50 Best Cultural Anthropology Dissertations of 2014

See also the best cultural anthropology dissertations of 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

As in previous years, I did a key word search in Dissertation Abstracts International to find dissertations defended in 2014 that address topics related to the anthropologyworks mission. I continue to regret that this source provides information almost exclusively on U.S. dissertations, in other words, it is not “international.”

“Best” means my “best” picks: dissertations that connect to major global issues. My search terms were human rights, justice, migration, gender/women, health, violence, conflict, environment, food, and energy.

As you may imagine, I do not read the entire dissertations, only the abstracts. My selection is based on the abstracts – and the topics as described therein. So maybe I should retitle this post as the 50 Most Important Cultural Anthropology Dissertations.

The dissertations are ordered alphabetically by the author’s last name. Dissertations are not generally available through open access. Here are my 50 picks for 2014. I was excited to read about them, and I hope you will be, too.

  • Can Anyone with Low Income Be Food Secure?: Mitigating Food Insecurity among Low Income Households with Children in the Tampa Bay Area, by Edgar Allan Amador. University of South Florida. Advisor: David Himmelgreen.

This study compares households with children at different levels of food security and insecurity using the USDA Core Food Security Module (CFSM) and an ethnographically informed analysis of coping. I seek to understand the differences between at-risk households in order to determine why some fall into more severe food insecurity while other manage to avoid it. Data on food security, demographics, use of food assistance programs, shared cultural models for food, food shopping behavior, food consumption, and measures of depression and anxiety were collected from 207 households. Future studies should explore how food insecurity and stress affect household relationships.

  • Logics of Sacrifice: An Ethnography of the Makah Whaling Conflict, by Leslie E. Beldo, Jr. The University of Chicago. Advisor: Richard A. Shweder.

This dissertation examines the ethics of human-animal interaction at work in the continued conflict over Makah indigenous whaling in the state of Washington. I argue that contemporary Makah whaling is driven as much by tribal members’ refusal to back down in the face of outside resistance as it is an affirmation of tribal identity and sovereignty. In the U.S. Pacific Northwest, Native American tribal identities were formed in the course of legal battles for fishing rights throughout the twentieth century. The dissertation takes anti-whaling activists seriously in their suggestion that Makah whaling is an environmental issue and an animal issue as much as it is a Native American sovereignty issue.

  • Long Way, Long Time: Learning and Living Aboriginal Culture in Tasmania, by Christopher D. Berk. University of Michigan. Advisor: Andrew J. Shyrock.

Study of the history and culture of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people reveals the intricate relationship between disjuncture, cultural revitalization, public presentation, and legitimation. Despite the powerful narrative of their disappearance, the Tasmanian Aboriginal people have long been at the forefront of indigenous rights movements in Australia. My dissertation strives to explain why this is so. I challenge the centrality of race in popular conceptions of indigeneity and contend that, in Aboriginal Tasmania, racial purity is secondary to geographical and familial ties in community status and social esteem. I also examine the ways in which the Tasmanian Aboriginal people have revived many elements of their “lost” culture.

  • “She’s Fine!” Postpartum Practices, Morbidity and Public Health Services in Southern Rajasthan, India, by Anjali Bhardwaj. Purdue University. Advisor: Sharon R. Williams.

This research in an agricultural community in rural Rajasthan documents postpartum practices, morbidity, and factors that influence women’s health during postpartum. I explore linkages of postpartum health with socio-cultural factors and examine the role of public health services. Over 98 percent of the women in this study had mild to severe anemia and 87 percent reported postpartum morbidity. The study highlights the diminishing role of traditional birth attendants and the lack of priority given to postpartum care by the public health care services and national health programs. This study recommends developing and implementing a postpartum care program for nursing mothers, including a multi-pronged nutrition supplementation program.

  • Health, Well-being, and Rights: Mapping the Boundaries of Belonging for Filipino Caregivers in Israel, by Laurel Bradley. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Advisor: Michele Rivkin-Fish.

This study explores claims made by Filipino migrant caregivers in a northern Israeli city to assert their perceived right to increased forms of social integration, including access to permanent residency and citizenship. Caregivers rework the category health to denote a broad, nuanced category of physical, mental, and social well-being. Filipino migrant caregivers negotiate and author vernacular narratives of health rights, democracy, and religious precepts to frame the ethical legitimacy of their health-based claims. This research articulates with global concerns over the rising care crisis in countries in the global north along with steadily enforcing social closures to exclude migrant workers in these countries.

  • Local Roots and Global Wings: Television Drama and Hybridity in Moroccan Cultural Identities, by Jill G. Campaiola. Rutgers The State University of New Jersey – New Brunswick. Advisor: Deepa Kumar.

This dissertation examines how Moroccan state media elites and filmmakers struggle to instill seeds of democratic change within media structures and local media texts. It also shows how the influx of television dramas from Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and the U.S. provides an opportunity for ‘hybrid’ identities to emerge and allows viewers to interrogate the meaning of ‘modernity’ and ‘democracy’ at home and in various cultural contexts. I examine how the process of cultural hybridization occurs through mass media. Specifically, I examine how television series coming from various locations redefine cultural boundaries in Morocco and allow individuals to form hybrid identities.

  • Intimate Encounters: Ayoreo Sex Work in the Mennonite Colonies of Western Paraguay, by Paola Canova. The University of Arizona. Advisors: Thomas E. Sheridan and Brian Silverstein.

Locals in Filadelfia, the urban center of western Paraguay’s Mennonite Colonies, see the public presence of indigenous Ayoreo ‘sex workers’ as a moral stain on the city and a major social problem. This dissertation examines the cultural meanings of ‘sex work’ among Ayoreo young women to understand how colliding ethical systems, framed by five decades of Ayoreo engagement with the market economy and intense Christianization shape the cultural production of gender and sexuality, and notions of exchange and the commoditization of bodies. Rather than being a form of feminine submission or exploitation, it is a unique cultural phenomenon constructed in a web of social relations forged through processes of cultural change, religious hegemony, and economic shifts experienced by the Ayoreo over the twentieth century.

  • The Making of a Global Health Crisis: Extensively drug-resistant Tuberculosis and Global Science in Rural South Africa, by Erica Christine Dwyer. University of Pennsylvania. Advisor: Steven Feierman.

This study examines the social, scientific, political and rhetorical origins of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) and how a technical medical term, in concert with local clinical and government responses, influences global biomedical action. It shows that the association of XDR-TB with South Africa has shaped the global response to XDR-TB, tying it closely to HIV/AIDS and to South African AIDS denialism and public health inaction. The scrutiny given to South African XDR-TB by global public health experts profoundly affected South African government responses to XDR-TB at the national, provincial, and regional levels. The findings contribute to understanding the politics and practices of health interventions in Africa by linking scientific publication, global policy decision making, local public resource allocation, and in-home nursing care.

  • Politics of Responsibility in an Increasingly Hazardous Climate: The Case of Herding in Post-socialist Mongolia, by Annika Ericksen. The University of Arizona. Advisors: Brian E. Silverstein and John W. Olsen.

This dissertation examines winter disasters in Mongolia as a context for examining the “politics of responsibility” in a post-socialist nation. Winter disasters, or zud, in Mongolia are complex events in which unfavorable environmental, climatic, and weather conditions combine to produce high winter livestock mortality, thus threatening rural livelihoods. Projected climate change suggests that zud will increase in frequency and severity. Further, social and economic transitions in Mongolia since the end of socialism have left herders highly exposed to shocks. Focusing on the politics of responsibility.  , this dissertation examines popular discourses of herders as “lazy” and “irresponsible.” These discourses arise from neoliberalism in post-socialist Mongolia and from values and institutions tied to Mongolia’s socialist past. The research, conducted at several sites, examined herders’ strategies for managing risk.

  • “Sobrevivi Como Flor De La Sierra”: Women, Violence, and Resistance in Peru, by Damarys Espinoza. University of Washington. Advisors: Rachel Chapman and Devon Pena.

This study explores the experiences and lives of primarily indigenous, rural-to-urban migrant women living in grassroots domestic violence shelters in and around Lima, Peru. It examines the institutional barriers women face, as well as the difficult choices they make and their creative solutions as they attempt to leave abusive relationships. It investigates the responses of social institutions and the state to intimate partner violence, and the impact that limited resources pose on the quality and consistency of intervention services made available to women in grassroots shelters. I draw attention to manifestations of individual and collective resistance that have the potential to transform approaches to intimate partner violence. In exposing how agency and resistance are constrained, the research reveals the flaws and contradictions in policy and legal frameworks in Peru.

  • Guerrilla Marketing: Information War and the Demobilization of FARC Rebels, by Alexander Leor Fattal. Harvard University. Advisor: Kimberly Theidon.

According to the Colombian Ministry of Defense nearly 17,000 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) demobilized between 2003 and 2013. This dissertation examines the way the Colombian state uses sophisticated consumer marketing strategies and military intelligence tactics to persuade insurgents to abandon the armed struggle. Through an ethnographic analysis of the Program for Humanitarian Attention to the Demobilized and the lives of ex-combatants, this study analyzes the changing definition of demobilization and the feedback between late capitalism and counterinsurgency.

  • The Pan American Highway: An Ethnography of Latin American Integration, by Rosa Elena Ficke. University of California, Santa Cruz. Advisor: Anna Tsing.

