Sociology/Anthropology Senior Projects

Senior Essay and Thesis Abstracts 2015-2016

Nicolette Amber
Toeing the Line: Too Thin or Not Thin Enough? Complications in Female Cross-Country Runners’ Narratives on Diet and Body Image

This project investigates how female cross-country runners construct narratives about diet and body image. Previous literature has suggested a linear relationship wherein female athletes in lean-positive sports continuously strive to be thinner to achieve success. As such, they develop eating disorders and distorted body images. After conducting a narrative analysis based on interviews with eight women on the varsity cross-country team at Middlebury College, I argue this process is more complicated and multi-layered. Not only is there a contrast between the thin ideal promoted by mainstream patriarchal culture in the United States and the thin ideal in the sport of cross-country running, but there also is tension within the sport itself. These athletes must reconcile the fact that becoming too thin is stigmatized by their competitors and by societal values, yet it also leads to optimal athletic performance. They also face the fact that the most efficient body for distance running does not match the mainstream standard of beauty. Toeing this difficult line between thin enough and too thin speaks to the lack of control and agency that female athletes face under patriarchal capitalism. This thesis addresses how their narratives are ultimately about mediating external multi-directional powers stemming from patriarchal, capitalist values that inform and direct their bodily practices. 

Nat Blackford
Negotiating Ideology and Practice: Perspectives on Permaculture from Vermont

This ethnography of permaculture in Vermont explores the hegemonic negotiation through which permaculture practitioners situate their movement as an alternative to industrial agriculture and mass consumerism. The empirical basis of this work includes published literature of permaculture authors in Vermont as well as interviews with a range of practitioners. I explore relationships between permaculture and mainstream society along two dimensions. First, using Bourdieu’s notion of heterodox discourse, I explore the explicit ideology of permaculture, as its adherents critique and pose alternatives to industrial agriculture, mass consumerism and market economics. I identify three themes elaborated in their critique: a redefinition of progress and success, a redrawing of the boundaries between humans and the natural world, and a challenge to the inevitability of scarcity as a condition of social and economic interaction. Second, I use interview data to explore the reflections of practitioners on their experiences working towards realizing and embodying their heterodox ideology within the constraints (laws, regulations and market conditions) of mainstream consumer society. Here, my consultants report minimal constraint imposed by laws and regulations, but identify as problematic cultural norms of individualism and the conditions of the market economy. In the end, I argue that while permaculture practitioners in Vermont are able to embody many of the alternatives that they propose; they also find themselves caught up in reproducing some of the market conditions and norms of individualism that they critique.

Sophie Bufton
The Deep Ocean: An Epistemology of Absence and Re-indigenization among Trinidadian Artists and Entrepreneurs

This experimental ethnography engages with Trinidadian artists and small business developers as they orient to the ocean as a contested space from which they excavate a cultural history, and cultural geography of the Anglophone Caribbean. Drawing upon two summers of ethnographic research, I show that the sea plays a key symbolic role in the way that members of the local arts and small business community actively re-interpret and reimagine their history and identity and engage in acts of decolonization. The Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean act as containers for a cultural history of imperialism; both historical British and European imperialism, whose effects continue to plague Trinidad and Tobago and are a primary concern of decolonization praxis. I propose an “epistemology of absence” as a way of knowing that characterizes the Caribbean diaspora, and their experience of a silenced and erased African past. Trinidadian dance artists, fashion designers, and religious communities fill up the spaces that absence leaves, and in their own terms “re-indigenize” these as their own places within the history of diaspora and contemporary globalization. It is a way of involving themselves with broader decolonization movements and a shared trans-local indigenous identity. In this way re-indigenization is a post-diasporic decolonization methodology that is consistent across a range of entrepreneurial place-makers in Trinidad and Tobago.

