Top 40 North American dissertations in cultural anthropology 2010: AnthroWorks picks

Doctoral dissertations are an excellent indicator of the health of a discipline. They are a weather vane pointing toward where the discipline is heading. They represent a huge chunk of work by the researcher and his/her mentors as well as generous contributions from people in the field site(s). With luck, they are a crucial basis for a newly minted PhD to getting a job to which all the years of training and research will contribute. Dissertations are very important documents, and they deserve more visibility.

Last year, to mark the end of 2009, I created an annotated list of my favorite 25 North American cultural anthropology dissertations. It was based on a rapid scan of an electronic database of dissertations available through my university’s library. The list contained rich examples of what 2009 had produced, but it excluded many more excellent dissertations on important topics that (a) I didn’t include in the interest of keeping the list reasonably short and (b) that my search simply missed. I well know about (b) because I did a re-search, out of interest, a few days ago and was stunned to see so many exciting studies pop up that I hadn’t known about last year.

In any case, we must move on to 2010. This year, I did a similar search using terms such as health, inequality, gender, violence, environment, family, and population.

Instead of a list of 25, I have included 40 dissertations. In spite this substantial increase, I am nonetheless certain that the list omits many important theses. The list, thus, is just a tantalizing sample of a much wider universe of exciting work completed in 2010. Furthermore, by including only North American theses, the list excludes many dissertations submitted in the rest of the world. One can only imagine the entire spectrum of riches untapped.

On a brighter note: as the 40 dissertations demonstrate, cultural anthropologists are producing in-depth knowledge about important global issues.

My apologies to the authors for reducing their abstracts to around 100 words each and for the deep editorial cuts involved. Please forgive me for any misrepresentations this degree of editing can create.

The 2010 list is presented here in alphabetical order, by last name of the author:

  1. Elite Landowners in Santarem: Ranchers, Gauchos and the Arrival of Soybeans in the Amazon, by Ryan T. Adams. Indiana University. Advisor: Richard Wilk.
    This dissertation is an ethnographic study of large-scale landowners in Santarém, Pará State, Brazil. I investigated immigrant large-scale farmers who were using industrial farming techniques, as well as the established local elite who were mainly engaged in large-scale ranching and business. The research asks whether or not the two groups of large-scale landowners would form a single landed elite class, as implied by a class analysis based in political economy. This research has implications for understanding of agricultural expansion in the Amazon.
  2. Belonging to the (S)Oil: Multinational Oil Corporations, NGOs and Community Conflict in Postcolonial Nigeria, by Omolade Adunbi. Yale University. Advisor: Kamari Clarke.
    This dissertation examines what oil and land represent in the Niger Delta. I investigate how contestations over oil and land resources are redefining and reproducing new forms of power, governance, and belonging. I examine how the physical presence of oil drilling platforms, flow stations, and pipelines represent a promise of widespread wealth, while the realities of resource control and legal institutions of the state have excluded local people from the benefits of oil modernity. This ethnography maps how these exclusions create conditions of possibilities for the establishment of competing governmentalities through the mobilization of political organizing against the state and multinational corporate control of land and oil in the Niger Delta.
  3. Stepping Outside the Ring: An Ethnography of Intimate Associations in Japanese Professional Sumo, by Nanao Akanuma. University of California, Irvine. Advisor: Mei Zhan.
    This dissertation is about the embodied professional lifecycles of sumo professionals, or rikishi in Japanese. I examine the ways in which they enter, train, socialize into, and retire from Japanese professional sumo. My ethnographic fieldwork reveals that sumo is neither a sport nor a tradition. Rather, it is the world of relations and different characters: sumo stars, unsuccessful lower-ranked sumo professionals, entrepreneurial-minded sumo masters, wives and daughters of the sumo heya (dormitory-cum-training facility of sumo apprenticeship), media reporters, fans, and spectators. I explore the lifecycles of sumo and how each stage of the professional lifecycle opens up a stage for particular sets of relations for them.
  4. Weathering the Commons: Resilience and Heterogeneity in an Inland Fishery, Mweru-Luapula, Zambia, by Christopher M. Annear. Boston University. Advisor: James Pritchett.
    This dissertation focuses on the multiethnic, mobile Mweru-Luapula population of fishers, traders, and farmers of Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo, and the fishery it relies upon. I argue that the resilience of this fishery economy over time can be attributed to fluid social, ecological, and political relations among constituent groups. They have developed the ability to react to an environment that floods seasonally and changes its constitution annually. I examine how people living on this fishery maintain its sustainability as a shared resource; how laws, governance, and historical circumstances affect constituent behaviors and choices; and how this ecologically dynamic fishery constrains some groups, but endows others. Although many scientists and policymakers believe it to be collapsing, my fieldwork suggests otherwise.
  5. In-Forming Care: A Study of HIV/AIDS Caregiving Interventions in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, by Abigail Baim-Lance. The Johns Hopkins University. Advisor: Jane Guyer.
    This dissertation focuses on the formation of home-based caregiving programs as part of the global toolkit of intervention-responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa. Fieldwork in a rural area in KwaZulu-Natal and archival research suggest three findings: caregiving is a fluctuating combination of activities and ideas about care; the depiction of a successful intervention ignores the specific requirements needed for a project of its kind and obscures the technical components of the intervention; and the disconnect between the picture and practice of care as intervention led me to examine its effects on caregivers themselves. A conclusion is the need to ensure a more secure role for caregivers when engaging them in the provision of support services around issues of endemic poverty and ill health.
  6. Reconceiving Personhood: The Localization of Assisted Reproductive Technologies in Mexico City, by Lara R. Braff. The University of Chicago. Advisors: Jennifer Cole, Judith Farquhar.
    As assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) circulate around the globe, they assume culturally specific forms in diverse contexts. I contend that personhood is a key, hitherto under-examined, mechanism for the localization of ARTs. Fieldwork in Mexico City indicates that ARTs are localized there through their recruitment into the (always local) project of re/constructing personhood after it has been destabilized by infertility in this pro-natal context. It is by localizing ARTs that people hope to have a child. Having a child enables them to become socially valued as persons: as women/men, mothers/fathers, wives/husbands and “good” Catholics.
  7. Moral Worlds and Therapeutic Quests: A Study of Medical Pluralism and Treatment-Seeking in the Lower Amazon, by Ashwin Budden. University of California, San Diego. Advisor: Steven Parish.
