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Debra Spitulnik VidaliAssociate Professor


Dr. Debra Vidali, Director of the Anthropology Theater Lab, is an Associate Professor in Anthropology and Affiliated Faculty in Theater Studies. Vidali is a sociocultural anthropologist, experimental ethnographer, theater-maker, linguist, and scholar-activist. Her research and teaching focus on embodied and multisensorial forms of knowledge, and she experiments in collaborative theater making and multi-modal inquiry. Recent publications (listed below) examine the crafts of ethnographic theater scripting and staging (2023), the alchemy of theater ensemble building (2020), political and epistemological potentials of collaborative ethnographic theater (2020, 2015), and form-function relations in multisensorial knowledge production (2023, 2017, 2016). Vidali's ongoing work also appears in creative nonfiction, poetry, K-12 curriculum, museum installations, and audio. Current research is based in North America and centers on Indigenous sovereignty, allied solidarity, placemaking, civic engagement, and multimodal production.  

Publications are listed here: 

Dr. Vidali is the recipient of the 2023 Ethnographic Poetry Prize, awarded by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Spencer Foundation, National Science Foundation, Fulbright-Hays, Wenner-Gren, Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, and Social Science Research Council. In addition to being a faculty member in Anthropology, Dr. Vidali is a founding member and Core Faculty member in the Program in Linguistics; Associated Faculty in the Department of Film & Media Studies; Affiliated Faculty in the Department of Theater Studies; and a founding member and Core Faculty member of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative

Recent work includes:
Two Row Repair: A TrilogyAnthropology and Humanism (2024).

Notes on the path. Writing and multimodal work connected to Rochester NY, Irondequoit Bay, the Genesee River, Lake Ontario, the Southern Tier, and other Onöndowa'ga:' (Seneca)/Haudenosaunee lands and waterways.

Craftwork in Ethnographic Theater Making. In The Routledge Companion to the Anthropology of Performance, L. Miller and D. Syring, eds. New York: Routledge (2023). 

Developing Design Sensibilities: Pedagogical Goals and Tools, Print Politics (1). Collective for Multimodal Makers, Publishers, Collaborators, and Teachers, CoMMPCT (2023) 

Flame Thrower, Anthropology and Humanism (2023). 

Ethnographic Theater Making: Multimodal Alchemy, Knowledge, and Invention, American Anthropologist 122(2):394-409. (2020)

Ethnographic Installation and “the Archive:” Haunted Relations and Relocations, Visual Anthropology Review 36(1):64-89. Co-author, Kwame Phillips. (2020)

Kabusha Radio Remix: Your Questions Answered by Pioneering Zambian Talk Show Host David Yumba (1923-1990). Co-creator, Kwame Phillips.
Multimodal installation. 45' audio loop, radio cassette player, photographs, archival documents, furniture, office equipment, envelopes.
Installed: RAI, The British Museum (London, UK. June 2, 2018); University of London, Goldsmiths (London, UK. April 23-24, 2017); Le Cube (Paris, France. March 10-12, 2016); Hierarchy Gallery (Washington DC, USA. December 3-7, 2014). 

Collisions of Memory, Voice, Sound, and Physicality though a Multi-sensorial Radio Remix Installation, Seismograf 19. Co-author, Kwame Phillips. (2017)

The Sign at the Threshold, Cultural Anthropology, “Our Lives with Electric Things.” (2017)

Multisensorial Anthropology: A Retrofit Cracking Open of the Field, American Anthropologist 118(2):395-400. (2016)

A Language for Re-Generation: Boundary Crossing and Re-Formation at the Intersection of Media Ethnography and Theatre. In Media, Anthropology and Public Engagement, S. Pink and S. Abram, eds. New York: Berghahn. Pp. 92–121. (2015)

Previous research has focused on media and political engagement in the U.S., as well as media, national identity, multilingualism, and the Bemba language in Zambia.  For a list of publications, see OrciD. OrciD ID: 0000-0001-5489-3906.


  • ANT 190 Life, Land & Place
  • ANT 280 Indigenous North America
  • ANT 373 Experimental Ethnography
  • ANT 377/THEA 377 Fieldwork into Performance
  • ANT 385 Public Anthropology
  • ANT 585 Experimental Ethnography
  • ANT 585 Decolonizing Theory & Practice


  • PhD, Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Chicago, 1994
  • MA, Anthropology, University of Chicago, 1985
  • BA, Language and Mind, University of California-Berkeley, 1983