Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • The Effects of Social Dynamics and Positional Behavior on Gestural Communication among African Apes

    Author:
    Lindsey Smith
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Roberto Delgado
    Abstract:

    Gestures are integral components of human and non-human primate communication. In humans, children rely extensively on gesturing before speech develops (Knott 1979) and gestures remain important to communication even after the development of speech (Dunning 1971; Melinger & Levelt 2004). Gestural signaling is also central to communication in other primates, particularly African apes (Pika et al. 2005a). Neurological research reveals structural similarities between key language networks in the brain and manual actions in humans and non-human primates, providing evidence for an evolutionary continuity between language and bodily actions among primates (Kelly et al. 2002; Arbib 2005). Although much has been learned about gestural signaling in primates, an understanding of how and why gestural repertoires vary across species and what role gestures played in language evolution is incomplete. This dissertation investigated how two factors, social dynamics (the nature of social relationships) and positional behavior (locomotor and postural behavior), shaped gestural communication within and across captive groups of western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes sspp.), and bonobos (Pan paniscus). I conducted this research with six captive groups over the course of twenty-four months. Subjects included: 1) Two groups of western lowland gorillas at the Bronx Zoo, NY; 2) Two groups of chimpanzees at the St. Louis Zoo, MO, and Los Angeles Zoo, CA; and 3) Two groups of bonobos at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Wild Animal Park, CA. I used a Sony Handycam to collect continuous video data of social interactions (from which I coded various aspects of gestural signaling) and 15-minute focal animal sampling (from which I coded frequencies and durations of positional behaviors). While there was some level of inter-group variation in all species, patterns of gestural communication were accurate measures of the unique social dynamics that characterize each species. Gesturing was not restricted by the availability of the upper limbs; rather, positional behavior was often used to enhance certain gestures, particularly dominance displays. These results demonstrate that gestural signaling expresses the kind of behavioral and locomotor plasticity that could have given rise to a flexible, complex form of communication that eventually became language.

  • What Was Squatting, and What Comes Next?: The Mystery of Property in New York City, 1984-2014

    Author:
    Amy Starecheski
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Katherine Verdery
    Abstract:

    Framing property as a socio-historical process and squatters as situated actors within that process, this dissertation seeks to understand how a relatively stable and hegemonic property regime, such as private property in the United States, works and changes. Squatting is an ideal lens for understanding the complex transformation of private property, as it leads us to the times and places where the political and moral economies of property are actively contested and renegotiated. Squatters who make successful claims on property draw our attention to disjunctures between the moral economy and the legal system of property. Squatters had a complex and dynamic relationship with private property, simultaneously using, transforming and challenging the cultural materials that make up the private property regime. New York City in the 1980s and `90s was home to a squatting movement unlike any other in the United States. Squatters on the Lower East Side took over abandoned buildings in the aftermath of New York City's fiscal crisis, occupying land in a neoliberalizing city, in a gentrifying neighborhood, and making claims on it that challenged those ways of being in the city. In a context of austerity, in which city government was shifting its focus from caring for citizens to creating an attractive environment for business and economic elites, squatters simply took what they thought was their fair share of the city's resources and offered their labor in return, using the symbolic social resources of homeownership to make property and citizenship claims. Disentangling occupation, stewardship, and ownership, squatters highlight the tensions between the home as a commodity and source of equity and the home as a shelter for the family, or even a human right. This dissertation shows how the squatting movement successfully constrained the capacity of the city's leaders and investors to create market rate housing on the Lower East Side, at length driving the city to agree to sell eleven squatted buildings, for one dollar each, to a non-profit that would help bring the buildings up to code. The former squats would then be converted to limited-equity low-income cooperatives and the renovation loans would become mortgages. The legalization process was contested and uneven: as of 2013, only five of the eleven buildings in the legalization deal had been converted into co-ops. The struggles of the Lower East Side squatters as they navigated the legalization process reflect the growing anxiety about and precarity of homeownership among Americans today, while also being inflected with their own unique decades of experience living in decommodified housing. Squatters struggled to find a way to become collective homeowners without destroying their collective values: control over one's space and one's time. Counterintuitive as it may seem, the production and circulation of commodities can be an effective means to assert values alternative to those of contemporary capitalism. They debated whether it was moral to profit from housing, how equity was produced, and how it should be distributed. Agreeing to the legalization deal did not automatically protect the squats from being evicted or incorporated into the flows of endlessly profit-seeking capital. They tried to find ways to create security for themselves amidst the real risks of foreclosure and eviction. While individual, private property and collective property are often opposed, this study reveals all that is obscured by that dichotomy. The forms of limited-equity collective homeownership into which squatters entered created new social ties of debt and responsibility while threatening old forms of solidarity based on shared labor, caretaking, and mutual defense. Given the chance to become homeowners, a significant minority of squatters wanted to fully commodify their homes rather than giving up some of their own property rights for the benefit of future low-income owners. Equity, security, prosperity and social mobility were especially tempting after a decades-long struggle to procure decent, affordable housing had left residents depleted and sometimes isolated from the larger economy. However, the public subsidies they received, the intention of the labor invested, and the nature of the social and political claims they articulated as squatters made this impossible. For many, especially those with marketable skills, stable jobs, or middle class privilege, legalization was a boon, but, as was the case in many informal settlements in the developing world where property has been formalized, for the most marginal it ranged from tolerable to disastrous. As each person was required to produce an identical monetary contribution to the cooperative's collective monthly expenses, the squatters' ability to accommodate people who made a diverse variety of contributions, from construction work to political strategizing, and especially to include those who could contribute little but desperately needed housing, was compromised. For those who stayed, this was often an intensely painful process in which they had to choose between protecting the group's collective property and protecting the group's values and weakest members. Squatters attempting to protect their shared property and legacy mobilized the language of the family and the house, as well as the practices of history-making. Today, when the moral economy of debt is hotly debated and cities struggle to make use of housing with no exchange value, the experiences of Lower East Side squatters are particularly valuable. In the context of the current ongoing foreclosure crisis and the uneven, contested, yet pervasive process of neoliberalization and privatization, this study should both give hope and give pause to those seeking to experiment with alternatives to private property. As this study has shown, the decommodification of housing provides a means to house the most vulnerable people in society. Squatters' small-scale and mostly successful battle to shepherd their collective property into the realm of legal ownership without succumbing to the logic of the market shows us that resistance to the financialization of everything is still possible.

  • Coming of Age in Neoliberal New York

    Author:
    Jennifer Sugg
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Ida Susser
    Abstract:

    Thirty years of neoliberal policies have left New York a divided city, with ever-rising rates of income inequality and widening social disparity. Structural transformations associated with global capitalism have led to divergent experiences for male and female youth coming of age in the 21st century. Girls are experiencing greater social integration and social mobility whereas, boys are facing social exclusion and limited opportunities. As young men precariously forge new transitions to adulthood, young women are constructed as ideal flexible subjects, benefiting from feminist achievements, and advancing in the new service economy. Yet in reality, girls continue to face gendered base violence, sexism, and burdens of responsibilities. Through this lens, I examine how gender operates as an organizing principle in young people's lives today in the Lower East Side (LES) of New York City. This study also documents how people create cultural alternatives that reflect their values and progressive politics and analyzes how this has been down in the past. It offers an organizational case study of The Lower Eastside Girls Club in an effort to increase our understanding of the history and significance of a successful struggle to educate, employ, and carve out a safe space for women and girls in neoliberal New York. It documents how the Girls Club builds upon a legacy of grassroots initiatives in the LES, including the settlement house movement of the Progressive Era and Mobilization for Youth of the 1960's. This study asks: what should an education accomplish in a democracy? (Giroux 2013) It examines the limitations of the Girls Club's engaged practice of uplift and empowerment in relation to its progressive politics and critical pedagogy. I suggest that education is a terrain in the "right to the city" (Lefebvre 1968), and that the Girls Club, in constructing alternative models of education and community engagement, is locally engaging in a broader struggle for social justice, albeit with limited success. This study concludes with an analysis of Girls Club's efforts to push forth a community-led development model that puts women and youth at the center, melding the politics of Jane Addams and Jane Jacobs and offering an alternative urban vision.