    This dissertation is about the social and psychocultural dimensions of medical pluralism and treatment seeking in Santarém, a municipality in the Brazilian Amazon. Ethnographic fieldwork in urban and rural settings shows how popular religions and cosmopolitan health institutions define and manage (or fail to manage) sickness, psychosocial impairment, and emotional distress. It also reveals lived experiences of those seeking therapeutic options and the processes through which quests for healing shape personal understandings of affliction and selfhood. This study contributes to scholarship in anthropology that theorizes medical pluralism as an open system of dynamic relations between institutions and between institutions and care-seekers.
  8. Potters and Warlords in an Afghan Bazaar: Political Mobilization, Masterly Inactivity and Violence in Post-Taliban Afghanistan, by Noah S. Coburn. Boston University. Advisor: Thomas Barfield.
    This dissertation is based on research in Istalif, a town in the Shomali Plain, with a strong craft industry and long history of violence. I describe how local politics in Afghanistan have shifted during the post-Taliban period and how strategies of inactivity can lead to a political theater that masks tensions and suppresses violent conflict. I look at potter lineages that cooperated politically and economically. I then analyze how groups strove to portray themselves as powerful, while avoiding public and violent conflicts. Simultaneously, the people in the town and government officials perpetuated a fiction of the state as bounded and rational, denying the ambiguous nature of state-rule based upon patrimonial networks. This fiction encouraged international donors to continue to inject aid into the area.
  9. Enough for Everyone to Eat: Food, Health and the Construction of Risk in Rarotonga, by Kristen M. Corey. Southern Methodist University. Advisor: Victoria Lockwood.
    This study addresses how understandings of food, health and health management impact perceptions of risk and need for care or change in behavior in a small island community in the South Pacific. Rarotonga demonstrates many of the objective characteristics of communities experiencing increases in overweight and NCDs (non-communicable diseases). My first goal is to describe the contemporary social and cultural context in which weight rises and NCDs thrive in Rarotonga. The second is to show that this problem is one that goes beyond structural factors and highly individualized notions of health behavior. The management of this problem in Rarotonga reflects Rarotongan perceptions of the issues and concerns they face in daily life. Thus medical advice may not be followed because it does not fit with daily priorities.
  10. Landscapes of Conservation: History, Perceptions, and Practice around Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, by Alicia L. Davis. University of Colorado at Boulder. Advisor: Terrence McCabe.
    This dissertation explores and analyzes the interaction of conservation and communities at the edge of a protected area, Tarangire National Park, in northern Tanzania. I use multi-sited ethnography to demonstrate how communities interact with and are affected by conservation. Stories of those who live on the border of the Park present a range of understandings of conservation. I weave the intricacies of creating, dwelling in, and moving through landscapes to domains of power and history. I also explore risk and risk perceptions as a way to access people’s knowledge and awareness of and tensions caused by conservation. This dissertation combines ethnographic accounts and quantitative data analyses to provide insights into how people around Tarangire National Park live and contend with conservation.
  11. Laying Claim to Yoga: Intellectual Property, Cultural Rights, and the Digital Archive in India, by Elizabeth A. Fish. University of California, Irvine. Advisor: Bill Maurer.
    This dissertation explores how intangible cultural knowledge is managed through legal and quasi-legal forms by focusing on intellectual property rights. The project addresses how proprietary claims to yoga intersect with its transnational circulation and commodification and ramifications  for specific communities of practice. Ethnographic fieldwork is focused in India, but includes research in California, Hong Kong, and Switzerland. Two US federal district court cases, Bikram v. Schreiber-Morrison and Open Source Yoga Unity v. Bikram, serve as the catalyst triggering open conflict concerning the proprietary nature of yogic knowledge. The research focus is on the crafting of a national claim to yoga and the attempt to protect this claim through the construction of the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library.
  12. No Alternative: Participation, Inequality, and the Meanings of Fair Trade in Nicaragua, by Joshua B Fisher. University of Oregon. Advisor: Lynn Stephen.
    This dissertation takes an ethnographic perspective on competing notions of “fairness” in the world’s first vertically-integrated garment production chain certified as fair trade. It demonstrates that relations of fair trade production, distribution, and consumption are complicated by ideological disjunctures, by different experiences of work and labor, by unequal access to capital and political opportunity, by asymmetrical power, and ultimately by disparate concepts of economic justice. I conducted multi-sited, ethnographic research in Nicaragua with four fair trade organizations. My findings are that conflicts frequently emerge over the terms, conditions, and meanings of labor, business contracts, extra-contractual relations, participation in decision-making, and definition of roles. Producers often have no alternative but to accept the terms of more powerful groups.
