Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff - Paul Mason

Associate Lecturer

Office: W6A/602
Phone: (61 2) 9850 8021Dr Paul Mason

Academic Profile

As an anthropologist, I have contributed to theory and knowledge in the fields of ethnomusicology, medical anthropology, and complex systems theory. At the centre of my research interests is a deep fascination with biological and cultural diversity. I have conducted fieldwork with arts communities in Indonesia and Brazil, religious minorities in Brazil and India, and infectious disease patients in Vietnam. Based on my research on tuberculosis in Vietnam, I have written an educational book for children that has been translated into several languages. My current research is on the ethics of biobanking in the context of globalisation.


At Macquarie University, I have taught across the anthropology curriculum with a concentration in anthropological research methods, development and human rights, psychological anthropology, and human evolution. My fieldwork experience in ethnomusicology and medical anthropology informs my undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. Adapting to a rapidly expanding repertoire of literacy practices, I engage strongly with multimodal pedagogy and have co-authored a free online Human Research Ethics training module with Associate Professor Lisa Wynn and Dr Kristina Everett. I have a breadth of teaching experience at several Australian universities including the University of Melbourne, Sydney University, the University of Western Sydney, the University of Tasmania in Sydney, and La Trobe University. Sharing my passion for anthropology with students is fulfilling and I am always looking for creative ways to inspire students to learn.

Areas of Expertise

  • Medical anthropology with a specialization in qualitative and mixed-methods research on tuberculosis care and prevention
  • Bioethics and in particular neuroethics as well as the politics and ethics of infectious disease
  • Anthropology of the body including neuroanthropology, ethnomusicology, dance anthropology, the anthropology of martial arts, and choreomusicology (the study of the relationship between music and dance).
  • Complex systems theory.
  • Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Research Profile

My research spans a wide range of topics from choreomusicology to cultural evolution. For my PhD thesis, I studied West Sumatran, West Javanese and Afro-Brazilian practices of combat-dancing. I conducted fieldwork in Indonesia and Brazil with the support of a Darmasiswa scholarship as well as Travel Grants from Macquarie International and the Postgraduate Research Fund (Deputy Vice Chancellor's commendation). I supplemented fieldwork with archival research at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies with support from the Australia Netherlands Research Collaboration. This historical and ethnographic research was a really excellent opportunity to sink my teeth into apprenticeship anthropology and to develop a range of qualitative research skills that would serve me in postdoctoral research. I published my research findings in a variety of peer-reviewed journals and online media, and most notably I co-edited "The Fighting Art of Pencak Silat and its Music" with Dr Uwe Paetzold from the Robert Schumann University of Music, Düsseldorf.

My postdoctoral research at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research took me to a new fieldsite with a new research topic: tuberculosis. Now outranking HIV/AIDS as the biggest infectious killer, tuberculosis continues to impact upon the lives of millions every year. With the support of a seeding grant from the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence on Tuberculosis, I conducted fieldwork in Ca Mau, the southernmost province of Vietnam. I interviewed 75 people living with TB, facilitated focus-group discussions in several villages, and conducted participant-observation fieldwork in clinic, laboratory and community settings as well as semi-structured interviews with scientists, health care workers, administrators, and representatives of funding bodies involved with TB control and health care reforms in Vietnam. This research was focused on the illness experience and health-seeking behaviours of TB patients as well as the social, economic, and political dimensions of TB care and prevention. Connecting public policy with clinical practice, this research addressed the ethical and regulatory issues that impact upon diagnostic delay for tuberculosis disease in Vietnam. With a strong belief in social integration and a desire to live in a world free of the impoverished conditions that foster diseases such as tuberculosis, I continue to collaborate with clinical researchers, epidemiologists and laboratory scientists on key research questions in tuberculosis care and prevention.

At the core of my broad research interests is a capacity to apply anthropological perspectives and systems thinking to a variety of problems. In addition to contributions to anthropological theory published in journals such as Ethnomusicology Forum, Qualitative Research, and Global Ethnographic, I have also worked to bring anthropological research methods to specialist audiences outside the social sciences. In my research on tuberculosis, I work to promote the inclusion of anthropological theory and methods into a field traditionally dominated by quantitative research. This has meant packaging anthropological perspectives in a way that is appealing to researchers outside my discipline. I have co-authored articles published in the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease and the Journal of Biosocial Science that serve as pedagogical resources on anthropological theory and methods for specialist audiences. I have also constructively applied anthropological critiques of reductionism to develop new conceptual frameworks in scientific modelling in articles published in Biological Theory, BioSystems, Complexity, Briefings in Functional Genomics, and The Proceedings of the Royal Society B as well as in invited speaking engagements at conferences, symposia and seminars. Via selective submission of abstracts, I have presented research papers at numerous anthropology, ethnomusicology and social science conferences. Contributing to the discipline of anthropology and using anthropological methods to address problems in other disciplines has led to fruitful and fulfilling cross-disciplinary collaborations.


