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Economic, Social and Political Sciences
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Dr Tessa Altman PhD, MA

ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow

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Tess Altman is an ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow within the South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership, based in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton.

Tess conducts research on humanitarianism for and with migrants in hostile policy climates. Her recently completed PhD in Anthropology at UCL, titled “The domestic humanitarian: Responsible neighbours, fairness and ambivalence in urban Australia”, examined the political and moral subjectivities of volunteers supporting people seeking asylum in Australia as well as the gendered and racialised dimensions of humanitarianism.

Over the course of her Fellowship, Tess will be leading her own research project “Humanitarianism against hostility: Volunteer hospitality in Australia and Europe”, with the support of Professors David Owen and Jack Corbett. The project extends the findings of her PhD into academic publications including a monograph tentatively titled “Humanitarians next door”. She will also be comparatively applying her research insights through engagement with the UK Sanctuary movement.

Tess advocates for collaborative methods and pedagogical tools. Most recently, she has been involved with hosting performance ethnography workshops and has helped establish a new fieldwork curriculum for PhD students (at UCL Anthropology).

Tess also has experience working in government as a senior policy officer on multiculturalism and social cohesion, in NGOs and peak bodies such as the Red Cross and Volunteering Australia, and as a research consultant for NGOs.

Academic Qualifications

PhD in Anthropology, University College London (2019)

MA in Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, University of Leiden (2012)

Honours in Social Anthropology, University of Auckland (2009)

Bachelor of Arts, Australian National University (2007)

Research interests

My primary research interests are critical approaches to humanitarianism, citizenship, political ethnography, social justice, neoliberalism, and settler and postcolonialism.

Engaging with critical approaches to humanitarianism, I consider how humanitarianism is instrumentalised to govern marginalised populations and police borders. On the flip side, I also look at the potential for humanitarian encounters to humanise relations between volunteers and recipients, reflecting on how scale can personalise relationships.

I situate volunteer humanitarianism as a practice of performing citizenship and rejecting xenophobia and racism, which paradoxically in the Australian case draws on cultural tropes such as neighbourliness and fairness that are grounded in a settler history.

I am also interested in the gendered dimensions of humanitarianism, which is provided by a mainly female volunteer workforce. I have an upcoming book chapter in an edited volume with the University of Alabama Press about gendered relations between NGOs and states.

I am looking forward to collaborating with the UK Sanctuary movement to work towards establishing the University of Southampton as a University of Sanctuary.

Research project

Humanitarianism against hostility: Volunteer hospitality in Australia and Europe

Affiliate research groups

Centre for Political Ethnography, SCDTP Citizenship, Governance and Security Cluster

Involvement in SCDTP activities including the Citizenship, Governance and Security cluster and mentoring PhD students.

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Book Chapters


Guest lectures in humanitarianism, urban politics, race and nationalism, qualitative methods and ethnography.

Dr Tessa Altman
Reception Building 58 University of Southampton Southampton SO17 1BJ United Kingdom

Room Number : 58

Dr Tessa Altman's personal home page
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