  • Postcranial variation in Plio-Pleistocene hominins of Africa

    Author:
    Melissa Tallman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Eric Delson
    Abstract:

    Postcrania are a key component of functional analyses of Plio-Pleistocene hominin behavior, but many specimens are unassociated or fragmentary and have thus been largely ignored by researchers. This dissertation examined all relevant Plio-Pleistocene postcranial material to examine whether there are consistent patterns of morphology that characterize Plio-Pleistocene taxa and whether there are different locomotor types represented. Data on all available Plio-Pleistocene hominin humeri, radii, ulnae, femora and tibiae were collected with a microscribe 3-D digitizer and compared to a modern sample of four populations of Homo sapiens, two subspecies of Pan troglodytes, two subspecies of Gorilla gorilla, Pongo pygmaeus and Pan paniscus in order to make taxonomic and functional conclusion about overall patterns of postcranial variation in the appendicular skeleton of hominins. The most informative areas were the distal femur, tibia, radius, and humerus, and the proximal femur and ulna. In the distal humerus, individuals from Koobi Fora had a more pleisomorphic morphology than all of the other fossils, including those with much earlier dates. The variation present in the proximal femur of A. afarensis was greater than most single modern species. The pattern of variation in the distal femur was tested against an ontogenetic sample of modern humans and chimpanzees in order to assess whether the differences present were caused by heterochronic change; this hypothesis was not supported. There are few postcranial characters that can be tied to specific groups. Among hominins, Paranthropus robustus and Homo habilis sensu lato had the most distinctive patterns of morphology. There was a temporal pattern in the distal tibia with individuals the least like modern humans occurring the earliest in time and those most like them occurring latest, but there were no temporal patterns to any other segment sampled. There was a clear difference in the way that humans and apes covary in the fore- and hindlimb. There was no evidence of developmental shape integration between serial homologues. As a group, Plio-Pleistocene hominins had patterns of covariance that were most similar to modern humans, with the exception of pairings involving the distal femur.

  • Millennial Libertarians: The Rebirth of a Movement and the Transformation of U.S. Political Culture

    Author:
    Kaja Tretjak
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Leith Mullings
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the contemporary resurgence of libertarianism in the U.S., exploring a rapidly expanding, transnational network of hundreds of thousands liberty movement participants connected through student groups, community organizations, and established institutions, as well as through social media and a vast array of online forums. Grounded in 32 months of ethnographic fieldwork and over 200 interviews, it documents the rise of a profound disenchantment, particularly among millennials, with state-based solutions to pressing contemporary problems and, more broadly, with the nation-state project itself. Drawing on first-hand accounts ranging from elite boardrooms and think tank conference rooms, to political demonstrations and direct actions, to student reading groups and gatherings of cryptoanarchist communities, the dissertation situates the ethnographic study within the broader framework of a reconfiguration of U.S. populism in the era of the security state. The project examines how established libertarian organizations, a key component of the longstanding U.S. conservative coalition, have helped infuse libertarianism with renewed relevance for a substantial part of an entire generation deeply disheartened by a world embroiled in economic crisis and heavily militarized systems of governance. Through the consolidation of a libertarian wing of the Republican Party, parts of the liberty movement are presently shaking up the very conservative coalition that helped usher forth the movement's revival. But libertarianism's resurgence is also powerfully reshaping U.S. political culture beyond formal political processes, giving rise to a proliferation of libertarian spaces that expressly reject effecting change through electoral politics and policy in favor of changing "hearts and minds" by promoting libertarian principles and social organization. Simultaneously, growing numbers of millennials influenced by the liberty movement increasingly challenge its dominant trends, focusing on the experiences of vulnerable and marginalized groups -- from urging the integration of libertarianism with a broader socioeconomic critique as well as antiracism, feminism, mutual aid, and labor solidarity, to revisiting the ideas of 19th century U.S. individualist anarchists. Thus, while the libertarian political establishment is likely to continue to expand over the coming years and secure a firmer place in the Republican Party, the movement simultaneously serves as a siphon -- growing numbers of millennial libertarians are presently breaking from the political right and moving closer to various forms of left libertarianism, market anarchism, mutualism, and even social anarchism. The project thus illustrates the centrality of cultural formations beyond policy and electoral politics to the largest popular movement motivated by distinctly libertarian ideas in the postwar period, as well as to reconfigurations of U.S. liberalism. The dissertation contributes to a burgeoning literature on the resurgence of antistatist theory and organizing in the new millennium. Scholars and activists alike continue to document especially the revitalization of social anarchist traditions permeating numerous contemporary struggles, tracing how the resuscitation of social anarchist thought and activism informs important parts of extant insurgency across the globe. The U.S. liberty movement presents another key but understudied aspect of the present antistate moment. The dissertation also builds on longstanding anthropological approaches to understanding the complex processes through which political ideologies are shaped and constituted. Through an ethnographic lens, it interrogates how deeply ingrained U.S. ideologies of freedom, individualism, and even liberalism itself are interpreted, contested, and reappropriated to both challenge and reinscribe relations of power. The libertarian resurgence represents a crucial struggle over the very meaning and direction of U.S. liberalism in our historical moment.

