Anthroworks best 40 dissertations in cultural anthropology 2011

Anthroworks presents its favorite 2011 North American dissertations in cultural anthropology. In compiling this list, I searched the “Dissertations International” electronic database that is available through my university library. The database includes mainly U.S. dissertations with a light sprinkling from Canada. I used the same search terms as I did in previous years.

True confession: these are my picks, and they reflect my preferences for topics — health, inequality, migration, gender, and human rights. Somebody else’s picks would look quite different. But this is the anthroworks list!

The 40 dissertations are arranged in alphabetical order according to the last name of the dissertation author. Apologies to the authors for my reduction of their published abstracts to a maximum of nine lines.

I would like to convey my congratulations to all 2011 anthropology Ph.D. recipients. I hope they go on to a successful career in — or related to — anthropology.

An Analysis of Cultural Competence, Cultural Difference, and Communication Strategies in Medical Care, by Marisa Abbe. Case Western Reserve University. Advisor: Atwood Gaines.

This research expands the knowledge of the role of language, culture, and cultural difference in medical encounters. Minority populations suffer disproportionately from the burden of disease in American society. A common reason cited for health inequalities is that the U.S. health care system, in its “one-size-fits-all” approach, is inadequate to meet the needs of minority patients. A proposed solution in biomedicine is cultural competence. This dissertation investigates how Anglo-American clinicians and Mexican immigrant patients communicate in a medical setting. It is based on ethnographic research at the People’s Clinic, a free clinic in a metropolitan area in Texas. I examine how patients communicate information and whether their narratives cause barriers to treatment. I propose ways to redefine cultural competence of medical practitioners.

We Are Phantasms: Female Same-Sex Desires, Violence, and Ideology in Salvador, Brazil, by Andrea Allen. Harvard University. Advisor: Michael Herzfeld.

In this dissertation, I explore the paradox of lesbian intimate partner violence in Salvador, Brazil. My ethnographic fieldwork allows me to examine how lesbians and other women with female lovers act against “state interests” through their involvement in romantic and sexual relationships with other women, but nonetheless reproduce dominant Brazilian cultural norms through their involvement in intimate partner violence and sexual power relations. I focus on four themes: social violence perpetrated against lesbians in Brazilian society; women’s same-sex desires and sexual practices; infidelity, jealousy, and intimate partner violence in lesbian relationships; and the government’s response to intimate partner violence within Brazil.

An Ambivalent Embrace: The Cultural Politics of Arabization and the Knowledge Economy in the Moroccan Public School, by Charis Boutieri. Princeton University. Advisors: Abdellah Hammoudi, Lawrence Rosen.

This dissertation is based on fieldwork in urban Moroccan high schools. I explore the relationship between Arabization (post-Independence nationalizing agenda) and public education. I argue that tensions traversing the public school relate to Morocco’s ambivalent cultural politics in the postcolonial period and to the social fragmentation this cultural politics has encouraged. Through classroom observations, discussions with students, teachers and parents and curricula analysis, I trace the Arabized school’s ambiguous bilingualism between French and Arabic and narrate how school participants encounter their colonial heritage as re-articulated in the discourse of development. These dynamics reconfigure the school from a mechanism of social and symbolic engineering to a space where the cultural politics of Morocco is debated.

Widening the Lens: Embodiments of Gender, Work and Migration with Market Women in Ghana, by Laurian Bowles. Temple University. Advisors: Jayasinhji Jhala, Paul Stoller, Gina Ulysse, Rickie Sanders.

Women in West Africa have legendary roles as traders who financially dominate the sale of various market goods. The north of Ghana is the agricultural breadbasket of the country, with strong Islamic influences that thrive in dispersed ethnic enclaves. This dissertation focuses on narratives of female head porters (kayayei) as the women confront the multi-ethnic, hierarchical social climates of Accra’s largest shopping venue, Makola Market. Theories in phenomenology, informed by feminist anthropology, allow consideration of how head porters’ lives are grounded with the history and spread of capitalism in Ghana. Using a methodology that includes collaborative photography with kayayei, I examine the politics of visibility and the skills the women develop in order to survive in and negotiate the hierarchies of urban space.

Botswana as a Living Experiment, by Betsey Brada. The University of Chicago. Advisors: Jean Comaroff, Judith Farquhar, Susan Gal, Joseph Masco.

