Early Career Researcher, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester


Sarah O’Brien is a Research Associate at the department of Social Anthropology, at the University of Manchester. 

She is conducting research as part of a multi-sited comparative project examining tacit and explicit assumptions driving human hopes and fears in planning and caring for the future around nuclear sites – in England, Scotland, the Netherlands, and France. Sarah’s work focuses on the Cotentin peninsula in France, where she will explore local livelihoods in relation to a nuclear fuel reprocessing site. The project, entitled “MIMESIS: Nuclear Decommissioning as conceptual playground for societal and ecological future making” and led by Dr Petra Tjistke Kalshoven, will draw on ethnographic and collaborative research methods to help understand how people approach the future. 

Sarah completed her PhD in Social Anthropology with the Centre for Energy Ethics, as part of the “Ethics of Oil” project led by Dr Mette High. She examined the local realities of an energy transition in the UK through the perspective of grassroots campaigners concerned with the impact of fossil fuel infrastructures. She has conducted thirteen months of ethnographic research with a community in Lancashire, resisting unconventional gas extraction in the form of a hydraulic fracturing project (a process also known as ‘fracking’). Her thesis “Truth, Action, and Transition on an Energy Frontline in Lancashire, UK” investigates people’s multifaceted engagement with energy infrastructures in the context of anthropogenic climate change, and explores notions of ethics, temporalities, responsibilities and truth-making. 

In addition to her research work, Sarah has been closely involved with events organisation at the Centre for Energy Ethics including the creative Art of Energy initiative, the Africa @2050 workshop, as well as the Centre’s interdisciplinary conferences. She holds a BA in Human, Social, and Political Sciences from the University of Cambridge, UK.