Central Themes in Faculty Research and Teaching

Many of the issues in sociocultural and linguistic anthropology that we pursue can be organized under a set of thematic clusters. While the following list does not exhaust our expertise or our sense of the scope of the discipline, we consider these to be among the most vital ventures in contemporary anthropology, and identify these as areas of particular intellectual breadth and depth that distinguish Anthropology at UIUC from other programs in the US and internationally. Students interested in pursuing research questions organized around these issues will find a number of faculty mentors and student colleagues working on comparable themes. These converging interests rarely result in absolute intellectual agreement; we ask this neither of our colleagues nor of our students. We find it is the depth of these overlapping intellectual concerns, and the lively debate they spark, that make the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign a productive and challenging place for anthropological research and training.

Body, gender, and sexuality

A great number of our faculty share an explicit research interest in the body as an ethnographic site, as a prime locus of culture, as a resource for social action, and as a focal point for historical processes. We come to the body through a variety of research questions and intellectual trajectories, from a concern with the inheritance of Cartesian dualisms, to a focus on locality and situated practice, to an engagement with queer theory, to the pasts, presents, and futures of feminist anthropology, to a focus on dance and human movement, to an examination of selfhood, to research into cognition and agency.

Ethnicity, nationalism, and transnationalism

Our work as a faculty includes research on processes of ethnic and national identity construction, research on transnational populations (migrant and diasporic communities), and research on transnational social phenomena (from missionaries to global capital).

Race and racialization

Our faculty considers race as a pivotal component of their research programs. Race is no longer accepted by anthropologists as a biologically determined feature but rather one that is socially created, imposed and contested. Race is approached through faculty research on the roles played by the state in the continuing production, imposition and performance of racialized identities as well as the construction of racialized counter-narratives by peoples in various spaces.

Work, class, and culture

Transnational and global economic developments have renewed a long standing interest within anthropology in the organization of work and its articulation to social reproduction, cultural practices, and local and national politics.Our faculty has produced work that has addressed these issues on a variety of levels.

History, memory, and anthropology

The fuzzy and fertile boundaries between history and anthropology, between past and present, and between memory and experience, are indispensable reference points and constant resources for innovation for anthropology. Our work as a faculty spans historical anthropological studies of colonial situations, missionary encounters, and the anthropology of modernity, close ethnographic examinations of memory practices, along with efforts to address the intellectual and practical history of our own discipline.

Language, culture, and communication

Our faculty expertise in linguistic anthropology engages research on languages and language use in a rich variety of sociocultural contexts, with a shared commitment to understanding discourse as semiotic processes constitutive of social life. Our work as a faculty spans research on political and human rights discourses; signed languages and co-expressive talk/gesture; language endangerment and revitalization; language, gender and sexuality; language and identity; communication and digital media, discourses of race and racisms, diaspora construction; narrative and migration. Our courses include training in a broad range of methods in linguistic anthropology applicable to these diverse research topics. 

Religion, belief, and modernity

A number of our research and teaching interests converge around the imbricated themes of religion and modernity: as analytic frames for examining cultural difference and its negotiation through history, as key diacritics of our contemporary moment, and as questions that cut across a long disciplinary genealogy. This nexus is an especially productive one for anthropology today as the perpetuation and proliferation of religious identities and practices, often in complex relation with the phenomena of globalization, compel new understandings of culture and new approaches to ethnography, including in highly contested zones. As a faculty, we address these issues through a wide range of cases and a mix of particularist and comparative perspectives.