Botswana is a celebrated model in southern Africa and beyond for managing its HIV/AIDS epidemic. This dissertation examines an American treatment program that, like the epidemic, extends beyond the boundaries of Botswana. Like the epidemic, too, the treatment program and partnerships that support it have set in motion more subtle transformations, both intended and unintended, that reach far beyond the clinic walls. The dissertation investigates the institutions, practices, and imaginaries glossed as “global health” in southeastern Botswana, illuminating the interrelations among treatment provision, knowledge production, subjectivity, expertise, value, and temporality. I reveal how bodily interventions are sites for the refashioning of subjects and the reordering of semiotic modalities.

Cultural Models of Genetic Screening & Perceptions of Sickle Cell Disease in High-Risk Guadeloupean French Communities, by Shan-Estelle Brown. University of Connecticut. Advisor: Pamela Erickson.

This dissertation critiques biomedical knowledge as the primary method to understand perceptions about a medical technology. I investigate how knowledge about sickle cell disease in an at-risk community is constructed and communicated between individuals and between institutions and individuals. I used a mixed-methods strategy to collect quantitative and qualitative data during a field study in Guadeloupe, an overseas region of France in the West Indies. One in eight citizens there is a carrier for sickle cell disease, yet less than one percent of the population annually seeks information and services. Findings uncover conflicting attitudes about difference, interpersonal relationships and experiential knowledge, and social motivations to protect information about oneself from the community.

Direct Sales in the Amazon: Gender, Work, and Consumption in Ponta de Pedras, Para, Brazil, by Jessica Chelekis. Indiana University Advisors: Richard Wilk, Catherine Tucker, Eduardo Brondizio, Lessie Jo Frazier.

Over the past 30 years, direct sales corporations have increasingly penetrated rural markets in the Third World, and an array of national and multinational direct sales companies exists in the Lower Amazon. This dissertation aims to understand what direct sales companies, like Avon, do for Amazonian residents, what women get out of working in direct sales, and why beauty and hygiene products are so popular among people who have limited incomes. Ethnographic research in the Amazonian municipality of Ponta de Pedras indicates that women who work in direct sales have greater say in how to spend and manage household money and their own money. Thus Avon and Natura’s beauty products offer a way for Amazon caboclo women to participate in Brazilian beauty ideals and create themselves as modern beings.

Ganga is ‘Disappearing’: Women, Development, and Contentious Practice on the Ganges River, by Georgina Drew. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Advisors: Dorothy Holland, Carole Crumley, Arturo Escobar, David Gilmartin, et al.

This dissertation explores conflict over development and ecological change along the upper stretch of the Ganga River in the Garhwal Himalayas, India. I focus on the circulation of competing discourses about change on the sacred Hindu river, the emergence of actors and movements that address the Ganga’s management, and the transformation of actor subjectivities. I emphasize the meanings that people produce about a river that some fear could “disappear” due to the projected effects of hydroelectric development and upstream glacial melt. Through the exploration of “river dialogues,” I demonstrate how the conflict is charged with varied understandings of the Ganga’s utility, the agency of its Hindu goddess, and the continuity of cultural-religious practices linked with its flow, especially among women.

Manufacturing Insecurity: Power, Water, Waste, and the Silences of Sustainability and Suffering in Northwest Alaska, by Laura Eichelberger. The University of Arizona. Advisors: Linda B. Green, Mark Nichter, Mark, Mimi Nichter, Susan Shaw, et al.

Approximately one third of households in remote Alaska Native villages lack in-home piped water and suffer the health consequences of poor sanitation and inadequate treated water. In response to increasing costs of living and the failure of development projects to foster the conditions under which they would be able to provide for their needs, many Iñupiat assert the importance of traditional values that constitute a path out of insecurity and into self-sufficiency. The Iñupiat point to modern technology as the source of what they call the spoiling of their communities. When the Iñupiat talk about being spoiled by technology, they are referring to the historical domination by the state over their social reproduction in ways that produce and exacerbate the insecurities of daily life in remote villages.

An Ethnography of the “Epidemic” of Schizophrenia among Individuals of African-Caribbean Heritage in England, by Johanne Eliacin. The University of Chicago. Advisors: Tanya Luhrmann, Richard P. Taub, Sydney L. Hans, Eugene Raikhel, et al.

