Nick Long works at the intersection of social, psychological and medical anthropology. His work examines how experiences of self, agency, and relations with others are shaped by processes of political and cultural change.
At present, he is exploring these issues in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. His research report Living in Bubbles During the Coronavirus Pandemic offers a systematic overview of New Zealand’s ‘social bubbles’ system – an innovative way of orchestrating sociality that is now being replicated in many settings around the world. Closer to home, he is working with colleagues at the LSE on a variety of issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, including experiences of death and bereavement and the challenges faced by vulnerable groups.
These interests have emerged through conducting long-term fieldwork in Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago, a set of over 3200 islands in the South China Sea. Nick began working there in 2005, just after the archipelago had become a new province, and was struck by the forms of confusion, doubt, hope, uncertainty, disillusionment and humour that the creation of the province had engendered in Riau Islanders’ everyday lives. His monograph, Being Malay in Indonesia, builds on these observations to develop a new framework for the study of political decentralisation: one which foregrounds the affective and experiential dimensions of political change. His fieldwork has also led him to develop fresh perspectives on many classic themes in the anthropology of Southeast Asia, including Malay identity, ‘spirit beliefs’, market cultures, poetry, memories of violence, and cross-border relations.
Aside from his coronavirus work, Nick is currently engaged in several parallel research projects.
The first investigates the ways in which Indonesia’s democratisation has been engaged with and enacted in everyday life, as well as the question of why large numbers of Riau Islanders who were once extremely enthusiastic about the concept of ‘democracy’ have come to reject it in recent years. Some initial conclusions on this question were published in his co-edited volume The State We’re In: Reflecting on Democracy’s Troubles.
The second traces the emergence and impact of new kinds of ‘psychological engineering’ across postcolonial Indonesia, where achieving a ‘Mental Revolution’ has been identified as a priority by the Jokowi presidency. Having published several pieces on Indonesian attempts to cultivate ‘achieving mindsets’ via competitions and record-breaking, Nick is now investigating the latest trend in this field: hypnomotivation, and associated forms of psychotherapy. His first article on this subject, “Suggestions of Power”, was awarded the 2019 Stirling Prize for Psychological Anthropology by the Society for Psychological Anthropology.
Finally, Nick’s work on hypnotism has spurred him to investigate more thoroughly the traditions of metaphysical thought that influence Indonesians’ engagement with, and subjective experiences of, the world, and the challenges that such influence might pose to conventional anthropological theories of authority, neoliberalism, and self-cultivation.
Nick particularly welcomes enquiries from prospective graduate students working in fields related to psychological anthropology, therapeutic traditions, affect, consciousness, Islam, political change, emergent socialities, or the ethnography of Indonesia and the Malay World.