Picture of Susanna Barnes

Susanna Barnes M.A. (Hons), M.A., Ph.D Assistant Professor

Archaeology 226

Research Area(s)

  • anthropology of island Southeast Asia
  • customary governance and land tenure
  • kinship and exchange
  • international development
  • anthropology of reconciliation and reconstruction
  • inter-generational well-being and healing
  • colonial and post-colonial history

About me

Dr Susanna Barnes is a social anthropologist who has conducted her main fieldwork in Timor-Leste. Her research interests include the anthropology of island Southeast Asia, customary governance and land tenure, inter-generational well-being and healing, kinship and exchange, colonial and post-colonial history, and international development.


In the news

HOW TIMOR-LESTE HAS MOBILISED AGAINST COVID-19 by Dr Susanna Barnes, Teresa Hall, Dr Balthasar Kehi, Quintiliano Mok and Associate Professor Lisa Palmer, University of Melbourne


Fitzpatrick, D., A. McWilliam & S. Barnes. 2012. Property and social resilience in times of conflict: land, custom and law in East Timor. Farnham, Surrey, England; Burlington,VT: Ashgate Pub.

Book chapters

Barnes, S, Palmer, L, Kakuma, R, Larke, B, 2019, ‘Towards an integrated and accessible mental health care system in Timor Leste’, in McWilliam, A and Leach, M ed., Contemporary Timor Leste Studies Handbook. Routledge.

Barnes, S and Trindade, J, 2018, ‘Visions of the good –life and prosperity in Timor Leste’, in Bovensiepen, J ed., Beyond the resource curse – Visions of the future in Timor Leste.

Barnes, S, 2017, ‘Land, identity and the re-assertion of sacralised authority in Timor Leste’, in Feijo, R and Viegas Matos, S eds., Transformations in Independent Timor-Leste: dynamics of social and cultural co-habitations. Lisbon: Routledge

Barnes, S, 2011, ‘Origins, precedence and the social order in the domain of the Mane Hitu’, in McWilliam, A and Traube, E eds., 2011, Land and Life in Timor Leste. ANU E-press

Peer-reviewed publications

Barnes, S, Hagerdal, H, Palmer L, 2017, An East Timorese domain: Luca from central and peripheral perspectives, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde

Palmer, L, Kakuma R and Barnes, S, 2017, Opening the paths to healing: approaches to mental health in Timor Leste, Third World Thematics, Received 18 Sep 2016, Accepted 26 May 2017, Published online: 12 Jun 2017.

Fitzpatrick, D and Barnes, S, 2014, Rules of Possession Revisited: Property and the Problem of Social Order’, Law & Social Inquiry, Volume 39, Issue 1, 127–151

Fitzpatrick, D and Barnes, S, 2010, ‘The Resilience of Property: First Possession and Order without Law’, Law and Society Review, 45/2

Conference papers

Barnes, S, Spoken words, written documents and grounded practices: understanding land claims from an ‘analytic of assemblage’, Timor-Leste Studies Initiative at the Association for Asian Studies, Virtual Workshop, 1-12 June 2020.

Barnes, S, The reaffirmation of local forms of power and authority in Timor-Leste, Canadian Council for South East Asian Studies, Montreal, 24-26 October 2019.

Barnes, S, On the existence and persistence of the social category of ‘slave’ in contemporary Timor-Leste, International Symposium: Economic Dynamics and Social Change in the Making of Contemporary Timor- Leste, Brasilia, Brasil, 3-6 July 2018.

Barnes, S, Emerging anthropological approaches to the study of health and well-being in Timor-Leste, Timor Leste Studies Pre-Conference Workshop, Association for Asian Studies Conference, Washington, 22 March 2018.

Barnes, S, Configuring Catholicism in Timor-Leste, Colloquium at St Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan, 15 March 2018.

Palmer, L, Kakuma R, Barnes, S and Seixas H, 2016 Towards an integrated and accessible Mental Health Service in Timor Leste: Preliminary Findings published in the Conference Proceedings of Timor Leste Studies Association Conference [Peer reviewed].

Barnes, S, Land, Identity and the Re-assertion of Sacralised Authority in Timor Leste, Colloquium at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of California Los Angeles, 3 December 2014.

Barnes, S. Gift giving and gift obligations: strategies of incorporation and accommodation in the customary domain, paper presented at The European Southeast Asian Studies Association Conference, 2-5 July, Lisbon, 2013

Teaching & Supervision

ANTH 231: Cross-cultural perspectives on health and illness

ANTH 310: Anthropology of Gender

I am currently available to supervise MA students in Anthropology.


My doctoral research focused on the phenomenon of ‘customary renewal’ in post-independence Timor Leste. My field work centred on the community of Babulo in Uato Lari sub-district and in particular the efforts of the ritual authority known as the ‘Source of the Land’ to reassert their claims to status and political influence through the revitalisation of customary practices and beliefs.

I have also conducted extensive fieldwork on customary forms of land tenure and natural resource management in other areas of Timor Leste including the sub-districts of Maliana and Ainaro and am a co-author of a book, Property and social resilience in times of conflict: land, custom and law in East Timor.

More recently I have been involved in an on-going inter-disciplinary research project with colleagues from the University of Melbourne on customary approaches to health and healing in Timor Leste. 

I am currently working on an international research project that combines ethnographically grounded research and micro-histories of land governance policies and practices to explore the legacy of colonial-era land policies and practices across countries in Asia, South-America and Africa that were colonized by Portugal (http://www.lusolandlegacies.org).

Education & Training

Ph.D., Anthropology, Monash University (Melbourne, Australia)

M.A, Anthropology of Development, University of Sussex (Brighton, UK)

M.A. (Hons), Spanish and History, University of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, UK)