An Ethnography of Advice

Between Market, Society and the Declining Welfare State

This project - conducted in settings of austerity - explores advice and care, using them as diagnostic tools that help to illuminate 'the state of the welfare state' today. 

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.



Ana 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. 

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Anna Tuckett

Anna 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. 

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Ryan 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.

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Matt Wilde

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.

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Tobias resized

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.

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Insa Koch

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. 

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Deborah 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. 

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2 March 2017

LSE Research I How does austerity affect society and the environment? 

Professor Laura Bear examines the effects of austerity, looking specifically at the Hooghly river in India. 

1 March 2017

LSE Works I Austerity, Debt - What alternatives? 

In this talk, academics and activists come together around the issues of debt and austerity. From the LSE's Anthropology Department, Laura Bear, Deborah James and Ryan Davey will present research from their findings. 


Davey, R. 2017. Polluter pays?: Understanding austerity through debt advice in the UK. Anthropology Today 33(5): 8–11.

Forbess, I. and D. James. 2017. Innovation and Patchwork Partnerships: Advice Services in Austere TimesOnati Socio-Legal Studies 7(7): 1-22. 

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 warsAmerican 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 marginsPunishment and Society

Koch, I. 2016. Bread-and-butter politics: Democratic disenchantment and everyday politics on an English council estateAmerican 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. 2017.'The island is full. Please don't come': narratives of austerity and migration in a UK citizenship classAnthropology Today 33(5): 24-27. 

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

Wilde, M. 2017. Embryonic alternatives amid London's housing crisis. Anthropology Today 33(5): 16-19. 

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 poorThe Guardian.



Debt Event December 2018

Debt in the UK: Faith-Based and Secular Responses

Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building, LSE
Monday 10th December 2018, 6:30pm-8:00pm

Since the financial crisis, the roles of the state and religious organisations in British public life are changing. Faith-based organisations are key providers of relief to those in debt, often while criticising the debt economy as an underlying cause of poverty and inequality. Campaigns around international debt saw new coalitions between faith-based and secular organisations.

In this public panel talk, held by LSE Anthropology in partnership with Theos and St Paul’s Institute, we ask if similar alliances could be built to confront the harms of personal debt. What common ground do religious and secular civil society organisations have in identifying the challenges of debt and providing solutions? How far do faith-based and secular analyses of personal debt in the UK today converge and intersect? What are their differences?

We start from a common recognition that debt is not just a numerical, contractual or technical issue, but also a deeply moral one involving human social relations. Our talks will explore the moral implications of debt as a social issue. 

Speakers include:

  • Ryan Davey, Research Fellow in Policy Studies, University of Bristol and Visiting Fellow in Anthropology, LSE
  • Mohammed Abdel-Haq, Director of the Centre for Islamic Finance, University of Bolton
  • Sarah-Jane Clifton, Director, Jubilee Debt Campaign
  • Barbara Ridpath, Former Director, St Paul's Institute
  • Nathan Mladin, Researcher, Theos Think Tank
  • Deborah James, Professor of Anthropology, LSE (Chair)

Please register on Eventbrite

 There is step free access into the lecture theatre, but if you have any accessibilitiy needs please let us know by emailing:

June 2017
Meeting 6: Law and Society Association Panel 

October 2016
Meeting 5: Team Workshop 

June 2016
Meeting 4: Participation in 'Alternatives to Austerity' workshop

November 2015
Meeting 3: Discussion of ongoing team projects

September 2015:
Meeting 2: Readings and methods 

January 2015
Meeting 1: Aims and agenda-setting 



Deborah James djameslse

RT @judithverweijen: Includes a fascinating piece by Pedro Monaville on "The political life of the dead Lumumba: Cold War histories and the…

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Deborah James djameslse

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Citizens Advice Bureau, Newham, London