best cultural anthropology dissertations of 2016

Here are my 50 cultural anthropology dissertation selections for 2016. As in past years, my search was based on Dissertation Abstracts International, an electronic database available through my university library which consists of almost 100 percent U.S. dissertations. As always, I rely only on the abstract of each dissertation as the basis for my selection. I have taken the liberty of trimming long abstracts so that all entries are roughly the same length. My apologies to the authors for any possible offenses created by my editing.

The search terms I used reflect the focus of the anthropologyworks blog: food, resources, and livelihoods; power and politics; health; conflict and violence; population dynamics; stratification including race, class, gender, and age; activism, programs and policies; and the importance of cultural anthropology in describing and analyzing the complexity of these topics within particular and changing contexts – local, regional, and global. 

The selected dissertations of 2016 offer a rich array of topics and approaches. Health-related research predominates. Other recurrent subjects are politics and power, migration, rights, and the effects of policies and programs. Cities are a notably frequent site, while several studies are based on multi-sited research. 

Congratulations to writers of these 50 dissertation. Best wishes to you all.

See also the best cultural anthropology dissertations of 2009, 2010, 2011,20122013, 2014, and 2015.

Altun, Murat. Of conspiracies and men: The politics of evil in Turkey. University of Minnesota.  Advisor: Hoon Song. 

This ethnographic study documents the belief in conspiracy theories in Turkey, a growing conviction that an insider evil agent is stirring the harmony and unity of society. It is based on fieldwork in Northeastern Turkey, where belief in conspiracy theories are prevalent and a folk festival of evil power expulsion is celebrated. I ask: what are the cultural and historical roots of believing in conspiracy theories? The ethnography sheds light on the increasing references to conspiratorial powers in Turkish politics by drawing attention to the conspiratorial thinking in Trabzon, one of the strong voter bases of the governing Justice and Development Party. Kalandar, from its costumes and reenactments to its relation to historical religious conversions and state violence, provides a lens for its participants to interpret the concept of a nation that they imagine to be in constant defense of “insider conspiratorial” threats.

Ananda, Kitana. Politics after a ceasefire: Suffering, protest, and belonging in Sri Lanka’s Tamil Diaspora. Columbia University. Advisor: Daniel, E. Valentine.

This multi-sited ethnographic study concerns the cultural formations of moral and political community among Tamils displaced by three decades of war and political violence in Sri Lanka. Through field research among Tamils in Toronto, Canada, and Tamil Nadu, India, I inquire into the histories, discourses, and practices of diasporic activism at the end of war between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Tamils abroad were mobilized to protest the war, culminating in months of spectacular mass demonstrations in metropolitan cities around the world. Participant-observation among activists and their families in diaspora neighborhoods and refugee camps, public events and actions, semi-structured interviews, media analysis, and archival work, reveal how “diaspora” has become a capacious site of political becoming for the identification and mobilization of Tamils within, across, and beyond-nation states and their borders.

Bajoghli, Narges Paramilitary media: Revolution, war, and the making of the Islamic Republic of Iran. New York University. Advisor: Faye Ginsburg.

This ethnographic study of state power in the Islamic Republic offer us insights into how the hegemonic paramilitary organization, Basij, attempts to influence its citizens via media. If successful, every revolutionary movement eventually faces a dilemma: how does the commitment to the revolutionary project get transmitted from one generation to the next as historical circumstances change? In investigating this question, I look at how pro-regime cultural producers, affiliated primarily with the Basij, but also with the Revolutionary Guard and Ansar-e Hezbollah, produce media in everyday interactions between producers, directors, editors, translators, and viewers. Drawing on fieldwork in Tehran, Abadan, and Karaj, among Basij filmmakers, my study addresses the work of a hegemon in attempting to advance a culture of revolution. I argue that at stake is not just the creation of new forms of revolutionary media, but also new ways of guiding the future of the Islamic Republic through the cultivation of today’s citizen.

Begim, Ainur Investing for the long term: Temporal politics of retirement planning in financialized central Asia. Yale University. Advisor: Douglas Rogers.

Fieldwork in Almaty, Kazakhstan, is the basis for this ethnographic study of pension planning and investments in the age of oil-enabled financialization. I use retirement investments as a lens through which to investigate how Kazakhstanis have conceptualized their individual and collective futures and made long-term plans in an oil-centered economy from the 1990s to the present. My findings suggest that many Kazakhstanis view the country’s relative prosperity and political stability as uncertain and impermanent. This in turn informs how they make plans, strategize for the future, invest, spend, and save money. The temporal orientation of Kazakhstanis is not necessarily short-term; it is a complex of short-term strategies, mid-range possibilities, and contingency plans. Citizens aim to invest in a range of short-term and medium-term investments, such as real estate, bank deposits in foreign currency, and more dubious and risky financial schemes.

Borea, Giuliana. Recasting the contemporary: Processes, assemblages and aspirations in the making of the new Lima art scene. New York University. Advisor: Fred R. Myers.

This dissertation is an anthropological analysis of the processes of formation of the booming scene of contemporary art in Lima and of its mechanisms of articulation over the last twenty years. It locates its study in conjuncture with the political economy and the neoliberal transformations of Lima and Peru, and with changes in the larger art world. By tracing processes and art agents’ multiscalar strategic practices and dreams, I argue that there are three periods and forms of assemblages in the making of the new Lima art scene, and I show how different actors and generations come into play. This thesis demonstrates the paradoxes of participation and posits that the “global art world” does not necessarily imply new art values and forms, but rather the expansion of dominant art views and prototypes through grounded assemblages and a wider multi-scale participation of transnational elite actors. With an ethnographic approach, this dissertation discusses the politics of the “global art map.”

Boyle, Michael J. Declining city, born-again citadel: Faith-based organizations and the reconstitution of inequality in postindustrial America. City University of New York. Advisor: Donald Robotham.

In the context of the hegemonic neoliberalism of recent decades, faith-based organizations (FBOs) have flourished as mechanisms for addressing poverty and other varieties of social need. For all of the contributions of contemporary anthropological research to the study of FBOs, however, most analyses have stressed the potency of FBOs and elided the agency of recipients. This dissertation, through a multi-cited study of Evangelical FBOs in the postindustrial American city of Plainfield, focuses on the latter theme. Owing to the traditional behaviorism of American culture and also its Evangelical reproduction in FBO settings, the pursuit of charity thrusts a dilemma onto recipients: Risk accepting the stigma and shame typically associated with poverty or contest those meanings and risk alienating oneself from a valuable source of much-needed household assistance. Rather than accepting the terms of this invidious dilemma, however, charitable subjects in Plainfield transcend them with performances of worthiness—demonstrations of respectfulness, a work ethic, and more, that mark them as worthy, despite their poverty. Marxian praxis theory suggests that these performances have the contradictory consequence of facilitating the reproduction of capitalist social relations.

Chapman, Chelsea. Multi-natural resources: politics and cosmologies of energy in central Alaska. The University of Wisconsin Madison. Advisors: Larry Nesper and Maria Lepowsky.