  • Fulfilling Late Life? Childless Men Aging in San Francisco

    Author:
    Joel Turner
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Michael Blim
    Abstract:

    Much of the extant social research on childlessness in late life employs a "lens of deficiency", where it is assumed that confronting old age without children itself constitutes a precarious or problematic situation. This thesis builds on an emerging critical literature that moves beyond this perspective, and shifts focus to more exploratory considerations of the aging process for adults without children. The text documents specific means by which childless men seek fulfillment in late life, in an urban U.S. context. The study is based on two years of ethnographic research in San Francisco, California, with a total of twenty-five, independently living, white men between 64 and 86 years of age. None of the men had children, and though a few were married or had long-term partners, most lived alone. By focusing exclusively on older men's lives, the analysis redresses a conspicuous gender bias in social research centered on parental or reproductive status, where women's lives have drawn most scholarly attention. For the men portrayed here, weighty questions about identity, family, and ultimately, social standing, remain rather unsettled in late life. Many participants experience significant frustrations addressing such "big picture" questions, and these difficulties are often tied to social and physical environments that cannot offer the proper stage for enacting desired visions of senescence on a daily basis. Nevertheless, the men persist in attempts to establish what matters most to them individually, and seek to project a personal character worthy of respect. To accomplish this, participants work to narrate the parameters of belonging in their lives, and engage in gift/exchange relations to offer up and display their personal values to others. The men reach out to others as they reconcile self-understanding, and some show concern for the quality of interpersonal connections available. However, such extensions are also marked by a strong ambivalence towards developing reciprocal relations, and connections are often left undeveloped in the name of personal independence. Rather than signaling resignation, this tendency to eschew full-fledged connection emerges as part of a process where commitment and desires are re-calibrated, in order to strike a novel balance that might "fulfill" aging.

  • Reclaiming the Collective: Restorative Justice, Structural Violence, and the Search for Democratic Identity under Global Capitalism

    Author:
    Ragnhild Utheim
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Leith Mullings
    Abstract:

    Restorative Justice (and its practices) has come to represent an increasingly popular `alternative' in the fight towards building safe and healthy urban communities that do not rely on prisons and punishment as a solution to the dislocations of advanced capitalism. This ethnographic study examines the role of race and US collective identity at the intersections of criminal justice, public education and restorative justice. The dissertation examines the use of restorative practices for navigating conflicts among court-involved youth at an urban high school, and the extent to which the restorative framework lives up to one of its central ideals: to bring about a more democratically oriented distribution of power in conflict intervention and give voice to all stakeholders. In probing this fundamental ingredient of the restorative approach the research lens was redirected toward a ubiquitous "politics of denial" in confronting the deeper roots of US social conflicts. The dissertation investigates the emergence of restorative conflict negotiations as a field of practice that claims "neutrality" and "impartiality" in its deliberations, yet at once by and large entirely evades the reality of a politically and economically skewed `playing field.' The research findings reveal the impact of structural violence in the lives of urban youth, and foregrounds the need for full-spectrum, integrated intervention that incorporates various dimensions of trauma (individual, collective, historical) derived from structural violence. The relationship between historical misrepresentation and its attenuated processes, on the one hand, and the human relations and social structures that exist as part of broader society -or collective whole--on the other, are explored. The author argues that the ways in which history has been incompletely represented needs to be a central component of integrated social approaches, including restorative conflict negotiations. For restorative justice to remain true to its democratic processes and participatory dictates, its `practices' must bring to bear the weight of history and how it has placed groups of people at highly differential advantages. The dissertation argues for the deconstructing of an exceedingly slanted (white) historical master-narrative, and the veritable potential of restorative practices for navigating the political and psychosocial effects that this will provoke.

