The Big Picture is the work of Marella Sophie Hoffman, a social and political scientist who takes a 'big picture' approach to the individual, their culture and the politics that shape both. Her books and political work are transdisciplinary and applied. A former Cambridge University academic, Hoffman has lectured or held research awards at universities in France, Switzerland, Ireland and the US, and worked extensively for government. A Fellow of Britain's Royal Anthropological Institute, she uses ethnographic oral history to build bridges between academia, communities and government. She was for a decade chief editor of a public policy magazine in Cambridge, communicating policy to poorer communities in 40,000 copies per year. Her projects boosting civic participation in poor and ethnic communities have been taught as best practice models by government agencies.

Stop press! Hoffman has created a beautiful Writers' Centre in a nature reserve in the Bordeaux vineyard region - click here for a virtual visit... 

In her moving book Asylum under dreaming spires - Refugees' lives in Cambridge today, a dozen extraordinary life-stories intersect across the spaces between academia, ethnography and public policy, with the city of Cambridge as a central character. Her ethnographic book Savoir-faire des Anciens, written in French with an 88-year-old hermit shepherd, has been described as 'life-changing'. The second edition - this time in English - will be published in 2019. Her 2017 book for Routledge - Practicing oral history to improve public policies and programs - teaches how to use ethnography and oral testimonies to implement social change. Her next book, published by Routledge in 2019, will teach how to use oral testimonies to improve policy outcomes for refugees and host communities.

For an overview of her books (pictured below left), click here.

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current projects

A keen windsurfer, Hoffman often puts the wind and the water before the calls of the world. But recent work includes:

  • Running the inaugural Writer’s Residency at Caussarieu, her Writers' Retreat Centre nestled between the Bordeaux vineyards and forest, to share with visiting writers and thinkers.

  • Giving workshops and talks on her books at the recent Dangerous Oral Histories Conference in Belfast and the American Oral History Association conference in Montreal.

  • Translating her French book Savoir-faire des Anciens: the English-language version - Wisdom of the Elders, Learning Ecology in a French Mediterranean Village - will be published in 2020. It will include practical self-help tools to apply the book's grounded ecological wisdom in our own lifestyle, wherever we are.

  • Giving a conference presentation in Minneapolis on her book for Routledge, Practicing oral history to improve public policies and programs

  • Dr. Mathew Staunton, book-making specialist at the Sorbonne University in Paris and editor of Onslaught Press, Oxford, producing a beautiful private collectors' edition of Hoffman's book Savoir faire des Anciens - Un village des Corbieres Maritimes, hier et demain

  • Ethnographic research in Ireland and the Irish-American USA on Catholic ritual practices around the body, home and landscape. For a transnational study between rural Irish villagers and their Irish-American descendants. Explores the place of religions in the multi-cultural, secular twenty-first century, building on work funded by Cambridge University and the University of Notre Dame, USA.

  • The publication of Gooseworld, (click on Gooseworld to read the text) - an eco-poem by Hoffman to mark the 10th anniversary of The Goose, A journal of arts, environment and culture in Canada (click here to browse this interesting journal).

  • Moving offices! (see below for photos) The Big Picture office has moved from its former base at France's Mediterranean coast (pictured below) to a new, bigger base at Sauternes among the Bordeaux vineyards, an hour from the Atlantic coast. Called Caussarieu, the Hoffmans are hosting a Writer's Centre there. See here for information about accommodation.

Click on Books to view some recent publications.

big news! The big picture office is Moving...

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see some Work

Hoffman's former base in France, The Eyrie - in a nature reserve 15 minutes from the Mediterranean beach at the top of this page - is available for holiday rentals while waiting to be sold. Have a virtual visit here... of this beautiful house and grounds. Get in touch for holiday rates and availability.

The Big Picture office has moved to Caussarieu, a forest property in a nature reserve the Bordeaux vineyard region, with acres of private land and independent accommodation to host writers, creatives and their friends on retreat. Tour the new venue here...

Click here for: