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Mary Weismantel


PhD University of Illinois , Urbana-Champaign 1986

Research and teaching interests

Americas, indigeneity, Andes; gender/sexuality, race/racism and inequality, human/nonhuman; ontologies, decoloniality; food studies; kinship


Gender and Sexuality Studies; Latin American and Caribbean Studies; Performance Studies; Department of Spanish and Portuguese


I am a cultural anthropologist who writes about indigeneity in the Americas, with a focus on Andean South America (Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia). My writing currently engages new materialisms, decoloniality, and temporality, as well as [trans]gender, sexualities, and ontologies of the nonhuman; I also teach about race and racism, Latin America, and ethnographic methods and writing.

Throughout my career, I have pushed the boundaries of ethnography through a consistent engagement with materiality and the nonhuman.  My earliest work explored issues of gender, race and class through an ethnography of food and cooking. My best-known work, Cholas and Pishtacos, took on the intersection of race and sex in jokes, stories and novels -- and in objects like postcards and hats.  My current work concerns the ontologies and temporalities of ancient Pre-Columbian objects in twenty-first century places including museums and World Heritage sites, as well as in a proliferation of online avatars.  This work also engages the queerly nonhuman: some of these objects are small ceramic sculptures of humans and nonhumans having sex; others are large stone monoliths of monstrous multispecies hybrids. 

Queer feminism is a hallmark of my work. One recurrent theme is gender non-normativity: masculine mothers in Cholas and Pishtacos (and several articles); trans visibility in my “Queer rampage through prehistory”, which was first published in Susan Stryker’s landmark Transgender Studies Reader and has since found an online following. Another theme is queer reproduction: “Making Kin” (on adoption and fostering) was published in AE; “Moche Sex Pots: Reproduction and Temporality” (on redefining reproductive sex) was published in AA.  Both have been widely used in classroom teaching, and a study by the AAA found the latter to be the second-most-downloaded article ever published in AA.  I am currently working on a third article in this vein. That article, provisionally entitled “Making Babies with People and Things”, emerges from a larger project on the “Moche Sex Pots” -- a corpus of sexually explicit sculptures from first-millenium Peru. This book will make an important intervention into sexuality studies, where the ancient Greeks and Romans remain canonical, and important bodies of non-Western art like the Moche ceramics remain almost unknown.

It is also an exploration of decolonial and new materialist theory.  Rather than treating the sex pots as representations of human bodies, I write about them as actual bodies engaged in physical, phenomenological and metaphorical interactions with other bodies and substances -- human and non-human, living and dead, fleshly and mineral -- including animate mountains and mobile bodies of water. This is an optimistic project that addresses questions of indigeneity and temporality. Indigenous political movements are mobilizing the pre-European past to envision a decolonized future, making Pre-Columbian objects like the Moche sex pots or the archaeological site of Tiwanaku an increasingly vital presence. As an ethnographer, I am mindful of Conquergoods’s injunction to be a ‘collaborative co-witness’ in the unfolding debates among indigenous intellectuals and activists over whether to envision Andean future/pasts as ungendered or multiply gendered. The material presence of ancient, gender-ambiguous bodies has much to contribute to these debates, but as I found in my archival research on the twentieth century, the pots tend to be ‘obstinate objects’ that resist our desire to insert them too neatly into contemporary narratives.

Selected publications


2001              Cholas and Pishtacos: Tales of Race and Sex in the Andes.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Spanish translation: Cholas y pishtacos; relatos de raza y sexo en los Andes, 2016. With new introduction by the author and preface by Osvaldo Benavides.  Cristobal Gnecco, translator. Editorial Universidad de Cauca, Colombia/Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, Cuzco, Peru.

1989                Food, Gender and Poverty in the Ecuadorian Andes. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.  Paperback edition, 1992.  Spanish translation: Alimentación, género y pobreza en los andes ecuatorianos, Biblioteca Abya-Yala, 1994.  Re-issued by Waveland Press, 1998.


n.d.                 The Lanzón’s Tale: Animist Practice and Political Authority at Chavín de Huantar.  To appear in the volume Sacred Matter: Animism and Authority in the Pre-Columbian Americas.  Steve Kosiba, John Janusek and Tom Cummins, eds. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks.

Cuni Raya Superhero: Ontologies of Water on Peru’s North Coast. To appear in the volume Place, Landscape, and Power in the Ancient Andes. Edward Swenson and Justin Jennings, eds.

