Welcome to another year of my cultural anthropology dissertation picks. Every year my scanning of the year’s dissertations reveals different prominent themes, as informed by my search of Dissertation Abstracts International (which as I have noted in previous year’s posts, is anything but international; as far as I can tell, the scope is nearly 100 percent U.S.).
This year I was struck by the many studies related to food and to gender, and more studies focusing on race, education, and media. Health continues to be important as do rights and the rise of activism, both intersecting with race, class, gender, and ability. The rise of food as a topic is particularly poignant given the recent death of Sidney Mintz. Mintz can well be considered the founder of “food anthropology” with his landmark publication of Sweetness and Power in 1985. He would no doubt have been pleased to see this trend and these many wonderful studies.
My usual search terms reflect the focus of the anthropologyworks blog: social diversity, social inequality, structural violence and resistance, and the importance of cultural anthropology in studying and revealing complex relations in all the above and offering findings that can help change the world for the better through their research, writing, teaching, advocacy, and activism.
The question of open access to these sources thus arises. As far as I can tell, of these 40 dissertations, only four are open access (Antoine, Donaldson, Oliveiria, and Richard); one is embargoed until April 30, 2017, after which it will presumably be open access.
Given the facts that many of these dissertations are the product of education at publicly funded institutions and that much of the research was funded by public money such as the National Science Foundation, it is difficult to understand why the public is excluded from accessing most of these works. I have no idea what kind of a deal ProQuest has with universities in the United States, but Proquest is likely making quite a nice profit from payment to access dissertations. Or, it may not be, since the price is so high in which case the Proquest arrangement serves to keep important new knowledge out of the public domain because of its pricing, just like the scholarly journals. [Readers, if I am missing something important here, please let me know].
On a brighter note: Congratulations to these 40 dissertation writers. I wish you well and look forward to hearing about your accomplishments in the future.
“Pushing the edge”: Challenging racism and sexism in American stand-up comedy.
Antoine, Katja Elisabet, University of California, Los Angeles. Advisors: Karen Brodkin, Jessica R. Cattelino. [open access]
This dissertation examines how stand-up comedians challenge racism and sexism in their performances. I focus on comedians who challenge racism and sexism through joke material and in their affective and performative work on stage. Key ways they do so include: performing slavery as anti-racist critique; targeting genocide and colonialism; challenging the “terrorist label” and racialized masculinities, and through female embodiment. I conducted 18 months of ethnographic research in Los Angeles, focusing on male and female comedians of color, but also producers and managers. I show the discourses on race and gender that circulate in the comedy world and the US more broadly. These comedians’ work becomes part of broader anti-racist discourses through social media, film, and television.
Embodying scales of Filipina/o American sporting life: Transnational sporting cultures and practices in the Filipina/o diaspora. Arnaldo, Constancio Realiza, Jr.. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Advisor: Martin F. Manalansan, IV
This multi-sited ethnographic study examines how Filipina/o Americans take up sporting cultures and practices in Southern California in the twenty-first century. I show how sports figure prominently in the everyday lives of Filipina/o Americans by documenting the multiple sporting spaces they navigate, including internet sports websites, basketball gyms, sports tournaments, Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao family fight nights, Pacquiao boxing matches, and social media spaces. I explore how power circulates across intersecting categories of difference, including, race, class, gender, and sexuality as they correspond with sport discourses, embodied meanings/gestures, spatialized practices and sporting ideologies and traditions.
Anthropology of transnational mass media: An ethnographic incursion into Brazil’s cable TV emergence in the 1990s. Torres, Joao Batista de Miranda. The University of Chicago. Advisor: William T. S. Mazzarela.
This dissertation investigates the domain of Brazilian television in the context of cable and satellite technologies’ inauguration of broadcasting and consumption of transnational TV networks. Its central idea is recapturing the 1990s process by which a new viewing technology was implemented, in order to study tensions and contradictions arising from a globalized commodity enterprise, under the sign of a vivid confrontation with local ambiguities and differences. Brasilia is the ethnographic site from which I will examine how Brazilian TV viewers have assimilated the new visual technology, and to what extent middle-class culture affects and shapes this new process of reception.
How social forces don a white coat: The social context of childbirth management in Metro Detroit. Boffi, Emilia. Michigan State University. Advisor: Linda Hunt.
