Prior Grants

2022-23 Field Research Grants

Project Title: Sharpening the Honey Adze: Using the Rock Art of Iringa and Mbeya to Understand the Role of Honey in Catalyzing Cross-Community Connection 

Honey pervades 20th century East African ethnographies as a source of economic and social bonds between groups who follow different subsistence strategies. As East African archaeology becomes increasingly interested in modeling, “economic mosaics” between foragers, agriculturalists, and pastoralists, honey promises to be a revealing site of investigation into the structure of cross-community relationships. Unfortunately, insect remains, and related artifacts preserve poorly and are difficult to distinguish in the archaeological record. However, a newly documented rock art site in the Iringa Region of Tanzania, contains a wealth of honey-related iconography. This site, Mazombe rock shelter, has the potential to act as a “Rosetta Stone” for honeybee rock art because many of the motifs it reveals to be honey-themed are found throughout East African rock art. This could potentially lead to a vast expansion of the amount of rock art able to comment on honey and its social consequences. In order to enable honey’s essential role in constructing East African “economic mosaics” to become a site of archaeological investigation, this project will document, analyze, and sequence Mazombe and nearby site’s rock art in order to reveal patterns of cross-community interaction. 

Rachel George is an archaeology PhD student in the anthropology department at the University of Chicago. She works on documenting and interpreting Kenya and Tanzania’s incredible rock art heritage. Her research emphasizes engaging local communities as co-producers of archaeological knowledge and creating sustainable conservation plans for rock art sites that rely on systems of local stewardship.

Project Title: Do Words Matter in International Relations? Diplomatic Rhetoric and Credible Signaling

In March 2009, in the runup to the first summit meeting between UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and U.S. President Barack Obama, the White House made a seemingly crucial mistake. Speaking from the podium, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dared to say that the two countries had a “special partnership,” a deviation from the traditional moniker of “special relationship.” Immediately, British diplomats and the press scrambled to find meaning in this switch and to lodge protests about the perceived insult. Why did the British care so much about such a small change? Despite being overlooked in much of the international relations literature, it is clear from diplomatic incidents like this that in the daily practice of foreign policy, words really do matter. In my dissertation, I show that this is because even small wording choices are signals of state intentions. Introducing the concept of bureaucratic costliness, I argue that far from being cheap talk, the process of crafting and shifting state rhetoric actually involves significant investments of time, energy, and political will. Using a broad, multimethod approach, including interviews with State Department officials, computational text analysis, and archival work, I investigate how and why states use rhetoric to send and receive credible signals about their foreign policy intentions. 

Jenna Gibson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago in the subfield of International Relations. Her research interests include: foreign policy rhetoric, public and cultural diplomacy, South Korean politics and social issues, and U.S.-Korea relations. Jenna was a regular contributor to the Korea column for The Diplomat for three years, and has also written about Korean politics and social issues for media outlets like Foreign Policy and NPR, and for think tanks like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She also speaks regularly about these issues, including for outlets such as The New Yorker, the BBC, and for organizations such as the Center for American Progress and The Korea Society. Before pursuing her doctorate, Jenna was Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). She previously lived for two years in Cheonan, South Korea as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Jenna earned a Master of Science in Foreign Service degree from Georgetown University in 2015, and a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2011. 

Project Title: Giving the Street the Last Word 

Since 2011, popular uprisings in the Middle East have successfully forced out authoritarian rulers but failed to fully dislodge authoritarian systems of rule. The Sudanese Uprising of 2019, which successfully ended the 30-year reign of Omar al-Bashir now finds itself in similar circumstances to Egypt and Tunisia, which saw their democratic openings forestalled by military or political elites who carried out promissory coups in the name of preventing economic or civil strife. Despite continued protests across the nation by a decentralized network of resistance committees and the efforts of international organizations, the military remains firmly in control. Sudan’s case and the lack of other examples of democratic transition among the post 2011 Arab Uprisings raises a question: what makes the transitional process so fragile? Why did Sudan’s military coup seem inevitable less than two years after the country’s transition to democracy began and how can protesters fight to get it back on track? Finally, are popular uprisings, while able to force out authoritarian rulers, unable to fully dislodge authoritarian systems of rule? 

Walker Gunning is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science specializing in comparative politics. His research interests include unfinished revolutions, and the ways revolutionary groups seek to maintain their political influence during the post-uprising transitional period and beyond. He is currently working on his dissertation "Giving The Street the Last Word: Protest and Counter-Revolution in Sudan" supervised by Lisa Wedeen (Chair), Susan Stokes, and Cathy Cohen. 

Walker holds a master's degree in Political Science from The University of Chicago, a master's degree in Near Eastern Studies from New York University (NYU), and a bachelor's degree in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies from NYU. He is the former executive director of CPOST, a research center at the University of Chicago, the former associate editor of, a website covering the Middle East, and has previously worked on independent and documentary films, including an Oscar-nominated documentary short. 

Project Title: The Participatory Foundations of Democracy in New England: Institutional Innovation, Political Legitmiation, and Popular Domincation during the Colonial Era 

My dissertation project investigates the participatory foundations of democracy in the colony of Massachusetts. It analyzes the relationship between the analytically distinct but temporally interconnected processes of institutional innovation, political legitimation, and popular domination by studying the formation, diffusion, and transformation of the institutional mechanisms based on popular participation. In particular, the project attempts to explore the following questions: Why were these various institutional mechanisms based on popular participation created in the first place? Why did the freemen continue to participate regularly in these institutions throughout the colonial era despite the revocation of their initial charter and then the granting of the seemingly more restrictive charter in 1691? What was the source of their motivation amid all social, economic, political, and military transformations? What kind of values and principles guided their collective action? Where did the legitimacy of the participatory institutional mechanisms as well as their collective action spring from? In the end, why did the ordinary New Englanders’ participation in these institutional mechanisms constitute a legitimate form of collective action? 

Can Mert Kökerer is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Chicago. His research interests include democracy, popular politics, and participatory institutions. 

Project Title: Toxified Dreams: Environmental Contamination, the Body, and Visions of Survivable Futures in the Mexicali/Calexico Region of the US-Mexico Border 

When the New River flows across the US-Mexico border—north from the industrial Mexican city of Mexicali into Imperial Valley, a desert region in southeastern California—it carries with it a myriad of hazardous waste products. In my dissertation, I start from the premise that the New River watershed offers an exceptionally rich site for understanding the entanglements between environmental toxification, twentieth-century North American nation-building, transnational circuits of economic production, and the ways that these things shape future imaginaries on both sides of the US-Mexico border. I take the toxified body as a unit of analysis, asking: what insight might be gained into the North American capitalist system by using the everyday bodily fallout of the New River’s flow—from a rare cancer growing in the body of a Mexicali resident to the stomach ailments of an attempted New River border-crosser—as a starting point, and then tracing this up, from body to river to maquiladora/farm to parent company to transnational spending of profits? What sorts of futures do these toxic body burdens curtail for some, and open up for others? And what insight might an investigation into these transnational entanglements provide into the challenges of building a truly equitable future in the face of global warming? 

Reed McConnell is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology researching the relationship between environmental contamination and imaginaries of the future in the Imperial/Mexicali Valley region of the US-Mexico border. She holds an MA in Cultural Theory and History from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and her broader research interests include environmental contamination, green futures, post-apocalyptic imaginaries, militarism, narrativity, anarchism, and aesthetics. She is also a writer and translator whose essays have appeared in publications including Cabinet, The Baffler, Public Books, and The Point.  

Project Title: Understanding Informal Labor in the Global South 

The rise and persistence of informality in the Indian labor force has intensified inequality among the urban poor. Broadly, the informal economy refers to all income generating activities beyond official state regulation. Against the backdrop of an economy where 92% of the labor force is in the informal sector, the objective of this project is to explain how inequality engendered by informal labor conditions manifests in urban India. I aim to do this through ethnographic case studies of specific sectors in the informal economy. Gender forms a central focus of the project since the informal labor workforce largely comprises women engaged in unpaid and emotional labor in the household.  

Priyanjali Mitra is a second year Ph.D. student in Sociology at the University of Chicago. She holds an MSc from the University of Oxford and a BA (Hons.) from University of Delhi in sociology. Her research interests lie at the intersection of gender, urban and economic sociology with a focus on issues of labour in cities in the Global South. Previously she has worked in the development sector in a range of organizations- consultancies, multi laterals and grassroots advocacy groups in South and South East Asia.  

Project Title: Communities of Difference: Neighborhood life in contested Jerusalem 

Contemporary cities are rife with conflicts, emerging out of tensions between the built environment, national sovereignty, and social, cultural, and ethnic identities. Globalization, immigration, financial and political crises, and violence made cities’ circumstances particularly precarious. These processes add to external pressures cities face, from political interests, cultural discourses, economic stakes, religious beliefs, and symbolic interpretations. These pressures not only influence urban development, but also shape the local everyday life of residents. Thus, it is essential to explore how urban communities negotiate issues, dilemmas, and tensions arising under contemporary conditions. Among these is neighborhood “diversity,” referring to the ways residents interact within and between groups in urban everyday life. Exploring neighborhoods in Jerusalem, this ethnographic project seeks to discover How do civically engaged residents make sense of diversity in their local urban community and in the city, given political, national, ethnic, and religious tensions? It seeks to understand how people perceive their neighbors within and across neighborhoods to shed light on the dynamics between everyday life and its contested urban context. It looks to examine the lived experiences of diversity through residents’ perceptions and practices, to distill how local communities make sense of the broader global, national, and urban discourses.  

Noa Neumark is a PhD student at the Department of Sociology. Her work focuses on questions of identity, belonging, and difference in contested political and urban settings. She is particularly interested in exploring how neighborhood residents in Jerusalem make sense of diversity in their local urban community and in the city, given political, national, ethnic, and religious tensions. In previous work she examined the politics of archaeology and knowledge-based activism in Israel/Palestine.  

Project Title: Women in War and Peace: Transnational Activism and the Politics of Gender in a Post-Cold War World 

The so-called “women, peace, and security” (WPS) agenda was inaugurated in 2000 by UN Security Council resolution at a historical moment when media coverage, particularly in Bosnia and Rwanda, had prompted a shift in international public consciousness toward gender-based atrocities. The architects of the agenda, a loose framework for policy and action, framed violence against women as both humanitarian crisis and security threat that undermined chances for lasting peace in conflict-affected places, calling for an end to gendered violence as a weapon of war and advocating for women’s participation in peacebuilding processes and post-conflict governing arrangements. This project examines transnationally networked activism, discourse, and practice (technocratic, therapeutic) under the banner of WPS in relation to various projects of self-positioning—of states, funding bodies, activists, ‘victims’—vis-à-vis an international community constructed in a liberal humanitarian idiom. Questions motivating the project include: how do technical agendas designed for broad application shift and modulate as they are transported to 'conflict-affected' terrain? How and why do feminist activists embrace tools of technocratic governance in their quest to bring about social and political change? How does WPS, a recent innovation in women’s transnational movement building that makes scant references to its antecedents, nevertheless serve as a site of encounters that resonate historically? What are the implications (epistemic and managerial) of WPS’s discursive efforts to map war onto individual female body and diagnose bodily trauma at the level of the population? Finally, how does a project like WPS reposition polities and people in a shifting 21st-century global geography? 

Helena is a first-year PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She holds an MSc in Migration Studies from the University of Oxford and a BA in History and German from the University of Michigan. She is interested in the afterlives of Yugoslav state socialism and the history and anthropology of human rights, humanitarianism, and development. Her project investigates transnational women’s activism as a site in which various forms of post-Cold War internationalism are formulated and enacted. Prior to graduate school, she worked in women’s human rights organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, and Sweden.  

Project Title: Sculpting the Image of Man and Woman: Art, Bodies, and the Formation of the Aesthetic State in Wilhelmine Germany and Meiji Japan, 1890-1914

The nature of the Japanese-German relationship in the nineteenth century is in many ways unprecedented. Neither predicated on a formal colonial relationship nor bound to a Occident-Orient power dynamic, their connection can be characterized by a sense of mutually intelligible cultural kinship. This affinity can perhaps be explained by the nations’ relatively late participation in industrialization and imperialism, a desire to combat the spiritually suffocating forces of modernity, and the experience of a profound rupture between the expectation and reality of modernization—a crisis that hinged on the dizzying paradox of reconciling cultural particularity with global modernity. The formation of the Axis Alliance and the aftermath of WWII dominate the existing corpus of German-Japanese studies, casting a major influence over academic interpretations of the nations’ relationship. Often cited as a kind of “hollow alliance” rooted in mere geopolitical convenience, this limited conception fails to account for the formative nature of the nations’ transcultural exchanges preceding wartime. My research reframes the origins of their relationship through the lens of cultural-intellectual engagement; it will consider the authority of German philosophy in the formation of modern Japanese aesthetic discourse, and the ways in which it informed analogous national projects to redefine the feminine and masculine ideal by essentializing the spirit (Geist / 魂 [tamashii]) of a race. The tension between modern and romantic visions of the nation were negotiated and articulated on the corporeal body, demonstrating the catastrophic synthesis of aesthetic sensitivity and scientific strength that characterized German and Japanese thought.  