I have co-supervised Masters and PhD students in Public Health at the University of Sydney and mentored a selection of undergraduate, postgraduate and summer students at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research. I have an interest in supervising a broad range of postgraduate projects related to the anthropology of the body including topics in the fields of medical anthropology, bioethics, science and technology studies, ethnomusicology and dance anthropology.



  • 2016. Phương and An go to the doctor [Children's Book About Tuberculosis]. Vietnam: Enculture Press.
  • 2016. Co-edited with Uwe U. Paetzold. The Fighting Art of Pencak Silat and its Music: From Southeast Asian Village to Global Movement. Brill.
  • 2008. Coedited with Hanafi Hussin, MCM Santa Maria, Abraham Sakili. Southeast Asian Religion, Culture and Art of the Sea. Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences (IOES) Monograph Series No. 6.

Selected Peer Reviewed Articles

  • 2016. With Eileen Hebets, Andy Barron, Christopher Balakrishnan, Mark Hauber, Kim Hoke. "A Systems Approach to Animal Communication." Proceedings of the Royal Society B,
  • 2016. With Chris Degeling. "Beyond Biomedicine: Relationships and Care in Tuberculosis Prevention." Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 13(1), doi: 10.1007/s11673-015-9697-6.
  • 2016. With Anupom Roy, Jayden Spillane, and Puneet Singh. "Social, Historical & Cultural Dimensions of Tuberculosis." Journal of Biosocial Science, 48(2), 206-232. doi: 10.1017/S0021932015000115
  • 2015. With Justin Denhom and Chris Degeling. "Sociocultural dimensions of tuberculosis: an overview of key concepts." International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, 19(10), pp. 1135-1143, doi:
  • 2015. With Greg Downey, and Monica Dalidowicz. "Apprenticeship as Method: Embodied learning in ethnographic practice." Qualitative Research, 15(2), 183-200. doi: 10.1177/1468794114543400
  • 2015. With Juan F. Domínguez Duque, Bodo Winter, Andrea Grignolio. "Hidden in plain view: degeneracy in complex systems." BioSystems, 128, 1-8. doi:10.1016/j.biosystems.2014.12.003
  • 2015. "Degeneracy: Demystifying and destigmatizing a core concept in systems biology." Complexity, 20(3), 12-21. doi: 10.1002/cplx.21534
  • 2014. "Tapping the Plate or Hitting the Bottle: The Choreomusicology of Self-Accompanied and Musician-Accompanied Plate-Dancing In West Sumatra." Ethnomusicology Forum, 23(2), 208-228. doi: 10.1080/17411912.2014.926632
  • 2013. "Intracultural and Intercultural Dynamics of Capoeira." Global Ethnographic, 1, 1-8.
  • 2012. "Music, dance and the total art work: choreomusicology in theory and practice." Research in Dance Education, 13(1), 5-24. doi: 10.1080/14647893.2011.651116
  • 2012. "L'architecture morphodynamique des coutumes de Sumatra Ouest : Silek, musique traditionnelle, et cartographie du terrain culturel Minangkabau, " Cultures-Kairós, 1(1).
  • 2011. With Roger Valentine Short. "Neanderthal-human Hybrids." Hypothesis, 9(1), 1-5. doi:10.5779/hypothesis
  • 2010. "Degeneracy at multiple levels of complexity." Biological Theory: Integrating Development, Evolution and Cognition, 5(3), 277-288. doi: 10.1162/BIOT_a_00041

Selected Book Chapters

  • 2016. With Claire Hooker and Chris Degeling. "Dying a natural death: Ethics and political activism for endemic infectious disease", in M. Kari Nixon and Lorenzo Servitje (Eds), Endemic: Essays in Contagion Theory, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • 2016. "Silek Minang in West Sumatra, Indonesia", in Uwe Paetzold & Paul H. Mason (Eds) The Fighting Art of Pencak Silat and its Music: From Southeast Asian Village to Global Movement, Brill, pp. 205-234.
  • 2016. "Pencak Silat Seni in West Java, Indonesia", in Uwe Paetzold & Paul H. Mason (Eds) The Fighting Art of Pencak Silat and its Music: From Southeast Asian Village to Global Movement, Brill, pp. 235-264.
  • 2014. What is normal? A historical survey and neuroanthropological perspective, in Jens Clausen and Neil Levy (Eds) Handbook of Neuroethics, Springer, pp. 343-363.

Available online:

  • 2008. With L.L. Wynn and Kristina Everett. "Human Research Ethics for the Social Sciences and Humanities":