This dissertation addresses the psychiatric epidemiological puzzle that African-Caribbbean people in England have significantly higher rates of schizophrenia than the general British population. Ethnographic fieldwork with patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, their relatives, and community members in North London, reveals that specific social changes and historic forces interlink to create a toxic environment characterized by negative expressed emotions and social defeat which negatively affects African-Caribbeans’ mental health. The dissertation examines five key factors: social inequalities, social fragmentation, rapid social changes, isolation, and community expressed emotions.

La Violencia Adentro (Violence in the Interior): Gender Violence, Human Rights, and State-NGO-Community Relations in Coastal Ecuador, by Karin Friederic. The University of Arizona. Advisors; Linda B. Green, Mark Nichter, Laura Briggs, Martha Few, et al.

This dissertation explores how local understandings and manifestations of gender violence in coastal Ecuador are changing as women and men learn about human rights and gain access to state-based forms of justice. Wife abuse in the region is often explained as a result of machismo and an enduring culture of violence. This dissertation demonstrates, instead, how political, economic and social processes normalize gender violence and how transnational human rights discourses are reshaping gender relations and the visibility of particular forms of violence. Inhabitants in this historically marginalized region are using alliances with transnational NGOs to renegotiate their relationship to the state. While these alliances offer powerful openings for women and families, their potential is limited by growing social and economic vulnerability.

Small City Neighbors: Race, Space, and Class in Mansfield, Ohio, by Alison Goebel. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Advisors: Alejandro Lugo, Brenda Farnell, Ellen Moodie, David R. Roediger.

This dissertation investigates social relations in a small deindustrializing city in the United States to analyze the specificities of class, “race relations,” and small city “cityness.” I conducted ethnographic research in Mansfield, Ohio, a multiracial, class-stratified city of about 50,000 residents. My work contributes to studies of whiteness and U.S. race relations by examining how whiteness hierarchically structures social relationships among neighbors. In analyzing how middle class white dominance responds to pressures that seek to undermine its privileges, my dissertation offers a small city view of U.S. race relations. My findings capture particularities of the field site as well as the consequences of global neoliberal capitalism and white racial privilege common throughout the United States.

Looking Back, Seeing Forward: An Ethnography of Women and Violence in Post-war Guatemala City, by Paula Godoy-Paiz. McGill University. [no advisor listed]

Gender-based violence in Guatemala is embedded in enduring legacies of state violence and military power, socio-economic inequalities, and political and cultural ideologies that justify violence toward certain segments of the population including women. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Guatemala’s Metropolitan Area among indigenous and Latina women, I offer an ethnographic analysis of violence and women’s lives in post-war urban Guatemala. My dissertation examines how violence is experienced by women and how it shapes their everyday lives. Special attention is given to the gaps between national and international institutional responses for addressing violence against women, and women’s everyday experiences and agency in carving out spaces to resist distinct forms of violence in their lives.

Reconstructing Life: Environment, Expertise, and Political Power in Iraq’s Marshes 2003-2007, by Bridget Guarasci. University of Michigan. Advisor: Andrew J. Shryock.

The restoration of the southern marshes was one of the most celebrated projects of the post-2003 Iraq reconstruction era. Well before the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, Iraqi exiles met with the U.S. Department of State under the Future of Iraq Project to plan for the aftermath. This dissertation makes two arguments. First, although the marsh project concerned the environment, the most powerful effects of this project lay in the support for a new economy. Second, “post-conflict” Iraq established distance as a technology for foreign investment. Internationals worked from afar for their own safety, hiring Iraqi staff to carry out their mandates. GIS and remote sensing gave rise to virtual spaces of the marshes. Iraq came to be defined by a future-oriented politics of life that, in the case of marsh restoration, privileged the ecological over the human.

Unequal Partners: Sex, Money, Power, and HIV/AIDS in Southern Malawian Relationships, by Nicole Hayes Bennesch. Boston University. Advisor: Charles Lindholm.

Recent surveys in southern Malawi suggest that 20 percent of women and 15 percent of men are HIV positive. Despite a long history of matrilineal institutions that traditionally guaranteed considerable autonomy for women, contemporary relationships between men and women have become the site of gendered power imbalances that promote the spread of HIV/AIDS. This dissertation explores the transformation of heterosexual relationships in southern Malawi from relatively egalitarian unions to profoundly unequal partnerships. Fieldwork at three field sites focused on the complex interplay between colonialism, globalization, democratization, and heterosexual relationships. I contend that recent changes have altered male/female relationships in ways that promote the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In the Meanwhile: Living Everyday in Anticipation of Violence in Lebanon, by Sami Hermez.
Princeton University. Advisor: John Borneman.