Emma Cameron
“Welcome to DC”: How High School Students Interpret and Act on Academic Performance Data that is Broken Down by Race and Ethnicity

Woodrow Wilson High School, a large urban DC public school, failed to make the adequate yearly progress required by the No Child Left Behind Act. I examine the effects of how the school categorizes academic performance data by race and ethnicity. The school gathers the test data, breaks it down along racial and ethnic lines, and then shares that information with the school community – students, teachers, administrators and parents – in order to point out which groups are underperforming, on target, or above average. I investigate student responses to this method for interpreting and sharing test scores. I conducted interviews with current and graduated Wilson High School students and surveyed how, upon being given this statistical representation of performance by race or ethnic group, their own academic performance was affected. I relied entirely on self-reporting, prompted by my interview questions, to gather the data. My qualitative analysis looks at what meanings students ascribe to the test data, individually and collectively, and what stances they take in the wake of it being communicated to them.  

Anna Chamby
Les Vraies Femmes Camerounaises: Healthcare-Seeking Negotiations of Motherhood Among Women in Yaoundé, Cameroon

This study explores how women in Yaoundé, Cameroon make maternal healthcare decisions before, during, and after pregnancy based on notions of motherhood. Interviews with thirty-one pregnant women in biomedical healthcare settings, observations of hospital practices, and lived experiences between February and June of 2015 provide the main sources of data for this study, which was framed and contextualized by various anthropological sources. The narratives of various Yaoundéen mothers show that their maternal healthcare-seeking behavior reflects a negotiation of globally, nationally, and biomedically determined conceptions of (in)fertility, pregnancy, and childcare with the socially embedded notions of motherhood as well as the realities of their individual lives. My research shows that the Yaoundéen female body becomes a symbolic arena on which these conflicting notions of motherhood manifest. However, these women demonstrate varying strategic approaches to managing each stage of their motherhood, revealing the way in which Yaoundéen women, despite the ideological constraints of locally informed and socially disembedded notions of motherhood overall, have a certain degree of agency in their reproductive choices by virtue of their bodies. I explore the particular context and meaning of African motherhood, concluding that the negotiation practices of these Yaoundéen women are fundamentally connected to the maintenance of critical kinship relations. Moreover, I draw upon theories of critical medical anthropology, feminism, kinship, and body politics in order to ultimately shed light on individual, Yaoundéen women’s experiences as they navigate the process of motherhood.

Charlotte Fairless
Limited Futures: Elite Women Feel Confined to Choose Between Career Pursuit and Motherhood

This project seeks to determine what heterosexual, female undergraduate students at Middlebury College perceive to be their options for the future. Through in-depth interviews with ten students, I discovered that upper-middle and upper class white women at Middlebury College see their options limited to two disparate ideals of motherhood or career. The women’s status as elite makes them believe that they must embody an “ideal” of one or the other, with very little room for overlap. They use the language of justification to explain why they feel drawn to motherhood or career, and the performance of their gender ties them to this dichotomy. The justifications used to explain the women’s choices often rely on conceptions of what is best for a child’s upbringing, or what is best for a happy marriage. Women learn these ideas from their own mothers and families. The women expressed a strong desire to reproduce their own privileged upbringing with their hypothetical future children, a phenomenon known as class reproduction. The aspiration for class reproduction binds these women to the socially constructed ideals of upper class femininity, specifically the pursuit of being the ideal mother or the ideal career woman. 

Emma Gee
Food for Thought: The Construction of Children’s Diet in Yaoundé, Cameroon

Based on interviews with mothers, other caregivers, children, and a pediatrician in a private clinic in Yaoundé, Cameroon, this study explores how children’s conceptions about food are constructed in Yaoundé, and the role that mothers play in this process. From this research, I argue that mothers are instrumental to the transmission of knowledge and beliefs about food in Yaoundé, specifically through their roles as feeder and mentor to their children. However, this transmission of knowledge is deeply shaped by structural and time limitations, broad global narratives, gender inequality, and most importantly the behaviors and desires of their children. As children grow and construct their own beliefs about food, they establish their own role in this process of transmission, sometimes running counter to the directives of their mothers. Through comprehension of this give-and-take relationship – especially within the context of the other forces shaping maternal beliefs about food – this study brings together ideas of family, gender, globalization, and power. The issue of constructing children’s beliefs about food in Cameroon becomes not just an issue specific to Yaoundé society, not just an issue of nutrition or malnutrition, and not just an issue of childhood education. Rather, my research comments on the universality of feeding children around the world, showing that this process of transmitting culture to offspring takes on a similar character cross-culturally.

