Gordon Schuster Professor of Anthropology
Ellen Oxfeld's passion for the study of China began in her northern New Jersey high school, where she took a class on Chinese and Indian history. She followed this interest during her undergraduate education at Williams College, and graduated with the intention of becoming a Chinese historian. While on a subsequent Watson Fellowship in Taiwan, Oxfeld was exposed to various anthropologists who introduced her to a new discipline which soon became the focus of her career. After spending one year in East Asia, she returned to the United States to obtain her Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from Harvard University.
Professor Oxfeld was offered a position at Middlebury College in 1985, immediately following her graduation from Harvard. She considers herself fortunate to have been given the opportunity to continue her studies of China while sharing her knowledge with students as a professor. She has taught a wide variety of classes, the majority of which relate to her specific interests in anthropology. These include the introductory anthropology class; Race and Ethnicity: Anthropology of China; Global Consumptions: Food, Culture and Power;and Women, Culture and Power.
Throughout her teaching career, Professor Oxfeld has continued to pursue her research interests in China. In the past, she has researched communities of Chinese immigrants in countries such as India and Canada.Since the mid-1990s, she has returned several times to do fieldwork in a village in Meixian, Guangdong Province, China, where she has investigated moral discourse, changes and continuities in life-cycle rituals,changing gender roles, transformations in property and class relations,and most recently, changes in the local food system.
Ellen Oxfeld deems that anthropology is "absolutely essential in today's world," for it helps us to see the world as others see it, and to understand both how we are connected to the rest of the world and yet not to expect that all cultures operate from the same sets of assumptions.
Courses offered in the past four years.
▲ indicates offered in the current term
▹ indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]
FYSE 1431 - Food, Identity, and Power ▲
Food, Identity, and Power
Food sustains not only bodies but also national, ethnic, and social identities. Notions of order and transgression, nature and culture, have long affected how and what people eat. Using interdisciplinary approaches, we will examine the practices and politics of food and eating in a range of regions. How does eating, this most basic and universal of human practices, both reflect and create difference? How are symbolic and “real” food systems linked to national and international politics? Finally, how are contemporary food practices influenced by modernization and globalization? 3 hrs. sem.
IGST 0460 / SOAN 0460 / INTL 0460 - Global Consumptions
Global Consumptions: Food, Eating, and Power in Comparative Perspective
Using interdisciplinary approaches, we will examine the practices and politics of food and eating in a range of regions. Food sustains not only bodies, but national, ethnic, and social identities as well. Notions of time and space, order and transgression, nature and culture have long affected what people eat and how they do it. How does eating, this most basic and universal of human practices, both reflect difference and create it? How are food systems, symbolic and “real,” linked to national and international politics: Finally, how are contemporary food practices influenced by “modernization” and “globalization”? We will consider these and other questions as they apply to Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the United States in the second half of the twentieth century. This course is equivalent to SOAN 0460. 3 hrs. sem.