This dissertation addresses energy cosmologies surfacing in conflicts over development in central Alaska. Fieldwork included regional fossil and renewable resource agencies, petroleum and power production sites, public hearings on energy consumption, regulation and development. The author interviewed renewable energy researchers, forestry scientists, consultants, engineers, environmental activists, state legislators and tribal representatives. Authoritative knowledge developed alongside a proliferation of quasi-public entities developing natural gas production and transportation schemes. Simultaneously, rapid climate change and ongoing energy supply crises disrupted local livelihoods. Resulting renewable energy projects threatened to import many of the social inequities institutionalized in decades of petroleum production. The study finds that, despite the potential of studying ontological pluralism in contested extractive sites, energy development here remains a site of neocolonial governmentality best suited to political economic analysis.

Crocker, Rebecca. “Sadness is a great pain for the body”: The emotional trauma and embodied impacts of migration from Mexico to Tucson, Arizona. The University of Arizona. Advisor: Thomas E. Sheridan.

A considerable body of evidence links social and economic inequities to poor health. One of the means through which these inequities are translated to the body is via negative emotions, which carry known psychological and physiological responses. This thesis is a historically contextualized study of how migration from Mexico to southern Arizona is experienced at the site of the body. I outline the ethno-historical background of traditional medicinal usage and concepts of health and healing in northern Mexico. I examine migration-related psychosocial stressors impacting first-generation Mexican immigrants in southern Arizona, and report on the primary emotional experiences immigrants associate with these stressors. I use the illness narratives of my participants to move more deeply into the connections between these experiences of emotional suffering and physical health. I employ immigrants’ own words to draw a link between group level epidemiological data on health declines in the immigrant community and established research in biological anthropology and neurobiology that identifies individual emotional hardship as a biological pathway to disease.

Durrani, Mariam. A study on mobility: Pakistani-origin Muslim youth in higher education. University of Pennsylvania. Advisors: Asif Agha and Stanton E. F. Wortham. 

This multi-sited ethnography investigates the gendered lifeworlds of transnational Pakistani-origin, Muslim college students in New York City and in Lahore, Pakistan. I follow the multiple and overlapping mobility trajectories of transnational youth as marked by particular, semiotic practices and narratives. My field sites—hallways, dorms, student club- rooms, cafeterias, and libraries at two comparable college campuses—provided the interactional spaces where I could observe students developing their social and cultural selves. I found that the rural to urban migration pattern and concomitant imaginaries remained significant for both intra- and inter-national movements. My research examined students’ narratives about these multiscalar mobilities, analyzing emergent and locale-specific discursive and embodied practices in relation to transnational and piety-based markers of belonging. These practices both reified and critiqued traditional and modern notions of patriarchy. Mobility offers an ideal construct to ethnographically observe Pakistani-origin Muslim youth subject-making and to understand how transnational youth re-fashion their social identities and professional aspirations given the post-9/11 political and social climate.

El Kotni, Mounia. “Porque tienen mucho derecho”: Parteras, biomedical training and the vernacularization of human rights in Chiapas. State University of New York at Albany. Advisor: Jennifer L. Burrell.

This research stems from ethnographic fieldwork in the Mexican State of Chiapas, one of the regions with the highest maternal mortality rates in the country. To comply with international development goals to lower maternal mortality rates, indigenous midwives are trained in detecting risk factors in pregnancy and birth, while women are encouraged to give birth in hospitals. This study sheds light on the impact of such policies on poor women’s access to reproductive health care and Mayan midwives’ practices. Over the course of my research, I utilized the methodology of participant-observation and conducted in-depth interviews with traditional Mayam midwives and professional midwives within and outside the public health system, mothers living in urban and rural areas, workers from the public health sector, and Non-Governmental Organizations activists working in the field of reproductive health. In particular, this dissertation stems from my collaboration with the Organization of Indigenous Doctors of Chiapas in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Indigenous women’s interpretations of human rights allow them to call out the obstetric and structural violence these policies reproduce.

Evangelista, Javiela. Reshaping national imaginations in the midst of civil genocide: Denationalization in the Dominican Republic and transnational activism. City University of New York. Advisor: Leith Mullings.

In the Dominican Republic, a 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling retroactively revoked the citizenship of over 200,000 Dominican nationals of Haitian descent, thus creating the fifth largest stateless population in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. Building upon ethnographic research in the Dominican Republic and New York, as well as literature on race, nation, international human rights law and transnational activism, my dissertation, Reshaping National Imaginations in the Midst of Civil Genocide: Denationalization in the Dominican Republic and Transnational Activism, argues that despite the Dominican government’s claim to sovereignty and legitimate legislation, it has designed the civil genocide of Dominicans of Haitian descent with racially discriminatory bureaucratic processes of historical continuity, that simultaneously signal a dangerous turn towards the legalization of clandestine human rights violations. This dissertation lays bare the relevance of state power despite the recent push to portray deterritorialization as a result of globalized processes. This research also posits that the political, economic and social solidarity between activists organizing against statelessness in Dominican Republic and the Dominican diaspora in New York creates innovative collaborative spaces for resistance and resilience, self-determination, demands for Dominican and U.S. state accountability and ultimately alternative national imaginations.

Ferryman, Kadija S. From bench to bedside: Accountability in genomic medical researchThe New School. Advisor: Miriam Ticktin.

Translational research, known in shorthand as the “bench to bedside” model, has become a dominant logic of scientific knowledge production that emphasizes the movement of scientific discoveries made at the laboratory “bench” to clinical applications at the patient “bedside.” Based on fieldwork conducted at a large academic medical research center in the northeast United States from 2011-2014, this dissertation centers on the process of designing a clinical research trial that aims at translating a newly-identified African-ancestry specific genetic disease risk into a clinical intervention. I argue that translational genomic medicine research is productive of an ethics of accountability, and that this framework is distinct from the concerns and principles of bioethics. Moving genomic disease risk information from bench to bedside is a way to account for, and a return on investment in basic genomic research as well as reveals forms of accountability in contemporary biomedical research where obligations and responsibilities for health disparities, disease, and the uses of genetic risk information are negotiated among researchers, physicians, research subjects, and community members.

Fifita, Patricia A.Siu i moana: Navigating female cancer experience in the Kingdom of Tonga. University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Advisor:  Ty P. Kawika Tengan,

Drawing upon the intersections of gender, health and culture, this dissertation focuses on the growing cancer health disparities in the Pacific through the lens of female cancer experience in the Kingdom of Tonga. Due to the late presentation of the disease and lack of comprehensive cancer health care resources, breast cancer mortality rates in Tonga are disproportionately high. I approach this problem on two levels: from an indigenous meaning-centered analysis of health and illness in relation to fonua (land and people), and from a political economic critique that examines the inequalities and structural power dynamics affecting the allocation of resources and health seeking behavior. Women’s cancer narratives give voice to issues and experiences that are often silenced by shame and stigma. Through research at the Ministry of Health, Vaiola Hospital, and the Tongan Breast Cancer Society, I detail the ways Tongan women negotiate tensions between individual agency and the structural conditions that remain a part of everyday life and describe how current conditions of modernity and globalization are transforming the meaning and the management of health and disease. I argue that the development of effective interventions for female cancers in Tonga will require a multidisciplinary, holistic, and engaged approach foregrounding indigenous conceptualizations and articulations of health and disease in relation to sociocultural, political and economic inequalities.

