Professor Emerita, Department of Anthropology and Institute of African Studies
- PhD , University of Texas-Austin, 1988
- Communication and culture
- Museums, exhibitions and cultural display
- Performance, ritual and ceremony
- Visual anthropology
- Cultural politics and public culture
- Anthropology and history
- Semiotics and symbolism
- Ethnographic methods
My research and writing combine interests in the history and politics of representation in visual and verbal media, museums and exhibitions, performance theory and analysis, ritual studies, and the cultural politics of ethnic identity and gender relations. All these areas are encompassed more generally in the study of culture and communication. My research and writing have strong ethnographic grounding that speaks to methodological and epistemological questions as well. I began working in eastern Africa with Okiek communities in the mid-1970s; in 1990 I began a long-term comparative project on exhibitions and cultural display. I have served on the Board of the African Studies Association; selection committees for the Society for Visual Anthropology, the International Folk Art Market, and the Arts Council of the African Studies Association; and am currently on editorial boards and the Board of the Council for Museum Anthropology. In November 2018 I will join the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association, holding its Cultural Anthropology Seat.
In the past several years, I have written a series of articles on museums, exhibition design and ethnographic exhibits; on photographic display in Kenya and digital photographic practice; and on global circulation of images of the Wodaabe people of Niger. They have been presented at international conferences and published in edited collections and in journals including African Arts and Kronos.
Among my recent books are The Ones That Are Wanted: Communication and the Politics of Representation in a Photographic Exhibition (University of California Press, 2002) and a co-edited volume entitled Museum Frictions: Public Cultures/Global Transformations (Duke University Press, 2006).
The Ones That Are Wanted follows a traveling exhibition, Okiek Portraits, from its beginnings in Kenya through showings at seven venues, including the National Museum in Nairobi and the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The book examines how the exhibition developed, the stereotypes it sought to challenge, how local commentaries were incorporated, how different installations recast the exhibition, and the different ways that visitors in Kenya and the United States understood it. The book received the Collier Prize for Still Photography awarded by the Society for Visual Anthropology in 2003 and Honorable Mention for the Arnold Rubin Outstanding Publication Award from the Arts Council of the African Studies Association in 2004.
Museum Frictions is the third volume of a series on culture, society, and museums that began with Exhibiting Cultures and was followed by Museums and Communities. The outcome of a series of international workshops and conferences supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, Museum Frictions considers the place of museums in global cultural spheres and examines a variety of museums and other display contexts, including papers from or about virtually every continent and authors from North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia.
I am currently working on three major projects:1. Rhetorics of Value: Exhibition, Design, Communication. This book analyzes how exhibitions produce and convey evaluation and valorization through the multilayered, multimedia communication of designed space. An article by the same name that describes the book’s analytical framework was published in Visual Anthropology Review.
2. How Do Anthropologists Know? Communicative Foundations of Ethnographic Knowledge Production. The essays in this collection consider how knowledge is produced through ethnographic research. They examine the communicative foundations and dynamics of key methods in ethnographic research and analysis, exploring their epistemological grounds and tracing their histories across multiple disciplines and settings. “In and Out of Focus,” the chapter on focus groups, was published in American Ethnologist 37(4): 805-826.
3. Looking for the Hairless Cow: Arranging Okiek Marriage. A monographic series of articles on Okiek marriage arrangement in Kenya, this project considers different forms of identity, personhood, and social relations in the discourse and performance of marriage meetings, setting them in the context of wider historical processes in Okiek life. It grows directly from my book on initiation ceremonies, Affecting Performance: Meaning, Movement, and Experience in Okiek Women’s Initiation, which was re-issued several years ago. The most recent article, "Kinship in Action, Kinship in Flux: Uncertainties and Transformations in Okiek Marriage Arrangement" appeared in African Studies Review.
From 2000-2009 I co-directed the Center for the Study of Public Scholarship with Ivan Karp. During that time, CSPS was the home of Institutions of Public Culture, a collaborative program supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and Emory University. The Institutions of Public Culture program fostered exchange and linkages among museums, universities, and cultural institutions in Atlanta and South Africa through fellowships, internships, workshops, and seminars. I am now Emory’s director for the African Critical Inquiry program, which continues those collaborations through annual workshops in South Africa and the Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards.
GRANT WRITING PROGRAM
From 2002-2014 I developed and co-directed an extensive Grant Writing Program for Emory’s Laney Graduate School. The Grant Writing Program offers a year-long series of events for graduate students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences, addressing every stage of grant proposal writing: developing fundable projects, presenting projects in persuasive ways, and tailoring proposals to specific funders. I continue to serve as core faculty with the program.