This dissertation examines how a constant anticipation of political violence continues to affect the lives of former militia fighters and society at large in Lebanon. I argue that the constant anticipation of violence haunts everyday life with the spirit of past civil conflicts and the looming threat of future ones. I describe how people take up political action not simply as acts of resistance but also from within a framework of cynical reason. I tackle the notion of sacrifice in wartime, where I focus on what it means to dehumanize others and to lose one’s humanity, arguing that the notion of dehumanization is a rhetorical device with hegemonic influence in debates and conversations around war. My research relies on fieldwork with former militia fighters as well as with political activists, to show how different social processes are constructed.

Morality and Personhood in the Hmong Diaspora: A Person-centered Ethnography of Migration and Resettlement, by Jacob Hickman. The University of Chicago. Advisors: Richard A. Shweder, Don Kulick, Nicholas Tapp, Micere Keels.

This dissertation is concerned with understanding the cultural and psychological adaptations that result from migration. I employ a person-centered ethnographic approach to investigating a transnational group of Hmong families that migrated to Thailand and the United States. I document some important changes that are occurring in Hmong refugee communities including language shift, changing kinship and ritual networks, and the proliferation of several messianic movements. I argue that these changes can be attributed at least in part to how social dispersion in the Hmong diaspora has disrupted traditional religious practices and kin-based ritual networks. I describe a Hmong cultural model of “ancestral personhood” in which the life course includes post-mortal existence and regular interactions between living and deceased kin.

Finding Kinship in the Twenty-first Century: Matching Gay New Yorkers with Children through Adoption and Fostering, by Lynn Horridge. City University of New York. Advisors: Shirley Lindenbaum, Kate Crehan, Marc Edelman, Linda Seligmann.

This dissertation focuses on how gay New Yorkers build families and find kinship through adopting and fostering children. This research pays special attention to the history of “matching” in American adoption practices and how some gays and lesbians have emerged as suitable adopters despite continuing struggles to gain recognition on other gay rights issues such as marriage. I argue that gay and lesbian New Yorkers who adopt, like their heterosexual counterparts, benefit greatly from the neoliberalization of child welfare services in ways that both positively and negatively affect children in need of care. Matching practices, however, leave legacies of race, class, and gender inequalities intact. Fieldwork was conducted in New York City and Guatemala.

Being Closer: Children and Caregiving in the Time of TB and HIV in Lusaka, Zambia, by Jean Hunleth. Northwestern University. Advisors: Karen Tranberg Hansen, Helen Schwartzman, William Leonard, Rebecca Wurtz.

Children are not simply victims of the rise in HIV-related illnesses and premature deaths among adults in Zambia, they are actively engaged in social practices and productive activities that shape the care they give to and receive from adults. I focus on children’s roles in managing tuberculosis (TB) in Lusaka, Zambia. I show that children develop practices of care that hinge on proximity and interdependence which I call “being closer.” A phrase used often by children and adults when an adult relative is sick, being closer characterizes children’s efforts within illness to sustain social ties, give and receive care, and affirm their value and personhood. Being closer is a practice of care in which children actively direct their actions and sentiments toward particular relationships and people.

Making Moral Worlds: Individual and Social Processes of Meaning Making in a Somali Diaspora, by Anna Jacobsen. Washington University in St. Louis. Advisors: John R. Bowen, Rebecca J. Lester, Carolyn Sargent, Shanti Parikh, et al.

In this dissertation, I explore various aspects of Somali morality as it is constructed, debated, and reinforced by individual women living in the Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya. I examine how Somali women in Eastleigh identify morality and ethical behavior. I argue that this metaethical project is not an artifact of analysis, but is a useful way of capturing how Somalis in Kenya and elsewhere are undertaking a dialogue and exploration of what constitutes “the moral.” The contours of such projects vary depending on local context, and I look carefully at how variation unfolds in one specific place, at one specific time. Yet some of the processes of metaethical reflection that I identify are active in other contexts as well. This metaethical project serves not only social ends, but individual, spiritual and psychological ones as well.

Revolutions in Microcosm: Migration, Meaning, and Mothering by Iranian-Americans, by Whitney Kazemipour. University of California, Los Angeles. Advisor: Linda C. Garro.