Fleming, Rachel C. Working for a happy life in Bangalore: Gender, generation, and temporal liminality in India’s tech city. University of Colorado at Boulder. Advisor: Carole McGranahan. 

In Bangalore, women who work in information technology (IT) and other white-collar professions are part of a new generation of middle-class Indian women who expect to work. Beyond previous narratives of work as a “backup” in case a normative married life is not possible, these women now consider work important for their self-confidence and identity. The opportunity to work is also tied to India’s economic liberalization and ideas about what constitutes a good life as compared to the past, including a more expansive social life, more varied knowledge about the world, more gender equality at work and home, and a different kind of marriage. However, from the demands of work putting stress on families and relationships to sexism that seems ever more entrenched, the promise of work often becomes disappointment. At work, women feel exploited, yet when they leave or go part time they experience a painful loss of self. This dissertation draws on fieldwork in Bangalore with middle-class women from three generations to examine the effects of new regimes of work on women’s lives and senses of identity. As elsewhere, global neoliberal reconfigurations of work in Bangalore are both exploitive and essential in constructing the self.

Garbow, Diane R. Crafting colombianidad: The politics of race, citizenship and the localization of policy in Philadelphia. Temple University. Advisor: Judith G. Goode.

In contrast to the municipalities across the United States that restrict migration and criminalize the presence of immigrants, Philadelphia is actively seeking to attract immigrants as a strategy to reverse the city’s limited economic and political importance caused by decades of deindustrialization and population loss. I analyze how Colombians’ articulations of citizenship, and the ways they extend beyond juridical and legal rights, are enabled and constrained under new regimes of localized policy. In the dissertation, I examine citizenship as a set of performances and practices that occur in quotidian tasks that seek to establish a sense of belonging. Without a complex understanding of the effects of local migration policy, and how they differ from the effects of federal policy, we fail to grasp how Philadelphia’s promotion of migration has unstable and unequal effects for differentially situated actors. I also explore how the racialization of Colombians is transformed by the dynamics of localized policy in Philadelphia, where their experiences of marginalization as Latinos belies the construction of immigrants as a highly valued group, and shaped by the particularities of Colombian history, the imperial nature of US-Colombia relations, and shifting geopolitics among Latin American nations.

Grosh, Chris. Adaptability in a Bhutanese refugee community: Navigating integration and the impacts on nutritional health after U.S. resettlement. University of Kentucky. Advisor: Deborah Crooks.

Increasing rates of overweight, obesity, and related metabolic diseases documented among refugee communities across the United States necessitate greater attention to how processes of integration impact refugee health. While Bhutanese refugees were among the largest refugee groups entering the US during the five years leading up to this research, very few studies have examined how they have responded to integration and the impact of this transition on their health. Grounded in human adaptability and political economic theories, and adopting a biocultural approach, I investigate how Bhutanese refugees in “Prospect City” negotiate changing and unfamiliar structural and sociocultural conditions after resettlement and the consequences for energy balance and nutritional status. I found high rates of overweight and obesity compared to US averages along with age and caste related differences in nutritional status. Overconsumption of energy dense traditional foods stemmed from several interrelated factors: the abundance of foods in the US, prior experiences with food deprivation, a history of political exile that reinforced desires to preserve cultural food preferences, and joint family efforts to accommodate work-related time constraints by increasing food production and availability.

Jenkins, Andrea Louise. Economies of urban American Indian belonging: Cultivating academic and cultural strength through Title VII programs. The University of Chicago. Advisors: Raymond Fogelson and Michael Fisch.

This study examines an urban Title VII education program in mid-Michigan, seeking to understand how it facilitates the cultivation of distinct and the seemingly alternative, social worlds and social projects that affect both the positive and problematic distribution of educational and cultural outcomes for Indigenous stakeholders. As a federally-assisted supplemental education program, Title VII was primarily designed to address both the educational achievement and the “culturally-related academic needs” of American Indian students attending non-tribal public schools. This dissertation, therefore, works to approach these programs and their students as complex entities who deserve to be understood in their diversity and multiplicity of layers. By using varied, multi-stage anthropological methods, this study notes the everyday processes and interactions that occur, both on-site and off-site, while keeping broader temporal and spatial, discursive and material, contexts in mind. Rather than pre-judge certain actions as important and others as less so, my research offers a more comprehensive representation of stakeholder experiences and the environment that initiates, mitigates, or otherwise affects those experiences.

Johnson, Anthony. Post-apartheid citizenship and the politics of evictions in inner city Johannesburg. City University of New York. Advisor: Leith Mullings.

Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, this ethnographic study examines the phenomenon of eviction within the context of the post-apartheid constitutional right to housing and legal protections against evictions. Evictions are treated as a lived experience intrinsically linked to the historical, political, and economic life of inner city Johannesburg and more broadly South Africa. I address how South Africa’s constitution creates both a platform for housing advocates to contest evictions and also allows property owners to evict tenants.I collected data through participant observation, media sources, archives, interviews, and legal documents. Working at the intersection of urban anthropology and contemporary studies of race and space, I begin by linking the historical process of land dispossession as a result of settler colonialism to current urban formations. I analyze how the construction of evictions in popular media obscures the consequences of asymmetrical property relations established during the Apartheid era. I address how local activists organize to challenge evictions. Contributing to the broader anthropological study of the city, I conclude by concentrating on the limits of constitutional judgments on behalf of evicted tenants living in transitional housing facilities and explore the way evictions have become metaphors for the incomplete transformation of post-apartheid South African society.

Jude, Mary Elizabeth. Thinking beyond an evidence-based model to enhance Wabanaki Health: Story, resilience and change. The University of Maine. Advisor: Darren Ranco,

Despite marked improvements in access to healthcare, researchers continue to report substantial health disparities among Indigenous people. This study examines the relationship of history, culture and policy to the health of Maine’s Native American population. Identification of the upstream causes that result in poor health outcomes for Native Americans is fundamental to finding workable solutions, yet the underlying causes remain largely undefined. After considering these issues for some time, my research question became: Why do tribal health disparities persist, despite advances in modern medicine and increased access to care? This process caused me to re-consider the concept of health disparities and in doing so, to begin to understand that not only was I observing the issues through a Western, medicalized lens, but that most attempts at addressing poor health outcomes are also directed through the Western evidence base. Although colonization practices and the resultant historical trauma response are of foundational importance, the lack of an Indigenous evidence base may be the critical reason that health outcomes for Native Americans have not shown marked improvements over time. Future efforts to address tribal health will require a community-based approach tailored to the culture and health practices of Native populations, using Indigenous research methods to further the development of an Indigenous evidence base. It will be the obligation of the Academy to provide the support needed to help Native Mainers redefine health and appropriate interventions on their own terms.

Ketchum, Frederick S. Situated problems: Ethics and pharmaceutical enhancement in contemporary Germany. The University of Chicago. Advisors: Judith Farquhar and Jean Comaroff.