2015               Looking like an Archaeologist: Viveiros de Castro at Chavín de Huantar. Journal of Social Archaeology 15(3): 139-159.

Encounters with Dragons: The Stones of Chavín. RES: Journal of Anthropology and Aesthetics 65-66: 37-53.

Many Heads Are Better than One: Mortuary Practice and Ceramic Heads in Ancient Moche Society.  In Living with the Dead in the Andes.  Izumi Shimada, ed.  University of Arizona Press. 76-100.

2014                Substances: ‘Following the material’ through two prehistoric cases. Co-authored with Lynn Meskell. Journal of Material Culture 19(3): 233-251.

2013                The Hau of the House. In Vital Matters: Religion in the organization and transformation of a Neolithic Society. Ian Hodder, editor. Cambridge University Press. 259-279.

  Towards a Transgender Archaeology: A Queer Rampage Through Prehistory. In The Transgender Studies Reader, Vol. 2. Susan Stryker and Aren Aizura, editors. Routledge. 319-334.

 2011                Obstinate Things. In The Archaeology of Colonialism, Gender, and Sexuality. Barbara Voss and Eleanor Casella, editors. Cambridge University Press. 303-323.

2009                Have a Drink: Beer and History in the Andes. In Drink, Power, and Society in the Andes. Justin Jennings and Brenda Bowser, editors. University Press of Florida. 257-277.

2008                Cities of Women. In The Ecuador Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Steve Striffler, editor. Duke University Press. 359-370.   Previously published in Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective, 4th edition.
                        Caroline Brettell and Carolyn Sargent, eds. Prentice-Hall. 120-133.

2007                Does The Animal Exist? Toward a Theory of Social Life with Animals. With Susan Pearson. In Beastly Natures.  University of Virginia Press. 17-37.

2006                The Ayllu, Real and Imagined: The Romance of Community in the Andes. The Seductions of Community: Emancipations, Oppressions, Quandaries. Gerald Creed, editor. School of American Research  Press.     77-99.

2004                Moche Sex Pots: Reproduction and Temporality in Ancient South America. American Anthropologist 106(3):495-505.

White. In Fat, Don Kulick and Anne Meneley, eds. Penguin. 45-62.

1998                Race in the Andes: Global Movements and Popular Ontologies. Co-authored with Stephen F. Eisenman. Bulletin of Latin American Research Vol. 17(2):121-142.

Editor, special issue of the Bulletin of Latin American Research on Race in the Andes, Vol. 17(2).

1997                White Cannibals: Fantasies of Racial Violence in the Andes.  Identities 4(1): 9-44.

1995                Making Kin: Kinship Theory and Zumbagua Adoptions. American Ethnologist 22(4):685-709.

1991                Maize Beer and Andean Social Transformations: Drunken Indians, Bread Babies and Chosen Women. Modern Language Notes, 106:861-879.

1999                Sweet Interloper.  Co-authored with Sidney Mintz. The Globalization of Food. Leonard Plotnicov and Richard Scaglion

Courses Taught

On Gender and Sexuality: Sexualities; Graduate seminar in Gender and Sexuality; Queer Reproduction; Interdisciplinary Methods in Gender and Sexuality Studies; Studying Ancient Sex; Social Science Methods in Researching Sexuality (team-taught); Sexualities; Gender and Culture; Gender and Sexuality in Latin America; Advanced Seminar in Gender Theory; Senior Seminar in Gender and Women’s Studies.

On Anthropology: Materialities; Ethnographic Writing; Art and Anthropology; Death, Dying and Remembrance (team-taught); Exchange Theory; Social Structure; Social History of Food; Qualitative Research Methods; Anthropological Theory; Introduction to Cultural Anthropology; Senior Seminar in Anthropology; Economic Anthropology of the Rural Third World; Myth, Ritual and Symbol.

On Indigeneity and Latin America: Genocide, Testimony, and Renewal: Native Peoples of the Americas(team-taught);Pre-Columbian Art; Gender and Sexuality in Latin America; Race in the Americas; Roots and Margins of Latin America; Ancient Americas; The Andes; Amazonia; Introduction to Latin America (team-taught); Circa 1500: Spain and the Americas (team-taught).

Interdisciplinary: Being Animal, Being Human.