enabling and impeding utopian projects, and explores how individual and collective survival strategies evolve through periods of crisis and upheaval.

In September 2015, Matt began a new research project as part of a collaborative ESRC-funded project headed by Professor Deborah James entitled An Ethnography of Advice: Between Market, Society and the Declining Welfare State. Matt’s contribution to this project looks at the everyday politics of austerity, advice and housing in contemporary London. It documents the struggles of the city’s low-income tenants as they attempt to navigate problems such as evictions, displacement and local authority gatekeeping, and examines how networks of mutual support are creating new forms of political and ethical community at a time of rising inequality.

Since 2011, Matt has taught courses in the Anthropology of Economics and Development, Anthropology and Human Rights, Culture and Globalisation, the Anthropology of Latin America and Ethnography and Theory, as well as a number of interdisciplinary modules. He has received two teaching awards for his work in the classroom: the student-nominated teaching award from the LSE’s Department of Anthropology in 2013, and the LSESU award for excellent welfare and pastoral support in 2015.

Please click here to view Matt's full profile on the LSE's Anthropology Department website. 


Tobias Eule works on the relationship between the state and vulnerable populations from an interdisciplinary perspective. He is currently researching government responses to irregular migration in the Schengen Area and the role of legal advice in the interactions between individuals and the state. He received his PhD from Cambridge University in 2011. His doctoral research was a multi-sited ethnography conducted in four different German government institutions, for which he received the “Toby Jackman Prize for the most Outstanding PhD” from Cambridge in 2012. A resulting book, Inside Immigration Law, was published in 2014.

In February 2012, Tobias joined the University of Bern as a lecturer at the Institute of Sociology. Since August 2014, he is Assistant Professor for the Sociology of Law at the Faculty of Law in Bern. He teaches courses on the sociology and anthropology of law, social theory, qualitative research methods and migration.

In August 2015, Tobias began work as part of the ESRC-funded project  ‘An Ethnography of Advice: Between Market, Society and the Declining Welfare State’, as an international co-investigator partly based at LSE. He will research and analyse the role of legal advisers in immigrants' quest for access to justice, residence and social welfare.

Please click here to view Tobias' full profile on the LSE's Anthropology Department website. 


Insa  Koch works as an Assistant Professor in Law and Anthropology in the LSE Law Department. She is interested in bringing anthropology into dialogue with criminology, legal theory and socio-legal studies. She received her DPhil from the University of Oxford in 2013. Her doctoral work was based on an ethnographic assessment of the state, and state-citizen relations on council estates in England. This allowed her to explore how vernacular ideas of citizenship, politics, and the law come into conflict with social and legal policy. 

Insa is starting research as part of the ESRC-funded project  ‘An Ethnography of Advice: Between Market, Society and the Declining Welfare State’. She is concerned with the cuts to legal aid and other austerity measures under the current government. She is particularly interested in exploring how these policy changes impact on questions of access to justice and the relationship between law and democracy. 

Please click here to view Insa's full profile on the LSE's Law Department website. 

DJDeborah James, whose work previously focused mainly on the anthropology of South and Southern Africa, has recently begun research at some sites in the UK. Her work is broadly political and economic in focus. She has been heading this the collaborative ESRC-funded project entitled ‘An Ethnography of Advice: Between Market, Society and the Declining Welfare State’ since August 2015. Her research focuses on debt and debt advice in the UK, in a setting where new permutations of state, business and charity make it difficult to discern the origins and intentions of advice are often difficult to discern. 

This project builds on earlier research. In 2007-2008, she worked with Evan Killick on a British Academy-funded project exploring access to justice in a London Law Centre. Since 2013, she has been working with Alice Forbess on an LSE- and later- Leverhulme-funded project on how legal aid cuts have affected  advice in austerity Britain.  

The project also expands, and adds a comparative dimension to, her research on indebtedness in South Africa. Her book Money from Nothing: Indebtedness and Aspiration in South Africa (Stanford University Press, 2014) explores the dynamics surrounding South Africa's national project of financial inclusion - dubbed "banking the unbanked"- which aimed to extend credit to black South Africans. It shows the varied ways in which access to credit by people in these newly-included sectors of society is bound up with identity and status-making, and draws out the precarious nature of both the aspirations of upward mobility and the economic relations of debt which sustain the newly indebted, revealing the shadowy side of indebtedness and its potential both to produce new forms of oppression and disenfranchisement in place of older ones, while also helping realize projects of upliftment.

Please click here to view Deborah's full profile on the LSE's Anthropology Department. 


forbessAlice Forbess is a Researcher in the Anthropology Department at the London School of Economics. Her research interests include the intersection of religious institutions and political life in Romania and former Yugoslavia (the subject of her PhD dissertation and subsequent British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship) and, more recently, the politics of restorative justice in Kosovo and the transformation of non-profit legal services in the United Kingdom.


Forbess, I. and D. James. 2017. The end of austerity? Not for the most needy. LSE British Politics and Policy. 

Koch, I. Forthcoming. From welfare to lawfare: Environmental suffering, neighbour disputes and the law in UK social housing. Critique of Anthropology.  

Koch, I., Alexander, C. and M. Hojer Bruun.  Forthcoming. Moral economy comes home: on moral economies of housing. Special issue for Critique of Anthropology. 

Koch, I. 2017. What's in a vote? Brexit beyond culture wars. American Ethnologist, 44 (2): 225-230. 

Koch, I. 2017. When politicians fail: Zombie democracy and the anthropology of actually existing politics. The Sociological Review Monographs 65(1): 105-121.

Koch, I. 2016. Moving beyond punitivism: Punishment, state failure and democracy at the margins. Punishment and Society

Koch, I. 2016. Bread-and-butter politics: Democratic disenchantment and everyday politics on an English council estate. American Ethnologist 43(2): 282-294. 

Koch, I. 2015. 'The state has replaced the man': Women, family homes, and the benefit system on a council estate in England. Focaal, Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 73: 84-96. 

Koch, I. 2014. 'A policy that kills': The bedroom tax is an affront to basic human rights. LSE British Politics and Policy.

Tuckett, A. 2016. Moving on: Italy as a stepping stone in migrants' imaginaries. Focaal, Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, 76: 99-113. 

Wilde, M. 2017. Why Theresa May's pledges won't fix the UK's housing disaster. The Guardian. 

Wilde, M. 2016. Our immoral housing policy is set up to punish the poor. The Guardian. 







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