Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • An Ethnographic Perspective on Downtown Comedy in New York City

    Author:
    Amy Jones
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Vincent Crapanzano
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is based on an ethnographic investigation of the "downtown" or "alternative" comedy scene in New York City. Downtown comedy emerged as a production model for live performances in the mid-1990s, and its objective was to provide comics with opportunities to try out new or experimental material. Audiences were drawn to this quasi-workshopping environment by a low cost of admission, and an interest in seeing new work in its formative stages. As of this writing, the scene in New York is robust, and has cultivated a loyal fan base in addition to launching the careers of many well-known comics. Participants have successfully cultivated a social sphere that nurtures certain innovative forms of performance and social interaction. A central theoretical concern of the project was to better understand the mechanics and operation of linguistic performativity. Comedy entails a performative risk - audience members may be mobilized to empathy, appreciation, and even adulation, or they may reject the comic, resulting in ego-injury. Comics are thus enacting an existential drama of self-articulation, and how audience members relate to this drama serves to determine what constitutes efficacious or felicitous speech. Experimental comedy, moreover, can be highly provocative or transgressive, challenging deeply-rooted conceptual frameworks or social conventions. Such provocations often result in micro-scale crisis moments in the liminoid, leisure-oriented space of the performance venue. A "good" punchline, and the audience laughter that follows it, resonates as the explosive emergence of an entertaining public secret. Via a combination of ethnography and formal analysis, I trace the reception of specific jokes, the process of commodification of comics via live performances and mass media outlets, and the affective resonances that circulate within this self-described "community". I document the contributions of community members in developing and enforcing the criteria for what constitutes "comedic authority" in this context. I conclude that the transgressive dimension of this authority is often paired with the exercise of unmarked forms of social power. The fault lines of social power along which comics implicitly position themselves, and which are investigated here, include those of race, gender, sexuality, and mental health.

  • Nation-States, Capital Market Managers, and Sovereignty: An ethnographic case study in Malaysia

    Author:
    Laura Kaehler
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Jane Schneider
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is an ethnographic investigation of the restructuring of the Malaysian capital market in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98, showing how the calculative practices of financial experts intersect with the global financial regime, reformatting relations between subjects so as to create a forceful, indeed compelling scale of value. The ability to determine a forceful scale of value relates directly to how sovereignty, the ability to determine the state of exception, is held only by those networks with strong connections to “core states” which wield power as part of the regime–making “club” in global markets. I argue that an emergent “proto global state” plays an increasingly important role in structuring global financial markets. As developing states seek to engage this order, fund managers — key agents in developmental projects who are enmeshed in local and global racialized regimes — arbitrage between local capital regimes and global regimes and are able to mine value. In the case of Malaysia, their work reinforces and extends stratification in global markets. This is demonstrated by tracing the way that the success of the Malaysian state in promulgating growth has come through participation in the ongoing escalation of primitive accumulation and at the price of reinforcing an ongoing racial project of elites in the nation–state. Ethnographic investigation in Malaysia shows that the subjectivity and market making praxis of financial elites in this developing country mimic core country norms and expectations and, further, that the ability to present evidence of conspicuous cosmopolitanism in training, outlook and knowledge is a pre–requisite for success in fund management. The habitus of fund managers and the cycles of arbitraging opportunities engendered by elite networks in Malaysia support the conclusion that as financialization continues to reinforce difference and marginality, even while engaging networks across racial formations, racism will increase in importance among elites in emerging nation states.

  • "We are Refugees in Our Own Homeland": Land Dispossession and Resettlement Challenges in Post-Conflict Teso, Uganda

    Author:
    Matt Kandel
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Donald Robotham
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is based off of fieldwork that I conducted in post-conflict Teso region in northeastern Uganda from 2012-2013. It focuses primarily 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 argue that there are a number of drivers to land dispossession in the region, although the most structural impetus is fundamental transformations in the regional political economy. A central thrust of this work is that there is significant intra-regional differences with respect to patterns of displacement and resettlement. For instance, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), an Acholi-based insurgent group, infiltrated Amuria and Soroti districts in 2003, but did not seriously impact other districts. People from parishes in Teso that directly border the predominantly pastoralist region of Karamoja to the north have undergone a number of cycles of displacement/resettlement since the mid-1960s. While cattle raiders from Karamoja have devastated Teso for decades, there have been significant improvements in inter-regional piece within the last 5 years, and they have largely been due to the grassroots efforts of local civil society organizations. I critique the dynamics that underlie the long history of enmity between Teso and Karamoja regions, including the longstanding dispute over the correct inter-regional border. At the heart of this confounding problem--like most challenges facing Teso--is the issue of tenure rights to an increasingly fragmented supply of land.

