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Fiona Ross

I am Professor of Anthropology at the University of Cape Town.  My interests span a variety of subfields in Anthropology, including urban, medical and linguistic anthropology. South African in focus, my work is concerned with formations of social life in apartheid’s aftermath. This has consistently afforded opportunities to explore emergent fields of knowledge and forms of life using an ethnographic approach.  Understanding ethnography as a form of disciplined curiosity, the work has taken form in three bodies of research. 

A critical study of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission set the grounds for an understanding of violence and redress and their gendered dimensions.  Here, the newly emergent field of transitional justice comes under ethnographic scrutiny.  

A longitudinal study of everyday life among marginalized residents of Cape Town’s periphery allowed me to understand the constitution of the everyday in the fraught conditions of the  early ‘post’-apartheid period and the modes of neoliberal governance it put in place. That work engages with new anthropologies of the city, and ends with the question of how social life takes form and with what possibilities and constraints.

I now pursue this question through a research programme that examines how life is made social and how contemporary knowledge formations are mobilised in defence of well-being. Tracing this through ‘the first thousand days of life’, an emergent knowledge field strongly shaped by epigenetic findings, my aim here is to explore the formation and deployment of concepts and in so doing to contribute to a critical assessment of the relation of concepts to ethnographic realities and world-making practices.  More details, including about participants and research outputs from this work, are available at www.thousanddays.uct.ac.za

I teach and supervise at all levels, and supervise work across Southern and Central Africa.


Selected Recent Publications


Ross, F. C. 2010.  Raw Life, New Hope: Decency, housing and everyday life in a post-apartheid community.  Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press.  ISBN: 9781919895277

Ross, F. C. 2003.  Bearing Witness: Women and the South African TRC. Pluto Press, London and New York.  ISBN:  0-7453-1891-6.

Edited Collections:

Dominguez, V and F C Ross.  2016.  ‘Forensic Anthropology’.  American Anthropologist. A collection of interviews with forensic anthropologists, with foreward and afterword by Dominguez and Ross. Vol 118 (3): 602-613.

Posel, D and F. C. Ross (eds). 2014.  Ethical Quandaries: Conversations from the Field. (An inter-disciplinary edited volume of 17 chapters.) HSRC Press. IBSN: 9780796924896

Ross, F. C. 2014. (Guest editor).  Special Theme: Life, Form, Substance.  Anthropology Southern Africa Vol. 37, 2014 (Nos 1&2). (Consists in Intro, 5 articles & Epilogue)

Ross, F. C.  2010. (Guest editor) Symposium: Mobility, temporality and the imaginary of order in contemporary South Africa. Social Dynamics Vol 36 (2). ISSN: 02533952.

Ross, F. C. 2005.  (Guest editor) Anthropology Southern Africa, Special Number on Ethics Vol 28 (3&4). ISSN: 02580144

Journal Articles

M. Pentecost, F. C. Ross and A McNab.  2017. “Beyond the dyad: making DOHaD interventions more inclusive.” Brief research report. DOHAD. Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, Vol 8(4).  doi:10.1017/S2040174417000629

Ross, F. C. 2017.  Review of ‘The Fires Beneath: The life of Monica Wilson, South African Anthropologist’. Anthropology Southern Africa. Vol 40(2): 149-151.

Waltz, M and F. C. Ross.  2016. “Milk, Meaning and Morality: Tracing the trajectory of donated breast milk from donor to baby”. Medicine, Anthropology, Theory.  3, no. 3: 46–71.

Ross, F.C. and N. Eppel. 2016 ‘Thermal Optimum: Time, intimacy and the elemental in the first thousand days of life’, Anthropology Southern Africa. 39:1, 64-73

Ross. F.C. 2015.  Raw life and respectability: Poverty and everyday life in a post-apartheid community. Special number of Current Anthropology, The Politics of the Urban Poor. Vol. 56 (S11).  S97-S107.  https://doi.org/10.1086/682078

Ross, F. C. 2014.  ‘Life, Form, Substance: Anthropological investigations’, Special Theme: Life, Form, Substance.  Anthropology Southern Africa Vol. 37, 2014 (Nos 1&2).

Ross, F. C. 2014.  ‘Mother of Two Children’.  Special Theme: Life, Form, Substance.  Anthropology Southern Africa Vol. 37, 2014 (Nos 1&2).

Ross, F. C., T. Cousins, P. Henderson, K. McDougall. 2014. ‘Epilogue: On not knowing endings’ Special Theme: Life, Form, Substance.  Anthropology Southern Africa Vol. 37, 2014 (Nos 1&2).

Ross, F. C. 2014. ‘Paisages sensorales: sensacion y emocion en el hacer de lugar’

(Translation of Sensescapes; Chapter 2 of Raw Life, New Hope, by Pai Montealegre), Bifurcaciones: Revista de Estudios Culturales Urbanos.  Numero 16, Otono 2014, Marzo-Mayo.  Online:  http://www.bifurcaciones.cl/2014/04/numero-016.

Ross, F. C. 2010.  ‘Introduction’, Symposium section (F Ross ed.), Mobility, Temporality and the Imaginary of Social Order in Contemporary Southern Africa.  Social Dynamics Vol 36 (2): 335-337.  ISSN 02533952

Chapters in books:

D. Posel and F. C. Ross. 2014. Opening up the quandaries of research ethics: Beyond the formalities of institutional ethical review.  Pp 1-26 in D Posel and F Ross (eds) Ethical Quandaries: Conversations from the Field. HSRC Press: Cape Town. IBSN: 9780796924896

F. C. Ross and J Grant.  2014. Pp. 168-182 in D Posel and F Ross (eds) Ethical Entailments: Publics and responsibilities in social research. HSRC Press: Cape Town. IBSN: 9780796924896

P Weinberg, D Posel and F. C. Ross. The weight of a photographer’s ‘value backpack’: An interview with Paul Weinberg. Pp250-264 in D Posel and F Ross (eds) HSRC Press: Cape Town. IBSN: 9780796924896

Ross, F. C. 2013.  Ethnographies of Poverty. In U. Pillay, G. Hagg, F. Nyamnjoh, J D Jansen (eds) State of the Nation. HSRC Press. Cape Town. ISBN: 978-07969-24223.

Ross, F.C. 2010.  An Acknowledged Failure: Women, Voice, Violence and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ pp. 69-91 in R. Shaw and L. Waldorf (eds).  Localising Transitional Justice: Interventions and Priorities after Mass Violence.  Stanford: Stanford University Press.  ISBN: 978-0-8047-6150-5


ORCID- ID: 0000-0001-9642-3670


Interests and Current Research Projects

I currently head a Mellon-funded research programme entitled The Anthropology of the First Thousand Days of Life. This seeks to interrogate the forms of knowledge that constitute policy fields, medical knowledge and everyday worlds in the broad area of reproduction and infant well-being. It currently consists of two programmes of work: (i) Formations of Life; (ii) Genes, Technologies, Genealogies.

In addition to this programme, I supervise in a variety of anthropological fields, including Medical Anthropology; Anthropology of Violence and Recovery; Southern African Ethnography.


Contact details

Office address: Room 5.14, AC Jordan Building

Telephone: 021 6503678

Email address: fiona.ross@uct.ac.za

Consultation times: By arrangement