Charles Griggs
Muddled Meanings: Abstractions of Spiritual Reclamation as seen in the Works of Jean-Michel Basquiat

My research explores the intersections between consumerism, consumption, the leisure class, and Black Art. I investigate how the white leisure class entertains Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work in order to more clearly understand the formation of taste. Through this foray, I examine how black art, the black artist, and the black body are objects of desire in certain artistic spaces. I analyze how these subjects are members of communities that were historically denied access to the stages in which many black artists are centered. Through my research I am allowed to see how some aspects of the American black experience become abstracted and used to reinforce good taste. I utilize Max Weber’s concept of “anomie” to analyze how Basquiat becomes alienated both from himself as a black man and his work in order to be transformed into a spectacle for consumption. This framework allows me to test how the black artist and black art become totems of desire for the white leisure class. I mainly used document analysis of Basquiat’s artwork and participant observation in museum exhibits to collect data.

Emily Hewitt
A Comparison of Maya Architectural Forms at the Archaeological Site of Cuello, Belize

Cuello, a Maya site in Northern Belize, has two phases of habitation: one center dating from the latter parts of the Preclassic (1500 BC - 250 AD) and one from the Classic (250 -850 AD). The Preclassic center was excavated extensively through the 1970s and 1980s, but the Classic center has remained relatively untouched. The Classic center’s acropolis is atypical in structure, because it consists of two stylistically different plazas. The reason for the

difference in this style may be the influence of more powerful sites nearby, and the citizens of Cuello wanting to mimic the style in vogue. The sites that would have influenced architectural style at Cuello are Caracol, Naranjo, and Xunantunich, based on their geographical location.  The late component of the site is currently believed to date to the Early Classic (250 - 600 AD), based on an assertion made by Norman Hammond, who excavated the Preclassic phase of the site. Based on the period in which surrounding sites were at their peaks, and the parallels in Cuello’s architecture, it seems more likely that Cuello dates from the Late Classic period (600 - 850 AD). Using original research conducted on site in January 2015, and an analysis of maps and literature, this essay explores the reasons for the difference in structure between the two plazas and proposes a Late Classic date for the site.

Emma Homans
#Food: What Food Photos on Instagram Express about Female Identity and Environmental Consciousness

This project seeks to understand how female students at Middlebury College interpret Instagram posts about food in relation to gender and environmental consciousness. Food has long been a focus of anthropological study, and with the growth of social media, food can be used to express elements of identity in ways beyond the act of eating itself. In particular, this project aims to expand upon previous literature by looking at cultural constructions of food in its relationship with gender and environmental consciousness. It does so by looking at associations surrounding interpretations of gender, environmental consciousness, and the relation between the two in food posts on Instagram. Instagram photos posted by Middlebury College females were collected and a representative sample was chosen for a pile sort activity. Nine female participants were asked to sort the 22 posts three times: according to their own criteria, by the degree of environmental consciousness expressed, and by the most likely gender of the poster. Participants were then asked to explain their reasoning. Both the sorting results and explanations were analyzed for common themes. Overall, the results found strong associations between certain foods, specific genders, and specific degrees of environmental consciousness. Most significantly, participants associated posts of meat, pre-prepared foods, and large quantities of food with males and a low degree of environmental consciousness; in contrast, participants associated homemade foods, meals without meat, and “healthy” foods with females and a high degree of environmental consciousness. These findings, if continued with future research studies of both men and women’s interpretations, may have implications for environmental messaging as well as the local foods movement.

