Anthropologist of Language and Utopia
I’m a linguistic and socio-cultural anthropologist keenly interested in utopias and dystopias.
My research centers on the lived projects born from political, literary, and religious imaginings of the future or “better” life. I bridge research from anthropology, utopian studies, critical race theory, feminist theory, migration, and childhood studies in pursuit of answers to:
– why families seek out alternative communities;
– how ideas become tangible community-inventing projects;
– what are the ways in which everyday life for families and children are affected and organized by such projects;
– and how do children change the vision(s) for their own needs.
Chasing utopia or re-making society in the way you deem best takes a lot of passion and vision, but it must also attend to the needs of the constituents the ideal world is deemed to serve.
This is where my work comes in.
As an anthropologist of language, I attend closely to the ways people build their lives bit by bit, word by word. My research gets at the crux of why historically most “utopia” projects fail. Because despite the good intentions of a founder’s project, those intentions are not enough to prepare for the multilayered complexity of human life, most especially the lives of children and their families in a globalized world.
Utilizing qualitative research methodologies such as ethnography (in homes, classrooms, and neighborhoods) and person-centered interviews, I investigate and analyze the nuances of children’s and families’ lives.
Undergirding my research are questions about how people understand themselves and the world around them. In addition to classic participant observation, I also video- and audio-record everyday activities which enables me to analyze content in depth using software (Elan) to transcribe and code language use and actions.
I’ve spent nearly a decade researching intentional communities. My dissertation research was generously funded by several organizations chief among them the National Science Foundation and the Wenner Gren Foundation.
Findings are based on 21 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Mayapur, West Bengal between 2014 and 2017.
Check out some photos below for a look into my research in Mayapur.
Below you’ll find some photos that made me smile while living in the grand religious city-making project of Mayapur. The community just celebrated their 50th anniversary, a feat for utopian and intentional communities as most do not make it past a generation. It was an inspiring time in my life to live among thousands of Bengalis and foreigners who migrated to build their utopia. I’m indebted to the families who let me into their lives, most especially to the children who welcomed this ethnographer into their midsts.
One of the girls I worked with took this photo of me. I wish I could show you her face alongside all the devotees who made this research possible. But for privacy reasons outlined in my IRB procedures for this work, I cannot show the faces of the families and participants in the study.
Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy these flashes from my fieldwork!