Spring 2012, Spring 2014
INTL 0702 - EUS Senior Thesis
European Studies Senior Thesis
Winter 2011, Spring 2011, Winter 2012
SOAN 0103 - Topics in Sociocultural Anthro ▲
Selected Topics in Sociocultural Anthropology
This course introduces students to the varieties of human experience in social life and to the differing approaches and levels of analysis used by anthropologists to explain it. Topics include: culture and race, rituals and symbolism, kinship and gender roles, social evolution, political economy, and sociolinguistics. Ethnographic examples are drawn chiefly from non-Western societies, from simple bands to great agrarian states. The ultimate aim is to enable students to think critically about the bases of their own culture and about practices and beliefs previously unanalyzed and unexamined. 2 hrs. lect./1 hr. disc./2 hrs. screen (Anthropology)
Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2014
SOAN 0304 / GSFS 0304 / WAGS 0304 - Gender, Culture, and Power
Gender, Culture, and Power
This course offers a cross-cultural introduction to the issues involved in the study of women and gender. Such an endeavor raises a number of difficult and delicate issues. What explains the diversities and similarities in women's roles across societies? How do we assess women's status and power, and how do we decide which standards to use in doing so? What forces create changes in women's roles? What is the relationship between gender constructions and the nature of communities, economies, and even nations? Our analysis will concentrate on three primary domains: family and kinship, symbolic systems, and political economy. Course readings will focus primarily on non-Western societies. 3 hrs. lect./disc. (Anthropology)/
Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Spring 2014
SOAN 0335 - The Anthropology of China
The Anthropology of China
China serves as a case study in the anthropological analysis of a complex rapidly changing non-Western society. This course will be a survey of the principal institutions and ideas that form the background to modern Chinese society. Areas covered include: family and kinship, ritual, transformations of class hierarchies, and the impact of globalization. Materials will be drawn from descriptions of traditional, contemporary (including both mainland and Taiwanese settings), and overseas contexts. 3 hrs. lect./disc. (Anthropology)
SOAN 0345 - Anthropology of Food
The Anthropology of Food
Food not only sustains bodies, but also reflects and shapes cultures, social identities, and systems of power. In this course we examine the relationship between food and culture. Beginning with an examination of the origins of cooking, we will go on to analyze a variety of approaches to understanding the food/culture/society relationship. These include the symbolic meanings of food, the role of food in constructing social and cultural identities, and the relationship between food and political and economic systems. Our examples will be cross-cultural (Africa, South and East Asia, Europe, and the Americas). 3 hrs. sem. (Anthropology)
SOAN 0355 - Race Ethnicity Across Cultures
Race and Ethnicity Across Cultures
Ethnicity and race are social phenomena that influence group relations, as well as personal identity, in many areas of the world. But what is "ethnicity" and what is "race"? In this course we will explore the varied approaches that have been utilized to understand race and ethnicity across diverse cultural settings. No single explanation of race and ethnicity is all encompassing, and so we will explore a number of different approaches. Among the issues we will examine are: alternative explanations of ethnic and racial identity formation; the causes and consequences of ethnic violence and competition; the connections among ethnicity, gender, and class; and the processes through which distinctions between self and other are created. 3 hrs. lect./disc. (Anthropology)
Spring 2011, Fall 2013
SOAN 0500 - Advanced Individual Study ▲ ▹
Prior to registering for SOAN 0500, a student must enlist the support of a faculty advisor from the Department of Sociology/Anthropology. (Open to Majors only) (Approval Required) (Sociology or Anthropology)
Fall 2010, Winter 2011, Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Winter 2012, Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Winter 2014, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015
SOAN 0700 - One-Semester Senior Project ▲ ▹
One-Semester Senior Project
Under the guidance of a faculty member, a student will carry out an independent, one-semester research project, often based on original data. The student must also participate in a senior seminar that begins the first week of fall semester and meets as necessary during the rest of the year. The final product must be presented in a written report of 25-40 pages, due the last day of classes. (Sociology or Anthropology)
Fall 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Winter 2014, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015
SOAN 0710 - Multi-Semester Senior Project ▲ ▹
Multi-Semester Senior Project
Under the guidance of a faculty member, a senior will carry out an independent multi-semester research project, often based on original data. The student must also participate in a senior seminar that begins the first week of fall semester and meets as necessary during the rest of the year. The final product must be presented in a written report of 60-100 pages, due either at the end of the Winter Term or the Friday after spring break. (Sociology or Anthropology)
Winter 2011, Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Winter 2012, Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Winter 2014, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015
SOAN 1024 - Food in Modern China
From Famine to Feasting: The Role of Food in Modern Chinese Culture
Utilizing anthropological and historical studies, we will examine the role and meanings of food in modern Chinese culture. Topics will include famine and the legacy of famine, the role of food in popular religion, banqueting and feasting, and the impact of fast food and food scandals on the relationship between food and culture in reform-era China.
WAGS 0700 - Senior Essay