How do the simultaneously cognitive and emotional tasks of mothering and the creation of meaning shape the host-country adaptation of immigrants? How does migration affect mothering? Through in-depth interviewing of Baha’i and Muslim Iranian-American immigrant mothers, interpreted within the context of extensive participant observation, this dissertation seeks to answer these questions. It reflects both psychocultural anthropology’s concern with cultural internalization and with the role of agency, and also migration scholarship’s concern with immigrant acculturation and adaptation. Building on a processual approach to meaning-making that places motivation as a key variable in the articulation of plans and thought, analysis of the interviews demonstrated three themes in their mothering.

The Senses and Suffering: Medical Knowledge, Spirit Possession, and Vaccination Programs in Aja, by James Kennell. Southern Methodist University. Advisors: Caroline Brettell, Carolyn Sargent, Carolyn Smith-Morris, Paul Stoller.

In an Aja community of southwest Benin, multiple domains of medical knowledge and practice compete for control of illness meaning and sensory experience. Global health initiatives (vaccination and education programs), national health care structures, and Aja medico-religious practice each incorporate and manipulate the knowledge and practice of the other in order to create legitimacy and shape therapeutic trajectories. Biomedical nosology and disease prevention efforts conflict with local understandings of individual and community health concerning diseases that affect the skin. Efforts at the “sensibilisation” of the community regarding vaccinations and other global health initiatives is met with local medico-religious knowledge emphasizing a sensual experience of illness and healing for the individual and the community.

Restructuring Birth: Neoliberal Shifts in Maternity Care, the Role of NGOs, and the Impact on Midwives and Birthparents in the Philadelphia Community, by Cecily Knauer. Temple University. Advisors: Sydney White, Susan Hyatt, Judith Goode, Rebecca Alpert.

Over the past twelve years, Philadelphia has undergone an unparalleled large scale shift in how maternity care is provided, accessed, and considered. Key aspects of the changes to the landscape of birth in Philadelphia include the closure of the majority of hospital-based maternity units, the activities of local women’s health non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the new set of pregnancy care and birth choices that parents navigate. One of the most striking results of the restructuring of Philadelphia’s maternity care system is a drastic reduction in the number of hospitals with maternity units. My ethnographic work focuses on the experiences of particular individuals as they navigate Philadelphia’s new system of maternity care. I find that the interests of parents and health care practitioners are increasingly devalued or disregarded.

Virtuous Citizens and Sentimental Society: Ethics and Politics in Neoliberal South Korea, by EuyRyung Jun. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Advisors: Donald Nonini, Peter Redfield, Arturo Escobar, Nancy Abelmann.

This dissertation focuses on the new social and ethical landscape created by foreign workers, marriage immigrants, and “multicultural families” in South Korea. I examine the problem of the human rights of the foreign worker, which essentially relied on the advocacy work by civil society groups such as migrant centers in the absence of the state’s interest in protecting them. Second, I locate the state programs for immigrants and their multicultural families within its efforts to cope with the country’s recent demographic changes that are characterized by low fertility and rapid aging. I show that the state’s multicultural programs have emerged as part of its governance of the given crisis and of the emergent populations that potentially disrupt existing social integrity.

Merchant Moralities: Indigenous Economy and Ethical Work in Otavalo, Ecuador, by Kristine Latta. Princeton University. Advisor: Joao Biehl.

Over the last four decades, the indigenous communities of Otavalo, Ecuador have taken part in a remarkable transformation, utilizing a combination of incremental savings, hired and family labor, investment, migration, capital risk, and cultural creativity to carefully recalibrate a venerable and centuries-long history of textile production to the appetites of a 21st century ethnic craft export and tourism economy. In the process, Otavalo’s most prosperous indigenous entrepreneurs have become the antagonists of everyday moral dilemmas about the relationship between merchant capital and indigenous values. This dissertation poses the question of how indigenous merchants work to reconcile their intense engagements in a global market economy.

After SARS: The Rebirth of Public Health in China’s “City of Immigrants,” by Katherine
Harvard University. Advisor: Arthur Kleinman.

This dissertation examines the professionalization of public health in the Chinese city of Shenzhen in the wake of the 2003 SARS epidemic, with a focus on the development of new forms of professional responsibility. I argue that SARS launched a series of reforms that profoundly shaped the goals, methods, institutions, and training associated with public health in China, while greatly increasing the status, expertise, and reach of local Chinese public health institutions. The effects of these reforms were most dramatic in the Pearl River Delta region of China, where Shenzhen is located and where SARS originated. I explore how my research participants attempted to resolve the tensions among multiple responsibilities and moralities as they built a new public health profession in Shenzhen after SARS.

