Professor Laura Rival

Laura Rival

Professor of Anthropology and Development

Fellow of Linacre College

Amerindian conceptualizations of nature and society; historical and political ecology; environment and development.

My main teaching appointment is in the Department of International Development, where I introduce social anthropology and ethnographic research methods to economists and political scientists, and where I teach an option on environment and development in Latin America. At ISCA, I contribute to the Lowland South America Option; to Cultural Representations, Beliefs and Practices (Honour School of Archaeology and Anthropology – Final Honour School – Paper 2); and to the teaching of human ecology at the Institute of Human Sciences.

  • Member of OCTF (Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests) and BIO (Oxford Biodiversity Institute), which are both part of the Martin School.
  • Editor of Tipití (Journal of the Society for the Anthropology Lowland South America, SALSA). On the Editorial Board of: ODS (Oxford Development Studies), LACES (Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies), and JASO (Journal of the Anthropology Society of Oxford).
  • Visiting Fellow at the LAS (Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale) at the Collège de France (2006-07).
  • Consultant for various International Development Agencies.  Expert Reviewer for the French Institute of Biodiversity (IFB) and for Paris' National Museum of Natural History (MNHN).


Telephone: +44 (0)1865 281834

Personal website

Teaching and research interests

The Huaorani Indians of Amazonian Ecuador

Understanding Huaorani society and culture within a comparative framework constitutes the core of my anthropological research. I have so far spent a total of thirty-seven months with the Huaorani (1989-1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 2003, 2005 and 2008), and have documented many aspects of their lives. Shorter periods of ethnographic fieldwork with the Chachi (Cayapas) of the Ecuadorian Chocó, and the Makushi of southern Guyana have allowed me to appreciate fully the diversity of Amazonian ways of life. While primarily focused on the dynamic interaction between state schooling and culture, my doctoral dissertation also looked at a range of development interventions within Huaorani land, as well as at Huaorani representations of their forest world. This broad interest in indigenous and non-indigenous ways of conceptualizing and using the Amazon biome has allowed me to approach nature and society in terms of engagement, practical experience and perceptual knowledge.

The body and the soul in Amazonia

Significant developments have occurred in Amazonianist anthropology in the last ten years, not least the formulation of a new theory (known as perspectivism) to account for the particular forms of animism found in Amazonia. According to this theory, sentient beings share with humans the same dispositions, values and culture. This is consequential for the organization of society, the design of kinship systems, the practice of warfare, and the performance of many rituals, especially birth and funeral practices. I have researched body/ soul dualism in the context of warfare and other forms of violent ritual killing, focusing more particularly on native explanations of how the soul is attached to the body. This project sheds new light on Huaorani warfare, while providing a better understanding of the contexts in which soul continuity and body discontinuity are predicated. I am currently developing a new research project on ‘Vital and Technical Processes in the Production of Living Beings and Artefacts,’ which looks at how life is conceptualized in Huaorani and other Amerindian cultures.

Ecological wealth, capital and the value of sustainability

The forests where the Huaorani, Chachi and Makushi live have been subjected to unprecedented rates of deforestation in the last thirty years, and large biodiversity conservation programmes were put in place in the 1990s to save remaining forests and protect both local ecosystems and indigenous rights. I studied ethnographically the implementation of a large integrated conservation and development programme in the Ecuadorian Chocó, one of the world’s biodiversity ‘hotspots,’ and analyzed the competing sustainable development discourses and new regimes of governmentality that emerged during that heroic decade. I am currently developing a more theoretically oriented reflection on sustainability as value, as well as a new research programme to document ethnographically various indigenous visions of social justice and ecological restoration. I am also actively involved in providing a social anthropological perspective on the emergence of a ‘green economy’ in the build up to Rio+20.

Current DPhil students
Selected previous DPhil students

Lewis Daly (DPhil Student) is researching Makushi conceptualizations of cultural and biological diversity.

Ruth Gutierrez (DPhil Student) is researching Nukak historical ecology and the impact of war and displacement on their foraging lifestyle.

Maria Mancilla (DPhil Student) is researching the governance of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and Peru.

Theresa Miller (DPhil Student) is researching environmental aesthetics and maize diversity among the Ramkokamekra-Canela in Brazil.

Alejandro Reig (DPhil Student) is researching Yanomami landscapes in Venezuela.

Samuel Thomas (DPhil Student) is researching identity and knowledge sharing between AfroColombians and Embera in the Colombian Chocó.

Lavinia Warnars (PRS) is researching the ethics and economics of sustainable development.

Ivan Zambrana (PRS) is preparing to study indigenous modes of engagement with Bolivia's conservation and development national policies.

aúl Acosta (DPhil 2007) wrote his doctoral dissertation on global NGO networks campaigning against environmental destruction. He teaches in Mexico.

Thomas Kauffmann (DPhil 2009) wrote his doctoral dissertation on the concept of developed society among Tibetan refugees in India and Europe. He heads a NGO working with the Tibetan diaspora in Luxembourg.

Istvan Praët (DPhil 2006) wrote his doctoral dissertation on Chachi (Cayapa) shamanism. He teaches at Roehampton University in London.

Anne Roemer-Mahler (DPhil 2009) wrote her doctoral dissertation on IPRS, the WTO and India's pharmaceutical industry. She teaches at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Harry Walker (DPhil Student, currently writing up) is researching concepts of personhood and community among the Urarina in Peru. He teaches at the LSE in London.

Marisa Wilson (DPhil Student, currently writing up) is researching urban agriculture in Cuba. She teaches at the National University in Trinidad.



2016, Huaorani transformations in 21st century Ecuador (In Press), Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

2015, Transformaciones Huaoranis. Frontera, Cultura y Tensión.

2002, Trekking through History. The Huaorani of Amazonian Ecuador, Columbia University Press: New York.

1998, The Social Life of Trees. Anthropological Perspectives on Tree Symbolism, Berg: Oxford.

1996, Hijos del Sol, Padres del Jaguar, los Huaorani Hoy (Children of the Sun, fathers of the jaguar, the Huaorani today), Abya-Yala: Quito.

Edited books

2013, with Roldan Muradian (eds), Governing the Provision of Ecosystem Services, Dordrecht: Springer.

2008, What constitutes a human body in native Amazonia.

2002, ‘The contribution of Peter Rivière to the field of Amazonian anthropology’, and a general bibliography of Rivière’s work.

2001, Beyond the Visible and the Material: the Amerindianization of Society in the Work of Peter Rivière, University of Oxford Press: Oxford.