Shirin M. Sadjadpour (she/her) is a PhD student in the history department with a focus on aesthetic and intellectual exchanges between Wilhelmine Germany and Meiji Japan. More broadly, her research interrogates the nations' pre-war parallels by examining the mediation of tradition and modernity in material culture, art, and architecture amidst comparable efforts to assert cultural particularity on the international stage.  

Project Title: Liberalism sans Pluralism: Middle Class Politics and the Creation of a New India 

A rise in middle-classes is traditionally viewed as a positive force in democratizing political cultures. Contrary to this understanding, growth in the middle-class in postcolonial global south is correlated with democratic backsliding. In my field site India, social scientists observe a similar correlation. The Indian middle-class has grown five times in population between 2004 and 2014. This growth is correlated with the rise of the Bhartiya Janata Party known for propagating anti-democratic and authoritarian politics. Focusing on understanding why and how this correlation occurs, I use a person centered, qualitative and bottom-up approach to understand how the Indian middle-classes develop and maintain their political cultures? What kind of political identities do they espouse and to what extent can these cultures be characterized anti-democratic? My research has so far focused on studying how urban middle-class BJP supporters aspiring to cosmopolitan liberalism end up supporting conservative, illiberal politics. To expand the realm of middle-class political cultures, I am going to spend the summer interviewing and observing Aam Aadmi Party supporters (A centrist-populist party) in New Delhi to examine the kind of political ideas they find attractive. 

I am a PhD student in the Department of Comparative Human Development, operating at the intersection of political sociology and social psychology. I am primarily interested in how individual’s form their political and ideological identities and how their relationship with nationalism, nationhood and geographical identity is shaped over time. I have been thinking of these questions in the context of India. With it’s almost eighty years of ongoing project in nation building, the Indian state has recently seen a transition from secular to religiously nationalistic politics. Through a life history and life course lens, I study how Indians of several different kinds have lived through and participated in this transition and what we can understand about macro-level shifts in Indian politics by studying these individual political identity formations at the micro-level. A broader aim is to understand how political and social injustices persist in the face of modernization and liberalization of cultures under a nation state. 

Project Title: Democratic Discord: Why and How Leaders and Bureaucrats Fight over Foreign Policy

How does the interaction between elected leaders and bureaucrats impact foreign policymaking? Political scientists in American and comparative politics have shown that the relationship between leaders and bureaucrats is often plagued by suspicion, fear, and rivalry. Yet when and how the relationship between a leader and the foreign policy bureaucracy turns sour remains undertheorized in international relations, as are the foreign policy implications thereof. Using a comparative case study approach, I trace the implications of leader-bureaucracy conflict through archival materials and interviews with policymakers and bureaucrats in India, the United States, and other democracies with substantial foreign policy establishments. I argue that leaders want to maximize their control over foreign policy choices with the fewest concessions possible to other elites, including bureaucrats. When leaders and foreign policy bureaucrats are at odds, leaders may reduce the autonomy of the bureaucracy, reallocate personnel and other resources, alter bureaucratic norms, or sideline deliberative bodies to ensure their decisions are faithfully implemented. The strategies leaders select will depend on leaders’ pre-tenure beliefs about trustworthiness of the country’s foreign policy bureaucrats and the political consolidation of the bureaucracy.  

Emily Tallo is a Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on the domestic politics of international relations and democratic foreign policy behavior, with a regional focus on South Asia. Her dissertation research is on the conflictual dynamics between leaders and foreign policy bureaucrats in democracies. Formerly, she was a researcher at the Stimson Center’s South Asia program in Washington, DC. Her commentary has been featured in Foreign Policy, The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, War on the Rocks, The Wire, and The Diplomat. She holds a B.S. in International Studies from Indiana University and an M.A. in political science from the University of Chicago. 

Project Title: Pig People: an interspecies story of chimerical emergence 

Over the course of the second half of the 20th century, scientific, economic, and agricultural enmeshments between the US and China enabled the emergence of the global grain-oilseed-livestock complex. Today, pigs are the lynchpin of the world’s livestock industry, making up 40% of global meat consumption by the pound. Around half of the world’s present pig production and consumption occurs in the PRC, reliant on methods of production largely developed and owned by US/UK based agribusinesses. However, the “purebreds” that Chinese industrial pig farmers now purchase at a premium from these businesses are in fact derived from Sino-European hybrids created in England, Sweden, and Denmark during the late 1800’s to meet the year-round demand of the industrializing meat market—hybrids whose qualities of accelerated reproduction were derived from that of their Chinese ancestors.1 So how did Chinese and American people end up eating the same pig? My project explores this question by tracing the emergence, circulation, and consumption of three iconic pigs: the American-scientific lean-meat hog, the Maoist “fertilizer factory,” and the chimerical CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) pig. 

Niu Teo is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago (History, 2018). They are writing a history of the global pig. 

Project Title: An International Perspective on Brazilian Economic Policy from the "Miracle" to the Debt Crisis 

The goal of this research is to use Brazil as a case study in the transformation of global economic paradigms of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which encompasses the delegitimation of developmentalism and the rise of what is frequently referred to as “neoliberalism” or “Washington consensus.” Brazil offers a particularly rich prism through which to examine those changes: it was one of most important developing countries in the world in the mid-20th century, and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, adopted economic policies that produced some impressive results. In the early 1980s, however, the country faced a severe debt crisis. The project will describe how the Brazilian authorities navigated the complex waters of the 1970s and 1980s and how they interacted with international organizations in that process. The project also intends to discuss how those organizations, as well as the American government, evaluated Brazilian economic policies in that moment of crisis and uncertainty, and what this can tell us about the formation of a new global economic consensus. The project will make use of sources from the Brazilian and the American governments, as well as from organizations like the IMF and the World Bank.  

Eduardo Romero received a BA in History from the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp), Brazil, where he did research on Ronald Reagan's labor policy, and he was an exchange student at the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Spain. He received an MPhil in Economic and Social History from the University of Cambridge, UK, where he compared Reagan and Thatcher's trade union policies. He is now doing research on the relationship between Brazil and international organizations during the 1970s and 1980s, focusing on how Brazilian economic policy was evaluated in the global arena. He is interested mainly in Brazilian history, American history, and the history of capitalism.  

Project Title: Democracy in Movement: Party Decay and the Reconfiguration of Electoral Competition under Conflict 

This dissertation inquiries into the decay of parties and the reconfiguration of electoral competition in contexts of internal violence. It asks three questions: 1) How does a democratic context in which parties were central organizing forces work without them? 2) How are political identities constructed and politics organized in such a context? 3) What are the forms of organizing, mobilizing, and contesting for power in the absence of strong parties? By leveraging on subnational variation, it studies these questions using intermediate cities in Colombia. The literature on conflict has played special attention to rural contexts, and to the expressions of violence in urban metropolitan centers. This dissertation opens ground through a comparative analysis of intermediate cities; those where the realities of conflict and modernization compete most tightly to create new political realities. In such contexts, civil society is not obliterated by violent actors, there is a degree of protection granted by state institutions with some capacity and international networks that channel resources. In other words, this dissertation builds an account of the democratic expansion of the 1990s, accompanied by the entry of new players and logics into institutional politics, and the weakening of the praised-to-be central democratic institutions, political parties. 

Nicolás Torres-Echeverry is a Ph.D. student in the sociology department, interested in processes of political change and stability. His research centers on the democratic opening tied to third-wave democracies and the forms of contesting for power that have emerged in Global South countries after the transition. He is particularly interested in understanding the social units that hold mobilization capacity and how they configure and reconfigure into different aggregates. From this perspective, he argues that political parties can be decomposed into smaller social units that have more explanatory potential to understand political stability and change. He understands the recent decentralizing forces for political action—like social media—as forces that reconfigure the political units. He contends that the processes of democratic transition are linked to forms of current democratic backsliding, and that the current weakening of political parties forces us to look at the other forms of mobilizing, contesting, and organizing to compete for power, pushing for a transformation of how we usually think about politics and mobilization in democracies. 

Project Title: Roman Market Integration, 4th-Early 7th c. CE 

The project "Roman Market Integration, 4th-Early 7th c. CE" attempts to trace the movement of goods from the Mediterranean into late Roman provinces on the Balkan peninsula, largely in the modern states of Bulgaria and Romania. Far from being poorly-connected remote backwaters, sites on the Black Sea and along the Danube were connected to major centers and far-flung regions, evinced by the significant amount of imports found in the archaeological record. This points to the central question of this project: How well-connected were these provinces with the wider Mediterranean world? To begin to answer this question, quantitative ceramics data from known archaeological sites will be used to reconstruct flows of goods, identifying trade links for various products and measuring their intensity, consistency, and duration (i.e., "trade-thickness"). In doing so, this project aims to introduce much-needed quantitative assessments to studies of ancient economic integration and connectivity. Previous studies have described ancient connectivity in qualitative terms, offering subjective assessments like "strong" or "weak.” In analyzing archaeological data quantitatively, this project will provide a basis for re-evaluating these assessments and furthering our understanding of the specific degrees to which various provincial cities, military sites, and peripheral regions were connected on a larger scale.

Claire Watson is an underwater archaeologist and PhD candidate at the University of Chicago. Their scholarly interests include economic anthropology, the informal economy, and ancient ceramics. Their dissertation research seeks to analyze the material culture of the Late Roman Balkan provinces to understand ancient economics, trade, and materially-driven sociality along imperial peripheries. They hold a BA in Classics from Duke University and a MS in Maritime Archaeology from Texas A&M University.

Project Title: The Many Foundations: Reform, Revolution and the Transformation of Law and Politics in Mexico, 1900-1940

The relationship between legality and revolution has been frequently misunderstood due to problems of misidentification and simplification. The first occurs when writers equate “the law” and “the state.” If all law emerges from the state, then the opposition between law and revolution is, by definition, true. This theoretical problem is then compounded when the state is simplified as a single entity with a unified will, instead of a process that includes frictions and tensions between its various constitutive parts. To overcome these problems, we need to pay attention to how law is created outside the state and how revolutionary movements make use of non-state local institutions and laws. In addition, we need to understand how the various state branches relate to these “extra-state” legal practices and “informal institutions”. Using this framework, this project will reevaluate the relationship between law and revolution during the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) and its aftermath (1920–1940), focusing on the legal order that emerged from the revolution, including the 1917 Constitution. Studying the Mexican Revolution along these lines will clarify the mechanisms through which legal institutions can become “counterrevolutionary” instruments of cooptation, but also how legality can become a source of transformative or revolutionary politics. 

Juan Wilson is a PhD Candidate in the History Department, currently conducting archival research in Mexico. His areas of research include Latin American social and legal history, the history of constitutionalism, and the Mexican Revolution. Before coming to the University of Chicago in 2018 to pursue a Ph.D. in History, he worked as a clerk for Chile’s former Supreme Court Judge Enrique Barros and later became Instructor Professor of Legal History and Civil Law in Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez (Chile). 

2021-22 Field Research Grants

Project Title: Preaching Taqwā: Textuality, Intimacy and Humanitarian Reason in Contemporary Cairo

Project Abstract 
This project examines the texts, practices and experiences of preaching taqwā in contemporary Cairo. Taqwā, a foundational concept in the Islamic ethical tradition, is often translated as piety or fear of God but exceeds both in its inclusion of embodied habits, feelings and thoughts. Yet, taqwā complicates a religious/secular distinction in its regular appearances in Egyptian humanitarian discourse.  In order to interrogate constructions of and debates around taqwā in the context of widespread ongoing commitments to humanitarian reason, I examine those sites where the ordinariness of taqwā is rendered extraordinary, namely in the textual and embodied practices of preaching.  Through the lenses of intertextual reading practices, intimacies of ethical life, and contested experiences of the suffering body, this project examines encounters between preachers and the preached to as a key site at which Egyptians negotiate taqwā and the pressures of humanitarian reason.  

