Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • MUCH TOO MUCH SELFISHNESS: NEOLIBERALISM AND THE PRACTICE OF FREEDOM IN A JAMAICAN FARMTOWN

    Author:
    Edward Sammons
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Donald Robotham
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the outcome of a course of reforms that rose to dominance in the late twentieth century on the promise of producing the greatest benefits for the greatest number through the expansion of the global capitalist marketplace. Champions of this approach have promoted capitalist expansion as a new project of liberation. Meanwhile, recurrent seizures of the global economy have undermined the viability of these reforms and raised interest in charting substitute paths of freedom. Much Too Much Selfishness contributes to assessing the effects of neoliberal reforms, and to identifying alternative strategies for better living through globalization, by exploring aspects of the creative destruction wrought upon the population of Jamaica, where government and multinational agencies have pursued a consistent and decades-long policy trajectory following the logic of liberation through market expansion. Focusing on conceptions of ethical behavior as expressed by residents of one central-island farmtown, the dissertation charts a corresponding pattern in locally prevalent guidelines for reconciling individual and collective interests through the practice of freedom. Based on analysis of lessons gleaned from ethnographic and archival research conducted between 2006 and 2013, it places more recent expressions within a lineage ranging from the era of the town's initial settlement as an enterprise of plantation slavery, through the early phases of neoliberal reforms, and into the period concurrent with the research for this study. Following an extended historical discussion, the dissertation returns to the more recent past for a close consideration of the soundtrack of a festival residents hosted in the early twenty-first century to commemorate slavery abolition. It closes by applying recent scholarship about meaningful music to information gathered from interviews, participant observation, and field audio recordings taken during contemporary Emancipation Day festivities, in order to access further refined conclusions about the local impact of neoliberal reforms and the existing alternative approaches to global sociality.

  • Bethlehem Steelworkers: Reshaping the Industrial Working Class

    Author:
    Jill Schennum
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    David Harvey
    Abstract:

    This ethnographic dissertation examines the long-term experience of a cohort of steelworkers who entered the Bethlehem, PA steel mill at the height of Fordist gains. Their experience and expectation of a more egalitarian capitalism was soon challenged by post-Fordist processes of disinvestment and deindustrialization leading to the closing of the Bethlehem steel mill, the bankruptcy of the corporation, and the displacement and dispossession of steelworkers. This project examines the complex dynamics of this thirty-year shift from a Fordist to a post-Fordist order as it affects steelworkers. In so doing, it reveals Fordism as more fragile, provisional, and short-lived than is commonly understood. Fordist work has been represented as monotonous and alienating, portraying a quiescent working class as agreeing to deskilled, unfulfilling work in exchange for the rewards of middle class consumption. I challenge this, finding that meaningful work was shaped in the steel mill through crew work and a complex division of labor that built a moral economy in which principles of seniority, solidarity, and citizenship validated worker dignity, constructed collaborative social relations, and imbued work with powerful significance. The Fordist organizations, practices, and ideologies through which an industrial working class was built, however, included fragmentations and exclusions that undermined broader solidarities. Solidarity built around shared meanings of whiteness and masculinity excluded race/ethnic, regional, and gender groups, and inter-plant competition contributed to working-class fragmentation. These limitations undermined broader collective resistance to the restructurings, plant closings, and bankruptcies that we call deindustrialization. Processes of deindustrialization stripped steelworkers of power, assets, and prestige. Often represented as a teleological transition to post-Fordism, these processes are actually very uneven, contradictory, and confusing. Internal restructuring, new management regimes, transfers to other mills, and the bankruptcy process undermined solidarities and exacerbated schisms. Workers struggled to respond through individual strategies, but found it difficult to control broader processes, leading to self-blame and second-guessing. The robust, post-Fordist Bethlehem labor market offered diminished opportunities and a de-valuing of workers' skills, attitudes, and experience. While steelworkers are critical of this, the long assault on the U.S. working class destroyed many of the organizations and practices through which workers build strength.