This dissertation approaches Latin American integration through the Pan American Highway, providing ethnographic insights into people’s lived experiences in eastern Panama. It traces mobility practices along the highway: the migrations, displacements, travels, and everyday commutes it facilitates, and the planning, construction and maintenance activities that make the highway possible. I chart how the highway creates connections between people and landscapes, enables the movement of tangible and intangible things, and produces encounters across difference that create common, if unequal, ground. Focusing on integration through the Pan American Highway offers a way to make sense of the multiple and competing dreams and desires that, through movements and encounters, create uneven forms of togetherness.

  • “Cutting Earth”: Haiti, Soil Conservation, and the Tyranny of Projects, by Scott Freeman. Columbia University. Advisor: Lesley Bartlett.

The extreme and violent deforestation of rural Haiti has led to a proliferation of environmental conservation aid over the past sixty years. I provide an ethnographic examination of environmental conservation and the consequences and prevalence of ‘the project’ as a form of development aid. I analyze the history of soil conservation in Haiti, the increasing presence of ‘projects’ in the countryside, the audit culture of aid, and the resulting impacts on environmental government and subjectivities. I focus on the largely ineffective, yet ubiquitous contour canal interventions. While ineffective at retaining soil, these canals become ‘successful’ through their ability to be measured and accounted for as a development project. The growing prevalence of projects forms new relationships in the countryside.

  • The Struggle for a Decent Meal: Household Food Consumption in Santiago de Cuba, by Hanna Garth. University of California, Los Angeles. Advisor: Carole H. Browner.

Research in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s second largest city, reveals that recent changes in food consumption practices are the grounds for reworking longstanding parameters for ethical conduct at the household and community level and individual identity. I analyze people’s longing for a “decent” meal as a highly emotional means of clinging to the social ideal of well rounded, culturally appropriate, and calorically adequate meals. Given that the late-socialist state can no longer provide free basic necessities, those who adhere to this standard are challenged to find new ways to access food. The struggle to acquire food is compounded as solutions to practical barriers are met with moral dilemmas. As people reflect on their shifting ethical standards for interaction with family, friends, and community in the face of food scarcity, they rethink who they are as people.

  • Toxic Relief: Science, Uncertainty, and Medicine after Bhopal, by Bridget Corbett Hanna. . Harvard University. Advisors: Arthur Kleinman, Aiantha Subramanian.

This dissertation is a study of science and medicine after the gas disaster in1984 in Bhopal, India. It looks at the discourses, debates, suspicions, and events that have shaped the narratives of causality following the catastrophe, and how ideas about relief, treatment, and illness have been constructed by experts, lay activists, and survivors. I address the issues of suspicion, research, and power by looking at the “cyanide controversy” in the early years after the disaster, and at how the consequences of uncertainty affect patients and doctors within the hospital system designed to provide “gas relief” in the aftermath. I describe how gas survivors have been categorized and produced as subjects and citizens. I argue that interventions that have encompassed the disaster within a unitary framework have been inadequate.

  • Saudi Aramco and the Politics of Cultural Heritage, by Anahid Hanounik Huth. City University of New York. Advisors: Alexander A. Bauer, Simon Davis.

Cultural heritage is increasingly receiving both money and attention from private and public sectors on preservation policy. The application of so-called preservation and restoration projects, the alleged care for cultural heritage, has become a motive and battle cry of UNESCO, World Bank, private companies, banks, NGOs, European Council, and Western governments’ foreign policy. Is this trend part of soft power for advancing certain geopolitical agendas in international policy arsenal? I look at Saudi Aramco as an example and argue that culture heritage is being used as such a political tool. Findings suggest that we should be skeptical of heritage development schemes, examine critically the use of heritage-related political schemes, and try to identify and understand what motivations or what other policies are behind them.

  • “My People Is a People on Its Knees”: Mexican Labor Migration from the Montana Region and the Formation of a Working Class in New York City, by Rodolfo Hernandez Corchado. City University of New York. Advisor: Michael Blim.

This dissertation examines the contemporary proletarianization via migration of the indigenous and mestizo people from the Montaña region, in the Mexican southern state of Guerrero, to New York City. It demonstrates how the region was transformed since the 1980s into a migrant labor supplier and how its inhabitants became proletarians, and a major pool of labor supplying the North American transnational migrant labor market. The  process of massive migration from densely populated Mexican indigenous regions to the U.S. in the aftermath of Mexico’s 1990s economic crisis helps scholars to interrogate ‘integration’ as a category that was central for post-revolutionary Mexican anthropology to explain the nation formation in the twentieth century.

  • “We Are Refugees in Our Own Homeland”: Land Dispossession and Resettlement Challenges in Post-Conflict Teso, Uganda, by Matthew Kandel. City University of New York. Advisor: Donald Robotham.