Erin Atwell is a PhD student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She holds an MA in Islamic Studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School, an MA in International Political Economy and Development from Fordham University, and a BA in International Studies from Loyola University Chicago. 

Project Title: The Wellness of Children, The Health of All: Tracing Logics of Global Youth Mental Health

Project Abstract
Nascent calls for globally-scalable mental health interventions, specifically tailored to children and adolescents, marks a shift in social consciousness, as youth mental health has been historically marginalized in the field of global health. In this stage of my dissertation research, I explore how intersecting legacies of social, political, and scientific norms shape the way adolescent mental health has emerged as an object of global significance and expertise. I seek to connect these historically-contingent logics with my previous research on contemporary practices, especially those deemed translatable across youth populations. As such, I will focus on archival documents available at the Wellcome Collection in London, UK, which span the underpinnings of global mental health initiatives from the 1940s; I will also engage with members of the Wellcome’s children mental health team. In doing so, I address questions such as: 1) how has young people’s mental health shifted from a marginalized issue to a major source of global concern?, and 2) what are the historical logics that inform dominant practices of care for youth today?

Lauren Beard is a PhD student in the Sociology Department. Her work explores the rise and implications of globally-scalable mental health interventions, especially for youth and young adult populations. Using mixed-methods approaches, her research interests include interdisciplinary insights into health and healing, the social construction of deviance among youth, and global social theory. Prior to starting her PhD, Lauren graduated with Bachelors’ degrees in both Biological Basis of Behavior and Modern Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.

Project Title: DIY and Dissidence: how online media have changed political mobilization in Germany, East and West

Project Abstract
Like other parts of the Western world, Germany witnesses increasing protests and polarization over political issues. In 2020, protests against Covid-19 containment measures started as smaller, local demonstrations, but peaked in two major demonstrations in Berlin, rallying up to 38 000 protestors. Observers were puzzled about the composition of these protests—that attracted leftist peace activists, anti-vaxxers and far-right movements—but also about their intensity. In this regard, the recent anti-containment protests were often compared to the massive and ubiquitous demonstrations during and after the so-called “refugee crisis” in 2015/6. This project investigates the hypothesis that these recent protests are an expression of a new form of political mobilization driven by online mediation. Through media analysis, in-depth interviews, and ethnographic observation, I explore the processes through which some people become engaged in these counter-ecologies: how they develop their own informational practices and lay media theories; how they pick up political discourses and validate them against the background of their (offline) lifeworlds; and how they enact them in attending street protests, becoming online commentators themselves and organize their own demonstrations.

Anna Lea Berg is a PhD student in the Sociology Department of the University of Chicago who is broadly interested in critical secular studies, affect theory and the sociology of emotions, as well as cultural and political sociology. Berg’s dissertation project involves ethnographic fieldwork exploring the emergence of new political subjectivities at the intersection of online and offline lifeworlds. Her fieldwork compares the two contexts of the former East and the former West of Germany.

Project Title: Intergenerational Memory Practices and Sociopolitical Transformation in Post-Genocide Rwanda

Project Abstract
This dissertation investigates intergenerational memory practices and social transformation in post-genocide Rwanda. In recent years, concerns about psychosocial well-being of the youth born after the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi have spurred Rwandans of all ages to establish formal and informal intergenerational dialogues in which to discuss the past. Building on these observations, and drawing on studies of memory, generations, and post-conflict contexts, as well as initial fieldwork, my research explores how Rwandans are using memory practices to reconfigure social relationships, with implications for how “Rwandan” identity will be understood in the future. By memory practices, I refer to the material, affective, and semiotic processes through which memories are internalized, externalized, and rendered capable of circulating. I hypothesize that through such practices Rwandans negotiate a complicated relationship to the past to transform social boundaries and imaginaries. Tracking the work of official and unofficial memory practices within and across three multi-generational youth-focused organizations, as well as in popular media and at the level of policy, this project explores how “memories” are made tangible in the present and their import on social life. What practices enable individual and collective resolution after violence, and how do these practices change over time?

Zoë Berman is a doctoral student in the Department of Comparative Human Development. Her research focuses on the intergenerational transmission and transformation of memory in Rwanda, the ways global biomedical discourses of memory intersect with local understandings of mental health and collective healing across different contexts, and the import of memory practices on social life after conflict. Zoë received her BA in Anthropology from New York University (2012) and MA degrees from the University of Chicago Masters of the Arts Program in the Social Science (MAPSS) (2015) and Department of Comparative Human Development (2018). She has been working in Rwanda since 2011 and her research has been funded by the Fulbright International Institute of Education (IIE), the Wenner Gren Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. 

Project Title: Beyond ‘mere words’: Rhetorical Stratagems of Would-be Autocrats

Project Abstract
Democracies are weakened, and may even die, only rarely via coup d’états. More commonly they suffer erosion from within by democratically elected officials. The phenomenon of democratic backsliding is not limited to well-known cases like Turkey; it is also becoming increasingly visible in advanced democracies such as the United States. My research seeks explanations for how and why democracies die by focusing on political rhetoric as one important site where the dynamic process of democratic backsliding can be tracked and analyzed. Utilizing an original dataset of incumbent speeches, I explore the strategic variation in politicians’ rhetoric. Many theorists of backsliding emphasize the stealth of would-be autocrats: they hide their intentions to undermine democracy until they are safely in office. But this assumption should be scrutinized empirically. First, I use a systematic analysis of political discourse to determine at what point would-be autocrats choose to reveal their authoritarian intentions by engaging in anti-democratic appeals. I use this information to discern the degree to which democratic backsliding actually is a stealthy process. Second, by examining the timing, intensity, and patterning of anti-democratic rhetoric, my research evaluates whether words can indeed serve as early-warning signs of autocratic intent while casting light on the discursive mechanisms through which democracies backslide.

Ipek Cinar is a PhD student in the department of Political Science at the University of Chicago, studying comparative politics and quantitative methodology. Her research interests include democratic backsliding, political regime transitions and stability. Before joining the PhD program, she received an MA in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, and a BA in Economics and Business (Double Major) from Koc University, Turkey.

Project Title: Webs of interactions among sentient beings in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (Colombia): an ethnoarchaeological project

Project Abstract
I examine the history of human-animal relationships in the mountain range of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (Colombia) for the past 600 years, with an emphasis on their roles in politically turbulent encounters. The goal of my research is to understand how sentient beings are classified and hierarchized, and the ways in which said hierarchies competed politically to shape the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta at different moments in time. I will focus on transitions and transformations between the pre-Columbian and colonial periods (15th and 16th century); the so-called independence period (1810-1840) and the recent civil war (1960 – present). I will use archaeological and ethnographic methods - principally a micro and macro study of bones (human and animal), DNA and isotope analysis, and a zooarchaeological comparative collection (a “library” of animal skeletons) that includes ethnographical media material. The goal of the preliminary field research of September-November 2021 will be twofold. Firstly, I will build said comparative collection in collaboration with local empirical experts in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta - such as hunters and fishermen. In addition to processing the skeletons, I will film human/animal interactions and will interview empirical experts. This will allow me to understand the ways in which human/animal relationships are materialized and understood. Secondly, I will do a preliminary archaeological survey and topographical mapping of the site I will excavate in May of 2022. The remains obtained through the excavation will be studied with the aforementioned zooarchaeological comparative collection. 

Alice Diaz Chauvigné is a third year student in the Anthropology department. She is a zooarchaeologist, trained at the Museum national d’Histoire naturelle (Paris), and focuses on transitions between pre-Columbian and Early colonial periods in Northern South America. She lives in Santa Marta (Colambia) and learns filming and editing in her free time. 

Project Title: Conservative Revolution: The Metapolitical Roots of Europe’s Right Wing Resurgence

Project Abstract
My project is an intellectual history of the Conservative Revolution, a diffuse movement of European radical conservatives and anti-capitalists, active roughly from the neo-romantic (or völkisch) revival of the mid-nineteenth century to the 1960s. I treat the movement as a pan-European network of fellow travellers (including figures like Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, Ernst Jünger, and Julius Evola), with Germany at its spiritual centre, but radiating outward to other countries in search of alternatives to liberal capitalism and Marxist socialism (a “third position”). Unlike most studies of the Conservative Revolution I argue that the movement was not a fortuitous assemblage of “romantic” tropes and metaphors, but possessed a coherent worldview at its core. Also unlike most studies, I consider peripheral figures like Max Weber to have played a central role in working out the metaphysical and epistemological premises of the movement. Once these premises are understood, a distinct morphology of radical conservative discourse appears—one that provided, and continues to provide, organic intellectuals to fascist projects of national renewal. I conclude by demonstrating the philosophical and genealogical continues between the Conservative Revolution and the European New Right.

Brandon Deadman is a PhD candidate in the History department at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on the epistemological and metaphysical discourses of fascism and other “revolutionary conservative” ideologies, and more broadly on critiques of the philosophical foundations of modernity.

Project Title: The Transnational Origins of Interregnum Statecraft, 1642-1660

Project Abstract
The English Interregnum has long been considered a pivotal moment in the history of the English state and the British Empire. The years between the outbreak of civil war in 1642 and Restoration in 1660 witnessed a statecraft revolution in England, with the emergence of novel fiscal institutions and a foreign policy that transformed the English state’s international presence. This episode has rarely been studied in a comparative or transnational context, leaving crucial aspects of the story of the modern English state relatively obscure. My project, based on work with manuscript sources in British archives, will expand our understanding of the origins of Interregnum statecraft, putting a story long told as internal to England into its rightful transnational, European perspective. Studying the relationship between European fiscal, military, and statecraft ideas and the policies of the English Interregnum, my research will situate the Interregnum statecraft revolution in a context of early-modern European state formation, in which ideas about political economy, foreign policy, and fiscality circulated among European states. This project will constitute the first phase of a broader research agenda on the seventeenth-century transformation of the English state, itself one half of a prospective dissertation project comparing early-modern Chinese and English state building.

Gabriel Groz is a first-year PhD student in History. He studies the history of the state in early-modern China and England, and is also interested in comparative empires, the history of political thought, legal history, and the history of capitalism. Prior to beginning doctoral study at Chicago, Gabriel spent a year at National Taiwan University on a research fellowship. He is a 2019 graduate of Yale College and is originally from Stamford, Connecticut.

Project Title: Remonstrants and Parliamentarians in the English Civil Wars

Project Abstract
This project aims to solve a historical mystery: why did groups in Britain and the Netherlands cooperate across denominational lines during the English Civil Wars? During the wars, each of the competing factions in Britain relied heavily on support from groups within the Netherlands. Large fractions of their armies were pulled from the Low Countries, and the groups received hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of arms, ammunition, monetary donations, and loans. Without these supplies, they could not have prosecuted the war. However, the religious alliances we would expect to see are inverted. Why did Dutch Arminians support English Calvinists, while Dutch Calvinists supported English Arminians? Early versions of this project show a crucial distinction: as the English Parliamentarians split into Presbyterian and Independent factions in the mid-1640s, the Dutch Remonstrants sided with the Independents. The Remonstrants and the Independents were able to work together partially because of their shared emphasis on toleration. They also had complementary economic interests that brought them together against mutual competitors. Investigating these connections further relates to broader questions about the relationship between Protestant groups, international aspects of the English wars, and the trading patterns of the early seventeenth century.

Elizabeth Hines is a PhD student in the history department. She holds a BA in history from Yale. She studies Dutch and British history in the early modern period, focusing on the religious, political, and economic aspects of their entanglements. She is the co-coordinator of the Empires and Atlantics Forum.

Project Title: Spatial cognition in an Amazonian culture: How the Tsimané conceptualize space

Project Abstract
A long Western tradition in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience has assumed a universal about the human mind: Humans experience space primarily relative to their own bodies (Kant, 1768; Piaget & Inhelder, 1956; Levinson, 2003, Milner & Goodale, 2008). However, a third of all languages do not use relative frames of reference (e.g. using words for left and right, or for front and back) to talk about space. Instead, they talk about space using words like north and south, which are grounded in an absolute frame of reference (e.g. ‘I left by bag on the southern edge of the western table in your house’). Do people who talk about space using an. absolute frame of reference also think about space in terms of an absolute frame of reference? Tsimané of the Bolivian Amazon habitually use absolute spatial reference frames when they speak. The goal of the present study is to determine the reference frame that the Tsimané use when they are thinking, not speaking. If Tsimané speakers not only talk about space in absolute ways, but also habitually represent space using an absolute frame of reference, this would suggest that the long-held assumption that humans experience space primarily relative to their own bodies might be wrong. This raises the possibility that this long-held tradition partly reflects the biases of Indo- European languages, rather than a fundamental structure of human minds.