  • The Influence of Resource Distribution on the Social Structure and Travel Patterns of Wild Hamadryas Baboons (Papio hamadryas) in Filoha, Awash National Park, Ethiopia

    Author:
    Amy Schreier
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Larissa Swedell
    Abstract:

    Hamadryas baboons (Papio hamadryas)Papio. The evolution of this social structure has often been attributed to the scarce and widely dispersed distribution of resources in hamadryas habitats, but such an association between food availability and social structure in hamadryas baboons has never been shown quantitatively. Additionally, several studies suggest that hamadryas baboons use their home range unevenly, corresponding to the location of important resources. In this dissertation I quantified the distribution and abundance of resources in the home range of a band of hamadryas baboons at the Filoha site in Awash National Park, Ethiopia, and systematically investigated the relationship between resource availability and changes in the baboons' multilevel social structure, home range use, and travel patterns. I surveyed the vegetation structure of the Filoha region, quantifying the density and distribution of resources in the home range of Band 1 of the Filoha hamadryas population. From March 2005 through February 2006, I conducted all-day follows of Band 1, during which I recorded the baboons' travel routes and quantified spatial cohesion at each level of hamadryas social structure. Unlike other known hamadryas sites, the Filoha region includes permanent hot springs and doum palm fruit, a preferred food resource, in proximity to a commonly used sleeping cliff. Band 1 had a large home range of at least 38.6 km2 and traveled an average of 8.3 km each day, despite both the high availability of doum palm fruit and the presence of a permanent water source near the Filoha cliff. The baboons at Filoha also still displayed the multilevel social structure typical of hamadryas even though resource distribution did not necessitate breaking up into smaller units to obtain sufficient food during most of the year. Band 1 at Filoha, however, exhibited greater plasticity with regard to its social system than its ranging patterns. The large band and clan sizes at Filoha compared with those at other hamadryas sites likely reflect the high abundance and availability of doum palm fruit.

  • The Upland Archaeology of West Rock Ridge in South-Central Connecticut: Small Stemmed Point Tradition Land-Use Intensification

    Author:
    Cosimo Sgarlata
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    William Parry
    Abstract:

    West Rock Ridge is an intrusive diabase sill that was injected between layers of brownstone bedrock, and subsequently exposed by erosion. Although its precipitous west facing cliff and more gently sloping but rocky and uneven eastern face, provide one of South-Central Connecticut's most rugged environments, the objective of this project was to see how this setting could contribute to understanding of Southern New England's prehistoric occupants. Following Barber's (1981) advice concerning "new ways" to look at "new data" the project focused on changing land-use patterns on the part of South-Central Connecticut's prehistoric inhabitants. It was the conclusion of this investigation that Small Stemmed Point Tradition habitation of West Rock Ridge occurred under conditions of high hunter-gatherer population density and territorial packing. These conditions favored thorough coverage of available territorial ranges, and inclusion of otherwise marginal resource patches, such as West Rock, into annual subsistence rounds. It can be further suggested that cultural adaptations which rely on decreased residential mobility and focal dependence on vegetative and/or aquatic resources adjacent to habitations would lead to decreased coverage of available territorial ranges. In fact, the continued reliance on high residential mobility, despite increasing numbers of hunter-gatherers during the Late Archaic Period, appears to have been a major factor pushing Small Stemmed Point Tradition populations to utilize resource patches that were apparently marginal at other times. The long temporal duration of the Small Stemmed Point Tradition argues against models of cultural complexity that postulate increasing population density as a "prime mover" for the adaptation of hierarchical societies. As Woodburn suggests (1998) the differences between residentially mobile "immediate return" hunter-gatherers, as opposed to more sedentary "delayed return" economies have important implications in terms of socio-political organization and structure. Immediate return economies are more often egalitarian in comparison to delayed return economies in which some forms of permanent authority and hierarchical differentiation are found. The persistence of very stable cultural patterns, such as the Small Stemmed Point Tradition may therefore have its explanation in terms of individual choice and agency, favoring autonomous social relations.

  • Salsa and Everyday Life: Music and Community

    Author:
    Robert Siebert
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Ida Susser
    Abstract:

    Salsa is a musical form integrated into the fabric of Puerto Rican communities throughout the NY-NJ areas and beyond. I examine the production of Salsa in Newark NJ by working-class Puerto Ricans and other Latinos and the ways in which it affects the lives of the performers and the community itself. I explicitly look at the local level of salsa, the unknown performers for whom salsa is a way of life. Music is a significant feature of Puerto Rican and Latin American communities and a marker of their ethnicity nearly as strong as the Spanish language. I examine the history of salsa and how it has been connected to the rise in stature of Puerto Ricans on the mainland United States. Using music as a window into the local community, I am able to examine a variety of issues: the usage of music as work; the networks developed by the musicians and how they relate to more general networks of bonding between the men who play salsa; how salsa integrates multiple age groups while restricting the interaction of different racial groups; how salsa and other musical activities can provide assistance in social mobility; and how gendered issues act out in the context of salsa including ways in which the men who perform salsa may be using it to redefine machismo in a positive manner. I explore the social interaction among musicians through their rehearsals and performance. The musicians act as cultural reproducers for their local communities and are able to perpetuate characteristics that define what it means to be Puerto Rican. However, the reproduction of culture at the local level is a collective act where the audience participates in determining what aspects of Latino culture are reinforced. The research ends with an examination of how Puerto Ricans and Salsa are represented in the larger music industry and the contradictions that occur between the local and (inter)national production and promotion of music.

  • Salsa and Everyday Life: Music and Community

    Author:
    Robert Siebert
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Ida Susser
    Abstract:

    Salsa is a musical form integrated into the fabric of Puerto Rican communities throughout the NY-NJ areas and beyond. I examine the production of Salsa in Newark NJ by working-class Puerto Ricans and other Latinos and the ways in which it affects the lives of the performers and the community itself. I explicitly look at the local level of salsa, the unknown performers for whom salsa is a way of life. Music is a significant feature of Puerto Rican and Latin American communities and a marker of their ethnicity nearly as strong as the Spanish language. I examine the history of salsa and how it has been connected to the rise in stature of Puerto Ricans on the mainland United States. Using music as a window into the local community, I am able to examine a variety of issues: the usage of music as work; the networks developed by the musicians and how they relate to more general networks of bonding between the men who play salsa; how salsa integrates multiple age groups while restricting the interaction of different racial groups; how salsa and other musical activities can provide assistance in social mobility; and how gendered issues act out in the context of salsa including ways in which the men who perform salsa may be using it to redefine machismo in a positive manner. I explore the social interaction among musicians through their rehearsals and performance. The musicians act as cultural reproducers for their local communities and are able to perpetuate characteristics that define what it means to be Puerto Rican. However, the reproduction of culture at the local level is a collective act where the audience participates in determining what aspects of Latino culture are reinforced. The research ends with an examination of how Puerto Ricans and Salsa are represented in the larger music industry and the contradictions that occur between the local and (inter)national production and promotion of music.

  • DANCING WITH TRADITION: A GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF ODISSI DANCERS

    Author:
    Nandini Sikand
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Michael Blim
    Abstract:

    Abstract DANCING WITH TRADITION: A GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF ODISSI DANCERS by Nandini Sikand This dissertation is a multi-sited, ethnographic study conducted from 2005 to 2009 in six cities: Alexandria, VA, Bhubaneswar, Khajuraho, Kolkata, New Delhi, and New York, in two countries, India and the United States, and is centered on the narratives of Odissi dancers, dance gurus, performers, scholars, writers, presenters and institutional officials who have contributed to this changing dance form. By exploring the connections between an embodied practice that has formed at the intersection of colonial discourse, nationalist historiography and regional identity, I explore three fundamental questions: First, what notion of "tradition(s)" guides these practices, and how are they being recreated in a global context? Second, how do Odissi dancers engage with an embodied practice that has its roots in a ritual form, and is now performed nationally and transnationally? Finally, how has Odissi emerged as a cultural product within the context of a global market, since the institution of neoliberal policies in India in the early 90s? By studying this dance as a globalized phenomenon and practice, rather than a solely regional or historical one, I show Odissi to be a highly-produced, fluid and mobile medium that crosses boundaries, and is continuously reinvented. My argument is two-fold: first, there is a thriving global community of Odissi dancers who practice, teach and perform this dance form all over the world, yet this global community is one marked by broad variance and heterogeneity. Second, the practice of Odissi has changed over years to accommodate new contexts and audiences, and it continues to do so. This change is evident from its history, and is built into the cultural understanding and practice of Odissi as a form of expression, guided by traditions that are characterized more by fluidity, than fixity. The ethnographic findings and historical analysis presented in this study show that for many of these dancers the "performing body" is not only a site of aesthetic expression, but one that manifests myriad positionalities of gender, class and region, as it traverses multiple borders and subjective notions of belonging.

  • 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.

  • 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.