  • CadĂȘ o mico? Where is the tamarin?: Locating monkeys in the politics of land and conservation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Author:
    Analia Villagra
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    John Collins
    Abstract:

    The golden lion tamarin is a small, endangered monkey found in only a few municipalities in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This dissertation explores the project to conserve this rare primate, a project that links together agrarian reform, forest restoration, agroforestry, and conservation biology. Informed by Brazil's social and political history, and drawing from 12 months of fieldwork conducted in 2008 and 2010, this dissertation argues that by looking carefully at and for the tamarin, we discover the interrelated political, social, and animal relationships that weave together to produce conservation in southeastern Brazil.

  • Forsaken Generation: Stress, Social Suffering and Strategies among Working-Class Pensioners in Post-Socialist Moldova, Romania

    Author:
    Gerard Weber
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Jane Schneider
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the lives of working-class pensioners in post-socialist, Galati, Romania. Its central thesis is that the transformation of Romania from socialism to capitalism beginning in 1989 has led to an "epidemic of stress" among retired, working-class people in the city. Marginalized by their age, class and location in the relatively economically underdeveloped region of Moldova, they have been among the hardest hit by the changes brought about with the introduction of neoliberal capitalism. Long familiar with life in a relatively stable economy, they have faced dramatic changes in this area since the revolution, including massive price instability and widespread unemployment. Used to being cushioned by a social welfare system, today they live with the withdrawal of many of the certainties under socialism, including adequate pensions, access to free or low-cost health care, affordable housing, cost-free education and much more. Anticipating that their kin would be near them and their communities would be a reliable presence as they grew older, they have experienced the departure of family for work in distant places and they have watched as many of the ceremonies and ritual practices that once held their communities together have become rarer. This "social suffering" manifests itself in the stress epidemic, pensioners not only experiencing stress chronically but also making sense of the changes they have undergone since socialism by talking about stress. Retirees respond to these changed conditions by engaging in moral commentary against the people - the newly rich - whom they frequently blame for the decline in standard of living. They cope with the stress epidemic through a range of strategies, including building new social ties, complaining publicly about their difficulties, finding inexpensive or free sources of food, begging, borrowing money, pawning cherished heirlooms and much more. And they mobilize politically to bring about real improvement to their deteriorated situation, testing the limits of their young demoncracy by organizing and speaking out publicly, sometimes winning as a result of such efforts. In spite of such success, working-class Moldovan pensioners cannot be left to fight on their own to improve their standard of living, however. The state needs to step back into the lives of this disadvantaged population, addressing their needs through concrete initiatives, including offering pensions that meet the cost-of-living, pursuing economic policies that bring more secure employment to Romania and tackling high-level corruption that too often robs average citizens of a higher quality of life.

  • "We Went to the Hills": Four Afghan Life Stories

    Author:
    James Weir
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Vincent Crapanzano
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines four Afghan life stories for prevalent micro-historical perspectives on shared Afghan macro-historical experiences. The introduction explains my background, motivations and objectives for conducting life history research in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005. The first chapter outlines an approach applied to examining life stories that addresses three interrelated questions: first, how the narrator's presentation is related to the memory of the actual events narrated (biographical chronology), second, how a narrative image/s of a person's past is established in relationships to individually significant audience/s (narrative self / audience), and third, how interrelationships between the individual life and the socio-historical context are expressed by troubling or valued dimensions of the past (existential orientation). My examination focuses upon significant historical and interpersonal concerns as they manifest across individual life narratives. Each chapter begins with background on the circumstances of the interview, followed by the interview transcription, and concludes with an extended analysis of the life story. I conclude with ethnographic interpretation of each life story in light of recent Afghan history and speculate about the meanings of violence and the limits of trauma for contemporary understanding of Afghan culture and history.