Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Landscapes of Life and Death: Social Dimensions of a Perceived Landscape in Viking Age Iceland

    Author:
    Ruth Maher
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Gregory Johnson
    Abstract:

    The pre-Christian period in Iceland dates from the settlement in the latter half of the 9th century to about the year 1000 C.E. The burials from that time are found across Iceland, singly or in group cemeteries. Prior research on the burials has ranged from surveying, excavating and cataloging them, to comparative analyses of the grave designs and grave inclusions with respect to other contemporary areas of the Viking World. Separately, various types of skeletal analyses have been conducted to assess the sex, age and pathology of the individuals; and also a focus on the origins of the individuals is in progress through the use of strontium isotope analysis. However, little attention has been paid to accumulating the various data sets on the subject and interpreting them in an anthropological context in order to provide an image of the society who created the data in the first place. Such a study yields information regarding differences based on gender and age. Even less has been done with respect to understanding the role that the landscape and seascape played in burial placement and its relationship to cosmology. By reevaluating the grave inclusions, skeletal remains, artifact and animal inclusions, and considering the landscape in which they were originally placed, this study was able to recognize social positions based on gender and age within and between the burials, and also revealed the significance in the placement of the graves. The gender and age differences led to understanding the social dimensions in Iceland during this time; while placement shed light on the cosmology of the society. All of this underscored the fact that Iceland was indeed a `new land.'

  • Households, Landscapes, and Post-Collapse Continuity in Postclassic Jalieza, Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico

    Author:
    Elise Maragliano
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    William Parry
    Abstract:

    Through the lens of household and landscape archaeology, this dissertation examines an Early Postclassic archaeological site located in Jalieza in the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico. The analysis reviews data collected during an intensive archaeological field survey consisting of mapping and systematic surface collection. The site of Postclassic Jalieza is compared with other Postclassic sites in the Valley, as well as with the Early Classic and Late Classic settlements at Jalieza. The Postclassic component at Jalieza is a single time-period occupation restricted to the Early Postclassic, thus presenting a rare glimpse into this turbulent and little understood episode in the history of the Valley of Oaxaca. The central argument of this dissertation will focus on understanding the relationship between the elite and commoner elements of this settlement and how their use of space within the landscape represents an important ideological continuity with the past. The deliberate recreation of key elements of traditional Zapotec architecture, site organization, and religious practice at Postclassic Jalieza indicate a strong connection with earlier settlements and practices. My contention is that Postclassic Jalieza represents a conservative community intentionally preserving and perpetuating traditional beliefs and practices during a period of social and political upheaval throughout the Valley of Oaxaca.

  • Deconstructing Marginality: Exploring the Foundations of Dogtown Commons, Massachusetts

    Author:
    Elizabeth Martin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Diana Wall
    Abstract:

    This thesis deconstructs the documentary archive and built environment of the historical site called Dogtown in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The site consists of forty house foundation holes placed along four roads in the middle of Cape Ann's Dogtown forest. Originally settled by Europeans in the Colonial era as an English farming village, local history describes the community as transformed sometime after the American Revolution into a small "outsider community" consisting mainly of a population of poverty-stricken and aging, single English American women. These women are often labeled "witches" in the local folklore and are said to have co-habited with two African American individuals, only adding to their marginal status. This study's deconstruction of the historic narrative and how it has affected the cultural landscape begins to illuminate a constructed and interpreted history which makes the site appear to have been more "outside" of Gloucester than it once was. The nature of constructing histories may affect changes to the narrative on a larger scale as well. For example, it is found that a similar reinterpretation could be applied to three other nineteenth century outsider communities in the northeastern United States: the Lighthouse community from northwestern Connecticut, the Ramapo Mountain People from the northern New Jersey/New York State border region, and a group of people who once lived on Malaga Island off of the mid-coast of Maine. These sites are not all exactly alike but the persistent rumors of immoral and antisocial behavior bind them all together in a broader Colonial landscape. These sites have all been constructed in their narratives to appear as they are today, i.e., outside the larger society. It is argued that the nineteenth and early twentieth century constructions of such histories of those who were included in the bourgeoning capitalist mode of production created a need for stories of their opposite, i.e., populations of marginalized people excluded from this way of life.

  • The Politics of Transition: Time, History, and Justice in Postwar Lebanon

    Author:
    Shea McManus
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Talal Asad
    Abstract:

    In the context of postwar Lebanon, this dissertation investigates various modes by which local and global actors attempt to reckon with the past, despite the state's amnesty law and its efforts to `close the files' on the past. It problematizes a range of social, cultural, religious, and artistic initiatives that engage the continuing presence of the past in the present. These projects have generated a rich and variegated field of activity related to the civil war by drawing both on contested local memories and representations of past violence and on transnational techniques of truth-seeking, witnessing, memorialization, and archiving. Although diverse, they aim, among other things, to pursue truth for the missing, to confront and debate painful memories, to collect and evaluate testimonies from former fighters, and to critique the absence of an official memorial or museum on the war. Beyond that, my research also looks at the interventions of transitional justice in Lebanon. I show how international experts inject themselves into specific sites of local activity, and endeavor to cultivate distinctive sensibilities towards suffering, modes of political subjectivity, practices of speaking and remembering, and conceptions of guilt and responsibility to extend the dominion of international law, global democracy, humanitarianism, and human rights. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the sites of their interactions, I trace the conflicts, tensions, and ambiguities that emerge when international experts and local artists, activists, and victims groups meet to grapple with the past and imagine the future in sites of prior violence, and argue that what is involved in these encounters are different, and sometimes clashing, configurations of time.

