Richard Irvine
  • Male
  • Cambridge
  • United Kingdom
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Richard Irvine

Profile Information

Full Name (no screen names or handles)
Richard Denis Gerard Irvine
School/Organization/Current anthropological attachment
Division of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

Current Research

Temporary land: climate histories of the East Anglia fenland

My current research takes as its focus a particular British landscape (the East Anglian fenlands), exploring it from an ethnographic and historical perspective. The Fens are a place where the Protestant Work Ethic has been inscribed on the landscape; labour cuts drainage ditches to bleed the peat, and creates productive land where once there was only feckless and lazy swamp. Or, to listen to the story another way: labour attempts to impose man's will on God's dominion, with disastrous consequences for humans and for other species. The Fens remain a contested environment, represented variously as a natural flood barrier, a carbon sink, a key element in Britain's food security, and a tourist attraction. My work explores how wetland is enclosed as a resource, and examines the politics that surround the kind of resource that it becomes.

As part of the Climate Histories network, I collaborate with other researchers in order to better understand environmental change and climate vulnerability and adaptation from a variety of regional and disciplinary perspectives. In this way, we are able to take a global and long-term view of climate, while remaining rooted in the particular experience of humans in different parts of the world. Out of this research, we are developing collaborations with engineers and land economists in order to build our expertise into policy solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Religious life in an English Benedictine monastery

I also retain an interest in the anthropology of Christianity, and my ongoing research in this area aims to provide an ethnographic account of the institutional life of an English Benedictine monastery. I try to reach an understanding of the different elements of monastic life, especially ritual, mysticism, reading (lectio divina), and work. Fieldwork consisted of a year spent in and around Downside Abbey in Somerset, eating in silence in the monastic refectory, learning to make things in the carpentry workshop, drinking tea, and following the daily cycle of prayer. I view the Benedictine monastery as a continuing experiment in Christian living, and argue that the Benedictine monk takes on the role of the 'virtuoso of ordinary Christian life'.

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Comment Wall (10 comments)

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At 8:03pm on February 20, 2011, Ashley Lebner said…
Hi Richard! Good to see you here. Hope all is well. Best, Ashley
At 6:36am on February 2, 2011, Francine Barone said…

Seeing the old tools at the bookbinders when I went to have my thesis bound was like stepping back in time. I couldn't resist taking a few photos. The bookbinders (a father and son team) only accept cash, stitch all work by hand and don't have a computer. As a hobby and a research area, I'm interested in web design, interfaces and typography, and especially how technology affects the presentation of the written word and its distribution. So I'm immediately drawn to artifacts linking literacy and technology.


Those tools have a lot of history; among them coats of arms, crests and Masons marks and many are still in use. It's like an untouched museum and yet a completely functional place in high demand in 2011. On the one hand, as someone who really loves books, I want the tradition to be preserved; on the other, as a student on a budget, hand-binding with gold leaf detailing costs too much, uses far too many trees and should have been made obsolete by the ease of sharing a PDF on the web. I guess it's that conflict that makes it so intriguing as a subject (photographic and anthropological).


Glad you liked the photos.

At 10:51am on March 4, 2010, John Camillieri said…

My apologies, I sent you the incorrect link. There are more organized religions in this township then there are in all of California.

THIS is the Catholic Chapel I meant to send you the link to.

At 10:45am on March 4, 2010, John Camillieri said…
Good Morning Richard, hope this finds you well. You have a guest room in Sedona anytime you wish.

I doubt this church enjoys the history and iconography that has become your explorational prerogative, but it is sublime in it's natural beauty and the architect's desire to incorporate the surrounding environs while maintaining the integrity of an authentic house of worship as per traditional aesthetic sensibilities.

Sorry I missed you in Massachusetts.