  13. “Salarymen” in Crisis?: The Collapse of Dominant Ideologies and Shifting Identities of Salarymen in Metropolitan Japan, by Nana Okura Gagne. Yale University. Advisor: William Kelly.
    My dissertation examines how the past two decades of large-scale economic recession and increasing globalization in Japan have affected Japanese white-collar businessmen, or “salarymen.” Combining  interviews, narratives, and ethnographic fieldwork, I analyze the relationships among identity, gender, life-course, and ideology within the workplace, leisure spaces, and community activities in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area. This dissertation examines how structural changes under neoliberalism affect the ways salarymen reconfigure their identities and practices, and it also examines the impact of and engagement with the dominant ideology of “salarymen” under contemporary post-Bubble economic and demographic change.
  14. Viral Citizens: The Coloniality of HIV/AIDS in Puerto Rico, by Adriana Maria Garriga-Lopez. Columbia University. Advisor: Neni Panourgia.
    This dissertation investigates HIV/AIDS as a socio-political problem in Puerto Rico and the effects of US colonialism in Puerto Rico as related to HIV/AIDS. It is concerned with understanding how people living with HIV/AIDS negotiate the political and social stakes they must claim in order to attain health care, social services, counseling, and access to prevention resources and treatment. Poverty and violence are guiding threads. I argue against the conceptual and institutional separation of categorical ‘populations’ insofar as it serves to obscure the relations and commonalities between those who populate different imaginaries of ‘risk’ groups. These categories obfuscate the larger social conditions that undergird the experiences of people at high risk of HIV infection or living with HIV/AIDS in favor of apportioning assistance according to administrative taxonomies.
  15. Globalizing International Health: The Cultural Politics of ‘Partnership’ in Tanzanian Malaria Control, by Rene Pierre Gerrets. New York University. Advisor: Thomas Beidelman.
    This thesis investigates the recent rise to dominance in international health of ‘partnership’, an organizational form that has become prominent in infectious disease research and control efforts in low-income countries around the world. I examine a partnership engaged in malaria research and control in Tanzania. Malaria, which often defies technological interventions, serves as the sociohistorical frame. I trace shifting contours and dynamic interactional structures of a partnership, analyzing the indeterminate, sometimes contentious processes through which disparate agents and organizations seek to create a functioning whole. Often, partnership becomes enmeshed in patron-client dynamics, enabling influential actors to extend their power base by controlling resources and coercing subordinates.
  16. Local Food Production and Community Illness Narratives: Responses to Environmental Contamination and Health Studies in the Mohawk Community of Akwesasne, by Elizabeth Hoover. Brown University. Advisor: Shephard Krech III.
    [No abstract provided; written by the blogger]. Akwesasne is a Mohawk community of 13,000-15,000 people located in an area crossing from northern New York state to Ontario and Quebec in Canada. This dissertation addresses the complex factors affecting community residents’ perceptions of their environment, health and homes. I explore their views of health and the environment, and how they are linked. Further, I describe a series of health studies conducted in the community and the effects they had on residents’ perceptions of both science and their bodies. I examine how people’s concerns about health and the environment have grown to incorporate concerns about the effect of a drastically changed diet on community health. I conclude by describing the desires of some Akwesasronon to alleviate diet and health related problems with projects that promote gardening and local food production.
  17. Building Modern Morocco One Woman at a Time: Development, Islam, and Reproductive Practices, by Cortney L. Hughes. University of California, Irvine. Advisor: Susan Greenhalgh. This study addresses three questions: What are the reproductive subjects Morocco seeks to create through development? What are the women’s childbearing and childrearing practices? How do the women interpret these practices and how do they see their roles as citizens? Ethnographic and other research in and around Rabat leads me to argue that my female participants appropriate modern reproductive practices (contraception, ultrasounds, and gynecological exams) to suit their everyday lifestyles. The women see modern childbearing and childrearing practices as helping them become better Muslims and mothers, whereas the larger institutions see such practices as liberating women and aiding them to take control over their lives and bodies. In fact, as the women appropriate modern reproductive practices, they are participating in the development agenda in a way that defines them as citizens through their ability to give birth and nurture children.
