Deborah Poole

Deborah Poole

Professor Emerita

Contact Information

Research Interests: Political, legal, environmental, and visual anthropology; anthropology of the state and expertise; visual technologies; photography and racial thought in Latin America; Mexico; Peru

My work in anthropology explores the diffuse, frequently ambiguous, domains of language, affect and practice through which racial ideology, violence and law shape life in modern Latin America. In my work on Andean photography, for example, I explore how photography's claim to realistically represent or index ideals of racial type, is at once sustained and undone by the ephemeral materiality of photographs that circulate through both state archives and daily social life. My work on the gendered visual economies of indigeneity and mestizaje in Oaxaca deepens my interrogation of the visual economy of race by exploring how the desire to ascribe settled meanings to the photograph, as a material object, rubs up against the uncanny temporality of the photographic image.

I am currently engaged in two research projects. The first is a historical and ethnographic study of politics and the state in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. This research engages debates in Latin American anthropology and politics concerning, on the one hand, how liberal states have managed "diversity," and on the other, how novel forms of governance have emerged in response to both the privatization of state functions, and the regulation and proliferation of community, heritage and "identity" based participation in politics and the state. My particular interest in taking on these debates is to rethink the place of difference in liberal imaginaries of power and resistance. To explore how the state both incites and manages difference, I trace two modalities of desire through which the Oaxacan state actively channels and/or produces aspirations to polity, belonging and cultural distinction: The first of these is law, and specifically legislative initiatives concerning forms of local autonomy and indigenous governance; the second is visual or representational projects ranging from street art to state sponsored folklore festivals.

My second project involves collaborative ethnographic fieldwork with Professor Penelope Harvey of the University of Manchester (UK) on regional government in Peru. This project traces how claims to expert knowledge, administrative competency, autonomy, and jurisdiction are articulated and negotiated, in diverse ethnographic sites ranging from infrastructural and sanitation projects, to municipal participatory budgeting workshops and public consultations on zoning, territorial reordering and watershed management. Our ethnographies in these sites trace how novel forms of uncertainty, excess and political aspiration are unleashed by the everyday regulatory and administrative functions of the local and regional state. In the research team we assembled for this project, we developed modes of ethnographic and intellectual collaboration for studying the diverse areas of administrative, fiscal, political and technical expertise that characterize the modern neoliberal state.

Collaboration and historical attention to regional intellectual and political traditions, also inform my work on violence, politics and memory in Latin America. In my work on the 2006 Oaxacan insurrection and the 1980s counterinsurgency war in Peru, I ask how the diffuse, affective force unleashed by dramatic political events, effectively unmoors the criteria of agency, failure and success through which we evaluate, engage and imagine the political as a form of life.

  • Anthropology of Material Worlds
  • Maps and Mapping
  • 070.113 Water and Collective Life Syllabus Fall 2014
  • The Nature of Extraction
  • Displaying Race
  • Invitation to Anthropology
  • Alternative Media in Latin America
  • Senses of Community
  • The Place of Law
  • Senses of the State
  • Intimacy and Corruption
  • Risk
  • Space and Territory
Selected Recent Articles and Book Chapters

"Formas inciertas: la política precaria en el Estado neoliberal peruano," Discursos Del Sur, 129-148 (2018)

"Corriendo Riesgos: Normas, Ley y Participación en el Estado Neoliberal," Anthropológica (Lima), XXX:83-100 (2012) 

"Photography in the History of Race and Nation." Latin American StudiesOxford Bibliographies Online, Ed. B. Vinson, 2012 

"La ley y la posibilidad de la diferencia: La antropología jurídica peruana entre la justicia y la ley." In Carlos Ivan Degregori, Pablo Sendon, y Pablo Sandoval, eds. No Hay Pais Mas Diverso: Compendio de antropología peruana, T. II, pp. 200-246. Lima: IEP 2012

"Unsettling Identities: Costume, Excess and Play in the Oaxacan Photographic Archive." In I. Kummels ed. Espacios Mediáticos: cultura y representación en Mexico, pp 42-75. Berlin: Tranvia; Verlag Walter Frey, 2012

"Mestizaje, Distinction and Cultural Recognition: The View from Oaxaca." In Laura Gotkowitz, ed. Histories of Race and Racism: The Andes and Mesoamerica from Colonial Times to the Present, pp. 170-203. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011

(With Isaias Rojas-Perez) "Yuyanapaq: memoria y fotografia en el Perú de la p os-guerra, e-misferica," 7(2), Spring 2011

"Eating to Dream: A Tortillería in Oaxaca." Interview. NACLA, Report on the Americas, 42(3):32-33 (May/June 2009) 

"Minga de Resistencia: Policy Making from Below." NACLA, Report on the Americas

"The Right to be Heard," Socialism and Democracy, #44:113-116 (July 2007)

"Affective Distinctions: Race and Place in Oaxaca," In D. Walkowitz and L. Knauer, eds. Contested Histories of Public Space: Memory, Race and Nation, pp. 197-225   Durham & London: Duke University Press