Dr Alanna Cant is a social anthropologist, trained in Canada and the United Kingdom, where she completed her PhD in 2012 at the London School of Economics. Before joining the School, Alanna was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Anthropology at the University of Oslo.
Dr Cant's theoretical interests include the social production of aesthetics and materiality; intellectual property and authorship; the generation of economic and non-economic value; anthropology of art and heritage; the anthropology of Catholicism. Her research is based on extensive fieldwork in the Central Valleys region of Oaxaca, Mexico.
Alanna became a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow in the School in December 2016, funded by ‘Horizon 2020’, the European Union Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.
The central theme of Dr Cant's research is people's 'everyday aesthetic practices' in Oaxaca, Mexico and how these practices intersect with larger issues of politics, value, globalisation, identity, history and faith. Alanna draws in particular on works by Pierre Bourdieu, Walter Benjamin and Alfred Gell to develop a robust anthropological approach to aesthetics that attends to the material, artistic and auratic power of art-like objects, while also addressing the social relationships constituted through aesthetic practices and experiences. She is also interested in the methodological issues of studying aesthetics and art production ethnographically.
Dr Cant’s current research addresses the restoration of a colonial-era Catholic church located in a peripheral indigenous community in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. It investigates the ways in which the professionals concerned with the conservation of the church as a federally-protected historic site engage with the local religious community that has particular rights in, and relationships with, the building and objects that are to undergo repair. It raises larger political and ethical questions of how divergent ideological, aesthetic and cultural values are negotiated in contexts of religious heritage conservation.
This is a social anthropology project that is grounded in a broader multidisciplinary approach that connects with art and architectural history, conservation sciences, and religious studies. The aims are to investigate: (1) the cultural, religious and vocational ideologies and beliefs that come into conflict as actors work through restoration projects together; (2) how the material and immaterial aspects of sacred and historically valuable objects are understood by different stakeholders; and (3) how relations of power are manifested and reinforced or resisted during restoration projects.
Dr Cant’s field diary can be read here.
Practising aesthetics: artisanal production and politics in a woodcarving village in Oaxaca, Mexico
This research is based on twenty months of ethnographic fieldwork (2008-2009) with artisans in the village of San Martín Tilcajete, Oaxaca, where woodcarvings (or alebrijes) are produced for sale to tourists, art collectors, museums and wholesalers. The central theoretical concern is how the aesthetic projects and expectations of art producers and consumers condition the economic and social worlds in which artisans work and live.
It addresses: (1) artisans’ aesthetic practices, including questions of how production is experienced aesthetically and conceptualisations of authorship, style and skill; (2) how different actors’ aesthetic sensibilities produce and reproduce the woodcarvings as a genre; and (3) the political consequences of these aesthetic practices for issues of competition, community politics and belonging and emergent understandings of aesthetic ownership, now frequently framed in the language of intellectual property.