  18. Depression, Subjectivity, and the Embodiment of Suffering in Urban Reform China, by Jason Ingersoll. The University of Chicago. Advisors: Jennifer Cole, Judith Farquhar. Depression was once a rare psychiatric disorder in China. However, over the past twenty years the disease-category has come to proliferate at an astounding rate in Chinese psychiatric discourse and everyday clinical practice. Through an ethnographic analysis of everyday bodily emotional language, symptom presentations, and help-seeking behaviors, I show that depression does not possess much cultural relevance for urban Chinese. Yet when personal suffering passes a certain threshold, and often when most other options for medical consultation and treatment have been exhausted, Chinese patients find themselves seeking care at a psychiatric clinic. In the second half of the dissertation, my analysis moves to analyze how individuals narrate their suffering.
  19. Spirituality for Sale An Analysis of Ayahuasca Tourism, by Christine L. Holman. Arizona State University. Advisor: H.L.T.Quan. Ayahuasca tourism involves Western tourists who travel to South America to participate in tours which include the drinking of ayahuasca. I conducted discourse and visual analysis of six ayahuasca tourism websites. I also did fieldwork in Iquitos, Peru, interviewing actors, visiting tour lodges and observing ayahuasca ceremonies. The discourse analysis suggests that the discourse of ayahuasca tourism has severed the ceremonial use of ayahuasca from its indigenous roots, making ayahuasca ahistorical and more easily appropriated. The fieldwork shows that the commodification of ayahuasca has resulted in a complex industry which presents both benefits and burdens to the local communities.
  20. Cosmetic Citizenship: Beauty, Affect and Inequality in Southeastern Brazil, by Jarrin Alvaro. Duke University. Advisor: Anne Allison. This dissertation examines how perceptions of beauty in Brazil reflect both the existing social inequalities and the struggles to produce a more egalitarian society. While hegemonic discourses about beauty in Brazil foster an upper-middle class, white standard, members of the working-class make claims to citizenship by redefining beauty according to their own affective, sensory experiences. In order to access this form of “cosmetic citizenship,” working-class patients undergo low-cost aesthetic surgeries in public hospitals. This national investment in beauty establishes personal appearance as a precondition for citizenship and inclusion in the nation. While media narratives construct beauty as a vehicle for upward mobility in Brazil, the medical discourse about beauty imagines the Brazilian population as becoming progressively homogeneous through “miscegenation” and surgery.
  21. Came an East Wind: An Anthropology of Climate, Landscape, and Marginality in Cornwall, England, by Tori L. Jennings. The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Advisor: Paul Nadasdy. The focal point of this study is the juncture between social constructions of climate, weather, and tourism in Cornwall, England. Through an ethnographic case study of the August 2004 flood in a seaside village in North Cornwall, and historical analysis of the Great Western Railway’s Cornish Riviera tourism campaign at the turn of the twentieth century, this research illustrates how the concept of climate connects to political processes that reinforce social inequities. Until now anthropologists have failed to critically examine the emerging discourse over mitigation and adaptation, the two principal policy approaches to global climate change. This dissertation argues that taking adaptation for granted as an appropriate bottom-up strategy for coping with climate change ignores the political and economic contexts in which this environmental strategy developed.
  22. The Impossible Inheritance: Memory and Postcolonial Subjectivity at the Fann Psychiatric Clinic in Dakar, Senegal, by Kathleen Kilroy-Marac. Columbia University. Advisor: Lesley Sharp. Building upon recent political and historical accounts of postcolonial transformation in Senegal, this dissertation considers the Fann Psychiatric Clinic in Dakar as a powerful lens through which the postcolonial state has been–and continues to be–experienced by the doctors, staff, and patients. It argues that the way the institution’s past has been alternately romanticized, rejected, disavowed, or regarded with ambivalence both reflects and is emblematic of larger social and political transformations that have occurred since Senegal’s independence. This project contributes to debates about the relationship between memory and history within and beyond anthropology.
  23. The Policing of Intimate Partnerships in Yaounde, Cameroon, by Brenda Khayanga Kombo. Yale University. Advisor: Kamari Clarke. Cameroonian law provides no definition of intimate partnership violence and its amalgamation of English common law, French civil law, and customary law further complicates cases involving such violence. I explore how interventions and non-interventions in intimate partnerships are situated within a larger socio-political field. I examine (non-)intervention by NGOs and the state, investigating the attendant mobilization, reinforcement, and transformation of the meanings of gender, culture, and modernity. Through ethnographic and archival research in French civil law and “traditional” divorce courts and at an organization proving assistance to women who have experienced violence, I consider how  women constitute their subjectivity, articulate intervention needs, and engage with frames of violence and justice.