  • The Prison Fix: Race, Work, and Economic Development in Elmira, New York

    Author:
    Andrea Morrell
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Leith Mullings
    Abstract:

    Based on more than a year of ethnographic and archival research in Elmira, New York and, to a lesser extent, New York City, this dissertation analyzes the social, economic, and political processes through which Elmira, New York was transformed by the construction of the Southport Correctional Facility in 1988 as a project of economic development during a period of massive expansion of the New York State prison system. It focuses on the unfolding of the project of mass incarceration and its impact on the lives of Elmira's citizens and workers, as well as the men incarcerated in Elmira's prisons and their families. Through ethnographic work with prison guards, formerly incarcerated men and women and their families, and a broad cross section of Elmirans, I trace the tensions of constructing and maintaining two prisons that incarcerate nearly 2,500 men. I show how the project of prison expansion into Elmira was an attempt to "solve" the social, economic, and political crises of deindustrialization and economic restructuring with a prison "fix." By using the prison town as a unit of analysis, I argue in this dissertation that the prison is part of a regime that extends beyond the prison's walls. I demonstrate that despite increasingly intricate fences and barriers aimed at maintaining the separation between the incarcerated men and "free" Elmira, ideas, money, and relationships circulate between increasingly connected places. An ethnographic focus on the prison town, as opposed to the prison as a distinct institution or an arbiter of ghetto relationships, allowed me to delineate the ways in which the prison leaks into the everyday life of the city of Elmira. Thus, the Elmira Correctional Facilities and the Southport Correctional Facilities are a part of a carceral state, equally political and economic, that makes use of Elmira as a place of confinement.

  • Religion, Mental Health and Disaster Response in a New Age of Anxiety

    Author:
    Joshua Moses
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Shirley Lindenbaum
    Abstract:

    This dissertation shows how the attacks of September 11th, 2001, Hurricane Katrina and subsequent disasters have created the context for novel forms of expert knowledge and professional organizations designed to address the increasing perceived risk associated with what I call the "New Age of Anxiety." The dissertation focuses on the formation of "disaster religious and spiritual care" as an emerging expertise. "Disaster religious and spiritual care" refers to a general framework comprised of loosely associated, sometimes antagonistic, individuals and organizations. Many come from the hospital chaplain world, some from pastoral counseling or from parishes, and others from military, police and firefighting backgrounds, where much of the research on critical incidents has been conducted. It also refers to a theoretical perspective, or therapeutic modality, on how to treat people suffering from disaster-caused distress. The attacks of September 11th galvanized created institutional, political, religious/spiritual and psychological conditions that have provided fertile ground for the expertise of "disaster religious and spiritual care" to expand and increasingly define itself as a necessary component of disaster response. The changes in government policy and new funding streams on federal, state, and local levels, as well as new partnerships among government, religious and community groups dealing with disaster preparedness and response, have provided a broader niche for disaster-related expertise. While religious organizations have long been a core component of disaster response efforts, there was no specific professional expertise focusing on disaster care. This study largely concentrates on individuals and institutions based in New York City. It argues that lives and conditions have been altered by disasters in significant ways, leading to new forms of expert knowledge and global changes in subjectivity and self understanding, particularly in regards to ideas of trauma and conceptions of religious suffering. The dissertation ends by showing the ways in which people experience religious, spiritual and mental health concepts--particularly trauma--as they navigate the "New Age of Anxiety." It illustrates how seemingly incommensurable ideas of religion and science are interwoven in the lives of "disaster religious and spiritual care" workers.

  • Modernizing Charity, Remaking Islamic Law

    Author:
    Nada Moumtaz`
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    David Harvey
    Abstract:

    Drawing on archival and ethnographic research in Lebanon and Turkey, this dissertation investigates changes in the conception and practice of Islamic charitable endowments - called waqfs - in Beirut since1826. In French Mandate Lebanon (1920-1943), a new question about charity emerged: how was one to distinguish when a charitable endowment was a truly religious act? I first trace how this question became imaginable starting in the nineteenth century Ottoman Empire, notably through the rise of the modern capitalist state, its monopoly on the production and administration of law, and the creation and separation of the spheres of religion and economy. I then argue that the selection of religious endowments hinged on new conceptions of the state and general benefit and upon a conception of charity as a practice confined to the public sphere. The answer to this question therefore subjected charitable endowments and their founders to new understandings of charity, property, and intent and redefined the very practice of charitable giving in the Islamic tradition afterwards and up to this day.

