Emeritus Professor Roy Ellen

Emeritus Professor of Anthropology and Human Ecology
+44 (0)1227 720464
Emeritus Professor Roy Ellen


Professor Roy Ellen was trained at the London School of Economics as a social anthropologist, though has long been committed to an anthropology that addresses the 'big issues' about what it is to be human. Roy's fieldwork has, over a period of 50 years, focused mainly on the Nuaulu of Seram and other peoples of the Moluccan islands of eastern Indonesia. He has also worked in Sulawesi, Java, Brunei and in the UK.

Throughout his career, Professor Ellen has had a continuous professional interest in the anthropology of the environment and in ethnobiology (especially in relation to cultural cognition), and inaugurated the Kent teaching programmes in these subjects. Roy has also worked on the ecological and social dynamics of inter-island trading systems.

Professor Ellen's current interests are focused on the applications of cognitive anthropology to the history of science, the reproduction of Nuaulu ritual cycles, Nuaulu contemporary cultural resilience and understanding the management and significance of cultivar diversity amongst home gardeners and farmers in the British Isles and in the Moluccas.

Research interests

Professor Ellen's main research and writing commitments arise from four recent and current grants:

In addition, Roy continues to work on other aspects of Moluccan ethnography and human ecology, ethnobiological classification, cultural cognition and knowledge transmission.

An index of Roy's book and film reviews can be found here.


Teaching Experience 


  • Introductory social anthropology and sociology
  • Sociological consequences of economic change
  • Economic anthropology
  • Environmental and social change in Southeast Asia
  • Language, categories, and culture
  • Anthropology and Language
  • Culture and Cognition
  • South East Asian societies
  • Kinship
  • Ritual and belief
  • Ecology, evolution and society 
  • Human ecology
  •  Research methods
  • Main currents of anthropological thought
  • Foundations of human culture.

Graduate Teaching and Administrative Experience:

  • Research methods
  • MA core course
  • Material culture
  • Biosocial anthropology
  • Semantic and cognitive anthropology
  • Ethnobiological knowledge systems
  • Supervision of MA, Postgraduate
  • Diploma and Research students
  • Convener of Social Anthropology research seminar
  • Convener and teacher of MSc Ethnobotany and MA in Environmental Anthropology. 
  • Director of Research for Anthropology, 1999-2009


Recently Completed:

  • Graciela Alcantára-Salinas: A comparative study of Cuicatec and Zapotec ornithology, with particular reference to contextual variation in a time of environmental and social change in Oaxaca, Mexico 2011.
  • Calum Blaikie: The commodification of materia medica and the practice of Tibetan medicine in Ladakh 2013.
  • Bernadette Montanari: A critical analysis of the introduction of essential oil distillation in the High Atlas of Morocco, with reference to the role of gendered traditional knowledge 2012.
  • Yoshimi Osawa: The perception and representation of umami: a study of the relationship between taste sensation, food types and cultural categories 2011.
  • Viola Schreer: Longing for prosperity in Indonesian Borneo 2016.
  • Lisa Fenton: 'Bushcraft' and 'indigenous knowledge': transformations of a concept in the modern world 2016.

View Professor Roy Ellen's previous Doctoral Graduates here.


Professor Ellen was a member of the University of Kent's REF 2014 Steering Group.

Roy currently edits the Berghahn series Studies in Environmental Anthropology and Ethnobiology on behalf of the Centre for Biocultural Diversity.

Nationally, Professor Ellen was a member of the Anthropology and Development Subpanel for the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, and was Chair of the Anthropology and Geography section of the British Academy between 2012 and 2015. Roy was a Council Member of the British Academy between 2009 and 2012 and President of the Royal Anthropological Institute between 2007-2011. 

Professor Ellen is currently a Vice President of the Royal Anthropological Institute, a member of its Council and the Manuscripts and Archives Committee.

View Professor Roy Ellen's CV here.

Grants and Awards

2022Mary W. Klinger Book Award for The Nuaulu World of Plants: Ethnobotanical Cognition, Knowledge and Practice Among a People of Seram, eastern Indonesia
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