Dr Peter Oakley


  • Peter Oakley leads the staff research activities across the School of Material, helping develop new research projects and secure project funding. Peter has extensive knowledge of digital, industrial, studio and bespoke manufacturing processes, material standards and related analytical techniques, ethical and sustainable material sourcing and the role of heritage in constructing object identities and communities. He has experience of using a range of research methodologies, including ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, oral histories, object analysis, experimental reconstruction and research through practice.

  • Biography

  • After working as an analytical chemist, Peter studied ceramics at the University of Brighton, the Gerrit Reitveld Academie and the Royal College of Art. Upon graduating he used his modelling and mould-making skills to support design projects and for restoration work. During the 1990s Peter held teaching positions at Camberwell College of Art, De Montfort University and Surrey Institute of Art and Design. From 2002 to 2005 he was the course leader for the BA Applied Arts programme at Plymouth College of Art. Peter’s ongoing interest in making techniques and communities of makers led to full-time research at the Department of Anthropology, University College London and fieldwork in the southwest United States. There he studied the manufacture of ‘Indian Jewellery’ and its display and retail at heritage locations. Following this, Peter was employed for two years by the SWLLN (a UK regional development project) to create university-level courses in heritage and cultural tourism, working with universities, colleges and key heritage organisations across South-West England. Peter then returned to UCL, spending the next four years (2008−12) researching the UK’s fine jewellery industry and its supply chains, including the emergence of ethical gold sourcing initiatives. In 2012 Peter joined the RCA as the School of Material’s Research Leader.

    Peter is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) and a member of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry (SHAC), the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS) and the Association of Research Managers and Assistants (ARMA). He is also an Honorary Research Fellow at UCL and a member of the editorial board for Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption.

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  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Book Chapters

    Forthcoming Winter 2014/5. ‘Introducing Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold: An attempt to reconfigure the social identity of a substance’. In: Adam Drazin and Susanne Kuechler eds., The Social Life of Materials. London, New Dehli, New York, Sydney: Bloomsbury.

    Forthcoming Nov 2014. ‘A Permanent State of Decay: contrived dereliction at heritage mining sites’. In: Hilary Orange ed., Reanimating Industrial Spaces.  Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

    2013.  Co-authored with Professor Susanne Küchler. ‘New Materials and their Impact on the Material World’. In: Penny Harvey, Eleanor Casella, Gillian Evans, Hannah Knox, Christine McLean, Elizabeth B. Silva, Nicholas Thoburn, Kath Woodward eds., Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion. London: Routledge.

    2013. ‘Containing Precious Metals: the material consequences of hallmarking in modern and medieval England’. In: Hans Peter Hahn and Hadas Weis eds., Mobility, Meaning and Transformations of Things: shifting contexts of material culture through time and space. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

    2008. ‘Praxeological Subjectification: the hidden power of practical activities’. In: Design Pedagogy Research. Kate Hatton ed., Jeremy Mills.

    Academic Journal Articles

    In Press for 2015. ‘Ticking Boxes: (re)constructing the wristwatch as a luxury object’, Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption, Special Edition 2015.

    Published Conference Papers

    2014. ‘Crafting with Digital Technologies: issues in practice’. In: Making Futures Vol.3, Plymouth College of Art.

    2014. ‘Contrived Dereliction: employing an aesthetic of decay at mining heritage sites’. In: Tourism and the Shifting Values of Cultural Heritage Conference Papers (Taipei, April 5-9, 2013), University of Birmingham, National Taipei University of Education and National Taiwan University.

    2010. ‘Does Contemporary Craft Carry a Social Deficit? An analysis through comparison with related creative practices’. In: Making Futures Vol.1, Plymouth College of Art.

    Industry Publications

    2012. ‘Reflections on Ethical Gold’. In: The Goldsmiths’ Company Technical Journal 2012.

    2011. ‘Ethical Highs and Lows in 2011’. In: Benchpeg Almanack 2011.

    The Ethical Gold Series for Benchpeg:

    2010. ‘Introducing Ethical Gold’. In: Benchpeg 162, 9-15 May 2010.

    2010. ‘So What’s Wrong with Gold Mining Anyway?’ In: Benchpeg 167, 13-19 June 2010.

    2010. ‘Industrial Mining and Anti-Mining Campaigns’. In Benchpeg 173, 25-31 July 2010.

    2010. ‘Why is ASM Different?’ In: Benchpeg 178, 29 Aug- 4 September 2010.

    2010. ‘Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold'. In: Benchpeg 187, 31 Oct- 6 November 2010.

    Recent Conference, Workshop and Seminar Papers


    Crafting with Digital Technologies (keynote presentation). ‘Making Futures: Beijing’, part of Beijing Design Festival, held in Dashilar Hutong, Beijing, 28 September.

    The Heart of Gold: manufacturing objects and material identities. ‘Anthropology in London’ annual conference, London School of Economics and University College London, 24 June.


    Gold Jewellery as Money: the covert social identity of a class of object. ‘Value and Equivalence’ workshop, Goethe Universitaet Frankfurt am Main, 30 November. 

    Crafting with Digital Technologies: issues in practice. ‘Making Futures 3’ conference, Plymouth College of Art, 27 September.

    Immanence vs. Provenance:  Fairtrade Gold and the social complexity of substance identities. ‘1st European Conference on the Social Sciences’ (highlight presentation), IAFOR, Brighton, 6 July.

    A Permanent State of Decay: Contrived Dereliction at Heritage Mining Sites. 'Tourism and the Shifting Values of Cultural Heritage' conference, University of Birmingham, National Taipei University of Education and National Taiwan University, held in Taipei, 8 April.


    The Rise and Fall of the Jewellery District in England. TAG Annual Conference, University of Liverpool, 19 December.

    Managing a Stream of Gold: the UK Assay Office in the 20th century. SHAC annual meeting, held at the Science Museum, London, 8 December.

    Agency and the XRF. ‘Anthropology in the World’ conference, Royal Anthropological Institute, held at the British Museum, 9 June.


    Containing Gold: institutional attempts to define and constrict the values of precious metal objects. ‘Itineraries of the Material’ conference, Goethe Universitaet Frankfurt am Main, 7 October.

    Tested by Fire: the social impact of technological changes in assaying. SHAC workshop, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University, 21 September.

    Mapping Ethical Gold: Material Classifications and their Material Consequences. RGS and IBG annual conference, held at the Royal Geographic Society, 2 September.

    A Trace of Gold: the Ambiguous Nature of Abandoned Gold Mines. ‘Anthropology in London’ annual conference, Brunel University and University College London, 20 July.


    A Mine of Information: presenting the social histories of heritage mining sites. European Archaeological Association Annual Conference, held at The Hague, 3 September.

    Making Indian Jewellery in the Southwest: interactions across material cultures. Sainsbury Research Unit Seminar, University of East Anglia, 22 April.

    The Trouble with Gold: assaying, hallmarking and governmentality. RCA/V&A research seminars on modern and Asian design, held at the V&A Museum, 18 February.    

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Selected work