Picture of Susanna Barnes

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

Assistant Professor

Faculty Member in Anthropology
Graduate Supervisor in Anthropology

Archaeology 226

Research Area(s)

  • anthropology of island Southeast Asia
  • customary governance and land tenure
  • kinship and exchange
  • international development
  • cultural tourism and development
  • 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, 2023, ‘On the existence and persistence of the social category of ‘slave’ in contemporary Timor Leste’, in Silva, K, Cunha, T and Palmer, L eds., Economic Dynamics and Social Change in the Making of Contemporary Timor-Leste, Leiden Press.

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., 2023. Learning from Ritual: Covid-19 Public Health Measures and Messaging in Timor-Leste. Etnoantropološki problemi/Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology, 18(1), pp.77-98.

Lisa Palmer, Susanna Barnes, Tamsin Wagner & Amias Hanley (2023) Holding Tightly: Co-Mingling, Life-Flourishing and Filmic Ecologies, Journal of Intercultural Studies, DOI: 10.1080/07256868.2023.2192910

Barnes, S, 2021, Spoken words, grounded practices and written documents: an exploration of land claim-making processes in Timor-Leste, Volume on Land Tenure in Timor-Leste: Between Resilient Custom and the Resurgent State. In [peer-reviewed] Conference Proceedings of Timor-Leste Studies Association Portugal. Timor-Leste Studies Association Portugal.

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, “Environmenal change and the Re-Assertion of Ritual Authority in Post-Occupation Timor-Leste:, presented at Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, Boston, 16-19th March 2023

Barnes, S, ‘Destination Coffee: Tourism Imaginaries of Post-pandemic Economic Recovery in Timor-Leste’, presented at American Anthropological Association Annual Conference, Seattle, 9-14th November 2022

Barnes, S, ‘Holding Tightly: Culture and Medicine in Timor-Leste’, film viewing and Q&A, European Association of South East Asian Studies, Paris, 28 June – 1st July 2022.

Barnes, S, ‘Holding Tightly: Culture and Medicine in Timor-Leste’, film viewing and Q&A, Canadian Anthropological Society Annual Conference May 2022

Barnes, S, ‘Learning from ritual: COVID-19 public health measures and messaging in Timor-Leste’, presented at the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, Yucatan, 9-13 November, 2021

Barnes, S, ‘Colonial science and ‘development’ in the work of Jose Valdez, soldier and veterinarian’. Paper presented at the European Association of South East Asian Studies, Olumec 7-10, September, 2021

Palmer, L, Trindade, J, Barnes, S, ‘Documenting Spiritual Ecologies and Customary Governance in Post-conflict East Timor’, Paper presented at panel on Digitizing Geographies of Indigenous Folkllore in the Global South, and the Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers Annual International Conference 2021, 31 August – 3 September 2021

Barnes, S, ‘Lusotropical visions of development? Exploring the impact of Portuguese development thought and practice on land relations in the late Portuguese colonial period, paper presented at International Symposium of Lusophone Land Legacies in Comparative Perspective, 25-28 May, 2021.

Barnes, S, ‘Entanglements of custom, public health and social media in Timor-Leste’s COVID response’, presented at the Canadian Anthropological Society / Société canadienne d’anthropologie Annual Conference 2021, Guelph 12-15 May, 2021. 

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.

Teaching & Supervision

ANTH111: One World, Many Peoples

ANTH 231: Cross-cultural perspectives on health and illness

ANTH 240: Cultural Landscapes and Environments

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).

I am a member of the Economies and Globalisation Research Laboratory / Laboratório de Estudos em Economias e Globalizações (http://leeg.dan.bsb.br/pt/

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)