Yağmur is a PhD student in the psychology department. She holds a BA in psychology and philosophy from Koç University, Turkey. She is interested in how people use space for thinking and communicating and how spatial thinking differs across ages, cultures, and history.

Project Title: Intimacy and Domestic Labor Relations in Karachi

Project Abstract
Most urban South-Asian households from middle-class and above employ some kind of domestic labor for assistance. But seldom are domestic laborers contracted with predetermined work hours and list of duties; instead, they are hired with a vague task of taking ‘care’ of the household. Such an arrangement breeds closeness between workers and their employers, who cook together in the same kitchen, watch the same daily soap operas, and share gossip about other households. Yet in a caste and class-conscious urban South Asia, such intimacy is entangled with status anxiety that is expressed through concerns about bodily hygiene, leading to the separation of materials and spaces that are accessible to domestic workers. My current proposed project aims to explore the multiplicity of ways in which the discourse on hygiene converses with existing cultural notions of caste-class-based purity and pollution to create and reiterate the separation of people, spaces, materials, and bodies in the homes of the urban middle-class in Karachi. By addressing the middle-class’ engagement with the discourse on hygiene and how it is both conveyed through and constitutive of materials and spaces in homes, the project hopes to lay out how contemporary notions of prescribed hygiene, in their presumed universality, are consistently shaped by such distinct cultural and class sensibilities to recreate existing structures of inequality.

Ilqua Lutfi is a second year PhD student in the department of Comparative Human Development. She completed her undergraduate studies from the University of Virginia with a double major in South Asian Studies and Global Development Studies. She received her MA degree from the University of Chicago’s MAPSS program with Anthropology as her concentration. Her doctoral research explores themes pertaining to intimacy, aesthetics, and hygiene in the context of domestic labor relations in middle-class households in Karachi, Pakistan. 

Project Title: Making Air Breathable: experimental ecologies of ‘clean’ technoscientific capital in India

Project Abstract
India, the most polluted country on the planet, is becoming a hub for global investment in cleantechnologies in the wake of managing its proliferating air pollution crisis. Twenty one out of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are located in the country (IQAir 2019) with New Delhi, topping the charts with an average air quality index of 500-400. This dissertation project explores how through emergent vistas of green finance, atmospheric engineering and speculative design, urban geographies and their 'toxic' air-spheres have been transformed into ‘experimental ecologies’ and what new visions of economic
growth and environmental management are being produced in this process. Located at the intersection of global capital flows, technoscientific speculation and discourses of environmentalism, these future oriented world-making projects of inhabiting polluted environments signal economic and ecological futurities that were previously unthought in the Indian context. In light of this, the ways of understanding what air pollution means and how one lives in polluted urban environments is increasingly becoming a matter of technoscientific mediation refracted through networks of the emergent clean-tech industry that go beyond state centered models of control and management. By following the dynamic interrelationships between clean-tech capitalists, R&D scientists and green finance, it is these logics of ‘clean’-technoscientific capitalism, nationalist aspirations of sustainable development and imaginaries of habitable environmentalisms that this project aims to understand and examine.

Ashima Mittal is a third-year PhD student in Sociocultural Anthropology. Her dissertation project explores the rise and logic of ‘clean’ technoscientific capital in India in the wake of managing its air pollution crisis. She holds a M.Phil and Masters degree in Sociology from the University of Delhi, India, and an undergraduate degree English Literature from the University of Delhi. Her research interests include contemporary formations of technoscientific capitalism and imperialism, emergent forms of ecopolitics and imaginaries of habitable futures.

Project Title: Creating ‘New Asia’: Sino-Indian Friendship and its Global Afterlives, 1947-1962

Project Abstract
How did threats that the Cold War would shatter the dreams of a postcolonial world free of domination by either superpower prompt resistance in China and India in the 1950s? My dissertation argues that Sino-Indian friendship stemmed from a belief in ‘New Asia’: a political universalism that aimed to address the legacies of colonialism domestically and internationally by advocating for friendship as a viable alternative to bloc politics. For the Indian and Chinese states, Asian friendship meant struggling against renewed imperialism and interventionism, while accepting the possibility for different political and ideological approaches to that struggle. Thus, New Asia offered a system of international solidarity in stark contrast to the ideological blocs espoused by the superpowers. Inspired by this, disparate groups of Buddhists, feminists, trade unionists, peace workers, and land activists localized state rhetoric of friendship in New Asia to bolster their own specific political objectives and galvanizing their communities. By developing friendship as a set of practices including marches, signature campaigns, festivals and delegations, these publics staked out their own contributions to ensuring the success of New Asia.  Thus, Indian and Chinese activists imbued their emergent national identities with an explicitly transnational one and preached the virtues of New Asia throughout the region. Consequently, the practices of Sino-Indian friendship inspired new forms of solidarity in Japan, Southeast Asia, the United States, and beyond. Tracing the rise and fall of New Asia, this dissertation offers a rich history of friendship as a new mode of politics in the decolonizing world.

Yasser Ali Nasser is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on the ways in which anti-imperialist networks in China, India, and Japan used “Asia” to critique the international system in the early Cold War. 

Project Title: Putin’s Prosecutors: How Law Enforcement Helps Build Authoritarian States

Project Abstract
How does reshuffling within the law enforcement contribute to ensuring compliance of Russia’s regional elites to the federal center? More broadly, how does reorientation of loyalties of personnel in legal institutions aid centralization? This project focuses on Russia and specifically on the strategic management of personnel of the law enforcement on the subnational level. The project argues that agent shuffling can help make the law enforcement agents independent from local elites while increasing their orientation towards the federal center. To test this theory, the project relies on an original biographical dataset tracking personnel changes in Russian Procuracy on the subnational level, in-depth interviews with prosecutors and political elites, as well as detailed case-studies of regions of Russia. Using the dataset, I demonstrate that agent shuffling in the Procuracy was strategic and contributed to centralization in Russia in the early 2000s. Subnational case-studies and interviews help verify the incentives of the actors and establish the mechanisms through which these processes unfolded.

Evgenia Olimpieva is a doctoral candidate in Political Science at the University of Chicago specializing in comparative politics and political methodology. Her research interests revolve around the topics of democratic backsliding and authoritarian institutionalization with a focus on the institutions of law enforcement and the judiciary. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from St. John’s College and an MA from Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS) at the University of Chicago. 

Project Title: Every day, the Sea: the infrastructure of Senegal’s harbor spaces

Project Abstract
Archaeology and historians have focused intently on global and national impacts of the transatlantic slave trade, yielding invaluable contributions on its large scale consequences. My research aims to complement this work by focusing closely on how the trade shaped the lives of the Africans and Europeans laborers who worked within the harbors of Dakar. Although historians have studied these African, Europeans, and Eurafricans through archival research, little archaeological work has been done to study how they interacted with the harbor space. Harbor spaces were neither completely African nor European, nor are they completely terrestrial or entirely submerged. The workers and inhabitants, called laptots and gourmettes by the French, knew how to maneuver between both of these binaries, and were shaped by their existence in this in-between area. Drawing on underwater remote sensing and archaeological techniques, my work aims to illuminate the maritime infrastructure of this harbor space that impacted these workers, my dissertation work will bring an archaeological focus to the liminal space of the harbor, revealing the complex interaction between ship, shore, and sailor often left unspoken in the archives.

Kelsey Rooney is a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago, currently researching how the Atlantic trade – specifically the slave trade – shaped the lives of the Africans and Europeans who worked within the harbors of Dakar. She holds an M.S. in Maritime Archaeology & Conservation from Texas A&M University, and has been scuba diving since being certified in cold Massachusetts waters in 2010. Since then, she has worked on underwater projects in Cyprus, the Bahamas, and Lake Champlain,Vermont.  She is in the process of completing her NAUI Divemaster certification, diving locally in the Lake Michigan waters off Chicago. 

Project Title: Mobilizing Medicine: Politics of Health on Gender Affirming Care in China

Project Abstract
How do transnational resources change the outlook of local activism around health? As previous scholarship suggests, it is often difficult to predict the implications of transnational resources on local health infrastructure because of the complex local socio-political and economic conditions. This proposed project uses transgender health activism in China as a case to theorize transnational processes that reform health care infrastructure under limited resources and restrictive political conditions. Specifically, I ask how do transgender individuals navigate barriers to gender affirming care? And, how do local and international activists deploy transnational resources to expand gender affirming care access? Using a multi-method ethnographic research design, I aim to examine the relations between transgender activists, medical experts, and transnational advocacy groups.

Xiaogao Zhou (He/They) is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago. His research interests broadly center on how gender/sexual minorities in China interact with social institutions such as marriage, family, and medicine. His current project uses the activism around gender affirming care in China to examine how transgender activists, medical experts, and transnational processes are collaboratively changing local health infrastructures. Prior to starting his PhD, Xiaogao received MA in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and BA in English Writing from Kean University. 

2020-21 Field Research Grants

Project Title: Formations of Techno-Nature: High-tech Ecologies of Domination in Israel/Palestine

My research investigates recent scientific efforts to convert military technologies into civilian use, in particular smart agriculture technology (agritech) in Israel/Palestine. It seeks to understand the emergence of high-tech ecologies made possible under the alliance of agricultural and military technologies in Israel/Palestine. 

As civilian afterlives of military know-how, Israeli agricultural technologies take legacies and practices of colonial domination as their preconditions and epistemological lifeline. Through such formations, operational military technologies give way to newly engineered plant life and growth. How can certain conditions make concepts such as “life” or “growth” an explicit phenomenon in a particular field of knowledge foregrounding what may have thus far remained imperceptible? What ways of thinking growth and management of life become possible in the agricultural sector in Israel/Palestine? How to understand technoscientific afterlives of agricultural capital in Israel/Palestine? I aim to problematize the relationship between the colonial production of indigenous death, and subsequent production of colonized plant life, with a view beyond binaries of mortality and vitality, and organic/inorganic modes of being under technoscientific capitalism. More broadly, taking Israeli recent military-agritech symbiosis as a case in point, my research explores formations of “techno-nature” in their ecological form and within a continuum of colonial legacies and capitalist accumulation.

Hadeel Badarni is a PhD student in the department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She holds a Law degree in Israeli law (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and an LLM in International Law (Georgetown University). Her research work explores technoscientific entanglements within agricultural economies and productions of high-tech ecologies in Israel/Palestine.

Project Title: Ear-Energetics and Substance Abuse: An Ethnographic & Historical Study

This stage of my dissertation research explores how several decades of European research on the external human ear have shaped contemporary practices of ear acupuncture, and energy-work of the ear more broadly, for substance abuse recovery in the US. I will follow researchers’ practices in Lyon, France, and other parts of Europe where energetic and electrical pathways of the ear are currently being investigated and mapped. Earlier work for this project involved following an informal network of individuals who were studying and practicing ear-therapies in makeshift free ‘clinics’ and recovery centers of rural New England, tracing their use of ear-maps and how these representations render a particular picture of the body/mind. Interviewing and following European researchers of auricular medicine will help me to better understand how this modality, which is adapted for local contexts shaped by the ‘opiate crisis,’ is formed across various time periods, geographic locations, and social relations. I will also browse maps of the auricle in the London-based Wellcome Collection – an archive of medical materials. This phase of my research will allow me to scale my project in creative ways, linking the local, lived realities of communities in rural New England to larger, transnational processes of knowledge production and circulation.

Tracy Brannstrom is a third-year PhD student in Comparative Human Development. Her dissertation project explores the rise and evolution of ‘alternative’ forms of healthcare in the context of the ‘opiate crisis.’ She holds a Master’s degree in Folklore from the University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree in anthropology from Mount Holyoke College. Her research interests include experiences of illness and distress, mental healthcare, substance use, and efficacy and expertise in medicine.

Project Title: Knowing the Kazakh Steppe: How Soil Scientists and Peasants Created Knowledge of the Steppe Biosphere during the Cold War

My dissertation project explores the “expert” and “non-expert” ways of knowing the soil of the Kazakh Steppe of Western Siberia and Northern Kazakhstan during the administration of Leonid Brezhnev. After Nikita Khrushchev’s economically and ecologically disastrous Virgin Lands Campaign, in which millions of hectares of native grasslands were extensively cultivated for spring wheat, a “Soviet Dust Bowl” ensued. Scientists and planners unfamiliar with the unique arid and semi-arid soils of the Kazakh Steppe nearly destroyed this biosphere, but within a decade, the academic institutions on the Kazakh Steppe became the world’s center for grassland pedology. However, Soviet pedology was not the only way to know about the soil’s properties. Peasants also brought to their work understandings of the soil based in generations of folklore, poetry, and embodied interactions with the steppe. In my dissertation, I will hold these two ways of knowing not necessarily in contradistinction, but aim to explore how experimental, experiential, and cultural knowledge informed one another to produce land use schemes. How did different players in Moscow, Novosibirsk, Alma-Ata, and collective farms on the steppe understand the rapidly changing soil? What knowledges were produced, suppressed, subverted, or transformed? How did knowledge of the Kazakh steppe translate to other regions across the world? 