  • Claiming Modernity through Aesthetics: A Comparative Look at Germany and Turkey

    Author:
    Banu Karaca
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Vincent Crapanzano
    Abstract:

    Claiming Modernity through Aesthetics: A Comparative Look at Germany and Turkey examines how modern nationhood is established and consolidated through the arts in two locations that are generally conceptualized as fundamentally different from each other. Based on over fourteen months of fieldwork this dissertation traces parallels and divergences in cultural policies, artistic practices and patronage systems. The study tries to move away from the notion of `lack' and belatedness in Turkish modernization by showing that in Germany similar preoccupations regarding the mutual expressiveness of art and modernity have existed. I argue that all historical specificities notwithstanding both the German and Turkish case exemplify struggles with the normativity of modern power, in which the interdependent projects of nationalism and modernity have impacted how the socio-political function of art is conceptualized. This approach allows for using art as a foil to discuss a variety of topics that range from the configuration of citizenship, national memory and censorship to the intertwinedness of economic dispossession and the composition of private and public art collections. At the center of this ethnographic interrogation are the paradoxes of modernity that manifest themselves in tensions between understandings of art as an universal human expression and a particularly national one; its role as a civilizing agent and its, at times, troubling uses in mass incitement; and between art as a deeply personal articulation, a common good - and - a commodity. I show that artworld actors in Berlin and Istanbul reconcile tensions arising from these contradictory understandings of art that comprise a variety of different commercial, private, public and political interests by referring to its purported civic impact. In this process sanctioned nationalized art histories and discourses of civic cultivation through the arts are frequently mobilized even by respondents who generally frame their (artistic) practices and understandings of art in opposition to these official discourses.

  • Bilingual Motherhood: Language and Identity among Japanese Mothers in New York City

    Author:
    Masako Kato
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Miki Makihara
    Abstract:

    Based on ethnographic research on bilingual motherhood in New York City, this dissertation explores language and identity among Japanese mothers who traverse the linguistic borders between Japanese and English and the cultural borders between Japan and the US. This study asks how mothers inquire and transform ideologies of language and gender. It also asks how these experiences affect the ways in which they organize language socialization and identity in the bilingual context. The methodology of this study included participant observation, formal and informal interviews, and recording naturalistic interactions between mother and child. Through observing and recording mother-child interactions, I learned and identified language socialization practices among the mothers. With the interviews, I did not originally intend to probe the mothers' identity issues in particular, but rather aimed to learn about their experiences of bilingual motherhood. The interviews nevertheless became examinations of these mothers' identity construction processes and practices because through their bilingual motherhood experiences, mothers manifest alternative and multiple identities both locally and transnationally. This study demonstrates that Japanese mothers construct their bilingual motherhood, including language socialization, through their experiences with Japanese and English. That is, Japanese mothers are empowered by being assigned the important role of Japanese language transmitter in the inner sphere (family) while they are marginalized by being labeled as incompetent English speakers and deficient English teachers for their children in the outer sphere (school). The mapping, however, is more complicated. Japanese often diminishes their authoritative status in the inner context when the mother-child relationship is challenged by children who know English better than their mothers and deride them. Accordingly, mothers' language socialization offers a site of tension and compromise between them, their children, and their children's schools. This study reveals that mothers constantly negotiate the traditional roles of Japanese wife and mother and the new roles of language transmitter and migrant mother in this foreign environment. It concludes that these mothers invent an "in-between" sphere in which they make sense of their bilingual motherhood and emerge with viable identities.