  24. Cultural Anxieties and Institutional Regulation: “Specialized” Mental Healthcare and “Immigrant Suffering” in Paris, France, by Stephanie Larchanche. Advisors: Carolyn Sargent, Didier Fassin, and John Bowen. Washington University in St. Louis. Advisors: This dissertation looks at “specialized” mental healthcare expertise in France as a lens through which to address the institutional management and representations of cultural difference in France today. I identify and explore three contemporary expert approaches: transcultural psychiatry, clinical medical anthropology, and ethnoclinical mediation. I argue that, as a product of the conflation of the “immigrant issue” and the “social issue,” “immigrant suffering” has become a medium that couches immigrants’ “difficulties” in terms of cultural difference. As a result, generic cultural representations of immigrants are uncritically reproduced, making it difficult to identify and address the structural inequalities that engender suffering.
  25. Examining Social Determinants of Food Insecurity, Common Mental Disorders, and Motivations among AIDS Care Volunteers in Urban Ethiopia during the 2008 Food Crisis, by Kenneth C. Maes. Emory University. Advisor: Craig Hadley. This dissertation uses mixed methods to illuminate the challenges facing AIDS care volunteers in southwest Addis Ababa. I demonstrate that acute-on-chronic food insecurity during the 2008 global food crisis affected AIDS care volunteers’ psychosocial health and motivations to continue volunteering.  While volunteers faced unrelenting poverty, however, they built positive relationships with others in their communities and  expected divine rewards as Orthodox Christians caring for marginalized people. I conclude that “volunteerism” is an optimistic and loaded term that oversimplifies the motivations of low-income individuals and masks a system of unsustainable labor exploitation within AIDS treatment and other development-focused movements.
  26. We Are Made of Our Food: Latino/a Immigration and the Practices and Politics of Eating, by Teresa Marie Mares. University of Washington. Advisors: Rachel Chapman, Devon Pena. This dissertation explores how claims of Latino/a immigrants to food justice and food entitlements are made, reshaped, and denied in Seattle, Washington. Drawing on extended ethnographic fieldwork, I advance three arguments. First, I argue that a transnational approach to cultural and social citizenship provides a useful framework for making connections between broad social and political-economic processes and the everyday lived experiences of Latino/a immigrants with respect to food. Second, I argue that the movements for sustainable food in the Seattle area are far from achieving a truly transformative and just food system that serves the needs of all residents. Finally, I argue that while emergency food programs fill a crucial need for individuals and families who are excluded from federal and state food entitlement programs, the emergency food system remains an imperfect and temporary fix.
  27. Nightlife Emergency: Controlling Night Spaces and Governing Citizen Security in Highland Peru, by Kairos M. Marquardt. University of Michigan. Advisor: Bruce Mannheim. This dissertation tackles questions of urban citizenship and participatory governance through an ethnographic study of the regulation of space and time in the historic city center of Ayacucho, Peru. It traces how “nightlife” emerged as a social crisis and was then transformed into a political agenda for maintaining urban order. I argue that the “night” is a significant realm of sociality and subjectivity and a critical site of power and social distinction. This in-depth look at the public debates and policies regarding nightlife reveals the various experiential connections between nightlife ideologies and corresponding regulatory politics of urban planning and urban zoning.
  28. Healing and Justice through Truth-telling: Local Perceptions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Sierra Leone, by Gearoid Millar. Syracuse University. Advisor: Deborah Pellow. The theory and practice of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions has been driven by academics, aid agencies, NGOs, and international governmental organizations such as the UN, who have normalized the rhetoric and practice of truth-telling as a method of post-war peacebuilding. Through the voices of local people, I show how truth-telling was experienced in post-war Makeni, Sierra Leone. I investigate the local understandings, experiences, and evaluations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s public hearing process, using data collected through participant observation and  interviews. My findings show that, to most locals in Makeni, the presentation of victim, witness, and perpetrator stories of the war were experienced as useless and sometimes problematic retellings of past violence. I argue that the underlying concepts of the globalized norm of truth-telling as a peacebuilding mechanism are not relevant in Makeni.
  29. Governance and the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Vietnam, by Alfred J. Montoya. University of California, Berkeley. Advisor: Aihwa Ong. This dissertation concerns HIV/AIDS prevention and control in contemporary Vietnam, as an assemblage of Vietnamese Socialist governance, international NGO and US government mechanisms and new biomedical regimes based on expert knowledges and international “best practices”. I argue there was a shift from an emphasis on “The People” to one on “The Human” as the object at the center of this HIV/AIDS prevention and control apparatus, along with a shift from external enforcement (by authorities) to internal adherence (by oneself, to techno-scientific and expert discourses and practices). Following my informants’ stress on the “uses” of corruption, rather than their naming, I argue that a more nuanced portrait of contemporary power relations emerges that sheds light on the transformation of the emerging ethical terrain of HIV/AIDS prevention and control in Vietnam.
