Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The Digital Diaspora in Sunset Park: Information and Communication Technologies in Brooklyn's Chinatown

    Author:
    Sarah Williams
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Michael Blim
    Abstract:

    My thesis is that, contrary to expectations that working-class Chinese immigrants would have less access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) and fewer skills in using them, struggling immigrants to Brooklyn's Chinatown are skilled at using ICTs and do so on a daily basis, in ways that enrich their relationships and transnational participation. They are able to do this despite the severe limitations that ethnic enclave employment places on their time and opportunities, in part because of heavy use of affordable internet cafes in the neighborhood. Building on a growing body of literature on new media and diaspora, this thesis explores the implications for citizenship, belonging, identity, and kinship of the adaptive ways that working- class newcomers in Sunset Park find to acquire and use digital technologies. While the access they manage to achieve connects them to a larger circle of news, ideas, people, and learning opportunities than they would otherwise encounter, it does not eliminate the oppressive structural disadvantages they face. Much of the existing research on overseas Chinese in the U.S. (as well as mainstream media) focus either on elites, especially on their high educational attainment, or, on the other hand, on the economic struggles and systemic obstacles faced by Chinatown residents. These miss some of the richness of the everyday patterns and strategies, the sacrifices and ingenuity that `downtown Chinese' -- in this case residents of Brooklyn -- use to squeeze more out of their limited resources and leisure time and to construct new lives that remain connected to the past. The high level of computer use and ownership I found is connected to the emphasis people place on nurturing family ties and ensuring the success of the next generation. The chain migration process links families, and sustaining the transnational ties that made immigration possible is a big part of the communication styles in this community. These include placing voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls at a higher rate than the national average and even buying computers with that purpose in mind. This dissertation documents the intensity and sociality of ICT use in Sunset Park, which rarely occurs in the workplace, accentuating the importance of home ownership in the process, and of internet cafes, especially for young men. I also take up the censuring discourse about cafes, its connections to China and to the specter of internet addiction, analyzing the negative imaginary surrounding activity in these public spaces. There is an age and gender divide on evidence in the youth and masculinity of the internet cafes, but this does not reflect actual computer use in the home. That is documented with a `day in the life' portrait of a typical extended, three-generation household, which shows how sharing computers and using them in shared space can create a family bond. Statistical data from the National Science Foundation have previously shown that Asians have the highest rate of computer use of any ethnic group in the U.S., across all income levels, and this `portrait' demonstrates what that looks like by documenting the daily media practices of low-income Chinese in New York. Levels of formal education in the community are generally quite low; many lacked the resources to complete a secondary school education, yet still learned enough to have a relatively high rate of digital literacy. Reading Chinese-language newspapers was the number one activity people reported doing online, and many read print newspapers as well. Other specific online behaviors are part of my analysis, including competitive gaming as a social experience and learning opportunity, along with the differences between the first and second generation in the ways they communicate. There are also some important limitations on how Sunset Park residents use computer technology, with more of a focus on entertainment and social media than national averages and less interest in cultural capital enhancing activities. This secondary digital divide is explored, along with related language issues. I found people to be very active on the Chinese social networking service QQ and avid consumers of Chinese language media, which help them stay informed and maintain close ties with friends and family but can also perpetuate a focus on existing social networks and limit development of English language skills. Heavy use of QQ's services may also limit exposure to information not readily offered by this `gatekeeper' portal, similar to the way that America Online did for English-speaking users during its dominant years in the early days of the internet. Overall, I conclude with a cautiously positive assessment of the role of the internet in working-class immigrant Chinese communities. Notwithstanding the hurdles people confront in their everyday lives and employment - and the negative discourse surrounding the youthful clients of internet cafes -- my data from Sunset Park, collected in both these cafes and in homes, demonstrate a range of benefits from internet use. Informants reported daily online activities and computer-mediated communication practices that enhance their limited leisure time and personal relationships. This high level of ICT use is no panacea, however, for reducing a structured social inequality that is a fact of life in ethnic enclaves like Sunset Park.

  • With Mixed Feelings: Negotiating Coloured Identity in Post-Apartheid South Africa

    Author:
    Janette Yarwood
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Anthropology
    Advisor:
    Leith Mullings
    Abstract:

    Mixed Feelings: Examining Coloured Identities in Post-Apartheid South Africa is a study of the historically "mixed-race" group that was officially classified as coloured under apartheid. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the racial hierarchy that regulated social relations in white-ruled South Africa has broken down, undermining basic assumptions and practices at the foundation of this ethno-racial category. This dissertation explores the diverse ways that coloured people construct and reconstruct colouredness: appropriating and layering various aspects of the past and the present--race, class, ethnicity, place and popular culture--to fashion identities that invoke apartheid constructions of coloured identity while affording opportunities to forge new identities that respond to the new, post-apartheid moment. The dissertation is based on two years of ethnographic research conducted in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg between 2005 and 2008. In Mixed Feelings, I approach the study of coloured identity on multiple levels. I am interested in how the coloured community identifies from within as well as how it is identified from without; thus, in addition to extensive interviews, I analyze census data, published reports concerning the current economic profiles of different racial groups in South Africa, crime statistics, as well as data gathered from media sources such as local television, newspapers, and websites. This dissertation, focusing on race, ethnicity, class, globalization, and popular culture in South Africa, seeks to place these historical dynamics in a broader context through comparisons with both the United States and the Caribbean. Based on this data, I address the particular techniques coloured people use to negotiate the coloured category within the new social, political and economic realities of contemporary South Africa. I am also concerned with understanding the strategies used by coloured activists and organizers and other South Africans to keep coloured people locked within the coloured category. By revealing the challenges coloured people face as they try to negotiate colouredness in contemporary South Africa, this dissertation contributes to theoretical discussions that ask how people negotiate their identity under conditions that limit their choices.