  • PERSONAL NARRATIVES OF WOMEN'S LEADERSHIP AND COMMUNITY ACTIVISM IN CHERKASY OBLAST

    Author:
    Martha Kebalo
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Gerald Creed
    Abstract:

    Ukraine's women's movement is part of a complex social field characteristic of formerly Soviet countries, but it also emerges from its own specific political history. Post-Soviet period, (neo-) nationalism, feminism and (neo-) socialism are significant forces shaping women's collective behavior. Their activism resonates with the pre-Soviet liberation struggle while it is shaped also by practices from the recent Soviet past. It also is sensitive to external pressures, including the agendas of Western aid and the Ukrainian diaspora. This study accepts the emergence of non-state women's organizations as indicative of an incipient movement and examines this field of social activism in Cherkasy, a largely rural province of central Ukraine. The inquiry proceeds from the heterogeneity of women's responses to Ukraine's post-Soviet transition, and from the premise that their various life experiences bear on their engagement in activism and choice of organizational commitment. The analysis probes issues of differential recruitment, personal presentations of self as activist, and ideological motivation for participation in projects often melding feminist, nationalist, and/or socialist goals. The spectrum of activism mirrors Ukraine's post-Soviet nation building crisis, and includes both conservative and transformational aspects. An optimistic trend is discerned in the practices of self-directed activist groups seeking affiliation with independent national women's federations and working outside of the para-statal structure that is heir to the Soviet women's councils. Personal narratives of activism reflect positions on gender and nation and suggest a Ukrainian feminist standpoint that is simultaneously supportive of both women's parity and post-Soviet national integrity.

  • Stories of Tin City: Narrative Identity and the Histories of Gejiu, Yunnan Province

    Author:
    Lara Kusnetzky
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Jane Schneider
    Abstract:

    "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics," the experiment with a socialist market economy, has brought unprecedented affluence, opportunities, and political freedom in the People's Republic of China, but also unprecedented unemployment, corruption, poverty, and crime. Retirees in Gejiu, a tin mining town in southwest China, narrate their life histories in this uncertain context, as they try to determine their place in the shifting present by means of the political concepts, historical narratives, and institutional locations they have acquired in the course of the decades. They frame their individual experiences within institutional constraints, such as work units, education, membership of the Communist Party, and class status, and make idiosyncratic use of the cumulative vocabulary of government policies and mass campaigns, and of the assembled storylines of official history. This dissertation examines the relationship between ideology and subject formation through a reconsideration of Communist discourse. The first four chapters of the dissertation analyze materials of successive national campaigns--a feature film about a miner who becomes a revolutionary, histories of the tin industry, biographies and autobiographies of miners, exhibitions about class struggle, and local gazetteers--to demonstrate how the Chinese Communist Party used the local landscape and details of local life to substantiate the universal truth of Marxist historiography and to confirm the legitimacy of the Communist government. The fifth chapter shows how Gejiu retirees today make selective use of this cumulative vocabulary of government policies and mass campaigns, and of the storylines of successive official histories of Gejiu, to give shape and meaning to their lives in the present. The analysis of the narrative identities of Gejiu retirees demonstrates not only that local residents take up Communist conceptions of self and society, as well as current and abandoned storylines of Communist discourse, but also that they produce diverse, alternative histories of the present in words and narratives intended by the Party to universalize individual experience.

  • Raising Children the American Way: Court-Mandated Parenting Education in Alameda, California

    Author:
    Nicole Laborde
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Shirley Lindenbaum
    Abstract:

    Based on ethnographic research in Alameda County, California, this dissertation examines the parenting practices and knowledge that are taught in court-mandated parenting classes along with those of parents enrolled in these classes. In California, two of the primary reasons that parents would be mandated to take classes are because of involvement with Child and Family Services (CFS) or in a custody dispute that reaches the courts. I argue that the different forms of knowledge and the practices advanced in the classes, at times consistent with, at times in conflict with those of the parents, reflect the demands and social responsibility of our current political and economic setting in the United States. The demands of a global market-driven economy require citizens who are self-disciplined, prepared to be flexible for the job market, schooled in the ways of a consumer society, and ready to accept responsibility for their own health and well-being ((Katz 2004), (Rose 1999), (Petersen and Lupton 1996)). I also suggest that this ideology rests on the authority of scientific and psychological research that is far from conclusive; it is the authority, rather than the information, that informs the values behind parenting advice. Further, I argue that the prevalent parenting approach, which is time-intensive and expensive, works to reinforce structural inequalities. Parents are the focus of much attention as the means to reverse many social problems including poverty, crime, ill health, and illiteracy. If parents could raise children with the appropriate morals, ambitions, and abilities, the thinking goes, children could grow up to be responsible, healthy, and middle class. As Sociologist Val Gillies phrases it, this assumption results in "a stream of initiatives designed to regulate childrearing as part of an almost evangelical drive to equip working-class parents with the skills to raise middle-class children" (Gillies 2005, 838). I have tried to show in this dissertation how parenting education is integral to this overall drive. I base my writing on two years of ethnographic research on parenting education in Alameda County, California. I attended classes of three different parenting organizations and conducted in-depth interviews with class participants, teachers, and program directors. I also read hundreds of parenting magazines and books, and had countless conversations with other parents, looking for advice for raising my own three-year-old daughter.