Abigail Bratcher is a Ph.D. student in history focusing on modern Russia and the Soviet Union. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in history and Russian language, and a master’s degree in Critical Gender Studies from Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. Her dissertation research focuses on the ways in which scientific and folk knowledges interacted to create dryland agricultural schemes on the Kazakh Steppe. She is also interested in the transnational dimensions of scientific knowledge production during the Cold War in regions far away from Moscow and Washington. She is a co-coordinator of the Transnational Approaches to Modern Europe workshop.

Project Title: Reversal of Fortune: The Rise and Fall of Chinese Professional Basketball Clubs

Studies on professional sports tend to perceive professional sports either as a business based on the big-time sports leagues in North America and Europe, or as a nation-building project from socialistic countries, such as the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic. These two perceptions are nevertheless challenged by the professional sports system in contemporary China which combines the features of both in the age of globalization. Despite the great strength of the Chinese state in controlling almost every aspect of society, I aim to explore why and how the government has delegated substantial discretionary power to non-state actors in some professional sports teams, and why some professional sports teams thrived while others have failed during the reform. Ultimately, under what conditions would a strong state depend on market actors in governing sports organizations? Through comparing three professional sports teams in China, participant observations and interviews with professional athletes, coaches, and sports administrators, I will better understand the transition of professional sports during the post-socialist period. 

Teng Ge is a PhD student in Sociology Department at the University of Chicago. His research interests include mainly the state-market relationship in contemporary China with a special focus on the Chinese professional sports system. Teng earned his M.S from the U.K., and his B.A from the U.S. and China. Born and raised in an athletic family in China, he used to be a basketball player before he went to college.

Project Title: Under the Shadow of Precedent: Justifying Recognition of Statehood

What determines the justification strategy used in the recognition decisions by third-party states? While legal scholars have often grappled with this phenomenon on a case by case basis, political scientists have only just started to theorize about international recognition and the political consequences of setting a precedent. For both recognition and non-recognition decisions, the variation in the rhetoric can be either cost-benefit or rights-based in nature. I argue that the rhetoric will vary if the recognizing state is vulnerable to domestic secession and based on its geopolitical alignments. If a recognizing state faces domestic or international pressures to avoid setting a dangerous precedent, they are more likely to avoid rights-based rhetoric that could be broadly applicable to other cases of secession. By understanding the variation in the rhetoric of recognition we can observe how states consider the consequences of their actions and how these set precedents that ultimately alter or erode international norms of recognition and the status quo of the international system. I use a mixed methods approach to test my theory. Utilizing an original dataset of recognition statements from major powers, from 1945 to the present, I observe variation in the decision, form, and framing of their recognition. Second, I use in depth case studies of the recognition decisions of a single recognizer over time to observe the shifts in rhetoric.

Elsy Gonzalez is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago, with a focus in International Relations. Her research interests include international recognition of statehood, secessionism, great power politics, and foreign policy rhetoric. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Relations from Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) in Mexico City.

Project Title: Ideologues and Redistribution: Evidence from Democracies and Dictatorships

Governments around the globe shape their citizens’ livelihoods through their social and economic policies. Researchers agree that in established democracies leftist governments intervene more into markets and redistribute more than rightist governments. However, we know much less about how a government’s ideology affects market intervention and redistribution in young and non-democracies – even though they comprise most of the world’s countries and population. I therefore investigate how the ideology of chief executives affects redistributive economic and social policies across democracies and dictatorships, and how the institutional environment shapes the relationship between chief executives’ economic ideology and their governments’ intervention into markets and redistribution. My research thereby contributes to ongoing conversations about how politics in democracies and dictatorships differ, what explains differences in market intervention and redistribution around the globe, and how actors and their beliefs matter in politics.

Bastian Herre is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science. His research focuses on the political economy of development and the comparative politics of democratic and authoritarian regimes, especially the origins and consequences of differences in political elites. In his dissertation, he investigates how the economic ideology of chief executives affects redistributive policies in democracies and dictatorships.

Project Title: Producing “Indigenous Knowledge” through “Fieldwork:” The Proliferation of Field-Scientific Knowledge through the Global Conservation Movement

This project examines how the ethnic groups of southwest China produce “indigenous knowledge” through practicing “fieldwork.” Since the rising awareness of the global environmental crisis, the “indigenous knowledges” of autochthonous communities have been recast as traditional cultural repositories of value developed over time to sustainably cope with the communities' ecological surroundings, and therefore as fundamental objects of ecological conservation. It is at this intersection between the discourses of "culture" and "ecology" that the practice of documenting cultural knowledge through conducting fieldwork became a national hobby among the ethnic minorities of southwest China, the country's most culturally and ecologically diverse region. Often promoted by conservation NGOs and governmental conservation efforts, the practitioners of “fieldwork” narrate how they realized the value of their traditional cultures as elaborate systems of ecological conservation through conducting fieldwork at home. I propose an ethnographic study of the people’s fieldwork practices and their relationship to the use of field-scientific knowledge in conservation NGOs. I further trace the intimacy between conservation and field-sciences to southwest China’s history of being the iconic field-site of field-scientific research since the 19th century. Ultimately, I aim to understand the process through which “fieldwork” proliferates across a society through the global conservation movement.

Jiyea Hong is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology. Her research focuses on the dissemination of fieldwork practice and epistemology, and the work of global conservation movement in such dissemination, in southwest China. She previously obtained an MA in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, an MA in Sociology from Peking University, China, and a BA in Sociology and Cultural Studies from Ewha Womans University, South Korea. She has carried out ethnographic fieldwork in southwest China since 2011.

Project Title: The Social Work of the Turkish Public Fatwa Service: Space, Bureaucracy, and the State

This project examines how fatwa is positioned as public aid through bureaucratic practices and logics in contemporary Turkish society, and how the secular regime is negotiated and narrated through the bureaucratic engineering of religious practices. In contemporary Turkey, a bureau called the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı) exerts exclusive power to publish fatwas, a genre of Islamic advice, to its subjects. This project focuses on the historical expansion of the Directorate and the fatwa service as its core function. Based on historical documents that show the expansion of the Directorate since the 1940s, I study how the boundaries between the “social” and the “religious” are renegotiated through the spatial arrangement of public fatwa service. I ask how the expansion has justified the bureaucratic intervention of the secular state in particular domains of life in previously unavailable ways. In my ethnographic research, I examine the bureaucratized state fatwa practices offered in three types of “social” spaces since 2010: the family guidance bureau, women’s shelters, and the online fatwa database. Observing to what extent the everyday fatwa practices, which guide individuals on how to act as a good Muslim under various difficult circumstances, are supervised and managed by the central bureau, I inquire the social implications of fatwa when it is mediated by a bureau under an ostensibly secular state.

Myungji Lee is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Growing up in South Korea, she earned her B.A. in anthropology and history from Seoul National University and an M.A. in anthropology from the University of Chicago. Her research interests include Islam, state bureaucracy, authority, secularism in Turkey.

Project Title: I felt the hand of the government in my womb’: Black women, intimacy, and the transnational struggle for life in Brazil and Colombia

This project takes an ethnographic, community-engaged approach to studying state violence against Afro-descendant women in Brazil and Colombia. This dissertation examines how Black women are creating networks of support and autonomous organizing, and leading movements that resist systems responsible for the violence against themselves, their care networks, and their communities. The questions guiding this research include: How does identity and affect alter the fields, domains, and spheres of politics Black women pursue? If intimacy is the lens through which these politics are conceived, then, how does an articulation of “the intimate” complicate our understanding of, and resistance to, violations of human rights and global anti- blackness? How do these politics destabilize existing legal advancements, structures, and norms regarding equality, human rights, and justice? In centering the leadership of Black women in Brazil and Colombia, I argue Black women are using a framework of intimacy to describe, frame, and respond to their experiences of state violence, injustice, and human rights violations. I build on this claim by underscoring how language, lived- experiences, and territories of intimacy are shaping the content, demands, and actions of Black women’s grassroots organizing. In particular, I analyze the ways in which intimacy and activism intersect—through emotions of joy, pain and belonging; the construction of ‘home’ as domestic and community spaces; and the politicization of motherhood and care.

Alysia Mann Carey is a PhD candidate in Political Science specializing in comparative politics and political theory. Her dissertation takes an ethnographic and community- engaged approach to the study of state violence against black women and communities in Brazil and Colombia. Centering the grassroots leadership of Black women, her project examines how Black women organize and resist the myriad forms of oppression that intersect and interact in their everyday lives. Born and raised on the south-side of Madison, WI, Alysia is the oldest of five. She earned a BA in Spanish Languages and Literature, Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies, and Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was also a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and a PEOPLE Program scholar. She then received an MA in Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin with a certificate in Women and Gender's Studies.

Project Title: The World’s Largest Democracy”: Hindu Nationalism, Indian Statecraft and the Global diaspora

As nativism makes a resurgence in global politics, why has the ruling Hindu Nationalist BJP in India looked to its global diaspora (particularly in the West) for resources in its national projects? Most scholarship assesses the rise of the Indian Right and support for Hindu nationalism in its domestic context as, in part, tied to the emergence of the new middle class in India. However, less has been said in a systematic fashion about the ways that the Indian diaspora has played a role in this process.  In this project, I examine how the Indian diaspora and the Indian state have re-oriented to each other in a way that’s fundamentally reshaped the Indian political field. In particular, I study how Indian-American immigrants and their children become diasporic citizens; that is, how they are socialized into understanding themselves not just as immigrants and the children of immigrants, but as directly and institutionally tied to an imagined homeland, which in turn provides them liminal political and social enfranchisement. Ultimately, this project examines these novel forms of governance and citizenship in the contemporary global order to shed light on how globalization has paradoxically allowed for new strategies and technologies of nationalism.

Nisarg Mehta is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago.  Using ethnographic and archival methods, his research broadly explores the intersection between culture and politics. His current project considers the relationship between diaspora and statecraft, examining how the ruling Hindu Nationalist BJP in India and the global Indian diaspora have increasingly oriented toward each other, reshaping the terrain of Indian politics. His previous work focused on the effects of urban governance decisions like place commemoration on the urban spatial imaginary, and how these governance projects shape people’s relationship to their neighborhoods and their behavior within them.

Project Title: Economic and Demographic Formations of Inequality in the Era of Era of Education for All (EFA) in sub-Saharan Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), the number of students enrolled in primary school more than tripled between 1990 and 2019. Although basic education is widely viewed as a great social equalizer, its social and economic consequences on inequality in SSA are not well documented. In light of the Education for All (EFA) movement, my research investigates whether educational expansion introduces new patterns of inequality and how these inequalities are experienced and regulated within communities. Set in Malawi – a country which underwent remarkable expansion of education yet with limited economic opportunities – I ask three central questions: 1) how do reciprocity norms within the community shape distribution of resources among its members? 2) does the emergence of education-based status promote collective wellbeing? and 3) how does demographic shifts in kinship affect intergroup inequality? I argue that social and moral aspects of inequality – such as trust, jealousy, kinship obligations, and the concerns for status – are particularly relevant in SSA, where class boundaries are being constantly reformulated under the twin conditions of rapid educational expansion and economic instability.

Johanna's interests center on new and persistent dimensions of inequality in sub-Saharan Africa and their relationships to key demographic events. She studies labor market stratification in light of the Education for All (EFA) movement, asking if and how inequality gets regulated within local communities. She is especially interested in the subjective dimension of inequality – how individuals perceive their social positions – and how these perceptions inform phenomena like health, optimism, and social mobility.

Project Title: Cities, Slums, Regimes

As cities in the Global South have grown in size, relative population, and density, so too have the number of individuals living in informal urban settlements (“slums”) therein. This pattern has been especially pronounced in primary, capital cities, which represent the political, economic, and social centers of many modern states. Consequently, questions of urban inequality, housing informality, and spatial segregation in capital cities lie at the critical intersection of local and national politics. This project seeks to unpack the ways national and urban politics interact in setting policies towards slums and slum dwellers, which vary to a great extent across both space and time; these policies range from coercive demolition to neglect, relocation, formalization, and upgrading. Using a combination of secondary materials, policy documents, historical city plans, and geospatial data, this project will explore the drivers of such policies in a selection of Latin American cities in an attempt to exploit variation in the autonomy of capital city mayors, the relative (de)centralization of urban politics, and changes in regime type over time. It will then seek to probe the generalizability of findings to other Latin America cases and to a selection of countries outside the region.

