PhD project: Taking responsibility for the climate crisis in Massachusetts: Intersections of climate action, climate justice and progressivism within the US climate movement

Tom Bell’s research is based on 15 months' ethnographic fieldwork undertaken during 2018/2019 – a period of significant growth both for the climate movement and in public concern about the climate crisis – with climate activists and social movement organisations primarily in the Greater Boston area of Massachusetts, an important hub of civic responses to the climate crisis in the USA. 

Engaging with debates in the anthropology of ethics, which he brings into conversation with literature on activism, social movements and the Anthropocene, Tom’s research explores climate activists’ and organisers’ engagements with the ethical and moral dimensions of the climate crisis in the context of their work to achieve various forms of social, political and economic transformation across multiple scales. 

Tom's work focuses on the interplay between moral injunctions to ‘take responsibility’ for the climate crisis, the ethical scales of climate action, discourses on urgency and emergency in relation to climate change, activism concerning climate and environmental (in)justice, the politics of progressivism, and the strategies used by organisers to build the grassroots climate movement in Massachusetts and the US. He also examines how these issues intersect with culturally rooted techniques of citizen activism and longer cultural histories of progressivism in Massachusetts, histories of social movements in the US, and American identity politics. 

Tom’s research provides unique perspectives on how grassroots social movements are at the forefront of changing public narratives about climate change, articulating systemic alternatives to fossil fuel extraction and generating discourses concerning the need to centre questions of justice and equity in response to the climate crisis. 

During his fieldwork, Tom was a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Anthropology at Tufts University (Medford, MA). His position at Tufts was sponsored by Professor Sarah Pinto

Tom is also a member of the Centre for Indigenous and Settler Colonial Studies at the University of Kent.


Dr Jonathan Mair
Dr Robert Fish


ESRC-funded SeNSS (South East Network for Social Sciences) studentship


  • From November 2019: Anthropology Postgraduate School Rep, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent 
  • October 2019: Lecture for Dr David Henig’s module ‘Sustainability and Social Contestation’ for ‘MA in Cultural Anthropology: Sustainable Citizenship’, Department of Cultural Anthropology, Utrecht University 
  • September 2019: Discussant at School event The Climate and Environment Emergency: Looking Ahead, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent 
  • April 2019: Anthropology Brown Bag Lunch Talk, Department of Anthropology, Tufts University (Medford, MA) 
  • October 2018 and September 2019: Presentations at Dr Cathy Stanton’s ‘Fieldwork Lab’, Undergraduate module ANTH 161, Department of Anthropology, Tufts University (Medford, MA) 
  • July 2018 to October 2019: Visiting Scholar at Department of Anthropology, Tufts University (Medford, MA) 
  • June 2018: Panellist for event New Ethnographic Contexts and Methodological Innovation: Creativity, Imagination and Performance, Centre for Ethnographic Research, University of Kent 
  • April 2018: Panelist for workshop The Ethics of Compromise, Centre for Ethnographic Research, University of Kent 
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