This dissertation presents the findings of a qualitative research study of childbirth management in Metro Detroit. I explore pregnancy experiences among urban and suburban expectant mothers, examining the creation and maintenance of authoritative hierarchies through the use of obstetrical tools and techniques, and how sociocultural context impacts the level of agency achieved by local expectant mothers in the decision-making process. I argue that the perceived objectivity of biomedicine veils the influence of socio-cultural context on obstetrical practice and physician perspectives, such that hegemonic social ideologies relating to race, gender, and class infiltrate institutionalized birthing practices.
The globalization of the breast cancer awareness campaign in Austria, 2012-2014. Bouskill, Kathryn. Emory University. Advisor: Peter J. Brown.
The globalization of the American-style breast cancer awareness campaign has added new dimensions to the breast cancer illness experience and to notions of breast cancer risk and prevention. This ethnography explores the globalization of the breast cancer awareness campaign in Austria from 2012-2014. Narrative interviews with 55 women undergoing treatment for breast cancer revealed psychosocial issues that are not addressed by the campaign. The sexualized imagery of the campaign and the inability for women with breast cancer to attend key campaign events creates a sense of exclusivity that fails to establish solidarity.
This dissertation explores the lived experience of opiate substitution therapy (OST) patients in Ukraine. To complete this research, I conducted fourteen months of ethnographic research in OST programs across Ukraine between 2012 and 2014. I conducted extensive clinical observations and collected more than fifty interviews with patients and clinicians. This dissertation argues that clinical cultures and treatment-seeking behaviors are shaped by a ‘somatic ethic,’ which not only governs discourses on drug use and addiction but also places social integration and acceptable personhood at odds with the practicalities of treatment. In the last chapter, I outline practical recommendations for improving OST programs in Ukraine and elsewhere.
This dissertation examines processes that allow Hindu nationalists and state officials in the state of Gujarat, India, to perform mass, public, anti-minority violence that expands and deepens their power. I argue impunity is not merely the breakdown of law and order but a systematic and ongoing process of legitimizing and performing Hindu sovereignty in India. Ethnographic and archival research reveals the long-term official and unofficial practices by which political violence against Muslims is denied and authorized within a liberal secular state. My investigation of legal technologies, state writing practices, and everyday techniques of Hindu nationalist activists uncovers the infrastructure of impunity that outlives recurring episodes of anti-minority violence in contemporary India.
This dissertation examines the production of knowledge around global climate change and the character of environmental literacy among youth in Tafuna, on Tutuila, American Samoa. I analyze this production of environmental knowledge across multiple social fields (i.e. status hierarchies, governance structures, etc.) and subjectivities (school-specific, village-based, and Samoan cultural identities) during a period of social, political, economic, and environmental transformation. American educational ideals continue to be contradictory in the American Samoan context; whereas schools value and promote individually-oriented goals and responsibility, youth are also embedded in the values of communal identification and practice known as fa’a Samoa. Youth plan for a future away from American Samoa.
Burley tobacco–a key component in American-made cigarettes–has been produced in northeast Tennessee for over a century. In Austin County, Tennessee, burley tobacco has become a marker of local identity. Traditionally, Austin County farm families have met their crop’s demand for labor by “swapping” work. This reciprocal tradition was made possible by the ubiquitous production of the leaf in Austin County on a relatively small-scale. The persistence of reciprocal labor in Austin County has influenced the ways in which rural families (particularly white, land-owning families) conceptualize burley tobacco farming and farm work. Even though most have adopted the use of migrant labor, the tradition of reciprocity contributes to locally specific ways of organizing and managing seasonal farm work. [open access]
The adoption in Brazil of a national family planning program and legalization of tubal ligation took place within a pre-existing economy of race, sexuality, and aesthetics. This dissertation examines the factors that influence women’s decisions and their experiences trying to secure tubal ligations in Brazil. My work reveals the intersections of race, reproduction, gender, sexuality, class, agency, necropolitics and aesthetics and links Brazilian notions of beauty, desirability and family aesthetics to women’s reproduction. I also explicitly connect the history and legacy of slavery and racism in Brazil to health disparities as experienced by women in their attempts to control their fertility.
Authenticating sexuality: Sexual ideology and HIV science in South Africa. Fiereck, Kirk John. Columbia University. Advisor: Richard G. Parker.
This dissertation examines the emergence of queer personhood among black publics and medical cultures in South Africa over the past century. Based on more than two years of fieldwork in South Africa, it contains both a historical and an ethnographic component. The historical research comprised participant observation, archival research and interviews exploring how black South Africans reference multiple cultural fields of sexual and gender identities to elaborate composite formations of sexual subjectivity and personhood. I examined how social actors, in the context of community settings and global health and community development projects, address sexual and gender nonconformity.