Struggles over Belonging: Insecurity, Inequality and the Cultural Politics of Property at Enoosupukia, Kenya, by Scott Matter. McGill University. [no advisor listed]

In the formerly forested highlands overlooking Kenya’s Rift Valley, rights in land are highly contested. Disputes revolve around a central question: who belongs and to whom does Enoosupukia belong? For a core community who call this place their ancestral home, uncertainty about the answer translates to a pervasive sense of insecurity and hardship. Faced with competing claims from non-local members of several ethnic and sub-ethnic collectivities as well as local and central branches of the Kenyan state, residents of Enoosupukia deploy a variety of strategies to claim their rights. These strategies have resulted in limited success thus far and their continued presence in the highlands is subject to frequent challenges and contingent upon constant negotiation.

Socializing Landscapes, Naturalizing Conflict: Environmental Discourses and Land Conflict in the Negev Region of Israel, by Emily McKee. University of Michigan. Advisor: Stuart A. Kirsch.

This dissertation analyzes how historical narratives, state policies, and the everyday practices of residents shape contemporary land conflict in the Negev/Naqab region of Israel. Jewish and Bedouin-Arab citizens and governmental bodies vie over access to land for farming and homes and over the status of unrecognized Bedouin villages. Combining fieldwork in the Negev with historical analysis, my investigation traces environmental discourses across the typically separated domains of planned towns for Jews and Bedouin Arabs, unrecognized villages and single-family farmsteads, Knesset hearings, news media, and activist projects. The first study of environment and land conflict in this region to look at Jewish and Arab settings, this dissertation offers insight into the hardening of these oppositional group boundaries and social conflict.

Life on the Border: Korean-Chinese Negotiating National Belonging in Transnational Space, by Gowoon Noh. University of California, Davis. Advisors: Li Zhang, Carol Smith, Alan Klima, James Smith.

This study focuses on how the Korean-Chinese population of Yanbian Korean-Chinese Ethnic Autonomous Prefecture (Yanbian) conducts transnational business and engages in labor migration between South Korea and the Yanbian Prefecture, China. I look at how Korean-Chinese are situated in a unique context of national belonging between China and South Korea as an ethnic minority of the postsocialist Chinese state and the largest Korean overseas population believed to share national ancestry with South Korea. My study elaborates the analysis of neoliberalism to the extent that the emphasis on neoliberal ethics of self-governance and self-responsibility in postsocialist China often engenders political and economic insecurity for the ethnic population by challenging their national belonging and identity.

Health in Black and White: Debates on Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities in Brazil, by Anna Pagano. University of California, San Diego. Advisors: James Holston, Nancy Postero, Thomas, Csordas, Ivan Evans.

In 2006, the Brazilian Health Council approved a National Health Policy for the black population. The policy is striking because it promotes the image of a biologically and culturally discrete black population by collapsing “brown” (pardo) and “black” (preto) Brazilian Census categories into a single “black population” (população negra) to be considered a special-needs group by the public health apparatus. In this dissertation, I explore the political and social implications of treating racial and ethnic groups differently within Brazilian health care. I examine how the re-definition and medicalization of racial and cultural identities unfolds in public clinics, temples of Afro-Brazilian religion, and social movements based in São Luís and São Paulo.

Landscapes of Power: An Ethnography of Energy Development on the Navajo Nation, by Dana Powell. University of North Carolina. Advisors: Dorothy Holland, Arturo Escobar, Orin Starn, Peter Redfield.

This dissertation examines the cultural politics of energy development on the Navajo (Diné) Nation in the Southwestern United States (Arizona and New Mexico) through an ethnographic study of Desert Rock, a coal-fired power plant proposed by the Navajo Nation government. Since its initial proposal in 2003, the proposed plant has spawned widespread controversy both among tribal members and in the greater region, despite its unbuilt, emergent status. This dissertation follows the actors engaged in this debate, showing how Desert Rock became a fulcrum for negotiations of Navajo identity and indigeneity, sustainable development, tribal sovereignty, and expert knowledge. I argue that these dynamics constitute landscapes of power.

Adoring Our Wounds: Suicide, Prevention, and the Maya in Yucatan, Mexico, by Beatriz Reyes-Cortes. University of California, Berkeley. Advisors: Stanley Brandes, William F. Hanks, Lawrence Cohen, William B. Lawrence.