This study of the post-conflict Teso region in northeastern Uganda focuses on land dispossession and challenges to resettlement. Conflicts over land intensified in the early 1990s, coinciding with the early stages of resettlement in southern Teso after a period of regional civil war and large-scale cattle rustling. In contrast to the large-scale “land grabs” in Sub-Saharan African that have occurred since the 2007-08 global commodities crisis, land expropriations occur mainly on a small-scale in Teso. I find significant intra-regional differences with respect to patterns of displacement and resettlement. I critique the dynamics underlying the long history of enmity between Teso and Karamoja regions, including the dispute over the inter-regional border. At the heart of most challenges facing Teso is tenure rights to an increasingly fragmented supply of land.

  • Cultural Contexts of Health and Illness among the Lancaster Amish, by Martha Elizabeth King. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Advisor: Dorothy Holland.

This work uses anthropological approaches to elucidate the cultural dynamics of the Lancaster Amish. Group identity and cultural practice are the driving forces behind Amish negotiations with technology. Using healthcare as a lens for understanding this dynamic, this dissertation delineates a pluralistic healthcare system utilized by Amish church districts in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area. One part of that system–biomedicine–is further elaborated through discussion about Amish cooperation with a cutting-edge genetic treatment/research facility, the Clinic for Special Children (CSC). This research was motivated by two broad questions. How do Lancaster Amish districts shape their use of medical and other technologies? And how does CSC create a biomedical environment where this kind of cultural negotiation can occur?

  • Shifting Roles in Gender, Kinship, and the Household: Women’s Empowerment in Matrilineal Malawi, by Jennifer L. Kuzara, Emory University. Advisor: Carol M. Worthman.

This study examines kin formation in contemporary Malawi with attention to the question of whether matrilineality is empowering for women. I contextualize Chewa matrilineality against a period of rapid historical and demographic change, reconstructing Chewa gender norms over time. My analysis considers women’s empowerment across individual, relational, and social domains. The findings give reason to question narratives common to development that view household-headship and responsibility for farm labor as disempowering for women, rather than understanding them as potential sources of independence when they co-occur with cultural gender norms that endorse women’s rights to control their own property and wealth.

  • Tibetan Communities in Transition: An Ethnographic Study of State-run Formal Education and Social Change, by Lamaozhuoma. Columbia University. Advisor Lambros Comitas.

State-run formal schools were established as novel educational institutions throughout the Tibetan regions in China in the 1950s. I investigate the role of formal education in Tibetan society. I argue that formal education is a main factor spurring social change in Tibetan communities. Education, through established formal institutions, integrates Tibetan communities into the national society of China, bringing close contact with non-Tibetan outsiders and binding students together with shared values and goals. This study shows that formal education is a legitimating venue through which Tibetans seek socioeconomic benefits and, as a result, education creates diversification in livelihoods and influences the dynamics of family structure, marriage patterns, identity, gender relations, and labor divisions.

  • What is Research in Public Health Practice? Social Construction and Cultural Interpretation of Research and Practice at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by Aun Lor. Emory University. Advisor: Peter J. Brown.

This dissertation uses anthropological theories and methods to examine how institutional culture and historical events shape the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It focuses on one specific activity within the organization: the process of distinguishing public health research from nonresearch as the initial critical step in the federally-mandated Human Subjects Protection system. A central question was whether CDC employees share a set of beliefs and behaviors about human subjects protection, research/non-research determination process, and the more complex and time-consuming formal procedures of the Institutional Review Board (IRB). A major finding is that the tensions within the CDC human subjects protection system reflect the same sociocultural, political, and economic forces that define CDC as an institution.

  • Negotiating Modernity in the Margins of the State: The Cultural Politics of Reproduction in Southwest China, by Qingyan Ma. Temple University. Advisors: Sydney White, Judith Goode.

This historical ethnography examines how globalized biomedical definitions of reproduction are being adopted by the Chinese state and interpreted at the local level in Yunnan. It provides an anthropological perspective on how to provide affordable health care for the mass population, a question that most nation states have to contend with in the current neoliberal economy. I examine the relationship between different narratives of modernity and ethnicity as embodied in the transformation of the public health system in Weixi Lisu Autonomous County in Southwest China, the so-called “margin of the state.”  I show how ethnic minority residents articulate different narratives of modernity.

  • Facing the Rising Tide: Co-occurring Disasters, Displacement, and Adaptation in Coastal Louisiana’s Tribal Communities, by Julie Koppel Maldonado. American University. Advisor: Brett Williams.

This dissertation documents the experiences of environmental change and displacement for the Isle de Jean Charles and Grand Caillou/Dulac Bands of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians and the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe. I sought to learn: how people from the three tribes were adapting to environmental change, including making decisions to resist physical displacement or relocate; how people experienced environmental change and displacement; and how environmental degradation intersected with economic, social, and political power structures. I offer recommendations about how community-led relocation should be considered by government agencies, communities facing environmental change and displacement, and researchers.

  • Troubling Breath: Tuberculosis, Care and Subjectivity at the Margins of Rajasthan, by Andrew James McDowell. Harvard University. Advisor: Arthur M. Kleinman.