Durga Jayaraman
Aliens at Home: Narratives of International Students Attending an Elite Liberal Arts College in the United States

This senior work examines the international student transition into an American liberal arts college environment. Literature shows that international students often feel alienated at U.S. colleges as a result of homesickness, discrimination, language barriers, and a lack of social support. Most past research has been conducted on larger state university campuses. This study investigates the specific ways alienation factors affect foreign students on a small, non-diverse campus in a rural area. While Middlebury often emphasizes its commitment to an international education, it institutionally alienates international students through orientation processes and teaching methods. Students often face discrimination from their peers and feel uncomfortable with the social culture. The notion of ‘otherness’ lies at the heart of this study. While international students come from countries with differing national ideals and potentially conflicting political aims, they come together to form the larger identity group of ‘international students.’ Despite being very different from one another, the sense of otherness felt due to being foreign in a sea of Americans bonds international students together. This work understands and analyzes the specific ways in which international students are alienated at Middlebury, and what measures they take to survive and succeed.

Charlie Kies
SubTotal Institutions: Base + Web

The term “subtotal institution” may seem oxymoronic and reductionist. It has, in most cases, become more accurate than its parent term, Erving Goffman’s “total institution,” in describing places where so-called ‘inmates’ choose to reside for a substantial period of time. Throughout American society, total institutions are being reincarnated as subtotal, adapting to the present impossibility of geographic isolation and the movement among the general public for increased “openness” across the board. However, the theoretical framework with which we understand totalizing institutions has not caught up with our present reality. The new framework I propose uses sociological theory and two guidelines for active engagement – one theoretical and the other conceptual and tactile – to foster a more accurate, clearheaded engagement with a fairly new and increasingly common totalizing phenomenon.

Diana Luna
Voices from the Margins: Revisiting the Narratives of Undocumented Immigrant Youth within the Immigrant Rights Movement

The contemporary immigration debate in the United States can be understood, in part, as a discursive struggle. At stake in this struggle is the framing of the issue of undocumented immigration. In recent years, actors within the immigrant rights movement have greatly transformed the conversation about undocumented immigration and have helped garner the support of broad segments of the American public through their deployment of narratives. The perspectives of the undocumented youth known as DREAMers and of professionalized immigrant rights organizations have largely dominated the conversation about immigrant rights on the national stage. However, the perspectives of emerging undocumented actors, such as the new generation of pro-immigrant activists who operate mainly within their local communities, have only been marginally considered. Through intensive analysis of interviews, this thesis explores how undocumented Latino immigrant youth organizers in certain localities in eastern Pennsylvania think about their undocumented experiences and how they are framing the issue of unauthorized immigration through their narratives. In doing so, it provides insight into the various considerations that inform the discourses of these undocumented organizers. It also critically engages with the critique made by many scholars that the discourses of undocumented immigrant youth are emblematic of a neoliberal discourse on rights and citizenship. In contrast to this view, this thesis argues that the narratives of the undocumented youth featured in this project seek to illuminate the broader sociohistorical processes that give way to an undocumented status in the first place, as well as the structural conditions – notably, structural racism – that shape life for undocumented Latino immigrants in the United States.

Diana was the 2016 winner of the Lank Prize in Sociology and Anthropology.

Sophia Miller
Craft Beer, Local Cheese, and Opiates: The Role of Vermont’s ‘Idyllic’ Landscape in Media Representations of a Heroin Panic

During America’s first heroin panic, opiate addiction was understood as an urban problem; currently this country is experiencing a second heroin panic with a distinctly rural face. Drawing upon moral panic theory and sociological literature on drug scares, this senior work examines media representations of Vermont’s heroin ‘crisis,’ exploring how the notion of Vermont as ‘rural idyllic’ is used to define heroin as a social problem. In an analysis of New York Times articles and associated reader comments, I follow three questions: (1) How does the perception of Vermont as a ‘rural idyll’ structure the heroin panic? (2) How are race and class negotiated through the rhetoric of the rural idyll in media representations of the heroin crisis? (3) In what ways does the interactive nature of online media perpetuate the hegemonic narrative of this drug panic? Are there opportunities for alternative narratives? Overall, I find that the rural idyll is a symbolic middle-class landscape of consumption, authentic production, and purity, against which the heroin addict is constructed as a problematic consumer, unproductive citizen, and contaminant, ultimately becoming a scapegoat for social ills considered anti-idyllic. While in many cases reader participation reinforces these dominant constructions of heroin use and addiction, I contend that the comments section of these articles also provides an interactive site through which participants demonstrate resistance, offer alternative narratives, and give voice to the subjects that are castigated in Vermont’s drug panic. With this finding, I complicate the traditional understanding of drug scares as hegemonic, presenting ways in which new media can be used to destabilize dominant frameworks for defining drug use and the addict.

