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Dr Hugh Williamson

Research Fellow

Byrne House SF6

Social Anthropologist and Research Fellow on the Alan Turing Institute-funded project "From Field Data to Global Indicators: Towards a Framework for Intelligent Plant Data Linkage". The project is a historical, sociological and philosophical investigation of data linkage efforts in plant science, focusing specifically on crop and agricultural research.

Based within the Data Studies group at Egenis, the Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences, and affiliate of the Institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence.

Research interests:

  • Plant, agricultural and ecological sciences
  • Plant breeding and biotechnology
  • Quantitative genetics and its interaction with new data technologies
  • Agroecological conservation, rural development and participatory methodologies
  • Governance of science and common resources in a transnational context
  • Romania and post-socialist Europe 

Watch the presentations from our recent workshop series, Towards Responsible Plant Data Linkage, which brought together experts from the plant and agricultural sciences with historians, philosophers and sociologists of science. Volume forthcoming with Springer in 2022.

See also a recent talk I gave on quantitative genetics and plant breeding at the Philosophy of Plant Biology workshop held here in Exeter, in May 2021.


Research group links

Research interests

My research interests have been shaped by themes from the anthropology of science; science and technology studies (STS); and the history and philosophy of science, initially with a focus on ecology and, latterly, plant science and crop breeding. Broadly, my research takes a qualitative and practice-oriented approach. For my doctoral research at Cambridge, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork in an agroecological conservation zone in Transylvania, Romania, looking at dynamics of rural development and cultural politics. Currently, I am investigating data management in plant science for food and agricultural applications. I am interested in new applications of statistics and data-intensive methods in plant science, from fundamental research through crop breeding and varietal testing, and spanning genomics, phenomics and new forms of 'envirotyping'. My particular interest is in the implications of these for international agricultural research and development, as well as for environmental futures, and I have also been involved in work to establish a framework for responsible practice in plant and agricultural data linkage. I actively pursue interdisciplinary collaborations in my work.

Through my work in Romania I have also engaged extensively with the anthropology of Europe and the history of Eastern European communism and post-communist transformations. This has led to some additional work on politics, including co-editing a special section (in Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale) on the anthropology of liberalism.


I hold a BA in Anthropology from Durham University (2013), an interdisciplinary course which encompassed anthropology's social, medical and biological subfields. I subsequently studied at the University of Cambridge, where I received an MRes (2014) and PhD (2019) in Social Anthropology. At Exeter, I am Research Fellow on the Alan Turing Institute-funded project ‘From Field Data to Global Indicators: Towards a Framework for Intelligent Plant Data Linkage’ (2019-2022). I am based at Egenis, the Exeter Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences.

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