I examine the experience of tuberculosis sufferers in rural Rajasthan, India. I engage the Indian national tuberculosis control program, local health institutions, informal biomedical providers, non-biomedical healers and sufferers to consider how global tuberculosis control initiatives interact with social life and subjectivity among the rural poor. I ask how tuberculosis affliction and healing builds and reveals the diversity and limit of relationships between state and citizen, individual and kin, body and social, global and local, and formal and informal healthcare. I borrow local understandings of breath to consider a relational theory of the subject embedded in South Asian philosophy.

  • Unmasking the Badge of White Power: A Content Analysis of Police Brutality against Blacks from 1937 to 1965, by Tymura L.McHellen. Howard University. Advisor: Terri Adams-Fuller.

There has been a long and enduring tenuous relationship between Black and the police in America. Most of what is known about policing in America, however, derives from mainstream media sources and as such the experiences of people of color and more specifically Blacks, have largely been under reported. This study examines the magnitude of police brutality Blacks suffered during the twentieth century, the differences in experience depending on rural or urban geographical locations and how the NAACP addressed the needs of individuals seeking their assistance. Findings show the extent of police brutality during the time period and its dimensions including verbal abuse, intimidation, physical abuse of all types’ imaginable, frivolous charges, arrests without trials, fines without charges, and gruesome murders.

  • Hungry Spirits: Anishinaabe Resistance and Revitalization, by Laura Eleanor McLeod. . University of Minnesota. Advisor: Stephen F. Gudeman.

Tribal members of the White Earth Band of Anishinaabe-Ojibway have struggled for generations to maintain their collective rights to Turtle Island, their vast homelands and territories stretching throughout through the Upper Great Lakes region. The focus of this dissertation is the struggle of the White Earth Anishinaabe to recover land and protect rights to hunt and fish in northern Minnesota. It is also an ethnography of resistance and revitalization in the face of land loss and market debasement in an increasingly globalized world. In their struggle to recover their land base and revitalize their community’s economy and well-being, tribal members want to show that a standing forest, one that provides food stuffs (animals and plants), material needs, and medicines, for local community members, has more value than a clear-cut forest.

  • Environments of Risk in a Dynamic Social Landscape: Hurricanes and Disaster on the United States Gulf Coast, by J. Benjamin McMahan. The University of Arizona. Advisor: Mark Nichter.

Hurricanes pose a challenge for residents and communities of the United States Gulf Coast. People in the region must adapt and respond to these storms, as do the social institutions that provide support during disasters and their aftermath. This situation is complicated by the longstanding and ongoing relationship between the oil and gas industry and gulf coastal communities. These vulnerabilities layer onto existing social inequalities and make management and protection of regional populations difficult and complicate recovery efforts. In this dissertation I explore the relationships between people, communities, industry, and social institutions. I trace the recent history of gulf coast storms, emergent and developing strategies for preparation and recovery, and ongoing contention related to policy and governance.

  • Contested Nation, Global Space: Tourism and the Politics of Tuareg Heritage in Mali, by Angela Marie Montague. University of Oregon. Advisor: Carol Silverman.

My research takes an ethnographic perspective on competing global discourses and contested nationalisms in Mali. Using the Festival au Desert as a case study, I investigate the complexities of using cultural productions and tourism to achieve political, economic, and social goals. I critically assess several projects of Tuareg Intangible Cultural Heritage preservation to show the contested nature of collective identities. My research highlights the contradictions in using tourism as a development strategy but also shows the importance of the Festival for Tuareg identity and how it provides a space for nomads to continue a tradition of gathering after seasonal migrations to negotiate marriages, discuss politics, and celebrate.

  • Transborder Health: Health Management Strategies of Immigrants Journeying from Michoacan to Michigan, by Isabel Montemayor. Michigan State University. Advisor: Linda M. Hunt.

This dissertation explores how the contentious socio-political arena of the Mexico/U.S. immigration relationship affects the daily lives of those immigrants on the fringes of society. The rules and large scale institutional policies set in place by the U.S., such as those regarding health care and immigration, may fail to engage with the humanitarian issues of survival faced by one particular immigrant community. My research highlights the impact of governmentality in the form of macro-level institutional policy on the daily lives of transnational immigrants in three interconnected spaces, that is, while living in Mexico, while crossing the border, and while incorporating into U.S. society. Despite multiple social and structural limitations, Latino immigrants have strong family ties and a transnational identity.

  • When the White People Come: Gentrification and Race in Puerto Rican Chicago, by Jesse Stewart Mumm. Northwestern University. Advisor: Helen Schwartzman.