  • Fighting the Wall: Understanding the Impact of Immigration and Border Security on Local Borderland Identity in Brownsville, TX

    Author:
    Laura Neck
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Kirk Dombrowski
    Abstract:

    As part of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 approximately 850 miles of the roughly 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexico border was slotted for the construction of a border wall. Between 125 - 150 miles was scheduled to be completed in Texas by December 31, 2008. This dissertation explores how the U.S federal government's actions had direct and almost immediate consequences on its relationship with local borderland residents. Borderland residents are uniquely positioned both geographically and culturally within the nation-states they inhabit. The people who reside in the borderlands have a fundamentally different relationship with the state, not only because they live at the edges, but because they live in a space filled with obvious and physical manifestations of state power. The power of a nation-state is never more evident than at its borders, where it must necessarily assert and defend its territorial sovereignty through obvious control of the local, but more importantly for the state's objectives, national space. The construction of the border wall intensified this difference, increasing stresses on a population where issues of citizenship and racial and ethnic identity are already heightened, and shifting local focus away from citizenship as a primary identity marker and towards race and ethnicity instead, in many ways achieving the opposite of the federal government's stated intensions. The violence of seizing property and erecting a border wall resulted in the erosion of local borderlanders' sense of belonging as Americans while heightening their identity as culturally and ethnically Mexican, a fundamental shift from previous conditions in which local populations were more likely to stress their identity as U.S. citizens in direct, and favorable, opposition to Mexicans in Mexico and immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, in the United States. Using a multi-method approach including Respondent-Driven Sampling, interviews, and participant observation, this study follows the specific story of the border wall's construction in south Texas in order to trace out the exact ways, and in some cases, the specific moments, in which the state's actions to strengthen its claims over local spaces and citizens actually resulted in weakening those citizens self-consciously identified and internalized connections to the U.S. state.

  • Landscaping Discontent: Space, Class, and Social Movements in Immigrant Paris

    Author:
    Andrew Newman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Ida Susser
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the importance of environmental politics, cultural belonging, and public space for a multiethnic coalition of residents who demanded land for a park in one of Paris' low-income, predominately West African and Maghrebi neighborhoods. The dissertation consists of an ethnographic case study of activism related to the new park and the politics of urban space with the goal of contributing to anthropological scholarship on urban environmentalism, public space, and struggles for national belonging among France's post-colonial minorities. It is based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork consisting of interviews and participant-observation with activists, policy-makers, and urban planners. It makes three principal scholarly interventions in the literature on cultural belonging in contemporary Europe, environmentalism in the city, and the political significance of public space, respectively. First, the study suggests that urban politics oriented around space and place allow residents of Maghrebi and West African descent to legitimately assert their cultural belonging in the nation. These "place-making" politics are significant because the majority of the scholarship highlights the de-legitimization of multiculturalism in France and overlooks the spatial dimensions of cultural politics. Second, the dissertation critiques the divergence between the environmentalism(s) of residents and the "sustainable urbanism" of planners. Sustainable urbanism - an emerging global orthodoxy in urban planning - constructs the environment and environmental problems according to a limited, technical purview. It often clashes with the political projects of activists, who adopt an environmental approach in the broadest sense, incorporating a range of social, urban, and political demands. Third, the dissertation suggests ethnographers should take into account the "political life" of small urban spaces and theorize public space as not simply a setting for public behavior, but as an often incomplete social and political project, which residents (and planners) seek to "finish" for their own ends as part of broader political conflicts in society.

  • Landscaping Discontent: Space, Class, and Social Movements in Immigrant Paris

    Author:
    Andrew Newman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Ida Susser
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the importance of environmental politics, cultural belonging, and public space for a multiethnic coalition of residents who demanded land for a park in one of Paris' low-income, predominately West African and Maghrebi neighborhoods. The dissertation consists of an ethnographic case study of activism related to the new park and the politics of urban space with the goal of contributing to anthropological scholarship on urban environmentalism, public space, and struggles for national belonging among France's post-colonial minorities. It is based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork consisting of interviews and participant-observation with activists, policy-makers, and urban planners. It makes three principal scholarly interventions in the literature on cultural belonging in contemporary Europe, environmentalism in the city, and the political significance of public space, respectively. First, the study suggests that urban politics oriented around space and place allow residents of Maghrebi and West African descent to legitimately assert their cultural belonging in the nation. These "place-making" politics are significant because the majority of the scholarship highlights the de-legitimization of multiculturalism in France and overlooks the spatial dimensions of cultural politics. Second, the dissertation critiques the divergence between the environmentalism(s) of residents and the "sustainable urbanism" of planners. Sustainable urbanism - an emerging global orthodoxy in urban planning - constructs the environment and environmental problems according to a limited, technical purview. It often clashes with the political projects of activists, who adopt an environmental approach in the broadest sense, incorporating a range of social, urban, and political demands. Third, the dissertation suggests ethnographers should take into account the "political life" of small urban spaces and theorize public space as not simply a setting for public behavior, but as an often incomplete social and political project, which residents (and planners) seek to "finish" for their own ends as part of broader political conflicts in society.