The first decade of the 21st century has seen transformations in national and regional Mexican politics and society. In the state of Yucatán, a newfound interest in indigenous Maya culture is coupled with increasing involvement by the state in public health efforts. Suicide, which in Yucatán more than doubles the national average, has captured the attention of local newspaper media, public health authorities, and the general public. My dissertation, based on ethnographic and archival research in Valladolid and Mérida, Yucatán, is a study of both suicide and suicide prevention efforts. The first half of my dissertation focuses on how suicide is produced in public and state discourse. The second half considers how foreign mental health treatment models are applied in local clinical settings as part of state suicide prevention efforts.

Schooling and Life Chances: Explaining the Effects of Mothers’ Schooling on Child Health in Ethiopia, by Edward Stevenson. Emory University. Advisors: Craig Hadley, Peter J. Brown, Bradd J. Shore, Carol J. Worthman.

The expansion of women’s schooling is often asserted to be one of the largest influences on the global fall in child mortality of the past century. While consensus exists that the benefits of maternal schooling for child survival are due to improved health behaviors on the part of mothers, the factors that connect girls’ school experience to these behaviors in later life are unclear. This dissertation tested four hypothetical connections between schooling and child health in Ethiopia: knowledge of treatments for diarrhea and malaria, literacy skills, aspirations that could motivate greater parental investment, and greater wealth and access to medical services among mothers with more education. Findings indicate that community-level factors such as access to clean water and medical services may be most significant.

Stand up for Singapore? Gay Men and the Cultural Politics of National Belonging in the Lion City, by Kok Tan. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Advisors: Martin Manalansan IV. F. K. Lehman, Janet D. Keller, Alejandro Lugo.

This dissertation examines how Chinese-Singaporean gay men articulate their aspirations for national belonging within a recalcitrant state and its nation-building programs. These men expose the artificiality of the nation and its categories of belonging. Even as the state compels them to submit to its call for economic and biological (re)productivity, it also chastises them for their allegedly excessive individualism. In everyday life, they navigate a social landscape structured by the very real practices of an authoritarian state that criminalizes their sexuality. I argue that the illiberal state achieves its political legitimacy by convincing citizens that only it can secure Singapore’s continuous economic growth.

The Moral Dilemmas of Nighttime Breastfeeding: Crafting Kinship, Personhood and Capitalism in the U.S., by Cecilia Tomori. University of Michigan. Advisors: Gillian Feeley-Harnik, Thomas E. Fricke.

This dissertation addresses the cultural construction and negotiation of moral dilemmas that arise from the embodied practices of breastfeeding and sleep in the U.S. I argue that the debates that surround both breastfeeding and infant sleep arrangements originate from the intertwined social histories of biomedicine and capitalism that have led to a valuation of the properties of breast milk for health and the stigmatization of breastfeeding’s intercorporeal praxis. I investigate the consequences of these cultural trends through an ethnographic study of middle class parents committed to breastfeeding. I focus on the moral dilemmas that stem from cultural concerns about personhood and the intercorporeal aspects of nighttime breastfeeding in parent-child kin relations that are amplified by medical guidelines for breastfeeding and infant sleep.

Life and Death Journeys: Medical Travel, Cancer, and Children in Argentina, by Padros Vindrola. University of South Florida. Advisors: Linda M. Whiteford, Heidi M. Castaneda, Rebecca K. Zarger, Eric Eisenberg.

Recent studies on the Argentine public health system have demonstrated that the lack of medical resources in different parts of the country force pediatric oncology patients and their family members to travel to Buenos Aires in order to access care. This dissertation documents the experiences of such traveling families in order to understand the barriers they face while attempting to access medical treatment and the strategies they use to surmount these obstacles. The interviews, visual timelines, drawings, and participant-observation carried out with families shed light on differences in the conceptualization of medical treatment and migration between children and their parents, the ways in which the process of parenting was affected by relocation, and the changes that need to be made in the current Argentine public health system.

Black Bogota: The Politics and Everyday Experience of Race in Post-constitutional Reform Colombia, by Fatimah Williams. Rutgers University. Advisors: Ana Ramos-Zayas, Deborah A. Thomas, Daniel M. Goldstein, Dorothy L. Hodgson.

