Claudia Merli

Short presentation

Claudia Merli is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology, specialised primarily in Medical Anthropology, and in the critical anthropological study of disasters. She has carried out extensive fieldwork in Southern Thailand among the Malay-Muslims since 2002. She is currently working on an interdisciplinary project on hazard and respiratory health related to volcanic ash, and has conducted fieldwork in Japan. She explores cultural and symbolic elements of COVID-19 in a historical perspective.


  • amok
  • body theory
  • border conflict
  • culture-bound syndromes
  • disaster risk reduction
  • disaster vulnerability
  • ethnic politics and implicit attitudes
  • gender and disasters
  • gender and sexuality
  • identity
  • japan
  • latah
  • medical anthropology
  • population control
  • reproductive rights
  • thailand
  • volcanology


I am a Cultural Anthropologist specialising in the anthropology of health/medical anthropology and disaster anthropology. My main focus of research in Medical Anthropology focuses on reproductive health and bodily practices in Southern Thailand, includingand practices of male and female gental cutting. My book Bodily Practices and Medical Identities in Southern Thailand has been reviewed in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute in 2010 and I was invited to present it at the Royal Anthropological Institute's seminar series 'Reviewer Meets Reviewed' held at the British Museum (October 2011). After holding academic positions at Durham University from 2009 to 2017 (last as Associate Professor), I started my current position as Docent/Associate Professor at Uppsala University in January 2018. I was the main convener and organizer of The Fourth Northern European Conference of Emergency and Disaster Studies held in Uppsala in June 2019.

Indicators of esteem 2014—2017 Elected member of ASEASUK Executive Committee / 2015 Country of Origin Information (COI) expert with special knowledge of FGM for Rights In Exile Programme / 2013 Fellow of the Wolfson Research Institute / 2013 Swedish National Agency for Higher Education: Nominated member of the expert panel to evaluate education in ethnology and anthropology / 2012—2017 Member of the Medical Anthropology Committee of The Royal Anthropological Institute, UK / Since 2012 FHEA (Fellow of the Higher Education Academy United Kingdom) and FRAI (Fellow of the The Royal Anthropological Institute, UK) /2018– Fellow of CNDS/2022–2023 Senior Global Horizons Fellow at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study.

Ethics expert for Horizon Europe, EU's program for research and innovation (since September 2023).

Member of the steering committee for GlobeLife, which strengthens collaboration through research and training in the field of global health both within and between Uppsala University and Karolinska Institutet.

Member of the Board at the Centre for Medical Humanities, Uppsala University.

Member of the Advisory Board for the FACE-UP Consortium: Factors Affecting Childhood Exposure to Urban Particulates.

Member of the steering committee for Development Research Conference (DevRes2022) "Transforming Development Research for Sustainability"

Awards and Scholarships (last 10 yeasr)

Fellow in residence, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study during academic year 2022-2023.

Luttemans stipendium, Uppsala University 2019

RJ Riksbankens Jubileumsfond Projekt 2019 Den fjärde nordeuropeiska konferensen om kris och katastrofstudier - NEEDS 2019

VR Vetenskapsrådet 2018 Konferens Den fjärde nordeuropeiska konferensen om kris och katastrofstudier - NEEDS 2019

Writing grant, Uppsala University 2017

Seedcorn Funding, Durham University 2016

Editorial positions 2015–2023 Invited member of the Editorial Board of Human Remains and Violence (Manchester University Press) / 2009–2017 General Editor of Durham Anthropology Journal (DAJ)

Other interests During my undergraduate studies I pursued my long-term musical passion and obtained a Diploma of Piano from the Conservatoire of Perugia, followed by one year at the Experimental School of Chamber Music at ’S. Cecilia' Conservatoire in Rome. I was active in both chamber music ensembles and as solo pianist until 2002. During my time at Durham University I joined the vibrant activity of the Durham Gamelan Society, where I was learning Javanese gamelan music. I have attended Taiko (Japanese drumming) workshops. My former art education plays out a relevant role in my anthropological modes of exploring the visual.


Research focus At present my main research focus is the Southeast Asian region and Thailand, and I am conducting fieldwork in Southern Thailand on male and female genital cutting, gendered bodily practices related to reproduction, Buddhist and Muslim female spirit mediums, ethno-religious conflict in Southern Thailand, and the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. I am also investigating matters of fertility and population growth in Thailand's policies.

In 2016 I have started fieldwork in Japan with a project on local perceptions on health and volcanic ash, in the area of the Sakurajima volcano, as part of the HIVE consortium (Health Interventions in Volcanic Eruptions) for which I am responsible for the qualitative research. In 2017 I started research on another disaster context that deserves a long-term analysis, the 1963 Vajont Dam disaster and mega tsunami in Northern Italy; leading an interdisciplinary team we analysed the social, archaeological and forensic legacies of the catastrophe. The research received coverage in Italian newspapers and regional news is showcased in local museums.

During 2020 I have followed closely the unfolding of the corona pandemic in Sweden and Japan. I have taken part to public debate, with interviews for the Uppsala University Research spotlight: The Corona virus, and with Swedish Radio on the visual information material produced by different countries. Following an initial analysis of social media discourse on a pandemic icon used in Japan, visual research methods and historical contextualisation, my article on the yōkai Amabie was published in October 2020 in Anthropology Today. I am now investigating the COVID-19 pandemic and Long COVID in Japan and Sweden from a comparative perspective.

I have had a long-standing interest in ethnopsychiatry/cross-cultural psychiatry since my earlier work on culture-bound syndromes (particularly in South East Asia and Japan) and how the category of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is extremely problematic in itself and in its cross-cultural applications.

Theoretically, I explore the intersections between Foucauldian biopower, biopolitics, governmentality, and phenomenological perspectives on the body, putting the body in context. For my other strand of research, I apply critical perspectives in risk research and anthropological study of long-term post-hazard social processes, especially theological discourses, contextual theodicies and related politics.

Fieldwork Thailand: July –August 2002; July–August 2003; February–April 2004, June–August 2004, November 2004–March 2005; March–June 2006; April and December 2009–January 2010; December 2010–January 2011; October–November 2014 archival research in Bangkok; March–April 2015; July 2019 / Japan May and September 2016; January 2020 / Italy March–April and September–October 2017, July 2022.


Selection of publications

Recent publications

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Claudia Merli