Isaiah Wellington-Lynn

isaiah portrait

Anthropology (2021 cohort)

Research question: What does it mean to belong in a particular place and how might social anthropology reveal the role that rituals play in this process?

Abstract: This research employs a social anthropology lens to explore the role of rituals in cultivating a sense of belonging among historically marginalised individuals. It specifically considers Oxford's Astrophoria Foundation Year programme, a unique rite of passage enabling underrepresented UK students with lower grades, often indicative of social disadvantage, to access elite further education. The research seeks to understand how the Astrophoria programme operates as an ‘institutionalised structure of advocacy’ that acknowledges, champions, and legitimises different forms of diversity. Contributing to an anthropology of belonging, I consider what processes the students go through to become a member of the university. I also seek to redefine ideas of deservingness, which at present are based on convoluted ideas of meritocracy. My methodology introduces the concept of an ‘Ethnographer in Residence’, drawing from existing 'in residence' roles at Oxford. This role enables me to leverage traditional and collaborative research tools such as participant observation, semi-structured interviews and Participant Action Research to do 'homework' as opposed to fieldwork; I am a student at Oxford researching Oxford's culture. This will entail immersing myself in and contributing to Oxford's mundane, cultural, and symbolic practices while taking stock of ethical considerations. Through collaboration with students on the programme, I aim to understand their perspectives on belonging at Oxford and identify the experiences and events that facilitate or hinder this process. 

Research keywords: Social anthropology, social mobility, belonging, homework, rites of passage, rituals, meritocracy, deservingness, education, identity construction, empowerment, compassion, institutionalised structures of advocacy.

Bio: Isaiah is passionate about storytelling and sees anthropology, and its accompanying methods, as critical and empowering tools to build empathy and compassion. Isaiah is a part-time Anthropology DPhil Candidate at Oxford. Alongside his DPhil, he is a faculty member and Lead of Coaching at the London Interdisciplinary School (LIS) the world's first interdisciplinary university, and an ethnographer, creative consultant and public speaker working with various public sector and private partners such as Adobe, the NHS, and TwentyFirstCentryBrand. At LIS, Isaiah designed and leads the university's coaching practice, and he is also involved in the Admissions Decisions Committee and other widening participation efforts. He also teaches qualitative research methods such as ethnography and design thinking. Isaiah sat on the board of trustees at Project Access, a social mobility charity for 2 years, he is an active alum of the Amos Bursary charity, and he presently mentors several scholars. Most recently, he co-curated the Amos Bursary's flagship youth leadership conference at Imperial College which involved approx. 300 attendees, 14 speakers, 6 moderators, and 2 hosts. As an undergrad at Harvard, Isaiah raised seed funding from various companies to set up a fellowship for students from underrepresented backgrounds to find belonging in the technology industry. Social mobility is incredibly important to him and has remained a core component of his own story, so it is no surprise that it features as the core tenet of his DPhil research. He is committed to giving forward to ensuring people from various backgrounds feel comfortable navigating different spaces and realising their full potential.

Education background:

  • DPhil Anthropology, Oxford (2021 - present)
  • BSc Anthropology, UCL and Harvard (2020)


  • ESRC Grand Union DTP, Oxford 2021
  • Black Academic Futures Scholar, Oxford 2021
  • Amy Cuddy Bobby Chapman Essay Prize, Harvard 2018
  • Mary Fulbrook Anthropology Academic Excellence Prize, UCL 2017