Department of Anthropology
Position: Associate Professor
Office: VMMC 102C
I received a BA in Anthropology from Durham University, England, and a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. My first book, Embroidering Lives: Women’s Work and Skill in the Lucknow Embroidery Industry, was published by SUNY Press in 1999, and my second book, Fashioning Bollywood: The Making and Meaning of Costumes in the Hindi Film Industry, has recently been published by Bloomsbury Academic Press (formerly Berg Press). A third book, Critical Craft, co-edited with Alicia O. DeNicola, was published by Bloomsbury earlier this year
Articles on craft, film costume and the social transformation of costume production in popular Hindi film have appeared in Ethnology, Visual Anthropology Review, Anthropological Quarterly, Ethnography, and Journal of Material Culture. My work has also appeared in Fashion Cultures Revisited, edited by Stella Bruzzi and Pamela Church Gibson and A World of Work (an essay co-written with Hindi film costume designer, Lovleen Bains) edited by Ilana Gershon. I recently completed a sabbatical in which I gave several talks in India at JNU, IIT Madras, and SNDT Women's University; I was also a visiting scholar at the University of Westminster.
At WSU Vancouver I regularly teach classes on the Arts and Media in Global Perspective, History of Anthropological Theory, and Speech, Thought and Culture. I also teach the graduate core course on the Fundamentals of Cultural Anthropology and have started offering a course titled Craft, People, Objects.
I have an abiding interest in both the sciences and the humanities, and how they contribute to anthropology. A background in performing arts has proved very helpful in my research, although I have had regrettably (or happily, depending upon your perspective) few opportunities to put it into practice. I am an Associate of the London College of Music.
My research has consistently wheeled back to some core concerns: the human imagination at work in the production of material culture; a critical perspective upon craft; and the day to day work of people making objects and media.
Most of my work has been done in India, where I have been studying the social processes of film production, with special focus on the use of commodities in media industries, the cultures of workplaces, the making of film costume, fashion and performance in film, and the renegotiation of craft in the contemporary global economy. Throughout my career I have been concerned with how artists and makers in craft and media industries manage to assert their creative intelligence in less than ideal circumstances. Both the culture of production -- or the social networks and relationships that make up an art world -- and the shifts in knowledge and skill that underlie aesthetic expression are of interest to me.
I have collaborated with fellow anthropologist Alicia DeNicola (of Oxford College of Emory University) in the editing of a book theorizing craft in anthropology. In July 2012, we held a Wenner-Gren funded workshop at WSU Vancouver for a group of anthropologists to compare and discuss their work on craft. The volume based on this workshop was published in Spring 2016. Our key contention is that we can learn the most about craft by looking at when the term is invoked rather than worrying about what it actually means. It is no accident then that I'm interested in exploring craft within film production in both North America and India, since here we see extraordinary feats of imagination and execution without the familiar associations of heritage and the anti-industrial. Behind the scenes featurettes and articles have boosted popular knowledge about "making" in films. At the same time, however, the day to day decision-making, negotiation, and use of imaginative and problem-solving skills to make fantastic, functional and often unprecedented "things" still seems to escape public knowledge.
A model of sorts for the kinds of explorations I want to do is the work I have done with Anthea Mallinson of Capilano University, who is also an accomplished breakdown artist (someone who "ages" costumes) for films and TV. We have been debating the meanings that underlie costume aging, and how actual practices can be joined to theories about performance, narrative and "reality."
At the same time as I begin to develop research projects in North America, I am in the midst of a new project in India (funded in part by the American Philosophical Society) looking at production design, art direction, set construction, and set dressing. I am particularly interested in how practitioners on the design team, from top to bottom, put a given "vision" into practice, and what it means to strive to make things look "real."
CoursesAnth 301 Arts and Media in Global Perspective
Anth 303 Religious Experience
Anth 350 Speech, Thought and Culture
Anth 490 Integrative Themes in Anthropology
Articles and Chapters
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