This dissertation is an ethnographic examination of the lived experience of multicultural constitutional reform and juridical recognition among black populations in Colombia. The Constitutional Reform of 1991 and subsequent Law 70 of 1993 made Colombia one of the first countries in Latin America to recognize black people as a distinct cultural group and grant them rights to collective territories, political representation, and cultural protections. I explore blackness as a cultural and a legal phenomenon and show how race operates in daily life outside of sites of predominantly black populations, at the margins of state politics and law, and in conjunction with global discourses of rights and black identity. This research contributes to debates on the extent to which law can address social difference and inequality.

The Weight of the Body: Changing Ideals of Fatness, Nourishment, and Health in Guatemala, by Emily Yates-Doerr. New York University. Advisors: Emily Martin, Thomas A. Abercrombie, Rayna Rapp, Sally E. Merry.

Historically, Guatemalans have considered body fat a sign of health and prestige. In the past decade, connected to an increased availability of processed foods, the incidence of metabolic illness has grown rapidly and obesity has become an emerging medical concern. Local and international health organizations have responded with nutrition education programs that encourage dietary control and weight management through an emphasis on calories and nutrients. This dissertation analyzes how people in the urbanizing highland city of Xela, Guatemala, perceive obesity and dietary health and how the dissemination of information about nutrition shapes these perceptions. I show how epidemiological transformation in Guatemala also entails epistemological changes in ways of knowing and relating to bodies and food.

Internal Displacement in Colombia: Violence, Resettlement, and Resistance, by Juan Zea. Portland State University. Advisors: Michele R. Gamburd, Sharon A. Carsten, Jose Padin.

The majority of the estimated four million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Colombia who have fled from their lands and homes have migrated to urban centers. This study examines how IDPs cope with living in a new, urban environment after violent displacement. The research demonstrates how IDPs’ practices challenge state bureaucracy and refute the non-displaced public’s stereotypes. IDPs’ agency both reproduces and transforms social structures in the city of Bogotá. Collective IDP agency leads to actions of resistance through public marches and takeovers. This research highlights relations between power structures and individuals, examining how IDPs experience and resist symbolic violence, and it demonstrates how IDPs create new identities in situations of forced migration.

Carrying out Modernity: Migration, Work, and Masculinity in China, by Xia Zhang. University of Pittsburgh. Advisor: Nicole Constable.

This dissertation is an historically and politically grounded ethnography of bangbang, an estimated 200,000 to 1,000,000-strong crew of male porters, who serve the transportation sector of Chongqing in southwest China. Bangbang are mostly Chinese rural migrant men who work as informal day laborers. My research examines the labor and gender inequalities that bangbang experience within the context of post-reform China’s economic development and modernization. In Chongqing, rural men’s migrations are not just an important attempt to pursue economic advancement, but are also part of their quest for decency and masculine pride. This research finds that the fragmentation of employment contributes to the lack of large-scale, public, collective protests among bangbang against the government.

10 thoughts on “Anthroworks best 40 dissertations in cultural anthropology 2011

  1. Randall French Jackson


    I love the idea of giving attention to emerging scholarship in anthropology, so I quite like the idea of this post. Some of the dissertations you’ve highlighted look fantastic. However, as I understand it, you did not read all of the cultural anthropology dissertations completed in 2011. In fact, it does not seem possible that you could have read all of the dissertations which have earned a place on your list. May I ask, did you in fact read the dissertations themselves? Or just the abstracts? And if it is just the abstracts, perhaps you should rename your blog post — something like “most intriguing dissertation titles of 2011”?
    The scholarship that goes into writing a dissertation deserves real engagement, and real consideration. Compiling a list of the most important dissertations in a given field in a given year requires the kind of detailed, thorough and informed work that seems impossible for one individual to accomplish by performing a keyword search of dissertation abstracts online.


  2. Pingback: The Wenner-Gren Blog » Wenner-Gren Grantees make anthropologyworks’ “Best Dissertations of 2011″

  3. Wow, This seems like a thorough list of dissertatons. While, undoubtedly there are many others out there, the various topics are intriguing and cover a broad range of subjects. I am impressed at the time it must have taken to compile this list and the time it took to review the dissertations. There are more than a few of these I intend to delve into and I am thankful a previous commentor found at least one link to the full dissertation.


  4. Pingback: PSU Alum makes top 40 Anthropology thesis list « Anthropology News & Events

  5. Pingback: Alison Goebel and Chris Tan Recognized in Anthroworks Best 40 Dissertations in Cultural Anthropology 2011 « anthroillinois

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