Warmest Regards,

At 8:05pm on November 16, 2009, Martin Walsh said…
Richard, does that mean you went to KGV? I was there when it was a grammar school for boys, before the old building was knocked down... The Foreshore Office you see was part of what was then the Tourism & Attractions Dept of Sefton Council, and it was the place from which a multitude of activities was organised: car parks (including parking for the annual flower show), deck chairs, the Pier, litter-picking, lifeguards, beach patrols (down to the Nature Reserve boundary at Ainsdale - my end of town), first aid, and managing the unruly tenants of the "Ground" (Pleasureland), which is where the office was located, in a long wooden hut overlooking the marine drive and beach. The Foreshore Office had a small permanent staff and a larger contingent of seasonal workers, of which I was one, from 1976 (in my year off before Cambridge) until I went off to the field in Tanzania in 1980. I did different jobs - the best was working at the end of the Pier, but more often I was a car park attendant on the Sea Wall. Most of the car park men (they were all men) were either students like me or older men, many of them veterans of WWII, who had minor disabilities and were then often sent to the Foreshore Office to work (this all changed later, when the Job Centre started sending the regular unemployed etc.). Thus many of the old men you see in the photos, having lunch or checking into the Foreshore Office at the start or end of their shifts. Anyway, when I knew I was going on to do doctoral research, I spent the summer taking ethnographic notes on the job, thinking of this as a kind of practice for the real thing. I've never organised or written up these notes, but occasionally dip into them with my father, who also worked in the Tourism and Attractions Dept and knew most of the characters there. My main interests at the time were the culture of "fiddling" among the car park men and others collecting money from the hapless public; and the ways in which the inspectors in the Foreshore Office ran it as a semi-independent institution, resisting efforts by their superiors in the Tourism and Attractions Office and the Council at Bootle to impose their will via bureaucratic interference, reorganisation, and new labour practices. I was also interested - and still am - in other ways in which this now-lost fraction of local government constituted itself, e.g. through shared discourse about "the war" and contemporary society, and through the blue humour of the men (if those photos came with a sound track every third word would be an expletive). At the time I didn't have the theoretical tools (or time, or will) to analyse this material and take it further, and so it remains a largely private but very fond memory...
At 11:25pm on November 15, 2009, Nigel Rapport said…
Here are two more, Richard:
James, Allison _Childhood Identities_ Edinburgh UP
Young, Malcolm, _In the Sticks_ Oxford UP
At 8:18pm on November 15, 2009, Nigel Rapport said…
Here are two more, Richard:
Rapport, N. 1995 _The Prose and the Passion: Anthropology, Literature and the Writing of E.M. Forster_ (Manchester University Press).
Rapport, N. 2008 _Of Orderlies and Men: Hospital Porters Achieving Wellness at Work_ (Carolina Academic Press).
At 2:17am on July 14, 2009, Alice C. Linsley said…
Richard, I have a problem with Schweitzer's view of the New Testament expressing an "interim ethic" because he tended to see the New as a fundamental break with the Old Testament, as did many German high-critical readers of the Bible in his time. This is because they didn't realize that the Bible is the ethnographic work of only a few lines of Afro-Asiatics who intermarried and preserved the core of their "gospel" from before Abraham to the appearance of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I will write more about this, showing how this is evident through analysis of the kinship pattern of Abraham's ancestors and his descendents. This information is in the Bible.

So glad to have your input in Biblical Anthropology Group!
At 9:31pm on June 30, 2009, Alice C. Linsley said…
Hi, Richard. Welcome to Biblical Anthropology! My specialty is kinship analysis which I have applied to the geneological information provided in Genesis, Exodus, Numbers and the Chronicles. Using this information I have been able to reconstruct the kinship pattern of the ruler-priests of Abraham's Horite people.

If you have a specific topic that you would like to discuss, let me know.

Best wishes,
Alice C. Linsley
At 3:31am on June 30, 2009, Bryonny Goodwin said…
Hi Richard, are you the chap doing work in/on/of a monastery? I'm developing an interest in evocations of tradition/relationships to the past and wondered if there might be some overlap.


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