  30. Everyday Politics and the Absent Presence of the State in Lima, Peru, by Amy Mortensen. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Advisor: Marisol de la Cadena. This dissertation is an inquiry into the presence of the state in Huaycán, a shantytown on the outskirts of Lima. Through an analysis of state programs (including day-care centers, police stations, and communal kitchens) and political practices among neighbors in local associations, I argue that state power influences everyday politics and the lives of citizens in ways that cannot be analyzed through dichotomies. I contend that the state is neither simply present nor absent and that citizens’ complex relationships with the state cannot be defined as simply formal or informal. While, on some levels, the state is directly active in the daily life of residents (it provides schooling and medical care, for example,) there are many other realms where the state is markedly marginal in the regulation of daily life for citizens in shantytown communities.
  31. Solidarity, Sustainability and Standards: US-Nicaragua Specialty Coffee Networks, by Guillermo Enrique Narvaez. University of California, Irvine. Advisor: Victoria Bernal. This dissertation analyzes how sustainability practices are being instantiated, in both canonical and novel ways, in the U.S.-Nicaragua coffee trade. My question is: How are different approaches to managing the coffee sector in order to serve various goals  (reduction of poverty, environmental sustainability, establishing proper business practices) being enacted and with what consequences? I conducted participant observation among farmers, roasters and buyers in the specialty coffee industry; research with nongovernmental organizations and development agents involved in quality improvement and sustainability certification programs; and analysis of print and online documentation on quality, certification practices and concerns. I find that “quality” is taken up by the specialty coffee sector in ways that do not necessarily involve improvement for the lives of most producers, who are not able to negotiate the terms of their participation in the specialty coffee trade.
  32. Virgin Capital: Foreign Investment and Local Stratification in the US Virgin Islands, by Tamisha Navarro.  Duke University. Advisor: Charles Piot. This dissertation explores the impact of the Economic Development Commission (EDC) program in the US Virgin Islands and asks, “How do contemporary circulations of capital and people alternately build upon and complicate long-present hierarchies?” The EDC’s tax holiday program has attracted many, primarily American, bankers to St. Croix. I explore the program as a space in which struggles over quasi-offshore capital produce tensions rooted in race, class, color, gender, and generation. Moreover, the program has generated new categories of personhood that in turn have sparked new debates about what it means to ‘belong’ in a territory administered by the United States. These new categories of personhood are particularly gendered and alternately destabilize and shore up long-standing hierarchies of generation, gender, and place.
  33. Someday This Will Be All Over: Growing Up with HIV in Urban Eastern Zimbabwe, by John C. R. Parsons. The John Hopkins University. Advisor: Pamela Reynolds. The study explores the lives of children growing HIV positive in the eastern Zimbabwean town of Mutare at a time of severe crisis in the state. Families are depleted by death and migration. Against patrilineal norms, much daily caring occurs in mother’s families. Clinics offer partial Western medical care despite daunting resource constraints. Anti retrovirals and other basic medicines are available but may exacerbate domestic discord and fail to address more obvious physical symptoms. Children and their families appear to prefer spiritual alternatives to medical care, perhaps partly as a result of the severe limitations placed on the latter. A variety of religious practices, primarily Christian, flourish in this context.
  34. AIDS, Marriage, and the Management of Ambiguity in Northern Nigeria, by Kathryn A. Rhine. Brown University. Advisor: Daniel Jordan Smith. This dissertation is about the lived experiences and subjectivities of women with HIV as interwoven with the recent history of global health intervention in Nigeria. I explore the aspirations, dilemmas, and everyday lives of women participating in the world that HIV prevention and treatment campaigns have created. I conducted fieldwork in the middle-belt city of Jos. The dissertation draws together theoretical questions about risk and uncertainty; how biomedical technologies reconfigure notions of gender and the family; processual, constructivist approaches in anthropology to kinship; and the tensions and conflicts that emerge when global health projects promote the values of female empowerment and activism  in a context of gendered virtues of modesty and privacy of family life.
