Since 2009, Barbara Miller has compiled a list of the 64 best cultural anthropology dissertations on her blog, Anthropologyworks. Six SoA dissertations made the list for 2012; they are listed alphabetically below. Miller is professor of cultural anthropology and international affairs at the George Washington University. You can see her entire 2012 list here.
8. “Para que cambiemos”/”So We Can (Ex)Change”: Economic Activism and Socio-Cultural Change in The Barter Systems of Medellin, Colombia, by Brian J. Burke. The University of Arizona. Advisor: James B. Greenberg. I examine the work of alternative economies activists who have spent the last 18 years constructing barter systems and local currencies in Medellín, Colombia. Through barter, these activists hope to spark an ethical re-evaluation of production, exchange, and consumption, and to create an economy that serves Medellín’s middle-class professionals, rural peasants, urban workers, students and the chronically under-employed. They also see barter as an important social and political project to repair a social fabric torn by decades of violence and economic exploitation. For these activists barter is a counter to capitalism, violence, and social fragmentation; it is a new proposal rooted in cooperation, collective well-being, and the development of local capacities.
10. The Aftermath of Aid: Medical Insecurity in the Northern Somali Region of Ethiopia, by Lauren Carruth. The University of Arizona. Advisor: Mark A. Nichter. I explore the effects of recurrent, temporary medical humanitarian operations through ethnographic research in communities, clinical facilities, nongovernmental aid organizations, and governmental bureaucracies in the northern Somali Region of Ethiopia. Findings are: medical humanitarian aid alters subjective experiences and expectations of biomedicine, spirit possession, health, and healing; new labor relations emerge to cope with recurrent aid and enable temporary work with international NGOs; racialized narratives have emerged in the interstices of aid that warn of malpractice and abuse by non-Somali Ethiopian clinicians; and health and humanitarian interventions have altered local notions and practices of citizenship. Medical aid opens spaces in which relations of care-giving, trust, and responsive governance structures can develop.
14. Exploring Models of Economic Inequality and the Impact on Mental and Physical Health Outcomes in Rural Eastern Province, Zambia, by Steven M. Cole. The University of Arizona. Advisor, Ivy Pike. Structural adjustment measures adopted during the early 1990s considerably altered the rural landscape throughout Zambia. Households responded and continue to respond in a variety of ways, often under highly inequitable terms. Poverty rates, food insecurity, and income inequality all remain high in Zambia, particularly in rural areas. Using a biocultural and livelihoods approach, I examine complexities that condition livelihoods in a rural area of Eastern Province, Zambia, including 1) the relationship between food insecurity and adult mental health; 2) piecework (casual labor) as a coping strategy and indicator of household vulnerability to food insecurity; and 3) the association between relative deprivation and adult physical health.
50. Embodied Marginalities: Disability, Citizenship, and Space in Highland Ecuador, by Nicholas A. Rattray. The University of Arizona. Advisor: Susan J. Shaw. This dissertation critically explores the governance of disability, social marginalization, and spatial exclusion in highland Ecuador. Since the 1990s, disabled Ecuadorians have moved from social neglect and physical isolation to wider societal participation, fueled in part by national campaigns aimed at promoting disability rights. Many have joined grassroots organizations through biosocial networks based on the collective identity of shared impairment. However, their incorporation into the labor market, educational systems, and public sphere has been uneven and impeded by underlying spatial and cultural barriers. I conducted fieldwork among people with physical and visual disabilities in the city of Cuenca. I analyze narratives of disablement within the local disabled community, focusing on the consequences of living with embodied differences.
54. Chicanismo in the New Generation: “Youth, Identity, Power” in the 21st Century Borderlands, by Leah S. Stauber. The University of Arizona. Advisors: Julio Cammarota and Drexel Woodson. This dissertation investigates the awakening into critical consciousness and pursuant social action of Mexican American high school students, youth “activists” and “organizers” in Tucson, Arizona. Building from ethnography conducted across nine years within youth actors’ sites of activism and social justice engagement, this research reveals new complexities in our understanding of “activist” identity and enactments, and contends that understandings of both “activism” and “Chicanismo” must be revisited in the scholarship of youth movements, generally, and Chicana/o social action, specifically.
63. Ruptured Journeys, Ruptured Lives: Central American Migration, Transnational Violence, and Hope in Southern Mexico, by Wendy A. Vogt. The University of Arizona. Advisor: Linda B. Green. This dissertation examines the processes by which Central American women and men face unprecedented forms of violence and exploitation as they migrate through Mexico. Central Americans are regularly subject to abuse, extortion, rape, kidnapping, dismemberment and death as multiple actors profit off of their bodies, labor and lives. In turn, the political economy of violence and security along the migrant journey permeates into local Mexican communities, creating new tensions and social ruptures. I use a lens of gender in particular to understand how larger processes affect peoples’ lives. I also examine how violence also generates new possibilities for solidarity and political action through social movements around humanitarianism and migrant rights. I examine the emergence of a movement of Catholic-based migrant shelters and a transnational feminist movement of mothers and families of disappeared migrants.