This dissertation examines the problem of “pharmaceutical enhancements” in contemporary Germany. Pharmaceutical enhancements (enhancements for short) are medications that are typically used for therapy, but which can also supposedly increase function in or “improve” some aspect of healthy individuals (e.g. concentration, mood). Near the end of the last decade, news media in Germany began widely reporting on enhancements: a large insurance study claimed that 5% of German employees were taking medications to boost performance at work. Other reports have stated that university students were regularly taking medications to study; and that schoolchildren were being given attention-deficit disorder medications to improve their academic performance. The central goal of this dissertation is to develop a framework for anthropologically studying “ethical dilemmas” attributed to advances in biomedicine/biosciences, specifically those technologies that claim to be able to “redesign” human beings. I reframe the ethical concerns at stake in pharmacological enhancement, adding to the questions typically voiced by a dominant strand of the bioethics literature. Using the German debate, I show how ethical concerns emerge out of a specific, situated context. I argue for an understanding of ethical dilemmas as “situated” problems, showing how technological ability converges with a set of meanings and biomedical rationalities to delineate a set of ethical concerns around pharmacological self-improvement.

King, Lynnette Zahrn. Human right or commodity: Middle-class perceptions and experiences of the mix of public and private health care in San José, Costa Rica. Michigan State University. Advisor: Linda M. Hunt.

This dissertation examines middle-class health care professionals’, providers’, and patients’ perceptions and experiences of the ideologies and practices of health care in San José, Costa Rica. I examine health care as a human right and health care as a commodity, as experienced in public and private health care and their mixing. It is well documented that the population holds strong beliefs about publically provided health care, but little is known about what happens to those beliefs when individuals use a mix of public and private health care. The perceptions and experiences of how individuals engage in these strategies indicate that as individuals in this study used a mix of public and private health care, they came to view health care, doctors, and the clinical experience as a commercial marketplace. Flexible medical citizenship is proposed as a means to understand the uncertainties, vulnerabilities, and inequalities that emerge as the ideologies and practices of public and private health care are mixed in daily life. Taken together, these findings illustrate the impact of neoliberal ideologies on health care, and how the once taboo topic of health care privatization has become more tenable.

Lee, Aleksandra Maria. Modeling China: Business, politics, and material in China’s museum industry. University of California, Irvine. Advisor: Mei Zhan.

This ethnography examines changing relationships between government and business through the emergence of a booming museum industry in developing, postsocialist China. Some sources estimate that in China a new museum opens every three days. Most new museums are built by local governments with public money, and they have become big business for privately held small museum production companies. This new industry provides services in researching museum content, curating collections, producing artifact replicas, designing exhibits, and constructing interiors. Building on studies of how state power is reproduced in the halls of public museums, I examine how political ideology intersects with small business concerns and design practices to shape new displays of Chinese history and culture in public space. This ethnography is based on participant observation with one of the new museum production companies; interviews with local officials and industry participants; visual analysis of museums of local history, ecology, industry, and urban planning; and analysis of news media and law concerning museums, cultural heritage, and corruption between state and industry. The use of development models to measure China’s progress as a practice of modeling echoes other practices of modeling, including the creation of museum scale models, the crafting of artifact replicas, and the design of museum exhibits that reference and recycle earlier designs. Public and private, real and fake, original and copy are plastic categories that become meaningful as they are reshaped by everyday practices of governance, business, and design.

Leeds, Adam E. Spectral liberalism: On the subjects of political economy in Moscow. University of Pennsylvania. Advisor: Adriana Petryna.

This dissertation, based on fieldwork in among the economists of Moscow, brings the tools of science studies to the social sciences, building on studies of the co-constitution of objects and rationalities of rule to take seriously the local lives of mathematical economics as culture. I offer an approach to the production of liberal political modernity through unpacking how economic knowledge contributes to assembling the object it claims to study—“the economy.” In creating disciplinary knowledge, economists craft specifically Russian visions of a liberal Russia to come. While the Russian right has commanded sustained attention (and fear), the nature of Russian liberalism have been largely taken for granted. I reconstruct the genealogies of mathematical economics to understand contemporary Russian liberalism. I argue that, under Stalin, the Soviet Union ceased to have an economy, considered as a realm separate from politics. In the 1950s, reformist economists constructed models of market-based socialisms, resuscitating an economic hermeneutic of the Soviet polity. They joined forces with military cyberneticians, producing a new form of knowledge: economic cybernetics. Economic cybernetics proved a strange “trading zone” allowing mathematical economists to translate knowledges across the Iron Curtain. I reveal the 1980s prehistory of the young economists who became the first Yeltsin government and dismantled the Soviet economy.

Lohokare, Madhura. Making men in the city: Articulating masculinity and space in urban India. Syracuse University. Advisor: Cecilia Van Hollen.

I illustrate the way in which processes in contemporary urban India structure the making/ unmaking of gendered identities for young men in a working class, scheduled caste neighborhood in the western Indian city of Pune. Present day Pune, an aspiring metropolis, presents a complex socio-spatial intersection of neoliberal processes and peculiar historical trajectories of caste exclusion; this dissertation seeks to highlight how socio-spatial dynamics of the city produce and sustain gendered identities and inequalities in Pune, a city hitherto neglected in academic research. My focus on young men’s gendered identities speaks to a growing recognition that men need to be studied in gendered terms, as ‘men,’ in order to understand fully the dimensions of gendered inequalities and violence prevalent in South Asian cities today. I follow the lives of young men between 16 and 30 in a neighborhood in the eastern part of Pune, who belong to a scheduled caste called Matang. The historical incorporation of this caste group as municipal sweepers in the city’s labour regime has had adverse implications for the young men, in terms of low levels of education and precarious chances of employment in an increasingly skill-based and informalized labor market. I explore ethnographically the deep sense of gendered inadequacy that this lack generates in the young men, articulated in explicitly spatialised terms: through the continuous dismissal by the young men of their neighborhood as ‘backward’ as opposed to the middle class ‘standard’ areas in the city; and through their aspirational struggles to master the new spaces of consumption in the city.

Luo, Yu. Ethnic by design: Branding a buyi cultural landscape in late-socialist southwest China. Yale University. Advisor: Helen F. Siu.

This dissertation, based on fieldwork in southwestern China‘s Guizhou Province, unravels the paradox of ethnic branding through the case of the Buyi (Bouyei) in the early 21st century. “Ethnic by design” describes the remaking of ethnicity in a late-socialist context, wherein minority identities and cultural traditions are interwoven with the party-state rhetoric and internalized by local peoples themselves so that they may benefit from cultural commodification and consumption. Especially in places where other modes of rural-based development may not be valued, branding ethnic identity in a readily recognizable manner becomes a potential means for locals to gain socioeconomic welfare. The Buyi, officially classified by the socialist state in 1953, is now China‘s tenth ‘ largest minority nationality, but little is known about this group in Western scholarship. Even within China, the Buyi – in contrast to other ethnicities such as the Miao (Hmong) or the Dong (Kam) – have a lower profile today and are less closely identified with the exoticized, multi-ethnic Guizhou. This is often attributed to the self-described “water-like” nature of the Buyi. As summarized by their local elites, the Buyi – relying on rice paddy agriculture in alluvial strips and river valleys – have become culturally cosmopolitan and physically sedentarized at once. Strategically attaching themselves to the central state(s), the Buyi have also thrived on fluidity and adaptability across rugged terrains, which are nonetheless at odds with the state’s attempt to make local populations legible.