Kristina Pallová
Negotiating Role as Linking Social Actors: NGO Action to Redress Roma Exclusion from the Czech Education System

This study examines the role of NGOs as linking social actors to redress Roma exclusion from the Czech education system. Roma children are often placed in substandard schools or classes that follow substandard curricula, which amounts to direct discrimination. While overt forms of segregation result from exclusionary policies, issues of underachievement and early dropout stem from structural and institutional forms of discrimination. Through in-depth interviews with NGO representatives, I provide an important insight into how NGOs strategize using different forms of capital to help overcome these barriers and help integrate Roma students into mainstream education. Drawing of social field theory and social capital theory, this investigation elucidates how horizontal patterns of solidarity and trustworthiness interact with vertical dimensions of inequality and difference. I find that although NGOs tend to succeed at integrating individuals at the grassroots level of cultural assimilation model, the increase in diversity and intermingling of Roma students with majority population leads to an increase in bonding social capital and inward looking social networks. The findings about the victories and pitfalls of NGO efforts contribute to a deeper understanding into how integration can be managed at micro and macro levels in the Czech Republic.

Hannah Quinn
White Women and Stigma Management on Middlebury’s Campus: The Construction of New Identities

Many young adults resist seeking help and treatment for their mental illness because they feel a pressure to hide their stigmatized identity. This paper explores stigmatized identities of students at Middlebury College, a small, liberal arts college in rural Vermont. Previous research has approached this topic

from a psychological perspective at large universities, whereas this research will look through a purely sociological lens using narratives to understand how students construct their stigmatized self. This study uses a modified grounded theory method, which includes interviews and a three-stage coding process of analysis. The research found that while all types of students at Middlebury College experience mental health issues, for white women, their mental illness becomes their primary identity. White women try to re-conceptualize their condition into a positive self-image in an attempt to construct an identity that is accepted by the community. Implications for future institutional policy change at the institutional level will be discussed. 

Jena Ritchey
Different Rules, Same Game: A Comparative Study of First-Generation Students’ Academic Experiences at an Elite Private College

This senior project examines the experience of eight first-generation college students: four who attended private prep high schools and four who attended public high schools. By comparing these students’ experiences, I found that students’ educational backgrounds have a larger influence than their family background on how they navigated academic work at an elite liberal arts college.  Because of prep school students’ previous experiences in elite educational settings, they felt prepared for, and confident about, entering college. Their preparation and confidence allowed them to feel in control of their academic work, and their previous acclimation to busy schedules meant that they felt comfortable prioritizing extracurricular involvement and taking on extra academic challenges. By way of contrast, public school students were accustomed to learning environments that taught them to obey explicit directions and memorize for tests; therefore, coming to college, these students had to adapt to a different educational paradigm. Public school students often felt exhausted after completing all of their academic work and overwhelmed by the environment of a residential college. In order to cope with the many new expectations, public school students often engaged less in extracurricular activities. My research indicates first, that secondary educational institutions play a critical role in students’ acquisition of cultural capital, and second, that public school students who lack elite cultural and academic capital experience a prolonged transition period upon entering an elite private college.