How does gentrification reveal and construct race in Chicago? In this dissertation I present finding from research conducted in Humboldt Park, a mixed neighborhood widely viewed as the heart of the Puerto Rican community in Chicago. I situate this project in the scholarship on race and on gentrification, provide a historical overview of Urban Renewal, white flight, and Puerto Rican settlement in Chicago, a walking tour of Humboldt Park, portraits of four residents, and an exploration of social space and discourse. I conclude that gentrification makes the distinct racial histories of whites and Puerto Ricans legible in its process and built environment, and extends new forms of ongoing racial representation and contestation.

  • Gender, Mobility and Self: Afghan Women in Vancouver, British Columbia, by Christina W. O’Bryan. University of Oregon. Advisor: Lynn Stephen.

In this study of Afghan women and the relationship of identity to gendered mobility, I found that none of the Afghan women were affected by prevailing ideologies which recognized them as refugees no matter how long they had lived in Canada. In this dissertation, I assert that the category of refugee haunts discussions of class, the creation and continuation of a sewing cooperative, and veiling–so much so that in each category, the gendered role of Afghan refugee woman is not only attached to these Afghan women but they must also reinscribe it repeatedly in order to receive services and participate in other community activities and structures. That reinscription becomes a part of a process in which–as part of an avowedly multicultural metropolis and country–they must by definition remain Other in order to belong.

  • Urbanism as Warfare: Planning, Property, and Displacement in Bogota, by Federico Perez. Harvard University. Advisor: Kimberly Theidon.

This ethnographic study examines urban renewal policies in downtown Bogotá. For decades the city center has been the site of intense struggles over the use and control of urban space. I argue that planning, bureaucratic action, and expert knowledge have become instruments for the exercise of different forms of urbanistic violence. Urban renewal emerges as a battleground that refracts the country’s enduring anxieties over sovereignty, land struggles, and class warfare. Far from prevalent scholarly understandings of global urbanism in which urban transformation is primarily driven by market forces and the retrenchment of state, I emphasize the persistent centrality of technologies of governance, bureaucratic instruments, and expertise in Bogotá’s projects of spatial reconstruction.

  • Rivers of Blood and Babylon: An Ethnography of Social Suffering and Resilience among Caribbean Service Users in London, by Kwame Matsimela Petiri Phillips. Emory University. Advisor: Chikako Ozawa-de Silva.

Research on mental health services in the U.K. consistently find that Black and ethnic minorities are more often diagnosed as schizophrenic, more often compulsorily detained under the Mental Health Act, more often given high doses of medication, and more often dissatisfied with statutory services. This dissertation asks how the current treatment provided under the mental health system in London, England re-traumatizes Caribbean service users. The dissertation puts forward that for the Caribbean population in the mental health system, there is a pervasive problem of social suffering, both as a result of mental illness and of coming into contact with the mental health system, such that coming into contact with the institution of the National Health Service itself can be considered a risk factor for furthered suffering.

  • Medical Pluralism in a Neoliberal State: Health and Deservingness in Southern Belize, by Douglas Carl Reeser. University of South Florida. Advisor: Rebecca K. Zarger.

This study explores the contours of a national health care system and how it works in conjunction with traditional form of health care in Toledo District, Belize. I focus on the largest town of Punta Gorda (P.G.). In a medically plural environment, a variety of health care options are used. The convenience of and experience with low-cost home- and self-care options make these the most common first choice during an illness event in P.G. Findings show that people will exhaust all options in their quest for health. Yet the national health care system replicates an historic trend of marginalization and neglect to the region.

  • Aspiring Citizens: Undocumented Youth’s Pursuit of Community and Rights in Arizona, by Alissa Ruth. Arizona State University. Advisor: Takeyuki Tsuda.

The state of Arizona has passed a series of laws affecting undocumented immigrants, including Proposition 300 in 2006 outlawing in-state tuition for undocumented youth. There has been a reaction from these youth who refused to be relegated to the shadows and are demanding rights. I analyze how undocumented Mexican youth in Arizona have experienced liminality after the passage of Proposition 300 as well as their ability to build community amongst themselves and fight for basic rights. I posit that this community provides valuable social capital and access to resources and information that mitigates the possibility of downward assimilation. Moreover, this community offers its members a social safety net.

  • Vigilante: Violence and Security in Postwar Guatemala, by Ellen Jane Sharp. University of California, Los Angeles. Advisor: Sherry B. Ortner.

This dissertation documents the rise and fall of a vigilante justice movement in order to understand the conditions that enable and hinder collective action in postwar Guatemala. I argue that efforts to make and contest security involve the creative recombination of a range of discourses, including human rights, capitalist commonsense, zero-tolerance policing, Marxism, and Maya conceptions of personhood. Delineating and historicizing these multiple strands is essential for understanding the proliferation of violence in postwar Guatemala. While Guatemala represents an extreme case, many of the trends on display here, including the privatization of security, the economic obsolescence of young men, the forging of communal identities through violent exclusions, and moral panics about mind-altering substances, reverberate elsewhere.