McGuire, Meredith Lindsay. Inhabiting aspiration: Embodied practices of new middle-classness and the production of world-class New Delhi. The University of Chicago. Advisor: Willliam T. S. Mazzarella.

This dissertation examines the emergence of a new vision of the city and new ways of practicing and aspiring to middle-classness in New Delhi, two decades economic reforms that “opened” India to the global market. The project emerges from two interrelated questions: What is new about the “new” Indian middle class, and how does the city authorize and situate this newness? Extant literature on India’s new middle class emphasizes the novelty, among the inheritors of pre-liberalization social and cultural capital, of consumerist and gendered practices that articulate “global” standards, tastes, and styles with cultural values framed as essentially Indian and nationalist in orientation. This dissertation foregrounds instead the newness of the new middle class as an explicitly urban formation, constituted through embodied practices that work to build, claim, and are simultaneously solicited by the spaces of the “world-class” city. By following the circulation of these aspirational practices through participant observation and interviews at three sites — professional training programs, “global” workplaces, and “world-class” leisure and consumption sites — I examine how a world-class imaginary is materialized. I argue that the difference of this world-class geography (from the wider city, nation, and world) is constituted through embodied practices that make the new middle class subject visible in conspicuous and gendered ways. This dissertation contributes to a growing body of literature on emergent middle classes, as well as to our understanding of the practice of aspiration and the production of space in cities shaped by neoliberal developmental agendas.

Magrath, Priscilla. Moral landscapes of health governance in West Java, Indonesia. The University of Arizona.  Advisors: Mark Nichter and Susan Shaw.

The democratic decentralization of government administration in Indonesia from 1999 represents the most dramatic shift in governance in that country for decades. In this dissertation I explore how health managers in one kabupaten (regency) are responding to the new political environment. Kabupaten health managers experience decentralization as incomplete, pointing to the tendency of central government to retain control of certain health programs and budgets. At the same time they face competing demands for autonomy from puskesmas (health center) heads. Building on Scott’s (1985) idea of a “moral economy” I delve beneath the political tensions of competing autonomies to describe a moral landscape of underlying beliefs about how government ought to behave in the health sector. Through this analysis certain failures and contradictions in the decentralization process emerge, complicating the literature that presents decentralization as a move in the direction of “good governance.” Decentralization brings to the fore the internal divisions within government, yet health workers present a united front in their engagements with the public. This is the first anthropological study of how government officials at different levels negotiate the process of health decentralization in the face of increasing international pressure to achieve global public health goals.

Mckay, Francis Alan. Homo-eudaimonicus: Affects, biopower, and practical reason. The University of Chicago. Advisors: Judith Farquhar and Robert Richards.

This dissertation examines the topic of “global well-being” (as something distinct from global health or global mental health) through an emergent discourse in the science and politics of happiness on “subjective well-being.” It is argued that this discourse attempts to combine two traditions of thinking about well-being: the ancient eudaimonic tradition on the one hand, and the tradition of political economy on the other. Consequently, it examines a new configuration of both—a political economy of eudaimonia—and a new kind of person emerging at the center of that discourse, a paradoxical biopolitical figure I call homo-eudaimonicus. Through the example of mindfulness meditation, I offer a history and ethnography of that person as it turned up in science, politics and personal practice, highlighting in particular the importance of three kinds of “teleological affects” (mindlessness, tranquility and compassion) that, taken together, represent the affective dimensions of homo-eudaimonicus. Finally, through these teleological affects, I also argue for a rethinking of the bios in biopower, to include not just the concept of life itself, but the good life, and with that a teleo-power grounded in experiences of affective fullness.

Moulton, Sunday. Telling a tornado story: The role of narrative in memory, identity, and the post-disaster, trauma recovery of Joplin, Missouri. State University of New York at Buffalo. Advisor: Donald Pollock.

Following the May 22, 2011 impact of an EF-5 tornado in Joplin, Missouri, the devastated community displayed remarkable resilience, earning the Rick Rescorla Community Resilience Award from the Department of Homeland Security, attracting over 80,000 volunteers, and capturing the nation’s attention and admiration. Although they lost 161 lives, experienced more than 1,000 citizens seriously injured, lost more than 7,500, 18,000 cars, and numerous schools, firehouses, and churches, the community’s actions and ethos inspired monuments and publications bearing the title “The Miracle of the Human Spirit.” To better understand how this community could exhibit such success, I engaged in ethnographic, grounded theory research, discovering that the narratives of the tornado helped to shape the ongoing ethos within the community and inspire non-residents to actively engage in the recovery process. This work examines the traumatic effects of the tornado, how narrative contributes to individual, psychological recovery, how narrative helps shape post-disaster identity for communities, the role of social media in changing access to representation of individual narratives, and material objects related to defining a narrative past.

Ozden-Schilling, Canay. Economy electric: Techno-economics, neoliberalism, and electricity in the United States. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Advisor: Michael M. J. Fischer.

This dissertation is a study of emergent economic forms of life. It investigates recent remakings of economic existence and modes of disseminating these forms of life, and does so with particular reference to the crafting of electricity markets in the United States. It draws on more than a year of fieldwork among experts and users involved in electricity exchange. The experts and users among whom I conducted participant observation include computer programmers who assist companies that trade in electricity markets by collecting information and making trading suggestions, electrical engineers who design new infrastructures such as electricity markets for buying and selling electricity in bulk, psychologists and social scientists who study people’s electricity consumption behavior to generate economic technologies to save money to users and providers of electricity, and citizen groups based in West Virginia and rural Illinois that organize against electricity markets’ exclusion of consumers from decision-making mechanisms. Anthropological studies of the techno-economic are best equipped to make connections in ethnographic representation between otherwise disparate nodes of social life, like expertise and wires, law and steel, and finally, economics and electricity.

Park, Seo Yeon. The cultural politics of affective bureaucracy in service delivery to North Korean refugees in South Korea. University of South Carolina. Advisor: Jennifer F. Reynolds. 

This study explores the affective dimensions and intersecting politics of service operations for North Koreans, focusing on semi-government institutions, Hana Centers in two different regions of South Korea. It probes into how bureaucratic service institutions for North Koreans operate on the ground using affect-laden languages and practices in creating a specific type of clientele subjectivity. This study also points out how the state bureaucracies identifying themselves as “practical” and “neutral” agencies reveal contradictory and fragmented governing which is antithetical to how the state institutions are imagined. There are underlying politics working in the realm of a so-called neutral service agency, such as Cold War memories, imagined homogeneity regarding ethnicity, and neoliberal changes in the welfare area and beyond. Even though these are hidden on public and formal policy and statements, they inevitably emerge in unexpected contexts in forms of mistrust, conflicts and anxiety among the service providers and the recipients. This study highlights flexible, performative and emotional aspects of the relationships between the service providers and the service recipients by attending to affective dimensions. It finds that desirable figures of North Korean clientship are represented differently, depending on distinctive characteristics of the locations as well as different modes of governing.

Pleshet, Noah. Man, dog, dingo: Canine conjunctures and indigenous transformations in central Australia. New York University. Advisor: Fred R. Myers.

