Sexuality and Political Economy

With globalization, sex—everywhere—has become more central to who we are as citizens and consumers, how we gain rights and resources, and how we relate to others as members of a specific race, ethnicity, region, or culture. Worldwide, states invest or disinvest in people according to how they have sex, adopt gender identities, or sustain sexual morality. Terrorist organizations claim to use violence to reestablish bastions of piety and sexual propriety; various populist movements imagine immigrants and refugees to threaten their societies, in part, by failing to uphold the sexual norms of adopting countries; and transnational NGOs and activists seek to “rescue” or “rehabilitate” sex workers, gays, lesbians, transgender, and other people vulnerable for their intimate and social lives. The growing importance of sex to a global consumer culture only heightens the rush to secure societies from the so-called “perversions of globalization.” Tourists now travel for sex to various destinations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean; poor, unemployed men and women, in former colonies, sometimes use sex as a means of enrichment and empowerment; and amidst the rise of religious fundamentalisms, commodity ads incite youths to consume sex along other goods to build authentic selves. In this lecture course, we ask: Why does sexuality become so central to how we imagine our world and futures? Why is sex so important in defining us, as subjects and populations? And how do older colonial stereotypes of race, ethnicity, and culture shape sexuality politics in the new global order? To address these questions, we explore about how sex and sexuality relate to politics and the economy.

Kinship, Citizenship, and Belonging

The domains of family life, kinship, and intimacy represent central sites for the construction and contestation of social and political belonging. This course introduces students to classic and contemporary theories of society, kinship, and citizenship by way of theorizing how economic production, sovereignty, and everyday life emerge through the regulation of relatedness. Anthropologists of the late nineteenth century and of the first half of the twentieth century turned kinship into a key domain for understanding social cohesion and political organization. In the past three decades – following feminist, Marxist, and queer critiques – anthropologists explored how discourses about kinship and the family anchored the ideologies and practices of modernity, colonialism, nationalism, and globalization. In this course, we ask: What can various forms of kinship teach us about the politics of social reproduction and the making of citizenship – its modes of belonging and exclusion – in the contemporary world? Why do national and transnational institutions care about how we related to each other, how we build families, and whether we reproduce? Why do we desire that our intimate lives be recognized by the state and by the agents of the global market? And, can our ways of crafting relatedness in everyday life transform how we come to belong to larger political institutions? 

Anthropology and Africa

This undergraduate course explores the links between race, empire, and the production of anthropological knowledge about Africa. Africa has occupied a central place in the making of anthropology as a discipline. Ethnographic studies of African contexts generated leading theories of kinship and society, money and economy, ritual and religion, violence, law, and political order. And, while anthropologists have often used their work to critique racism and social injustice, the discipline of anthropology has been, at times, accused of being the “handmaiden of colonialism” – its discourses complicit in the making of dominant ideologies of racial alterity and imperial power. In this course, students revisit moments of intersection between the history of modern Africa and the history of anthropology in order examine the role of knowledge production in the politics of world-making. We interrogate “Africa” as an ideological category, a source of identity and collective consciousness, and a geo-political context of social life. We ask: What is the political potential of various forms of knowledge production? What do ethnographic engagements with African contexts offer by means of understanding the world at large? And what may anthropological thinking offer by way of envisioning better futures in Africa and beyond?

History and Theory of Social Anthropology

This course explores the political economy of anthropological knowledge production. It examines anthropology’s relation to alterity and sociality in different historical contexts, in the colony and in the metropole, in the socialist East and the capitalist West, at the center and at the periphery. Anthropology has long been seen as a quintessentially “Western discourse” problematically aligned with the ideologies of power. Rather than approach the discipline as a unified whole, however, this seminar revisits key moments, figures, and events that demonstrate how important anthropological concepts emerged as expressions of—and reflections upon—complex historical conjunctures. Various attempts to conceptualize society, culture, race, hegemony, value, commodity fetishism, the state, ontology, and alterity have resonated with, but also beyond, their immediate contexts of theorization. Informed by a desire to de-center “the canon” (without losing sight, that is, of the effects of its normative centrality) or to decolonize the discipline, we pursue a set of theoretical and ethnographic detours through and around key anthropological moments and concepts, all along seeking to understand how idioms, objects, and events of theoretical and ethnographic attachment shape and are shaped by historical context. Thus, students are encouraged to think anthropologically about anthropology, its concepts, practices, potentialities, and futures. This presupposes not only reading texts closely but also identifying how the assigned readings resonate with one another; what potentialities they have for understanding the present and anticipating the future; and to how such potentialities are to be activated, pursued, actualized.

Ethnographic Research Methods

This practical course teaches the basics of anthropological methodology with reference to qualitative and interpretative research. Its focus is ethnography in its double sense as process and product of intensive fieldwork. Through readings, discussions, and practical exercises, participants will learn concrete methods for answering anthropological questions and for expanding their ethnographic imagination. How can ethnographic research capture the shifting dynamics of globalization? And how can anthropologists examine the ways local, national, and global processes shape the lived experiences of research interlocutors? Students will learn how to design research projects, undertake active observations, interview, write fieldnotes, compile genealogies and time surveys, carry out space analysis and archival research, and collect and think with artifacts. These methods will also raise a set of ethical questions about the kinds of social rapport that anthropologists and their field interlocutors might cultivate and about the myriad identities and subjectivities produced through the fieldwork encounter. The last part of this practicum focuses on how anthropologists can transform field data into ethnographic writing with a central focus on questions of representation, poetics, and truth.

Memory and Inheritance in Eastern Europe

The rapid and, at times, quite radical transformations of social, political, and economic regimes in the recent history of Eastern Europe have posed key challenges to how people have remembered their pasts and imagined their futures. Over the past two centuries alone, the transition from feudal systems and monarchies to socialist societies and then neoliberal capitalist ones have produced different understandings of social reproduction. The geopolitical shifts between different empires (Ottoman, Habsburg, Russian) and transnational orders (Soviet Union, European Union) have given rise to sometimes conflicting ways of passing down property and custom to craft futures. This course explores this complex and shifting cultural terrain through the lens of memory and inheritance. For anthropologists, inheritance or the ways in which people pass down property, knowledge, and social roles, among other things, has been a central modality for building particular kinds of society: who inherits what (and when) shapes how a society construes and hierarchizes its members, whether according to gender, generation, kinship, race, ethnicity, or class. Strongly tied to the rules of inheritance is the deployment of memory: various modes of remembering and forgetting help sustain or undermine specific social and political orders. What forms of memory and inheritance have emerged in the distinct palimpsest of the historically diverse orders of Eastern Europe? What can historical anthropologists learn from the objects, properties, knowledges, and affects passed down in these contexts and from the silences, secrets, or unconscious legacies they carry? Students will address these questions by learning about the particular cultural politics of Eastern Europe and by raising, through the anthropology of the region, new questions about memory and inheritance in the contemporary world order more broadly.