Noah Schouela is a PhD student in Political Science studying comparative politics and quantitative methods. He is interested in questions of urban governance, inequality, redistribution, and political violence. More specifically, his research seeks to explore the intersection of national and local-level politics in the governance and spatial organization of major urban centers. Methodologically, he is particularly interested in the role that spatial analysis and statistics can play in helping political scientists explore the geographic dimensions of questions of democracy, development, and conflict. Prior to starting his PhD, Noah earned an MA in the Committee on International Relations at the University of Chicago, where he held a fellowship in his second year, and a BA in Economics and Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies from the University of Toronto.

Project Title: From Weimar to Vietnam: German Émigrés in America, the Fall of Nazi Germany, and the Rise of the Cold War

My dissertation focuses on the influence of German émigrés, educated in the Weimar Republic, over the American fight against Nazism in the 1940s and over the rise of Cold War politics in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of these émigrés were lawyers and political scientists, who built upon a particularly German understanding of law and society.  In Germany during the Weimar Republic from 1919 to 1933, this analysis of law and society was known as Staatsrechtswissenschaft, meaning “theory of the law of the state.”  After Hitler’s rise to power forced these German émigrés to resettle in the United States, they continued developing their state law theories in America as members of the Office of Strategic Service and the Nuremberg Trial prosecution team. My research will use German archival sources to explore the theories of Staatsrechtswissenschaft developed by these thinkers before their emigration. It will also explore the writings of some of the émigrés who returned to Germany after the end of World War II.  This will explain how the Cold War ideas developed by these émigrés regarding law and politics evolved because of their experiences in America.

Thomas Snyder is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department.  He also holds an M.A. in History from the University of Chicago, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and an A.B. from Harvard University.  In 2019, he was admitted as an attorney to the New York State Bar.  He has published research on the history of privacy rights in Germany, attorney-client confidentiality, and has a forthcoming article on the use of warrants in automobile searches under the U.S. Fourth Amendment.  His current research focuses on German and American intellectual history and legal history during World War II and the Cold War.

Project Title: Western Privileges in Chinese Eyes: A Social History of Extraterritoriality in Qing China’s Southwest Frontier (1860-1911)

The unequal treaties signed between China and the Western powers after the Opium War established extraterritoriality, a legal regime which granted Westerners who committed a crime in China the privilege of being tried under the law of his or her homeland. Existing scholarship on extraterritoriality has focused solely on the de jure level of this institution and its impact on the foreign community per se. Motivated by this top-down interest, scholars exclusively chose to study well-established coastal treaty ports with strong foreign presence such as Shanghai. The result is often a teleological narrative of how Western powers imposed an alien colonial institution on China. In contrast, my project turns to Sichuan, Qing China’s internal frontier, and studies extraterritoriality from a bottom-up local perspective. Using grassroots legal records, I seek to highlight the de facto practice of exterritoriality by examining local society’s responses to Westerners’ extraterritorial legal privileges. On this new ground, I shall reveal that, at the grassroots level, extraterritoriality was as much a process of negotiation as a matter of stipulated legal codes. It is a negotiation in a sense that both Chinese and Westerners participated in the making and remaking of a hybrid judicial order.

Yuan Tian is a PhD candidate in the department of history. She obtained her BA from the University of Hong Kong and her MA from Stanford University. Her research concerns grassroots-level Sino-Western interactions in the realms of law, religion, and commerce in late nineteenth and early twentieth century China. She is currently writing a dissertation about the impact of Westerners’ legal extraterritorial privileges on local society in Qing China’s southwest frontier. The project seeks to highlight the considerable repercussions of extraterritoriality on the lives of grassroots Chinese who lived outside major coastal ports. Her research has been supported by grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Association of Asian Studies, the Nicholson Center for British Studies, and the Center for East Asian Studies.

Project Title: Does Increasing Prosecutorial Power Lead to Higher Incarceration Rates? Evidence from a Criminal Justice Reform

During the two decades after the end of the Cold War, the U.S. promoted and sponsored Latin America’s deepest criminal reform transformation. By the end of 2010, approximately seventy percent of Latin American countries had abandoned their inquisitorial system and adopted the U.S. adversarial model. In the era of mass incarceration, the U.S. decided to expand its criminal justice model without considering the potential negative consequences this could have in foreign penitentiary systems. Despite a large body of literature documenting the scale of felony conviction and imprisonment in the U.S., and its effects on inequality outcomes, we know relatively little about the impact of the U.S. model in Latin American prisons. After the reform took place, almost every country that introduced it experienced an acceleration in the incarceration rate. Almost three decades after the first legal transplant, Latin America lives one of its majors’ prison crisis, while the effect of the adversarial model in the carceral outcomes remain empirically unexplored. In this project, I seek to advance the literature regarding the consequences of the U.S. transnational agenda by analyzing how the implementation of the U.S. model in one key jurisdiction -Colombia- resulted in changes to the convicted prison population. Particularly, I will explore the effects of introducing highly problematize institutions like the plea bargaining into the Latin American context. To carry out this analysis, I exploit the variation resulting from the different timing of the implementation of the Colombian reform across its territory to evaluate how the U.S. criminal justice approach changed the incarceration dynamics and whether the new system increased the convicted prison population growth.

Ángela Zorro-Medina is a Neubauer Distinguished Doctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago and a doctoral student in Sociology. Her research focuses on the ways the criminal justice system produces and reproduces inequality in Latin America and the United States. For the Latin American case, she studies the factors that influence the prison population and crime rates. For the U.S. case, she is interested in understanding the mechanism through which misdemeanor encounters reproduce class and racial stratification. Before coming to the University of Chicago, she was a Fox International Fellow at Sciences Po in Paris, France. She previously served as a consultant to the Colombian Ministry of Justice, the Inter-American Bank of Development, and the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) in projects related to prison conditions, criminal procedures, and economic development.

2019-20 Field Research Grants

Project Title: Obiter Dicta": The Enduring Structure of Judicial Institutions in Hispanic America, 1750-1850

This project focuses on the continuity between colonial and national ways of organizing local judicial institutions and conceiving judicial power in Hispanic America between the end of the eighteenth and the first decades of the nineteenth-century. It emphasizes the stability and normal functioning of trial courts and equivalent institutions at the time in order to both qualify common perceptions of the period as one of anarchy or constant political experimentation and, in addition, inquire how these institutional continuities produced regional or national order from the bottom-up. The hypothesis is that the persistence of judicial structures –procedural, organic and in the person serving as judge– was a stabilizing factor that contributed to state formation and the existence of a national narrative, prominent features in Hispanic-American countries during the second-half of the nineteenth-century. As a test case I intend to draw a comparison between the functioning of local judicial institutions in Mexico City and Oaxaca, mapping the different ways in which they contributed to the creation of regional orders and in which they were impacted by constitutional changes. The results may recommend broadening the research to cover other Mexican regions or even localities outside of Mexico.

Juan Wilson was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1988, were he studied both law (J.D.) and a M.A. in History at Universidad de Chile. Before coming to the University of Chicago in 2018 to pursue a Ph.D. in History, he worked as a clerk for Chile’s former Supreme Court Judge Enrique Barros and later became Instructor Professor of Legal History and Civil Law in Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez (Chile). His main research interests are Latin American Legal History, the relationship between legal and historical discourse and the role of law in the process of state formation in Latin America.

Project Title: Unequal Music: Caste, Culture, and City

How are caste group boundaries maintained, contested, and expressed among Indians living in modern, urban India and within the Indian American diaspora? In this ethnographic project, I evaluate the art worlds of two prominent live musical forms in Chennai – Carnatic and gaana music – which are each approximately associated with upper-caste Brahmin or lower-caste Dalit practitioners, patrons, and connoisseurs respectively. In Chennai, music has become the terrain on which caste group boundaries are being drawn, challenged, and remade. In understanding how these worlds operate and thrive in Chennai, I examine how these musical worlds seek institutional support, patronage, and dignity for their forms, and I investigate the spatial logics of movement, institutional arrangements, and residence which are tied to these art worlds. I also focus on recent social movements, which use crossover music festivals as a way to transcend the polarities of castes, musical worlds, and their spaces of performance. Finally, I consider the role of these musical worlds for identity building among Tamilians within the Indian American diaspora. My study of caste and cultural boundaries within urban spaces seeks to understand local group boundary-making, while addressing global concerns regarding the perpetuation and reproduction of social inequality.

Pranathi Diwakar is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology, specializing in urban and cultural sociology as well as the sociology of immigration. Her research explores urban processes, cultural spaces, and social inequality. Her current project focuses on cultural spaces within Indian cities, and investigates how these spaces and events are mobilized around articulations of caste identity and group boundary-making. She previously received a Masters degree in Development Studies from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. Her research has been funded by the Committee on Southern Asian Studies.

Project Title: The Bassari Country Archaeological Survey: The Effects of Slave Raiding on Decentralized Societies in Atlantic Era Senegal

This project aims to investigate how the decentralized societies of the Bassari Country, Senegal responded to the global forces of the Atlantic slave trade. I hope to challenge scholarship that paints a simplistic picture in which Atlantic slave trade sparked the centralization of local African kingdoms, which benefitted from slavery at the expense of rural areas that are perceived as nothing more than slave reservoirs. Ultimately, I hope to help understand how Atlantic slave trade reshaped the daily lives of those living in the small, scattered communities in the interior of West Africa. Historical research relies on local oral histories and on European documentation, sources that are not always commensurable and which often obscure African voices in favor of European ones. Archaeology is in a unique position to ground truth these historical accounts by examining the indigenous African experience through the material culture they left behind. My proposed survey seeks to understand the shifting social landscapes on the periphery of centralized African states through survey, artifact collection, and test excavations. I will track changes in settlement patterning over time in an effort to understand how victimized communities utilized their landscape defensively and reshaped social relations within and between communities.

Kirsten Forsberg is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She is an archaeologist with a methodological focus on bioarchaeology and the information contained in human skeletal remains. Her current research explores how decentralized societies in interior Senegal responded to the pressures of the European slave trade. She earned her BA in Archaeological Studies from Yale University and her MA through the MAPSS program at the University of Chicago, and she has been conducting archaeological research in West Africa since 2009.

Project Title: Domestic Bureaucrats: A Missing Link in Expansion of International Organizations

Every international organization (IO) advances cooperation through repeatedly concluding negotiations at regular meetings. Works of these IOs are achieved by both officials from country delegates (“domestic bureaucrats”) as well as insulated staffs (“Secretariats”). Domestic bureaucrats are both principals and agents in this context; they supervise Secretariats but at the same time are subject to monitoring from a domestic principal. However, their role here is bigger than a middle-manager in conventional bureaucracy. Their domestic principal has imperfect information about the match between domestic interest and outcome of international negotiations while their agents (Secretariats) have fundamentally different preference structure. In this sense, domestic bureaucrats are the ones who can exploit both domestic interests and IO interests. Then under what condition do domestic bureaucrats approve more discretions to Secretariats?

With a formal model and empirical evidence from fieldwork in Geneva, Switzerland, I argue that career concerns of domestic bureaucrats can drive them delegating more discretions to Secretariats for the sake of concluding international negotiations in time. This research, through examining career concerns of domestic bureaucrats, unpacks the black box of IO bureaucracy.

Minju Kim is a doctoral student in the field of International Relations studying international political economy and American foreign policy. She is interested in bureaucratic politics in foreign policymaking and politics of trade remedies. She holds an MIA with the highest honors from Graduate School of International Studies, Seoul National University, and a BA from Yonsei University. She is a recipient of the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies (KFAS) doctoral study abroad scholarship. Before joining this program, she also worked at the International Legal Affairs Division of Ministry of Justice in South Korea.