This dissertation investigates the relationships of Anangu with domestic dogs and native dingoes across their desert homelands in central Australia. Prior to European colonization, indigenous people tamed the dingo, valued as a companion animal, a hunting aid, and a totemic figure in “Dreaming” or creation-time narratives. Settlers introduced domestic dogs, and hybrid dog-dingo “camp dogs” were rapidly integrated into indigenous social, ecological, and spiritual life. These relationships have emerged, on the one hand, in the midst of colonial articulations with ranchers, missionaries, and bureaucrats at the desert frontier, and, on the other, from the significant and enduring value of Anangu relationships with native animal species like the dingo. Using translated speech and oral history data, I show how dogs and dingoes capture a range of social values: once hunted as predators of sheep and cattle, today ecologists have reinscribed dingoes as an “apex predator,” essential to the preservation of ecological balance, whereas, hybrid dog-dingo “camp dogs” owned by Anangu are deemed a risk to human health and safety. This project sheds light on human histories of colonizing “the wild” and “the foreign,” modern indigenous struggles for rights over land, and how settler-colonial expansions have transformed the domains of desert peoples in central Australia.

Polson, Michael.Through the gateway: Marijuana production, governance, and the drug war détente. City University of New York.  Advisor: Leith Mullings.

Since the 1996 voter approval of medical marijuana laws in California, marijuana policy has become increasingly liberalized. Producers, however, have remained in the greyest of grey market zones. Federal anti-drug laws and supply-side tactics have intensively targeted them even as marijuana has become more licit. In this legally unstable environment, marijuana patient-cultivators and underground producers have begun to articulate and assert themselves politically and economically, particularly as the likelihood of full legalization increased. This dissertation explores how producers navigated the nebulous zone between underground and medical markets. It is based on 19 months of participant-observation fieldwork in Northern California, spanning from 2010 to 2014. It is focused on two subregions: the North Coast and the Sierra Foothills. Both case studies are explored in three chapters focused on: the historical entrenchment of marijuana prohibition and production; the destabilization of these systems as producers vied for political voice; and the governmental retrenchment of the War on Drugs. Prior to these explorations, I narrate a legal, medical, and economic history of marijuana and, in conclusion, I explore some of the implications of this study for our understanding of Northern California’s political economy, domestic marijuana politics, politics of the new peasantry and the informal market, systems of criminalization and social control and recent efforts to reform them, and the relation of the War on Drugs to the arc of US global empire.

Raby, Tonda Cheryl. Constructing motherhood: How multi-ethnic women navigate cultural expectations of pregnancy and postpartum emotions. Southern Methodist University. Advisor: Carolyn Smith-Morris.

This dissertation research explores aspects of the social construction of motherhood among low-income, multi-ethnic women in Dallas, Texas. Multiple cultural models of pregnancy and motherhood are encountered by a sample of 30 women during prenatal care, birth and postpartum. The various ways in which women negotiate differing expectations from biomedical care and their own cultural values are analyzed. Expectations concerning postpartum maternal emotions and how “good” mothers “should” feel are examined within the context of postpartum sadness and seeking care for possible depression. Ambiguities in the identification and diagnosing of postpartum depression is elaborated through thematic analysis of interviews from 15 healthcare practitioners, who include postpartum women in their practice. The shaping of women’s experiences through the construction of a sense of place is suggested through discussion of the history of the research setting and the realities concerning financing healthcare for the poor. Interpretation of thematic analysis is accomplished through use of a critical theoretical approach. Dominant cultural ideologies, social norms and diagnostic ambiguity are presented as forms of structural violence that shape women’s reproductive experiences.

Reid, Jacqualine N. Some things change, some things remain the same: Negotiating politics, discourse, and change in a job training program. American University. Advisor: Dolores Koenig.

This dissertation examines the ways in which a nonprofit organization and its job-training program have been shaped by decades of public policy and poverty discourses. This project also examines how training approaches and performance goals are informed by discourses on poverty and unemployment. This project uncovers to what extent cultural, structural and human capital discourses inform training approaches and goals in a post-Keynesian, late-neoliberal landscape and their value in addressing poverty and unemployment. Finally, I examine how various training approaches interact to aid or limit the ability of job training to improve the lives of the poor. Ethnographic methods included participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and documentation review. Results reveal that the job training program relies mainly on cultural and human capital discourses to shape training approaches. Elements of structural discourses also intersect to impact training. Despite the quality of the technical training, the low wages and stressful working conditions of the culinary industry create challenges for program graduates.

Sandoval-Cervantes, Ivan. The intersections of transnational and internal migration: Gender, kinship, and care. University of Oregon. Advisor: Lynn Stephen.

This dissertation analyzes the intersections of different forms of migrations, and how such intersections shape and are shaped by gendered kinship and care relationships. In other words, I analyze how the ways in which people relate, and how they define and redefine their gender identities as they become mobile in diverse ways. This dissertation is based on ethnographic research conducted with the Zapotec community of Zegache, Oaxaca, in Mexico City, and in Oregon. I approach the study of different migrations from a transborder perspective that is able to better capture how the crossing of different borders (national, regional, ethnic, rural and urban) has different meanings and consequences for migrant men and women from Zegache. I analyze how different forms of mobility and migration are constructed and discussed in scholarly works and “in the field”. The definition of who is a migrant is even more complicated as we consider that men and women from Zegache often engage in more than one form of migration. Thus, women who migrate to Mexico City sometimes will also migrate to the U.S. Even if women don’t migrate, they are increasingly becoming mobile and commuting to Oaxaca City, and are often in families with transnational migrants.

Seaman, Aaron Todd. Figuring families: Caregiving in the midst of Alzheimer’s disease. The University of Chicago. Advisor: Jennifer Cole.

In 2015, an estimated 5.3 million people in the United States were living with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). For both those diagnosed and their families, the dominant narrative of what this life is like is a harrowing one: Alzheimer’s disease is a terminal condition that unremittingly eats away at people’s ability to connect with the world around them, slowly unraveling the core of who they are. Through a study of couples living with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in the Midwestern United States, this dissertation examines how families learn to live with Alzheimer’s, the ways they balance a caregiving relationship with existing family relations, and what the implications of doing so are for them as a family. Medical anthropologists and sociologists frame the process of learning to live with illness as one of increasing medicalization for those involved. Viewed in this way, life with Alzheimer’s is a process of becoming a “person with Alzheimer’s disease” and a “family caregiver,” a trajectory in which families are dissolved into this new relation—one often understood by scholars as primarily one of social control—as biomedical understanding comes to obscure all other relational possibilities. In contrast, I argue that families draw upon both biomedical and familial notions of AD and caregiving as they learn to live with Alzheimer’s. Even as they increasingly recognize themselves in terms of a caregiving relation, I demonstrate that family members remain concerned with endeavors of family-making.

Snyder, Charles Melvin, Jr. Culture, health, and hope: Exploring historical trauma, syndemics, and the application of anthropology to reducing disparities in Native American health. Washington State University. Advisor: Marsha B. Quinlan.

