Associate Professor of Anthropology
- 847 491-4821
- 1812 Hinman, #301
I am a cultural anthropologist whose research focuses on historical reconfigurations of relations with land and landscapes, racialized and gendered labor, queer politics, and property. Much of this work centers on collaborations with activists who contest historical and ongoing oppression through myriad forms of protest—both formal and informal, spectacular and quotidian. I also study the more mundane ways that the seemingly ephemeral aspects of daily life like practices of meaning-making, coping, and spiritual dimensions of relations between people (and things) arise out of material histories. I am interested in how such moments dually instantiate both the repetitions and transformations of those histories: practices of endurance and possibilities for rupture. I conduct ethnographic and archival research in two different regions of Brazil (i.e., in Mato Grosso do Sul and Rio de Janeiro), as well as in my home state of Mississippi in the United States.
Mato Grosso do Sul
My first book, Unsettling Agribusiness: Indigenous Protests and Land Struggle in Brazil, is an ethnography of protest camps of land activists in the center-west state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Since the 1980s Indigenous (primarily Guarani and Terena) activists in the Dourados region have mobilized on crowded reservations to take back land from agribusiness installations (notably sugarcane and soy plantations), land from which they were previously forcibly displaced and that they consider part of their traditional territories. My book ethnographically analyzes agribusiness politics in the region and its enmeshment with an unfinished settler colonial project of national integration and ethno-racial whitening of Brazil’s western borderland with Paraguay. I analyze the historical emergence of Guarani protests and social movements to regain land amidst and despite the fallout of rural economic development schemes—specifically deforestation, racialization and casualization of labor, mass displacement, and reorganization of ethno-racial politics—in the last half century.
Rio de Janeiro
My concern with the interlinked transformations of landscapes and ethno-racial politics extend into my more recent research in Rio de Janeiro. I trace routes and networks of movement-building and counter-world making of Black feminist and LGBT+ activists across the city—from larger formal street protests and public forums to smaller social gatherings—as efforts to both survive and re-make Rio. Particularly, I am interested in the culturally specific forms of the coalescence of matter and historical memory through Afro-descendent spiritual practices and political ecologies. Complexes of state policing, real estate speculation, and tourism industry initiatives both tacitly and overtly target working class, Black and LGBT+ cariocas (residents of Rio) for violent surveillance, displacement, and cultural commoditization. Such machinations have historical precedents in prior eras, but currently encounter another generation of resistance and re-signifying practices of Black (particularly feminist and LGBT+) activists and artists. My work with them collaboratively considers seemingly singular enactments of coping–e.g. mundane musings, laughter, flirting, dance, longing, commensality, and commiseration-towards the creation of interlinking mutual support and wherewithal.
In rural Mississippi my research brings together longer standing work on landed property and political aesthetics. This project ponders the refrains of land holding for Black people in southern Mississippi. I do this work as a Black lesbian who grew up in and frequently returns to the southern region of the state. My research explores how land for small holders carries meanings and valances akin to refuge and escape. Inhospitable conditions of entwined anti-Blackness, patriarchal sexism, homophobia and transphobia frame landholding and dwelling unique to such experiences, as well as particular to what I describe as the inhospitable concept of property. In the mundane inter-workings of day-to-day life Black southerners surreptitiously make lifeworlds anew vis-a-vis relations of care through and with landscapes. My work traces how ways of crafting and creating refuge amidst inhospitable conditions may hold insights into anti-oppressive possibilities for land holding without necessarily redeeming the property concept. I ponder how such acts transpire in crafts of homemaking and kin-making that abut macroeconomic structures of industrial toxification from regional agribusiness expansion, exploitative labor conditions of industrial manufacturing, public sector, and service industry work, and ever expanding prison industrial complexes, for example. This research queries how material and spiritual practices of relations with rural landscapes arise from ways of surviving prior forms of racialized, sexual, and gendered terror in Mississippi.
Peer Reviewed Publications
2023 Unsettling Agribusiness: Indigenous Protests and Land Conflict in Brazil.
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
2022 “Segurando a Onda: Resiliência negra LGBTI+ feminista em meio à virada reacionária no Rio de Janeiro” in Democracia Precária: Etnografias de Esperança, Desespero, e Resistência no Brasil. Edited by Benjamin Junge, Alvaro Jarrin, Lucia Cantero, and Sean T. Mitchell. Porto Alegre: Editora Zouk.
2021 “The Overseen and Unseen: Agribusiness Plantations and Indigenous Land Struggle in Brazil,” American Anthropologist 123(1):82-95.
2021 “Holding the Wave: Black LGBTI+ Feminist Resilience Amidst the Reactionary Turn in Rio de Janeiro”, in Precarious Democracy: Ethnographies of Hope, Despair, and Resistance in Brazil after the Pink Tide. Edited by Benjamin Junge, Alvaro Jarrin, Lucia Cantero, and Sean T. Mitchell. Newark: Rutgers University Press.
2020 “Re-Thinking the State in Africa Through Gabon’s Aesthetics of Governance,” Social Dynamics: a Journal of African Studies 46(1):104-131.
2017 “Black Invisibility on a Brazilian ‘Frontier’: Land and Identity in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil,” African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal 10(2): 131-142.
2013 “Identity, Territory, and Land Conflict in Brazil,” Development and Change 44(2): 451-471.