Project Title: Barbarians on the Shore: Negotiating Global Trade and Daily Life on the South China Coast, 1770-1853

Most scholars have painted a bleak portrait of the early modern encounter between “China” and “the West,” with stories of cross-cultural misunderstanding, legal disputes, and opium smuggling taking the fore in a conflict-centered narrative of the decades preceding the first Opium War (1839-1842). My project, however, takes a different approach. Through a multidisciplinary, bottom-up reexamination of the daily lives and incentives of Chinese, Europeans, and Americans on the South China Coast in the years before and after the first Opium War, I suggest that everyday conflict and misunderstanding were in fact far less typical than many believe. My research leverages legal archives, economic records, and linguistic data to show how problem solving and cooperation, not conflict, were actually the norm: driven by practical and economic incentives, most local Chinese worked flexibly with their foreign counterparts to resolve the majority of problems on the ground level, long before they wended their way up to the legal or political spheres. By highlighting these processes of negotiation and relationship building, I aim not only to substantially revise how we understand the trajectory of Sino-Western relations in China’s late imperial period but also to arrive at a more sensitive understanding of how people from different places, holding dramatically different worldviews, could make sense of and engage with one another in their daily lives.

Carl Kubler is a fourth-year Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History who studies the social and economic history of late imperial and modern China. His current project, “Barbarians on the Shore: Negotiating Global Trade and Daily Life on the South China Coast, 1770-1853,” provides a bottom-up reexamination of Chinese-foreigner relations from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. His research interests include the history of Sino-Western contact, global maritime history, intercultural communication and conflict, language and identity, education, and the history of children, childhood, and nationalism.

Project Title: Finance in the Chinese Republic: Market Integration and Credit Supply in Sichuan Province, 1912-1949

During China’s Republican period (1912-1949), regional officials, state modernizers, and private bankers built the rudiments of a modern financial system capable of mobilizing capital in support of the nation’s nascent industry. But important debates remain over the efficacy of Republican-era attempts to modernize. Some scholars see the successes of the Republican period as nothing less than the origins of China’s post-Mao economic miracle. But China’s prewar growth, albeit impressive, was overwhelmingly concentrated in Shanghai and the coast. Thus, other scholars argue that such growth had few enduring spillover effects, meaning that after 1949 Chinese development had to start afresh. To date, both of schools of thought are based on scholarship centered on central-government policy or the “core” financial center of Shanghai. This dissertation takes a new approach; it seeks to resolve the debate by examining the financial system and economic policy at the provincial level, namely, in Sichuan. With rich sourcing from deep within the interstices of the provincial political economy—including archives of the Sichuanese warlord government, the provincial state bank, and numerous private bankers—my dissertation explores the decision-making process behind capital accumulation and investment decisions in one of Republican-era China’s poorest and most isolated provinces.

Matthew Lowenstein is a PhD Candidate in the History Department, currently on a Fulbright conducting archival research in China. His areas of research include Chinese economic history, social history, and the history of Sichuan. Prior to his doctoral studies, he covered the financial sector as an equity analyst for JCapital Research.

Project Title: Arranging Altruism: Success and Failures in Mobilizing Organ Donation

Research on donation outcomes tends to assume that the same policies are equally effective worldwide. Since there are different policies implemented in Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, we would expect the donation rates to be different. Those that provide stronger incentives (such as the opt-out system and financial incentives) should raise the procurement outcome. However, the three polities have significantly lower donation rates than other countries with similar levels of medical advancement. Also, the implementation of financial incentives has not shown any upswing in living donation in the same country. When and where do financial and political incentives increase rates of organ donation, and why do they sometimes fail to do so? Through comparing the donation practices in the three study sites, the study will address the conditions that make incentivized systems work. I hypothesize that though cultural norms have not shaped the policy outcomes, they contribute to donation results – importantly, not through institutions but through social networks. I will interview medical professionals and procurement teams to understand the mobilization for organ donation.

Wan-Zi Lu is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology. She has completed a set of studies on how traditional authority structures shape democratization and financialization across indigenous peoples in Taiwan. Her current research traces the development of regulatory frameworks for organ donation in a number of East Asian polities to understand why shared cultural norms produced different policies of and practices in moralized markets.

Project Title: Social Networks, Wartime Consolidation, and the Regeneration of the Islamic State

The Islamic State, or ISIS, has captured an extraordinary amount of international attention. Today, despite the loss of its territorial state across Iraq and Syria, there remains much concern among policymakers over its spread to other conflict zones or re-emergence within territories previously held. But such threat assessments lack an adequate understanding of the organization’s unparalleled and abrupt rise in the first place. How did a single armed group out of many come to establish hegemonic authority over a large and diverse territorial space across Iraq and Syria, let alone in such short order?

The conventional view shared by academics and policy analysts is that rebel expansion and consolidation of territory is determined by a group’s dispositional factors – such as material resources, institutional superiority, and ideological cohesiveness and appeal – or by structural factors, such as state weakness. In this dissertation, I utilize extensive field interviews, survey data, and archival documents to examine the intersection of social networks and an overlooked subject of inquiry in the literature: wartime consolidation. In contrast to narratives about its military capabilities and resource endowments, I focus on how the group used active informants and collaborators in the consolidation process of rival elimination, coercion and co-optation, and exploitation of inter and intra-ethnic divisions in gaining a foothold within aggrieved communities. This is important for not only understanding how ISIS expanded, but also how they maintained staying power over a large population of millions across vast stretches of territory.

Ramzy Mardini is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science, studying international and comparative politics. His research interests focuses on intrastate conflict and the politics of the Middle East. He is a graduate of Ohio State University and the Committee on International Relations at the University of Chicago.

Project Title: Equality out of Empire: The Human Sciences and Self-determination in the Twentieth Century

My dissertation is an intellectual history of how different ideas about human equality— that despite the exterior differences of race, caste, and ethnicity, all individuals are fundamentally similar and equal—came to be conceived, constrained, and institutionalized in debates about decolonization and expectations of a more equitable world after empire. I analyze these shifts within certain ‘problem-spaces,’ conjunctural and discursive contexts in which propositions, arguments, and resolutions arise to respond to largely implicit but urgent questions and problems. Drawing on the history of psychology and population genetics, anticolonial political thought, and Human Rights, my dissertation addresses the following questions: What did the diplomatic and scientific institutionalization of human equality mean for those who had suffered the most from racially hierarchical colonial rule? Was this the final victory their struggles against colonialism had aspired to? If not, what was missing from this concept that lent crucial support for the wave of decolonization in the 1960s which restored independence and legally recognized sovereignty to formerly colonized populations? With chapters situated in colonial India, British East Africa, and the UNESCO secretariat in Paris, my dissertation offers a rich intellectual history of decolonization, post-colonial international relations in the twentieth century.

Muhammad Usama Rafi is a PhD candidate in the Department of History, working on intellectual and international history. His research focuses on the history of equality, redistributive politics, and self-determination in Asia and Africa during the twentieth century. Usama received a BA in political economy in Lahore, Pakistan and previously worked as an international development consultant on public legal reforms in Pakistan. His previous research has been generously supported by the Nicholson Center for British Studies, the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights, and the Division of the Social Sciences. Usama is currently the co-coordinator of the inaugural History and Social Sciences Forum and a member of the Student Executive Committee in the Social Sciences Division.

Project Title: The Birth of African Nationalism: Political Innovation in South Africa, 1870-1912

At the end of the 19th century, a political transformation that would reshape African politics was forming on the Eastern frontier of British colonial occupation in South Africa. After 100 years of war, colonial forces had defeated the pre-colonial forms of political resistance. Yet it was here at the boundary zone of colonial expansion that a new mode of politics would emerge, redefine the next 100 years of South African politics, and shape political imagination across the continent. This was the birth of African Nationalist and Pan-Africanist politics.

How do new forms of politics emerge in such moments of political crisis? What facilitates a political paradigm transformation that so significantly redirects political action? My dissertation sheds light on these questions as I follow this moment of political re-imagination undertaken by Africans confronting the upheaval created by colonial occupation. I combine the study of emerging political concepts among African intelligentsia with the analysis of the growing social networks of political leaders in emerging African political organizations. In doing so I explore the social conditions for both political innovation and political consolidation and offer deeper insight into how new forms of political imagination and practice can emerge.

Jonathan Schoots is a PhD Candidate in the department of Sociology at the University of Chicago. He is broadly interested in political and historical sociology, focusing on historical moments of transformed political understanding and practice. His work focuses on African intellectual and political responses to colonialism and his PhD follows the emergence of Xhosa proto-nationalist political organizing between 1870-1910 in the present day Eastern Cape region of South Africa. His work combines intellectual history with social network analysis to follow the conditions which facilitated the political innovation seen in the early development of African nationalist and Pan-Africanist ideology and political organizing.

Project Title: Transformative Architectures: An Archaeology of building practices in the Atacama Desert during the Formative Period

My dissertation explores the process of village formation through a detailed investigation of building practices in the valley of Guatacondo, located in the hyper-arid core of the Atacama Desert. Centering specifically on the construction of architectural spaces, it seeks to question traditional assumptions about the origins of settled life by interrogating the relationship between permanent architecture, sedentism, the development of agriculture, and social complexity. Following a multi-scalar approach that moves from the elemental composition of building materials to the broader articulation of sites in the landscape, my project traces networks of human and technological entanglements to provide insights into everyday lives, ordinary practices, and spatial histories in order to discern the gradual emergence of "places", understood as sites that gather people and things through time and space. This dissertation project broaches architecture as a transformative practice that recursively (re)produces the collective engaged in its creation. It develops analytical and methodological insights to approach the set of social relationships that emerge through and are articulated by practices of building. 

Estefanía Vidal-Montero is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Her research examines the material processes of the emergence of village-life in the Atacama Desert, where she has been working as an archaeologist since 2005, after receiving her BA in Anthropology at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago. 

Project Title: Friendly Welfare: Homesharing and Social Belonging in London

Emily Wilson’s dissertation examines the rise of a type of intergenerational volunteer care program in the United Kingdom called “homesharing.” In a homeshare, young people seeking affordable accommodations live with and provide volunteer care for elderly homeowners in exchange for reduced rent. These programs have developed across Europe in the past 20 years as nations seek out solutions to economic and demographic crises in care and rising housing costs. In England, homesharing is often promoted as a friendly and neighborly alternative to cold, bureaucratic care. This project investigates regional differences in how homeshare organizations operate across the UK, as well as the interpersonal dynamics that develop within homeshare relationships. How are dynamics of friendliness and neighborliness cultivated between strangers in the domestic sphere of the home? And how do homeshare organizations and stakeholders standardize friendly and neighborly care?  This study builds on anthropological research on social reorganization, affective labor and care work, and studies of everyday domestic life. By bridging these three bodies of literature, I seek to understand the individual and collective experiences of volunteer social care.

Emily Wilson is a PhD student in Comparative Human Development researching intergenerational care and social belonging. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work (MSW) from the University of Michigan, where she specialized in social policy, organizational management, and housing and homelessness. She has been the recipient of multiple fellowships including the Society for Psychological Anthropology (SPA) Lemelson Fellowship and the Nicholson Graduate Research Fellowship.

2018-19 Field Research Grants

Project Title: Human Capital and the Neoliberal Governance of Youth in Autocratic Regimes

My research examines why governments in the global south train young citizens to be entrepreneurial and civically engaged? As social relations are increasingly marketized, governments – from Malaysia and China to Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia – are reforming the terms of citizenship by depriving young people of certain privileges (welfare programs, public employment) while stressing novel obligations (economic autonomy from the state, civic responsibility). While such strategies may be seen as purely economically motivated or as implemented to pander to international financial institutions or investors, I hypothesize that there is a (less examined) political logic to such “neoliberal citizenship reforms.” Rather than utilizing governing techniques such as discipline and coercion, these reforms reconstitute the relationship between government and self-government, responsibilizing young citizens in the reproduction of state-society relations. 

I plan to examine these issues by comparing two Arab countries, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan, through a political ethnography of Government Operated NGOs (GONGOs) that promote entrepenurialism and civic responsibility among youth. GONGOs are ideal research sites since by emphasizing technical solutions to social and economic problems, they set the terms of acceptable citizen engagement in the neoliberal era, while celebrating business success and volunteerism.

Adam Almqvist is a fourth year PhD student in the Department of Political Science. He earned a BA from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, UK and a MA in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic from Lund University in Sweden. He has previously conducted research on contemporary Syrian political development and on the political economy of urban planning in post-Nasser Egypt. Almqvist’s dissertation research examines neoliberalism and the governance of youth in contemporary Arab countries.

Project Title: Arctic Colonialism and Climate Change: Inuit Ecological Resiliency and Resistance

My research examines colonialism and climate change in Nunatsiavut, the Inuit self-governing region of Labrador, Canada. Through archival, ethnographic, and archaeological research, this project will create an anthropologically-informed environmental history that can illuminate past and present landscape practices as both resilient to climate phenomena and resistant to local missionary attempts at control. In the past four decades, circumpolar sea-ice has shifted dramatically, with Labrador’s coastal ice declining by almost 40%. This project argues that the colonial entanglements in Nunatsiavut are not limited to the Moravian missionaries and scientists who first began frequenting the area in 1752, but include larger global histories of capitalism and industrialization. Broadly, I contend that one must historicize climate change beyond contemporary crisis to fully understand its resonances.

