Meet the lecturer: Dr Juan Zhang

Meet Dr Juan Zhang, lecturer in Social Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology.

Tell us about your journey into academia…

I encountered Anthropology by chance! Growing up in China and studying Urban Planning for my undergraduate degree, I wanted to gain a more human-centred understanding on urban space and social relations for my postgraduate training. With that, I decided to study Sociology in Singapore. There I was introduced to Anthropology and fell in love with ethnography and participatory research.

My master’s research was an ethnographic exploration of how migrant workers in Singapore formed weekend communities that led to drastic transformation on urban space. This experience was a revelation that Anthropology could provide a unique perspective into the ways in which people interact, make connections and create new meanings and practices that would challenge any fixed or taken for granted thinking on space and society.

I completed my PhD in Anthropology with a project at the China-Vietnam borderland that looked at the relationship between borders and livelihoods. An ethnographic approach has helped me understand human complexities and social change that challenges any black-or-white thinking about society at the everyday level. With my PhD, I worked as Research Fellow and Lecturer in Singapore and Australia before finally coming to Bristol. (Yes travelling is a big part of being an Anthropologist!)


What’s the best thing about your postgraduate taught programme?

The MA in Anthropology is a PGT programme that I designed and have directed since 2019. I teach the Anthropological Theory and Practice core unit as well as the Work Placement in Anthropology optional unit.

The Theory and Practice unit focuses on both theoretical training and practical application of anthropological knowledge on complex social problems in relation to design, technology, work, and sustainability. Guest lecturers with different disciplinary backgrounds come to our MA class with diverse expertise that cover topics from nature to energy, big data to digital museums, the future of work to social policy. Work Placement in Anthropology offers the excellent opportunity for students to be connected to Bristol-based companies and organisations beyond the university setting. Current placement projects involve We the Curious, Icon Films, Realise Design, local museums, community and charity groups. Immersive experiences with these employers and networks created through internships and placements are what makes the MA Anthropology experience meaningful and rewarding.


What’s your number one top tip for prospective postgraduate students?

My top tip for prospective students who wish to be the next generation of Anthropologists is to embrace independence and critical thinking. This MA will help you value research and social engagement as a way of understanding people and society through their diversities and complexities.

This programme focuses on research training and will offer opportunities to students who show their passion and ambition towards research initiatives, which may potentially transform ideas and practices!

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