  • Analysis of the Carl Lumholtz Collection of Casas Grandes Ceramic Artifacts at The American Museum of Natural History

    Author:
    M Patricia Lee
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    William Parry
    Abstract:

    Abstract Analysis of the Carl Lumholtz Collection of Casas Grandes Ceramic Artifacts at the American Museum of Natural History by M. Patricia Lee Adviser: Professor William Parry The Carl Lumholtz Collection of Casas Grandes ceramic artifacts at the American Museum of Natural History, with its complete and exact provenience, is the most comprehensive and diverse collection of Casas Grandes ceramics available to researchers in a United States or Canadian museum. This collection was excavated during Lumholtz's expedition of 1890-1891 to northern Chihuahua in Mexico. None of the museum collections outside of Mexico provide the data specificity of the Lumholtz Collection. The artifacts analyzed in my dissertation were excavated in Cave Valley and from under the floors of ruined pueblos in the vicinity of San Diego, 10 miles south of Paquimé (Casas Grandes). While many of the collections of looted artifacts in museums have greatly enhanced our knowledge of the past, these collections may present a distorted picture of Casas Grandes ceramics since they consist of vessels chosen for their "aesthetic appeal to collectors" (Kelley, et al. 2011:214). Forgeries pose another threat to the efficacy of museum research. The Mesoamerican versus North American origins argument for the fluorescence of the Casas Grandes Medio Period (1200-1450 A.D.) has been hotly debated for decades. Many scholars hold that the key to answering this question lies within the unique ceramic assemblages, since the design elements carry many stylized representations that can be correlated with Mesoamerican as well as Southwestern culture zones. Yet, theories centered on the ceramic assemblages are often based solely upon design elements present in United States and Canadian museum collections that have meager documentation. This study seeks to remedy that void. Chapter 1 sets the stage for the Casas Grandes Culture Zone while Chapters 2 and 3 elucidate early work in the region. Chapter 4 and 5 cover theoretical issues and Chapters 6 and 7 contain a comprehensive analysis of the Lumholtz Collection Casas Grandes ceramics. Chapter 8 offers my conclusions and a view toward future research. Appendix I through Appendix III provide visual references. The Lumholtz Collection of Casas Grandes ceramics at the American Museum of Natural History creates a unique opportunity to study an assemblage that is well documented and legally acquired by a U.S. museum.

  • STRATIFIED REPRODUCTION AND DEFINITIONS OF CHILD NEGLECT: STATE PRACTICES AND PARENTS' RESPONSES

    Author:
    Tina Lee
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Leith Mullings
    Abstract:

    This dissertation focuses on the day-to-day decision-making practices and definitions of child neglect used in the child welfare system and on parents' experiences with child welfare cases and their attempts to regain custody of children placed in foster care. It is guided by an overarching concern with how and to what extent state practices build on and recreate inequalities of race, class, and gender. It also seeks to add to our understanding of state efforts to shape the lives and behaviors of poor women of color in the contemporary United States and of state change under neoliberalism. My purpose is to examine how child welfare decisions are made, to understand on what basis they are made, and to see how these decisions are related to and reproduce larger inequalities. I understand reproduction as "political" (in the sense of being inextricably bound up with power and inequalities of power; see Ginsburg & Rapp 1991) and employ the term "stratified reproduction" to discuss the conditions under which some categories of women are valued and supported in bearing and raising children while others are not (Ginsburg & Rapp 1995). Everyday practices in child welfare empower or disempower women (and men) to carry out their caretaking work through the legal processes that grant custody of children to some and not to others based on notions of what the proper care of children entails and what kinds of individuals proper parents should be. Child welfare is thus a key arena for drawing lines between "fit" and "unfit" parenting and these often fall along lines of race, class, and gender. Consequently, I see the child welfare system as integral to the production and reproduction of stratified reproduction. Drawing on observations in family court and at support groups for parents, interviews with child welfare decision-makers, and interviews with and a survey of parents with children in foster care, I argue that the child welfare system both builds on and directly reproduces relations of stratified reproduction as well as race, class, and gender inequality.