  • A Real Belizean: Food, Identity and Tourism in Belize, by Lyra H. Spang. Indiana University. Advisor: Richard Wilk.

Expanding on the concept of gastronationalism, the way that food is used to express national identity in the global arena, I document the processes by which foods are selected and used as expressions of national pride in a non-European, post-colonial context. I examine how cultural and national identities are formed and expressed in Belize and the way that the tourism industry and migration have shaped Belizean gastronationalism in an international context. My work complicates the concept of staged authenticity, challenging the tourist gaze and arguing for a more flexible host-centric interpretation of authenticity that acknowledges the importance of identity work in international tourism zones.

  • Food after Fukushima: Scientific Citizenship and Risk in Japan, by Cisterna Sternsdorff. Harvard University. Advisor: Theodore C. Bestor.

This dissertation examines questions of citizenship and risk after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. I introduce the concept of scientific citizenship to explore the dynamics whereby ordinary people amassed enough knowledge to critically assess expert advice and form conclusions about the intentions and ability of the state to safeguard them. Citizenship in this context is not a mode of engagement with the state where citizens seek its protection, but rather a way of circumventing it to ensure the health of future generations. It is found in alternative modes of ensuring the basic rights to life and health beyond the work of the state. I explore the work of groups of mothers, farmers and experts who came together to share and disseminate knowledge about radiation in order to protect their own and each other’s children from radiation.

  • Wicked Bad Habits: Governing Women on Heroin in the Carceral-Therapeutic State in Massachusetts, by Kimberly Lauren Sue. Harvard University. Advisor: Arthur M. Kleinman.

This dissertation focuses on the social response of criminalization and incarceration to the problem of heroin use among women in Massachusetts. I argue that the convergence of therapeutic ideals with the prison system creates a means of governing and regulating women’s lives through what I call the “carceral therapeutic state.” I examine treatment programs in the state women’s prison, MCI-Framingham, and a local Boston jail, Suffolk County House of Corrections, including drug treatment, trauma treatment and work readiness programs. I consider how and why these programs in prisons and jails have become means to centralize and solidify the criminal justice system as the predominant site of addiction and mental health treatment for poor women on drugs. I also consider how political and moral valuations of women who use drugs are based on an American notion of selfhood, volition and health.

  • Jailcare: The Safety Net of a U.S. Women’s Jail, by Carolyn B. Sufrin. University of California, San Francisco. Advisor: Vincanne Adams.

This dissertation investigates everyday care in an urban women’s jail in California. I describe how this jail was constituted by caregiving relationships which were inextricably linked to disciplinary structures, particularly for pregnant women. Deficiencies in the public safety net, market shifts, and problems in the criminal justice system meant that cycling between jail and the streets was a normative rhythm of everyday life for many of the urban poor. The ambiguity surrounding pregnant, incarcerated women, combined with their experiences of marginality outside, produced jail as a place–often the only place–where these women could enact a normative ideal of motherhood.

  • The Long After: Disaster and Information Politics in Post-quake Kobe, Japan, by Carla Takaki Richardson. University of California, Santa Cruz. Advisor: Melissa L. Caldwell.

This dissertation investigates the practices and politics of disaster information in Kobe, Japan, in the years following the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. Kobe’s earthquake catalyzed nationwide changes to Japanese disaster preparedness and also became symbolic of the social, economic, and technological failures that plagued the “lost decade” of 1990s Japan. I argue that disaster prevention workers’ focus on practices of neighborly intimacy and care are keyed to broader social transformations of the 1990s, during which popular discourses anxiously affirmed the erosion of national values of connection and community. I suggest that disaster prevention workers use the Hanshin Earthquake as a way of creating a continuous history that recuperates both the failures of the earthquake and the perceived failures of contemporary Japanese society.

  • The Price of Inclusion: Sexual Subjectivity, Violence, and the Nonprofit Industrial Complex in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, by Matthew Thomann. American University. Advisor: David Vine.

This dissertation explores how the subjectivities of les branchés – a local term encompassing several categories of same-sex desire and practice including travestis, woubis, yossis, and increasingly, “MSM” – are mediated through violence and the nonprofit industry in Abidjan. In the fight against HIV/AIDS, some sexual minorities have become “exceptional” subjects and the targets of increased global health and human rights interventions. Local activists in Abidjan engaged with a complex web of governments, donor institutions, and global Northern NGOs to create local nonprofits in which branchés embodied their social positions and conducted, named, understood, and represented themselves and others. My research participants positioned themselves and others as certain kinds of branchés but also as certain kinds of Ivoirians.

  • The Origin of the Forest, Private Property, and the State: The Political Life of India’s Forest Rights Act, by Anand Prabhakar Vaidya. Harvard University. Advisor: Aiantha Subramanian.