I ask: What is the nature of colonialism in the Arctic? How did people in the past respond to the intrinsically connected forces of colonialism and climate change? How do contemporary communities that are particularly vulnerable to climate change, and that are seeing tangible differences in their environment, imagine, experience and adapt to these changes? This project is uniquely situated to take perceived difficulties in Arctic research and use alternative archival, ethnographic, spatial and organic evidence to recast historical agencies and clarify the dynamics of complex circumpolar landscapes.

Emma Gilheany is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She is an archaeological anthropologist who explores how the material record can be used to re-theorize settler colonialism in North America. Her current research examines ecological histories, indigenous resistance, and religious/scientific experimentation in Arctic and Subarctic landscapes. She is particularly interested in the ways that archaeological epistemologies can intersect with and serve Inuit sovereignty initiatives.

Project Title: Violent Entrepreneurship: Rents, Institutions, and Political Violence in South Africa

Much of the world is rapidly urbanizing, yet contemporary urbanization is often informal urbanization, creating substantial slum neighborhoods without adequate access to government services. In its absence, non-state armed actors often become substitutes for the state, and informal economies flourish. Many scholars and public officials view informal urbanization with alarm, arguing that informal communities are conflict-prone. Yet, informal urban neighborhoods exhibit substantial variation in political violence: while some experience intense periods of political violence, others are relatively peaceful. What explains this puzzling variation?

Drawing upon fieldwork and data collection in South Africa, I analyze the causes of a particular type of political violence—violence over rents, or government resources, benefits and privileges. While most scholars stress the absence of the state in informal neighbors, I argue that government rents constitute a major part of the economies of informal communities. I argue that violence is shaped by three factors: the type and strength of informal institutions, transitions from informal to formal property rights, and as a form of signaling by communities to the state.

I test these theories through qualitative fieldwork and gathering novel micro-level data on political violence and municipal projects in South African townships.

Isaac Hock is a PhD student in Political Science. His research focuses on urban violence, crime and economic development in sub-Saharan Africa. He is a graduate of Swarthmore College.

Project Title: Indonesia and the Global Shale Frontier

Based on long term ethnographic fieldwork and archival research into multiple dimensions of the US "shale renaissance"—including petroleum geology, oilfield work, energy finance, oil economics, environmental politics, and corporate forecasting—Hu's work analyzes the massively-distributed project to realize a new form of hydrocarbon energy in the North American subsoil, and further, to extend the new extractive regime across the globe. The resulting manuscript builds on this empirical research and on traditions of political anthropology, the anthropology of capitalism, and science and technology studies to re-conceptualize "geopolitics" in view of contemporary economic and environmental volatility. With CISSR support, Cameron will examine prospective shale energy extraction in Indonesia.

Cameron Hu is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Chicago. His research explores the political-economic and techno-scientific logics that shape the global frontier in "unconventional" oil extraction. 

Project Title: Beyond Abolition: Law, Empire, and the Political Vocabulary of Resistance in India

This project focuses on the period following the legal abolition of slavery in India by the British colonial government in 1843. It traces the process whereby “slavery” comes to be defined vis-à-vis the multiple varieties of social and labor relationships that characterized Indian society. This process is situated as part of the global, order making goals of empire examining the legal codification of categories in general, and “slavery” and “free” labor in particular. Focusing on the coastal region of Sindh gives us fresh analytical insight into how this definition emerged relationally, providing a case where multiple “slaveries” coexisted, overlapped, and were worked out. Examining this process of legal sorting by judges and colonial agents demonstrates the inclusion of some, but exclusion of a vast number of other social relationships, particularly bonded or debt labor. This part of the project lays the groundwork for the second phase of research, examining the actions and writings of Sindhi political activists, intellectuals, and slaves or bonded laborers themselves, investigating how “slavery” figures in to the political vocabulary of social movements mobilizing around issues of marginalization.

Mishal Khan is a PhD candidate in the sociology department, focusing on historical sociology, colonial law, and slavery in South Asia. Her current project on abolition and its impacts on labor relations in India, builds on a long-standing interest in contextualizing current processes of marginalization in South Asia within historical antecedents in the colonial era. With a background in human rights and international studies, Mishal has worked in social policy organizations and think tanks in Pakistan, focusing on contemporary issues of poverty alleviation and identity based social exclusion. Earlier iterations of this project have been generously funded by the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights, as well as the Committee on Southern Asian Studies.

Project Title: Formations of Tamil Islam: Negotiations and Contestations

My dissertation investigates how Muslims in Tamil Nadu, India, negotiate challenges to long-standing devotional practices. Historically, shrine spaces, typically associated with Sufi practices, have occupied a dominant space in the Tamil Muslim landscape and imaginary. However, in recent decades, the influence of particular kinds of Islamic thought, often understood as orthodox and rigid, are viewed as a new and worrying trend by certain sections of the Muslim community, secular elites, and government investigation agencies. Routine explanations of such a trend—as an aberration or a turn to orthodoxy in reaction to a Hindu majoritarian government and its policies—tend to obscure the ways in which certain forms of Islamic orthodoxy are constituted as a threat, and what and whom they are seen to be threatening. This research project examines the conditions of contemporary Tamil society in which particular affects and anxieties about new forms of religiosity and authority and are generated. My study will ethnographically explore how competing understandings and approaches to questions of Tamil Muslimness and ‘correct’ Islamic practice are shaping everyday social interactions among Muslims in Tamil Nadu.

Harini Kumar is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology. Her research focuses on Islamic traditions and practices in South India. She previously obtained a MA in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and a MA in Communication from the University of Hyderabad, India.

Project Title: China on Wheels: A History of Bicycles in Socialist China

Socialist China (1949-1978) was known as a “bicycle kingdom.” In fact, human-powered transportation technologies, including bicycles, tricycles, and wheelbarrows, were widely used in both state-led infrastructural projects and household productions. In the countryside, the intense reshaping of landscapes to enhance agricultural production relied heavily on wheelbarrows. In the cities, it was the bicycle that made it possible for the massive labor force to commute from every corner of the city to centralized work units on a daily base. A history of the bicycle and other man-powered transportation in Socialist China thus provides a unique opportunity to combine top-down institutional history and bottom-up social history. This project asks how the state planned the production and distribution of these essential items. It also tries to find out how the daily use of these technologies shape the spatial and social relationships among communities. Eventually, this project intends to shed new light on how the dynamic of centralization and decentralization, the paradox between the hegemonic political life and the anarchist social life, manifested on the use of everyday technology such as the bicycle.

Yujie Li is a PhD student in History Department at the University of Chicago whose work focuses on the twentieth-century China. Her research interests include history of material culture, history of technology, and history of work and life under Socialism. Yujie completed her Master in Social Sciences in the University of Chicago and her Master in Arts Administration in Columbia University. Before her study in the United States, Yujie worked in arts and media in Beijing.

Project Title: Lifeworlds of Extraction: Wind Energy, Development, and Indigeneity in the Guajira

My project explores how indigenous Wayúu communities and transnational energy corporations experience the transition from fossil fuels to wind farming in the Guajira—an arid, resource-rich, yet severely impoverished region along Colombia’s Caribbean coast. My research asks how the development of wind farms is transforming the everyday lives of indigenous and corporate actors; what promises and risks this transition entails for indigenous peoples and extractive companies; and how notions of Wayúu identity and corporate forms of social relations are being rearranged and re-evaluated. To do so, I plan to undertake 12 months of ethnographic field research, observing existent and projected wind parks and interacting with members of Wayúu communities, employees of energy corporations, and local activists protesting the expansion wind power in the Guajira. By studying the limits and possibilities afforded by wind power infrastructure, I seek to gain a deeper understanding of the social, economic, and political dimensions of renewable energy in the Global South.

Steven Schwartz is PhD Student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. His research interests include energy, political ecology, development, value and indigeneity in Latin America. He was born and raised in Venezuela, where he completed a BA at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas. He has carried out ethnographic fieldwork in Venezuela and Colombia since 2011.

Project Title: Shia Shrine Pilgrimage in Modern Iran and Iraq

How are popular practices of Islamic devotional pilgrimage being reshaped by religious movements and political conflicts across the Middle East? In my research, I explore how a network of shrines holy to Shia Muslims have become sites of contention over understandings of faith, commercialism, and political Islam in contemporary Iran and Iraq. These shrines have long been hubs of transnational pilgrimage and trade in the Middle East, fostering cosmopolitan identities that cross national and sectarian boundaries. In the early 20th century, the imposition of British colonial authority began a process by which these shrines became increasingly disentangled from transnational networks and relocated within emergent national identities. The renewed importance of Islam in regional politics, however, has changed this. My project focuses on how the Iranian state since the 1979 Revolution has emerged as the pre-eminent patron of these shrines both at home and abroad, expanding access and revitalizing them into a modern touristic network catering to the region's growing middle classes. In my research, I explore how shrines have become central to meaning-making for devotees and have emerged as potent symbols of religious belonging - and division - across the Middle East.

Alex Shams is a Ph.D. student of Sociocultural Anthropology whose scholarship focuses on religious culture and politics in the contemporary Middle East. He previously worked as a journalist based in Palestine.

Project Title: Sexuality, Ancestry, and Fertility in Zimbabwe

My pre-dissertation research explores negotiations surrounding fertility, sexuality, and ancestry in contemporary Zimbabwe. In light of the country’s history of settler colonialism and recent economic, social, and political crises, I investigate how young Zimbabweans are reconceiving the life course and reimagining disrupted futures. In particular, I examine how Pentecostal teachings and practices enable the reimagining of traditional conceptions of personhood. One strand of my research takes up these issues in relation to the experiences of queer Zimbabweans in Pentecostal churches. Over the past decade, the predicament of queer Africans has increasingly made global headlines, related in part to the global expansion of Pentecostal Christianity. However, many queer Zimbabweans are active and ardent members of Pentecostal churches who practice their faith, socialize, and pray in the very institutions that appear to propagate their oppression. My project seeks to explore ethnographically why queer Zimbabweans find Pentecostalism an appealing branch of Christianity, and how they reconcile their sexual identities with their churches’ teachings.

Raffaella Taylor-Seymour is a UK-US Fulbright Scholar and PhD Candidate in the Departments of Anthropology and Comparative Human Development. Her dissertation investigates how young people in Zimbabwe are developing new expressions of queerness through the reinvention of spiritual practices involving ancestors. Raffaella is the recipient of the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, the Association for Feminist Anthropology's Dissertation Award, the Association for the Sociology of Religion’s Joseph H. Fichter Award, and the Robert Lemelson Foundation Fellowship. She received her undergraduate degree in Archaeology & Anthropology from King’s College, Cambridge, and received the inaugural Fulbright-Diamond Family Foundation Award for research in Africa in support of her doctoral studies. 

Project Title: Land Use Change and Infectious Disease in the British Empire, 1840-

Drawing on historical and epidemiological methods, this interdisciplinary project examines disease outbreaks in three distinct cities within the nineteenth-century British Empire – Bombay, Melbourne, and Belfast – to argue that the diseases that emerged in these spaces are the direct result of their ecological and colonial contexts. These contexts, I argue, were shaped in part by British colonial administrators and city planners, who imposed a distinct and uniform ideology of environmental management, characterized by densely populated urban centers, stagnated and rerouted water systems, and the introduction of new animal life. Drawing on primary source documents related to these disease outbreaks, medical texts, and modern scientific theories, this project asserts that British actions in the empire created more complex environmental dynamics in which microbes – sometimes endemic, sometimes imported – were able to thrive, at the expense of the humans whose actions enabled their success. By approaching environmental transformations from a microbial perspective, therefore, this project asserts that ecosystems can be complex, fluid, and resilient in ways that are unexpected to the humans who alter them and act within them. In their attempt to “improve” landscapes by engineering climates and ecosystems, the British destabilized them, and created a new series of challenges to health, livelihood, and the imperial project as a whole. 

Emily Webster is a third-year PhD Candidate in the Department of History, studying the Environmental History of the British Empire. Her current project, "Diseased Landscapes: Land Use Change and Emerging Epidemics in the British Empire, 1840-1915," focuses on the relationship between urban land use change and the emergence of epidemic diseases in British colonial contexts. Her historical interests include disease, environment, urban structure, empire, and the Anthropocene.