This dissertation is a study of key elements underlying the poor health status of Native Americans, the constellation of factors that drive this health status, and possible pathways for mitigating the burden of health inequity experienced by the population. Health disparities reach into every aspect of life and underlie many of the social, political, and environmental challenges facing indigenous populations around the world. While the specific manifestations of the social determinants of health are unique to specific tribes, and even families or clans within tribes, the etiology is not. Colonialism, and the resulting loss of lives, culture, identity, voice, and place is the base ingredient of a post-colonial trauma syndemic. This dissertation posits that the maintenance and restoration indigenous practices such as storytelling, and traditional tobacco use can reinforce connection to culture and cultural continuity which is a promising protective factor within the post-colonial trauma syndemic. However, in order to effectively address the post-colonial trauma syndemic, further investigation into protective factors must be initiated including an investigation into factors that can be introduced or reinforced as well as provide greater recognition of those that are already in place such resilient oral traditions and knowledge of pre-colonial practices.

Sosa, Joseph Jay. “Homophobia is a crime!”: An ethnography of a political demand. The University of Chicago. Advisor: William Mazzarella.

“Homophobia is a Crime!” is an ethnography of political experience that accompanies LGBT activists across sites critical to contemporary Brazilian governance. Activists with whom I worked declared this time as both a “watershed era” for gay and transgender recognition and a time when “homophobia [had come] out of the closet.” Diverse readings of current events reflected activists’ uncertainties about the increasing attention elected politicians and media commentators placed on LGBT politics. Since political democratization in the 1980s, sexual politics were often treated as secondary to economic development, and LGBT activists could accrue incremental victories with little organized opposition. LGBT advocacy had become central to Brazilian statecraft in areas ranging from municipal urban planning to international diplomacy. But growing visibility combined with the consolidation of conservative evangelicalism created a new source of antagonism. Contrary to activists’ political expectations, the more visibility LGBT people gained in the public sphere, the more public opposition to their political agenda increased.

Standifer, Maisha N. The blurred lines of HPV and cervical cancer knowledge: Exploring the social and cultural factors of identity, gender, and sexuality in caribbean immigrant women. University of South Florida. Advisor: Kevin Yelvington.

This dissertation explores how the sociocultural experiences of migration and acquisition of health knowledge influence the beliefs and behaviors related to human papillomavirus (HPV) risks and cervical cancer prevention among women who have emigrated from English-speaking Caribbean nations and now live in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area. More women of color, including Black and Hispanic women, are diagnosed with cervical cancer and at a later stage of the disease than women of other races or ethnicities. Black women have lower levels of knowledge and awareness of HPV and related preventive measures compared to Whites. The incidence of cervical cancer is higher among African American/Black women and Latina women than among White women. Ethnographic methods were employed in this study, including participant observation, key-informant interviewing, focus groups, and semi-structured in-depth interviewing to assess attitudes, available knowledge, culturally specific perceptions, and behavioral practices of the study participants. Findings include: Many women were very aware of HPV, and most women were familiar with cervical cancer. However, the majority of women were not confident regarding how HPV and cervical cancer were connected.

Storey, Angela Diane. Infrastructure and informality: Contesting the neoliberal politics of participation and belonging in Cape Town, South Africa. The University of Arizona. Advisor: Thomas K. Park.

This dissertation examines the production of an everyday politics of infrastructure within informal settlements in the Khayelitsha area of Cape Town, South Africa. As residents attempt to meet water, sanitation, and electricity needs through assemblages of informal service connections, in addition to limited formal services provided by the municipality, their material exclusions are articulated as evidence of persistent political marginality. Residents engage in multiple modes of politicized action seeking expansion to formal infrastructure and full inclusion in the promises of citizenship. However, they also face an array of complications created by municipal reliance upon neoliberal policies, practices, and logics. Despite a nominal emphasis on participatory processes of governance and development, municipal approaches to service provision and community engagement produce further marginalization. In order to theorize the intersection of neoliberal urban governance and democratic practice, I examine participation as the result of complex interactions between everyday experience, urban governance, circulating moral logics, and the work of civil society.

Stotts, Rhian. Cross-cultural threats to water supplies and future approaches for water management. Arizona State University. Advisor: Amber Wutich.

The worldwide supply of potable fresh water is ever decreasing. While 2.5% of Earth’s water is fresh, only 1% is accessible. Only one-third can be used to meet our daily needs while the other two-thirds are unusable due to contamination. As the world population continues to grow and climate change reduces water security, we must consider not only solutions, but evaluate the perceptions and reactions of individuals in order to successfully implement such solutions. To that end, the goal of this dissertation is to explore human attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors around water issues by conducting cross-cultural comparisons of water risks and solutions, wastewater knowledge and acceptance, and motivators for willingness to use treated wastewater. Previous research in these domains has primarily focused on a single site or national context. While such research is valuable for establishing how and why cultural context matters, comparative studies are also needed to help link perceptions at local and global scales. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach grounded in anthropological methods and theory, I use interview data collected in a range of international sites as part of the Arizona State University’s Global Ethnohydrology Study.

Telenko, Shannon. Displaced and disinvested: Understanding racial inequality in rural Pennsylvania. American University. Advisor: Brett Williams.

Inequality plagues the United States and has resulted in negative, unproductive relationships between raced groups. One of the ways in which racism has operated is through federal housing policy that overwhelmingly aided in the well-being of white middle and working class families through the subsidization of segregated suburbs and more recently through the promotion of displacement from public housing converted to mixed-use. White America is largely unaware of these factors that have benefited their families for generations but that over time have come at an exorbitant cost to families of color. When black families migrated away from their home cities to escape concentrated poverty and to take advantage of affordable housing availability, white families in rural areas expressed alarm due to racial stereotypes as well as ignorance of the historical factors that led black families to move into white communities. These rural locations also struggled economically, reeling from decades of disinvestment, in which steel mills in nearby cities were gradually shut down. Deindustrialization sent these communities into physical and economic ruin, creating feelings of insecurity that amplified into racism upon the in-migration of black families. When made aware of the presence and implications of systemic racism, individuals can use their collective voices to affect change.

Touhouliotis, Vasilik. War of extermination: Cluster bombs, the durabilities of war and killable subjects in south Lebanon. The New School. Advisor: Ann L. Stoler.

War of Extermination is an ethnographic study of the millions of cluster bombs dropped by Israel on the South of Lebanon during the 2006 War, a quarter of which failed to explode and turned into de facto landmines. Based on a year of ethnographic fieldwork in South Lebanon, this dissertation offers an account of how cluster bombs, highly controversial yet conventional weapons, render war durable—both protracted and resilient—in unconventional ways. From Thomas Hobbes’s injunction that war is a “tract of time” to the War on Terror’s reprehensible endlessness, the concept of war has been fundamentally shaped by liberal philosophy’s assumption that war is temporary, transitional and opposed to peace. Yet, far from the temporally bounded and temporary event assumed by this liberal concept of war, I argue that the cluster bombs in South Lebanon make war durable and persistent. I use ethnography to disrupt dominant discourses of war and to show that cluster bombs are productive political technologies. By tracking the durable sociotechnical assemblages produced by cluster bombs, I examine how the cluster bombs not only make the distinction between war and peace impossible but, in doing so, also draw new distinctions between who lives and dies, and how they do so.