  35. Embodying Intimacy: Premarital Romantic Relationships, Sexuality, and Contraceptive Use among Young Women in Contemporary Tokyo, by Shana F. Sandberg. The University of Chicago. Advisor: Richard Shweder. In contemporary Japan, young women’s behavior falls under intense social scrutiny because prevalent discourses cast their behavior as a threat to the future of the nation. This dissertation examines Japanese women’s changing understandings of premarital relationships, sexuality, and contraceptive use. I examine the way that primarily urban, middle- and upper-middle-class women draw from larger social discourses propagated through families, schools, their peers, and the mass media in articulating their perspectives and making sense of their experiences. The concept of “reliability” emerged as a key relationship ideal and also reappeared in women’s narratives about contraception.
  36. Blogging, Belonging, and Becoming: Cybergovernmentality and the Production of Gendered and Sexed Diasporic Subjects in Weblogistan, by Sima Shakhsari. Stanford University. Advisor: Miyako Inoue. Based on multi-sited online and offline ethnographic research among Iranian immigrant communities in Washington D.C. and Toronto, this dissertation explores negotiations of sexed and gendered diasporic subjectivities in the discursive fields of neoliberalism, nationalism, gender, and sexuality in Weblogistan–the Iranian blogosphere which has gained much attention from the mainstream international media for its assumed liberatory potentials. I analyze civil society as a site of disagreements and conflict and argue that Weblogistan is one of the many sites of transnational Iranian civil society where Iranian bloggers are subjected to gendered discourses of citizenship.
  37. Toxic Talk at Walpole Island First Nation: Narratives of Pollution, Loss and Resistance, by Christianne V Stephens. McMaster University. This ethnography is based on an extended research collaboration with the Walpole Island First Nation (WIFN). I focus on local perceptions of risk as they relate to ecosystem integrity, human health and well-being. Discourse analysis of generic and nuanced community narratives reveals diverse yet complementary situated knowledges that are firmly rooted in Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) cultural teachings, values and practices. A proposed Shell refinery expansion project provides an example of how WIFN actively mobilizes discourses via oral tradition in the struggle for environmental justice.
  38. En situation precaire: Poverty, Stigma, and Mental Health in Geneva, Switzerland, by Ryan P. Theis. University of Florida. Advisor: Allan Burns. This study explores the production and experience of stigma in low-income communities of Geneva, Switzerland, and assesses its qualitative associations with mental health. Access to research sites was gained through collaboration with the Unité mobile de soins communautaires (UMSCO)–a mobile clinic that offers health care for the uninsured and undocumented people who frequent the city’s social services. I found that poor immigrants were viewed as some of the most stigmatized people in Geneva, particularly Romanians, North Africans, and former Yugoslavs. Findings point to new hypotheses in the etiology of mental illness and new tools for measuring stigma in future studies.
  39. Managing Menopause: An Ethnographic Study of Women’s Midlife Information-seeking and Decision-making in the Southwest US, by Jennifer Jo Thompson. The University of Arizona. Advisor: Mark Nichter. This dissertation looks at contemporary menopause management in the southwestern United States as a case study of the negotiation of a widespread contemporary conundrum–characterized by discourses of risk, proliferation of information and choice, chronic doubt, and personal responsibility for decision-making. I report on ethnographic fieldwork conducted with menopausal women and health care providers in the southwestern U.S. Participants described the unfolding of the lived-experience of menopause over time–even years beyond the end of menstruation. Despite abundant options, menopause management is increasingly stratified, with some able to access more information resources and afford more extensive decision-support.
  40. Enclosing the Commons? A Political Ecology of Access to Land and Water in Sussundenga, Mozambique, by Michael M. Walker. Michigan State University. Advisor: William Derman. This dissertation examines smallholders’ access to and use of land and water resources in Sussundenga District in central Mozambique. It takes a political ecology and historical perspective on how access to land and water resources has changed under different forms of political authority over the last 50 years. Patterns of authority governing access to land and other natural resources have shifted from pre-colonial chiefly rule to chiefly rule alongside Portuguese administration as Portuguese settlers arrived in Sussundenga in the 1950s and appropriated land and labor from African residents. Political and economic liberalization in the late 1980s added more complexity surrounding legitimating local authorities and control over land.

4 thoughts on “Top 40 North American dissertations in cultural anthropology 2010: AnthroWorks picks

  1. Pingback: A book review: How racist is American anthropology? | Erkan's Field Diary

  2. Hi Guillermo,

    Interesting question! It would be great to know how many cultural anthropology dissertations were filed in 2010 in US/Canada, but I don’t think the database I used provides that information.

    I will keep looking into this question and will let you know if I learn anything.



  3. Why bother

    The title is misleading. Instead of “top dissertations” should be called “favorite dissertations of Barbara Miller”, which would make it explicit that a list of this sort would be different for every person without implying a higher quality of this group than other dissertations.


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