Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • From Muslim Citizen to Christian Minority: Tolerance, Secularism and Armenian Return Conversions in Turkey

    Author:
    Ceren Ozgul
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Talal Asad
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the manner in which Turkish secularism has come to delimit, define, and calibrate minority religious practices as well as citizenship policies by tracing different categories of the secular and the religious in Turkey. It is an ethnographic study of conversion from Islam to (Armenian) Christianity, among the converted Armenian community in Istanbul. Since early 1990s, hundreds of citizens claiming Armenian descent have submitted petitions to Turkey's secular legal authorities to change their existing name and religion in the public records. They trace their ancestry to Christian Ottoman Armenians who converted to Islam during the genocide of 1915. Given that the Turkish state refuses to recognize the genocide, the return conversion of Islamized Armenians points to the violence that is still largely unmentionable. This project is a case study of the nature of secular tolerance, and the notions through which it is discussed in Turkey: justice, legal reform, and genocide recognition. It is also an ethnographic study of the descendents of the forcibly Islamized Armenians and their return conversions through an examination of accompanying court cases and conversion procedures, participant observation in several Armenian churches, interviews with converts and their lawyers, court officials and Armenian clergy of different ranks. I explore in detail the process of claiming Armenianness. These return conversions provide a unique perspective for understanding the crisis of citizenship in the heart of Turkish secularism; simultaneously they illustrate the recent shifts in the identities of the citizens under the government of Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi or AKP (Justice and Development Party) since the early 2000s.

  • The development and function of the nasopharynx and its role in the evolution of primate respiratory abilities

    Author:
    Anthony Pagano
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Jeffrey Laitman
    Abstract:

    The nasopharynx is a centrally located region of the upper respiratory tract (URT) integral to several physiological functions. However, few have focused on this area within the context of human evolution. This study investigated osseous morphology, soft tissue histology, development, and evolutionary change of the nasopharynx. Multimodal analyses were performed: Analysis 1: This study tested hypotheses on the morphological relationships of the osseous nasopharyngeal boundaries with the splanchnocranium and basicranium among dry crania representing humans and non-human primates using 3D geometric morphometrics (3D-GM). Results showed that humans, the most orthognathic group, exhibited the widest nasopharynges. Over human development, the nasopharynx grows vertically taller and anteroposteriorly shorter while the path of the cartilaginous Eustachian tube (CET) grows longer and more vertically oriented. Timing of these growth changes coincide with changes in frequency of otitis media. Analysis 2: The nasopharynx was hypothesized to warm and humidify air only via its bony, non-contractile surfaces. Air conditioning capacity was assessed by presence of submucosal blood vessels, mucous cells, and serous cells on histological slides of nasopharyngeal surfaces. Results indicated that all of these microstructures were present on all nasopharyngeal surfaces, rather than being restricted to non-conctractile bony surfaces. Analysis 3: Ambient climate was hypothesized to influence URT growth. Two groups of adult male Macaca mulatta raised in Oregon (cold climate) and California (warm climate) outdoor colonies were used. CT imaging and 3D-GM were performed. Results revealed no shape differences but the Oregon individuals exhibited larger airway size and smaller body mass than the California individuals. Thus being raised in cold climates appears related to development of larger URT proportions relative to body size. Analysis 4: Nasopharyngeal morphology of fossil hominins, including Neanderthals and mid-Pleistocene Homo (MPH) from Europe and Africa, were reconstructed using 3D coordinate data and analyzed via 3D-GM. Neanderthals exhibited greater CET length than MPH and modern humans while the horizontal CET orientation of Neanderthals resembled the human infant condition. Results strongly suggest that Neanderthals possessed CET morphology and physiology distinct from modern humans, likely impacting susceptibility to middle ear disease and supporting species-level distinction.