Debanjan Roychoudhury
Ethnic at Home, Policed in the Streets: Experiences of Policing and Racial Identity Among First- and Second-Generation U.S. Immigrant Men of Color

The purpose of this research is to gain a better understanding of the experiences of policing among young men of color. Currently, our nation is experiencing growing tension in regards to police-community relations. Political, academic, and cultural dialogues have emerged around police killings of unarmed civilians, the use of racial profiling in relation to stop-and-frisk policies and punitive practices targeting perceived immigrants. Current social science research uses racial categories to describe respondents, but rarely has the nuanced identities of immigrant men of color, who bear both ethnic and racial identities been explored, specifically as it relates to policing. My project utilizes data collected from eight interviews with self-identified first- and second-generation immigrant men of color at Middlebury College to explore the following questions: (1) How does policing function as a site of racial formation? (2) How do recent immigrants perceive the place of policing and surveillance in their lives? (3) How do interactions with authority across various contexts affect the way recent immigrants adopt a national identity? I conclude that recent immigrant men of color interpret their treatment by police as being different than the treatment received by their white counterparts even if they do not interpret incidents as being explicitly discriminatory, that perceptions of authority transcend national borders, and that respondents feel the need to perform respectability and politeness or otherwise avoid interactions with law enforcement altogether.

Tara Seibold
Disaster and the Savior-Complex: Media Narratives of the 2015 Nepal Earthquakes

This thesis examines the portrayal of natural disasters in the American mainstream media, focusing on the 2015 Nepal earthquakes, drawing on mainstream media coverage of the earthquakes, development theory and disaster anthropology. It looks at what constitutes a disaster both from an anthropological perspective and also in the mainstream media, using the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal as the lens through which to examine these issues. I present and examine three discursive frameworks necessary for understanding the coverage of the Nepal earthquakes, showing that these frameworks are not narratives but rather provide and construct the discursive space in which the media narratives of disasters occur. The frameworks I identify are disaster-as-event, Nepal-as-Orient, and personal resilience. This thesis also looks at the specific disaster narratives that inhabit those discursive spaces. The narratives addressed here are narratives of lack, blame, technology, and expert knowledge, which I identified in mainstream media coverage of the Nepal earthquakes. I both analyze and examine the underlying meanings and structure of these narratives, presenting the concept of an ur-narrative. I also show how these narratives work together to support ideas of Western superiority. In addition, I discuss the moral concerns of disaster research and the theoretical and practical relevance of this thesis, as well as outline areas for future research.

Lee Schlenker
A Spatial Politics of Public Space: Four Ethnographies in Havana

This capstone project analyzes how social behavior in and affiliations to historically-coded public spaces in Havana, Cuba reflect and fuel citizens’ shifting relationships to the Cuban Revolution and its concomitant spatial ideologies. Through an ethnography of four public spaces – each designed in and presently understood through a distinct architectural-historical era – I investigate not only how such spaces have been imagined and used by individuals and the state, but how their creative, personal or political re-imaginations elucidate evolving engagements with the Revolution’s socio-spatial praxis. Drawing on urban studies scholarship that probes the political significance and sociocultural meanings of Latin American public spaces, I present stories and images that exhibit habaneros’ spatial imaginations, expressions and resistances. This inversion of academic, official and professional representations of Havana’s public spaces will, in turn, facilitate commentary on a range of polemical issues in contemporary Cuban life, such as religion, popular culture, revolutionary ideology and urban development. Through semi-structured interviews, direct and participant observation, architectural and urban analysis, and historical inquiry, I illustrate how creative, resistant and transformative usages and re-appropriations of Havana’s public spaces are not only implicit political statements, but also useful social texts that both constitute popular urban histories of Havana’s present-past and spatialize the most pressing ideological struggles in Cuban society today.

Jamie Soroka
Satire Day Night Live: Gender Representation on Satirical Television Programs 

This thesis examines the use of satire as a means of shedding light on widely circulated social commentary, specifically on the issue of media representation of the female body. By examining the use of satire as a form of comedy, and applying the usage to a specific topic, I explain why popular television programs flourish with the use of satire. Focusing specifically on the television comedy Saturday Night Live, I examine five specific sketches where the program uses satire to highlight and ridicule widely acknowledged media representations of the female body. With these five sketches I break down exactly what occurs on the screen and why it is relevant to the topic at hand. I then use specific instances from the sketch to further examine how the writers of Saturday Night Live use satire to expose their problem with the wider rhetoric on the female body. Because of its popularity and trustworthiness as a television program, I find that satire presented on Saturday Night Live reaches a wide audience generally agreeing with the comedic representation presented on screen.

Department of Sociology & Anthropology

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