- Mergenthaler 457
- On leave academic year 2023-24
Research Interests: urban anthropology, social inequality, capitalism, imagination, play and everyday life, art, craft, political economy, historical ethnography, anthropological method; Latin America, Brazil, Atlantic World
My work as an anthropologist broadly concerns how newness enters the world, something commonly understood as creativity or imagination, particularly in conditions under which such possibility seems constrained or impossible. I am also interested in the urban experience from underrepresented or marginalized perspectives. I have used ethnographic and historical approaches to explore how building practices and cultural production shape political subjectivity in urban squatter settlements. My research in Brazil tracks how these environments become objects of material practice, technocratic knowledge, and artistic expression. I received my Ph.D. in Anthropology from the Graduate Center at City University of New York (CUNY) in 2013 and later conducted postdoctoral research at the London School of Economics.
My first book project, titled Model Favela: Miniature Life in Rio de Janeiro, based on four years of ethnographic research, is about the social ordering of creativity. It analyzes an iconoclastic role-playing game in which Afro-Brazilian working-class male youth represent a dynamic but uneven cityscape in a hand-built model of Rio, constructed with painted bricks and found scraps. I frame this idiosyncratic object at the heart of my study as a set of relations animating the porous boundaries between the imaginary and the real, and I pay particular attention to histories of material culture that theorize models, miniatures, copies as uncanny things with which to think through authenticity, mimesis, resemblance, and iconoclasm. The book suggests that the production of reality, in social life as in writing, is intrinsically bound up with power relations and the worldly structurings we inhabit, study, and build.
In my postdoctoral work, I contributed to a multilateral ethnographic research project on the commodification of urban poverty and violence across four cities in the Americas: Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Kingston, and New Orleans. I studied emerging tensions concerning hospitality and tourism in militarily “pacified” favelas over 18 months in Rio, followed by five months exploring volunteerism and community rebuilding in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
My interests in emergent urban worlds has brought me to investigate new technologies of urban surveillance and monitoring of racialized bodies, both in Rio’s ‘Smarter Cities’ initiative and in Baltimore’s billionaire-funded ‘spy plane’ program, as well as the crowd-sourced crime reporting app Citizen.
I welcome graduate students and undergraduate honors majors interested in urbanization in the global South, play and performance, capitalism as lived experience and its dissident imaginations, experimental ethnographic writing, and anthropological thought, especially minor histories at the discipline’s edges. For more on my role as advisor and instructor, as well as a list of courses I have taught with links to syllabi, see the teaching section on this page.
I am committed to mentoring graduate and undergraduate students in preparation for further work in and beyond academia. My approach to teaching is much like my engagement with ethnography. I have observed first-hand how doing becomes a method for knowing, so my teaching strategies aim to have students not only learn about anthropology but also practice it. I offer courses that reflect anthropology’s diverse voices, and I encourage students to recognize that mastery of a discipline must be accompanied by a healthy skepticism toward our own habits of thought.
- Invitation to Anthropology
- Human Nature Under Capitalism
- The Anthropology of Play
- An Introduction to Reality
- Invisible Cities
- Latin America in a Fracturing World
- Ethnographic Perspectives on Brazil
- The Atlantic World
- Logic of Anthropological Inquiry
- “My Neighbor, the Gringo: Convivência and Outsider Hospitality in a Gentrifying Rio de Janeiro Favela.” Co-authored with Gareth A. Jones. [under review]
- “A Favela That Yields Fruit: Community-Based Tour Guides as Brokers in the Political Economy of Cultural Difference.” Space and Culture 23(1): 15-33. (2020)
- “What does poverty feel like? Urban inequality and the politics of sensation.” Co-authored with Rivke Jaffe, Eveline Dürr, Gareth A. Jones, Alana Osbourne, and Barbara Vodopivec. Urban Studies 57(5): 1015-1031. (2020)
- “Favela in Replica: Iterations and Itineraries of a Miniature City.” Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, 20(3): 39-60. (2016)
- “Ludic Maps and Capitalist Spectacle in Rio de Janeiro.” Geoforum Special Issue: Spectacle Cities, 65: 421-430. (2015)
- “Expansive Mood.” In “Flash Ethnography,” Carole McGranahan and Nomi Stone, editors, American Ethnologist website, October 26.
- “Monitored Confinement and Rule by Philanthropy in Rio de Janeiro and Baltimore.” In: “Speaking Justice to Power: Confinement, Cauterization, and Antipolitics in the Americas.” Eds. Curtis, Jennifer and Irwin, Randi. Political and Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR), 12 November. (2018)
- (Also published in: Authoritarianism and Confinement in the Americas. Eds. Curtis, Jennifer and Irwin, Randi. São Luís, Brazil: Editora UEMA, 2019, pp. 60-63.)
- “Overcharged: Notes on a Favela Fridge Swap.” In: "Our Lives with Electric Things." eds. Cross, Jamie, Abram, Simone, Anusas, Mike and Schick, Lea. Cultural Anthropology Theorizing the Contemporary series. (2017)
- “Santa Cruz Visible: Unitary Urban Research and Design of Community Urban Action Plan.” Co-edited with Quilian Riano. Medellín studio, Design and Urban Ecologies Program, Parsons The New School for Design. (2013)
- “Art of the Conference Paper.” Inside Higher Ed. 3 November. (2010)
- “Urban Anthropology.” Encyclopedia of Urban Studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 840-844. (2010)