Dr Zuzanna Olszewska

zuzanna olszewska web


Associate Professor in the Social Anthropology of the Middle East

Key interests: Afghanistan, Iran, refugees, diaspora, cultural production, poetry, subjectivity and modernity, aspiration. Covid-19 and women’s health. Digital ethnography.

I specialise in the ethnography of Iran and Afghanistan, with a focus on Afghan refugees in Iran, the Persian-speaking Afghan diaspora, the anthropology of literature and cultural production, and digital ethnography. I received my doctorate in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford in 2010 and have held post-doctoral fellowships at St. John's College (JRF, 2008-12) and LSE (LSE Fellow in Anthropology, 2012-13). My doctoral research was published as The Pearl of Dari: Poetry and Personhood among Young Afghans in Iran, an ethnographic inquiry into how poetic activity reflects changes in youth subjectivity in an Afghan refugee community, based on work with an Afghan cultural organisation in Mashhad, Iran. I presented this work as a lecture series titled Authentic Verses, Modern Selves: An Ethnography of Afghan Refugee Poetry and Personhood in Iran, as the Evans-Pritchard Lecturer for 2013 at All Souls College, Oxford. The book won the 2016 Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award from the Middle East Studies Association and the 2017 Middle East Section Book Award of the American Anthropological Association.

My current research is divided into two disparate strands:

  1. I am involved in a group research project entitled Exploring the links between the Covid-19 pandemic and female reproductive health: a mixed methods approach with Dr. Alex Alvergne and Gabriella Kountourides. I am responsible for the digital ethnography and qualitative interviews portion of this project.
  2. My long-term research on Afghan cultural production expands beyond the refugee community in Iran to take a more global approach, examining the affective and imaginative role Afghan diasporic communities are playing in creating (or thwarting) an elusive pan-Afghan national identity. I am particularly interested in how young emigre Afghans use new social media and both offline and online cultural activities to construct an Afghan national imaginary or other identities in vibrant and often heated conversations that receive little attention from the 'international community'.

I supervise postgraduate students working on cultural production, particularly literary work, in Middle Eastern communities and their diasporas, as well as on a variety of topics in the Persian-speaking world. NB: I am unable to take on new DPhil students in the academic year 2023-24.

I am currently the Chair of the Standing Committee (Director of Undergraduate Studies) for the BA in Archaeology and Anthropology.

I am also (2019-23) the Research Methods Training Convenor for SAME, and am happy to address all queries related to this.


Email: zuzanna.olszewska@anthro.ox.ac.uk



I participate in core paper lecturing and tutorial teaching for the following degree programmes:

BA in Archaeology and Anthropology
BA in Human Sciences
MSc/MPhil in Social Anthropology

I also co-convene and teach on two options and one Research Methods Module:

Social Anthropology of the Middle East
Language and Anthropology

Language-Focused Methods

I offer occasional tutorials and dissertation supervision for students on the BA in Oriental Studies (Persian)

Teaching Administration

I currently hold the following roles:

Chair of the Standing Committee (DUGS) for the BA in Archaeology and Anthropology (2021-24)
Research Methods Training Convenor for SAME (2019-23)

Current DPhil students