This dissertation tracks the creation and implementation of India’s 2006 Forest Rights Act or FRA, a landmark law that for the first time grants land rights to the millions who live without them in the country’s forests. I follow the law in relation to the forest rights movement that has been central in lobbying for, drafting, and implementing it in order to examine both how the movement has shaped the law’s meaning as well as how contests and alliances over the law’s text and meaning have transformed the many movements citing and using the law. I track the law from contests over its drafting in New Delhi to contests over its meaning in Ramnagar, a North Indian village.

  • Haiti Is a Sliding Land: Displacement, Community, and Humanitarianism in Post-earthquake Port-au-Prince, by Laura Rose Wagner. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Advisor: Peter Redfield.

Despite, and because of, Haiti’s long history of foreign intervention and that initial appeal to “save Haiti” in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, the post-disaster humanitarian effort has been regarded by Haitians, non-Haitian aid workers, and the media as a failure. This work examines the lived experiences of Haitian people (including aid beneficiaries and those who did not receive aid) and expatriate aid providers to provide a nuanced, personal, behind-the-scenes perspective on a well-known, highly publicized disaster in a long-misrepresented and sensationalized land. It also presents an analysis of the structural limitations and personal obligations experienced by Haitian and non-Haitian actors operating within the aid economy. This work is about everyday responses to and ways of speaking about exceptional conditions.

  • When Family Comes First: Diabetes, Social Roles, and Coping among Women in Urban North India, by Lesley Jo Weaver. Emory University. Advisors: Craig Hadley and Peter J, Brown.

The research for this dissertation explored health choices among a group of people with magnified self-care needs: women with type 2 diabetes in New Delhi, India. I explored how type 2 diabetic women balance their mental health, social health, and physical health. I investigated women’s perceptions of appropriate gendered social roles, their ability or disability to participate in these roles, their mental health status using both locally derived and standard screeners, health management choices, and physical health outcomes (measured using anthropometrics and blood biomarkers). I found that women experience significant psychosocial and practical conflicts living with diabetes, an illness requiring substantial self-care in a cultural context where gender roles strongly emphasize women’s service to others.

  • Sexuality, Social inequalities, and Sexual Vulnerability among Low-income Youth in the city of Ayacucho, Peru, by Carmen J. Yon. Columbia University. Advisor: Richard G. Parker.

This ethnographic study explores how sexuality and social inequalities interact in the lives of low-income youth who were trained as peer-educators and sexual health and rights advocates in Ayacucho, Peru. I examine three questions: How are meanings about sexuality related to social hierarchies and social prestige among these youth; How do quotidian manifestations of social inequity shape vulnerability of youth to sexual abuse and sexual risks, and their sexual agency to face these situations; and What are the possibilities and limitations of existent sexual rights educational programs to diminish sexual vulnerability of youth facing diverse forms of inequality, such as economic, gender, ethnic and inter-generational disparities?

  • The Financialization of Amazonia: Scientific Knowledge and Carbon Market in Brazil, by Shaozeng Zhang. University of California, Irvine. Advisor: George E. Marcus.

This dissertation is about the epistemic and policy evolution of the environmental financial mechanism of REDD+ (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) in Brazil. I examine the mobilization, production and competition of various forms of knowledge(s) in designing and testing this economic invention. Ethnographic accounts of REDD+ knowledge production and mobilization reveal that multiple modes of knowing collaborate and negotiate with each other. Ethnographic research brings forth the productive, but yet informal, culture of cross field collaboration in scientific knowledge production.

  • The Politics of Absence: Women Searching for the Disappeared in Kashmir, by Ather Zia.  University of California, Irvine. Advisor: Victoria Bernal.

This study focuses on the Kashmiri women activists of the Association of the Parents of the Disappeared Persons who organized in 1994 to search for the disappeared. The everyday gendered politics of mourning emerges as what I conceptualize as affective law, which reveals a fine-grained understanding of women’s agency. The women use performative politics which converges in the spectacle of mourning and allows them to transcend the limitations of the heavily militarized society.

  • The Semiotics of Revivalist Islam: Women, Space, and Stories in Pakistan’s Islamic Movements, by Meryem Fatima Zaman. Michigan State University. Advisor: Mara Leichtman.

This dissertation examines women’s participation in Islamic revivalism in Pakistan through a focus on women in two organizations. The Tablighi Jama’at is a male-led movement which incorporates women as accessories, while Al-Huda is female-led and was founded exclusively for women. These two movements, and Pakistani reactions to them, illustrate Pakistani beliefs regarding gender, purified religion, and ideas of culture. A study of them speaks to theoretical concerns regarding the Islamic revival as a global movement and to the role of the religious resurgence in Pakistan. My findings show that women in both movements contribute significantly to the revivalist discourse, rhetoric, and theology the organizations adopt.

One thought on “50 Best Cultural Anthropology Dissertations of 2014

  1. Pingback: Best Cultural Anthropology Dissertations 2015 – anthropologyworks

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