Trivedi, Jennifer Marie. Biloxi’s recovery from Katrina: Long-term influences and inequalities. The University of Iowa. Advisor: Michael Chibnik.

Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the American Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005. Biloxi, Mississippi, a small town on the coast, was one of the towns devastated by the storm. A decade after the storm, recovery remains an ongoing process. My ethnographic research in 2006, 2010, and 2011 and media and historic document analysis throughout these ten years explore this recovery process and what pre-disaster cultural, social, political, and economic issues have shaped Biloxi and Biloxians’ recovery. Pre-Katrina Biloxians’ cultural, political, and economic inequalities directly affected the recovery process. To better understand these influences, in this research I use a political economy approach to describe and analyze Biloxi’s recovery from Katrina. To strengthen this analysis, I have also drawn on theories regarding vulnerability and resilience, risk and uncertainty, and cultural-historical context. My holistic anthropological approach to post-Katrina Biloxi reveals the importance of understanding a range of facts and processes that exist before, during, and after a disaster to explore the recovery process. Post-Katrina Biloxi is as much a product of pre-Katrina Biloxi as it is a product of the effects of the hurricane itself.

Valle, Gabriel. Cultivating subjectivities: The class politics of convivial labor in the interstitial spaces of neoliberal neglect. University of Washington. Advisor: Devon G. Pena.

This dissertation explores home kitchen gardens and the role they play in the lives of a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual community of diaspora and low-income residents in San José, California. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, I develop three central arguments. First, I argue home kitchen gardeners produce garden subjectivities. These subjectivities enunciate a complex world-view that challenges inequality through cooperative labor. They allow this group of gardeners to learn to live with uncertainty as they navigate and transform their worlds. I argue a “moral economy of the home kitchen gardener” exists because people have the necessary knowledge and skills as well as a capacity for autonomy to create new worlds while transforming existing ones through the intentional self-organization of direct lived experiences. Second, I argue that there exists a tight relationship between social and cultural diversity. These gardens encourage various forms of biological, social, cultural, and economic diversity. The ethnographic narratives and observations reveal that the gardeners actively seek to make sense of their worlds and their circumstances with a sense of openness to the truth claims of others, and this encourages the diversity of the crops grown in gardens as much as it promotes a wide range of convivial social relationships. Home kitchen gardening offers new spaces to emerge through the practice of autonomy. Growing food for this group and many other precarious, diasporic, and working class groups like them, is a means to self-determined and self-defined justice.

Vega, Rosalynn Adeline. Supranational citizenship: (Im)mobility and the alternative birth movement in Mexico. University of California Berkeley. Advisors: Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Charles L. Briggs.

My research analyzes how the remaking anew of tradition—the return to “traditional” birthing arts (home birth, midwife-assisted birth, water birth, “natural” birth)—has resulted in the commodification of indigenous culture and the re-inscription of racial inequalities on the one hand, and, despite feminist rhetoric about women’s liberation from (masculine) biomedical hegemony, the reconfiguring of parent-child bonds in ways that again place the burden of correctly producing future bioconsumers on women’s shoulders. I focus on the extremes of contemporary Mexican society—disenfranchised indigenous families and members of the global meritocracy—and in doing so, I demonstrate how citizenship retains value for some while being rendered an inadequate analytical frame for others. More specifically, I argue that the privileged do not position themselves as citizens through claims to public resources; instead, they accumulate cultural capital through privatized services. Through an examination of processes of racialization and patterns of bioconsumption, I critique the broad application of the concept of citizenship, and make a case for the consideration of the bioconsumer.

Westermeyer, William. Political culture, everyday activists and the struggle to restore America: Local tea party groups in the North Carolina Piedmont. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Advisor: Dorothy C. Holland.

This dissertation examines the significance of Local Tea Party Groups (LTPGs) in the success of the wider Tea Party Movement. I challenge a common description of the Tea Party as an elite-driven, pseudo-movement, maintaining it is best conceptualized as a movement network encompassing conservative, elite advocacy organizations, conservative media and hundreds of autonomous groups of “everyday” people (non-professional political actors). Extended ethnographic research reveals that LTPGs are vibrant, independent, local organizations, which, while they do constantly draw on nationally disseminated cultural images and discourses, are far from simple agents of the larger organizations and the media. I argue that the LTPGs create submerged spaces where everyday Tea Party participants fashion powerful, action-oriented collective and personal political identities. The Tea Party movement’s figured world allows people to establish meaningful links between their own lives and concerns and the movement’s goals and narratives, as well as develop outlooks on a variety of political issues. Collectively, the production and circulation of the figured world within LTPGs provides the basis for subjectivities that often support political activism. LTPG memberships develop varied and innovative tactics and goals, while choosing different settings to engage in political contention. These activists often have dramatic effects upon their local political cultures.

Yang, Beibei. From China to Zambia: The new Chinese migrants in Africa under global capitalism. Southern Methodist University. Advisor: Carolyn Smith-Morris.

The Chinese presence in Africa is an increasingly notable phenomenon in the past two decades. Based on the ethnographic data from a fieldwork conducted in Zambia, this dissertation documented the migratory experience of new Chinese migrants to Zambia, which is a non-traditional destination country for this group. The new Chinese migrants include the SME (small and medium sized enterprises) migrants who are self-employed businessmen and the SOE (state-owned enterprises) migrants who are affiliated with large-scale state-owned Chinese companies. This study explores Chinese migrants’ migratory motivation, settlement, life satisfaction, and inter-ethnic social encounter with the local Zambians. Tis dissertation discusses health and health management strategies among ethnic Chinese migrants in Zambia. By examining the influence of migration processes on Chinese migrants’ health and health management in Zambia, this study further investigates how health inequality amongst Chinese migrants is shaped by structural factors as well as individual agency. My research reveals that despite the existence of various healthcare options, Chinese migrants’ healthcare seeking is restricted by multiple factors including their employment patterns, the availability of their social capital, and even the legality of their immigration status.

Zhang, Shunyuan. Unmaking Identity: Male-to-female transgenderism in Southwest China. Emory University. Advisors: Michael Peletz and Carla Freeman.

My field research in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming reveals a thriving business of transgendered sex work and performance coexisting with transgendered individuals’ non-recognition of and/or nonchalance towards a transgender identity. I look into the space of (un)becoming with regard to the constitution of a Chinese transgender identity and community from the perspective of an array of social processes in mainland China, including international and national HIV/AIDS intervention projects, the emergence of transnational LGBT identity-based human rights movements, the neoliberal turn to cultural economy that embraces desires, and the trajectory that state-individual relationships have gone through. I argue that the indifference (or non-recognition) from many of my transgendered informants with regard to their gender/sexual identities is contingent upon an assemblage of social processes that have given rise to the confusing and even contradictory condition of life with which transgendered individuals have struggled. Through traversing the different domains of life where transgendered practices appear and are submerged, I pursue two goals. First, my project demonstrates the dispersion of it via ongoing ethnographic encounters that constantly sidestep, if not disregard, seemingly apparent practices of transgenderism. This problematization of identity as a valid analytic category leads to the second goal: the use of queer perspective that can better capture the ways in which lived experience overflows analytic categories.

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