Claire Babbott-Bryan ‘23

Connections and Contradictions across Public Parks in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, Argentina is one of the least green cities in the world, with only 6 m2 of green space per person. This statistic falls far below the World Health Organization’s recommended 15 m2 and fails to capture unequal distribution of green space across the city. Neoliberal policies and practices continue to fragment and privatize the green spaces that remain, posing a threat to the public health of human and nonhuman beings in the city. This thesis draws on ethnographic fieldwork collected over a ten-month period to investigate the institution of public green space in Buenos Aires, with the goal of better understanding relationships between public parks and city inhabitants. The study examines the daily lives of park users in four popular parks to ask questions about community, identity, place-making, and resistance. Since the design and implementation of the study sites varied drastically, I grounded each park in its historical and political context before analyzing the qualitative field data. Drawing on questionnaires, interviews and participant observation, my thesis relies on storytelling, memory, and poetry as equally legitimate data sources alongside political ecology and the scientific method. By weaving together a collection of shared moments with park users, it became clear that the park-person relationship cannot be singularly traced or reconstructed, but rather contains inherent contradiction and multiplicity. This thesis illuminates one small facet of the mystery and dynamism contained in Buenos Aires’ parks, holding at once profound connection, conflict, crisis and joy. (Supervised by Prof. Oxfeld)

Katie Barton ‘23

The Gods Are In Storage: Place and Placelessness Amongst Diasporic Hindus in Burlington, Vermont
This thesis is an exploration of the co-creative nature of place and identity as exemplified in the Burlington Bhutanese-Nepali Hindu refugee community. I draw on theoretical frameworks articulated by Arjun Appadurai, Setha Low, and Edward Soja for identifying placemaking mechanisms, and analyze what those methods tell us more generally about religious placemaking in refugee communities. I begin with Appadurai’s concept of the ‘ideoscape’ to analyze how the discursive separation of the categories of “religion” and “culture” can been seen as a type of narrative placemaking. My next section discusses how the relationships among generation, language, and connection to physical place manifest in the Burlington Hindu community. Finally, I analyze the impermanence of certain aspects of ritual life and placemaking that I experienced during my fieldwork and conclude that the iterative placemaking undertaken by this community itself an expression of resilience. This thesis shows how a religious refugee community constructs its identity through specific mechanisms of placemaking, at the scales of individuals, sub-groups, and the whole community. The project concludes with a consideration of practice, ritual, and performance theory. Identity and place are co-created, and they come to be performed and naturalized in particular ways at different social scales. (Supervised by Profs. Ortegren and Sheridan)

Clark Devoto ‘23

Keep Corinth Inconvenient: A Culture Shaped by Landscape in a Small Vermont Hill Town
 Corinth, Vermont is a rural hill town far from any major city or highways. The town was first chartered in 1764. After initial success in farming, its population steadily declined for 150 years as the remote, steep land proved incompatible with industry. In the mid-20th century, Corinth’s population suddenly rebounded as it began to attract new residents who were looking for cheap land, a sense of place, and a strong community. These new residents integrated successfully with the native population because they learned and practiced local tradition. The result is a strong community that shares an identity of working with the land and still allows a multitude of land-based relationships to coexist. Corinth’s inconvenient nature has allowed a strong agricultural and environmental tradition to persist, and this may serve as a model for scaling back industrialized lifestyles. (Supervised by Prof. Stoll)

Anne Holleman ‘23

Reading Adolescent Health Education through a Critical Anthropological Approach to Gender, Movement, Mindfulness, and the Body
Anthropological studies of sports have given considerable attention to sports as the locus of local, national, and international identity and agency. Recently anthropological studies have shifted to include theories of phenomenology, techniques of the body, interactions with non-human beings, and sports as a way of survival. As gender equality has been prioritized in the United States, there have been improvements to women’s access and participation in sports. Even after Title IX, however, women still have fewer opportunities to access high-level athletics, as evident in the oft-cited statistic that only 4% of media coverage is for women’s sports. This project considers these critiques in the context of women’s experiences on the Middlebury College Crew Team.  Specifically, I explore how rowing empowers female athletes on the crew team through embodied experience, connection with teammates, and interaction with nature via technologies of power, phenomenology of the body, the framework of the “team body,” and therapeutic experiences with non-human elements. (Supervised by Prof. Bright)

Devon Hunt ‘23

“Parasocial Relationships are Only Toxic to Miserable People, I’m Having a Ball”: Parasocialism and Reciprocity Between K-pop Fans and Idols
In recent years, the Korean pop music industry has exploded in global popularity, leading to millions of new fans of the genre worldwide. With this entrance into public discourse in new places, many academics have criticized the industry for creating fandoms of “fanatic” teens who have become “addicted” to consuming K-pop media. Fans of K-pop are especially criticized for their emotional attachment to K-pop artists, known as idols.  To outside observers, the love fans that hold for their idols may seem transactional because fans dedicate energy, time, and money to someone who they’ve been duped into believing cares about them, but really doesn’t. From the fan perspective, however, the relationship is mutually beneficial and demonstrates genuine human connection. This research analyzes the fans’ perspectives on fan-idol relationships by viewing them as parasocial relationships and a sort of fictive kinship bond. This bond is apparent at meet-and-greet events, where fans and idols interact one on one and create  systems of reciprocity. (Supervised by Prof. Nevins)

Ella Jones ‘23

Casual Community and Accidental Encounters: Place-Making, Liminality, and Serendipity at Middlebury College through the COVID-19 Pandemic
In the four years since the COVID-19 pandemic started, campus life at Middlebury College has been through widely different regulatory regimes and protocols. At times students have been on campus but primarily attending classes online, with little ability to access buildings other than their dorms. Presently, restrictions are almost entirely lifted, and a most students never experienced a non-pandemic campus. Students who have had to navigate varying regulatory cultures have unique perspectives on the social salience of space in higher education. Through interviews with nine students, I examine themes of place-making, liminality, and serendipity. What I found is a form of sociality that I call the “casual community.” Higher education’s transformative learning project is inextricably linked to community-building because of the layers of social, spatial, and affective arrangements at a residential college campus. As the pandemic disrupted both structural organization and moments of social creativity and liminality, the importance of these informal casual communities was thrown into sharp relief by their absence. The concept of the casual community expands our understanding of how living at college fosters experimentation for joyful lives. (Supervised by Prof. Bright)

Hannah Laga Abram

Trickskin: A Dancing Ethnography of the Selkie Story in Western Ireland
This work weaves together anthropology and dance-based field research methods to investigate the Irish shapeshifting folktale of the selkie. I used multi-sensory ethnography, site-specific improvisation, and kinesthetic empathy to investigate the story with my body at field sites along the coast of western Ireland. I became a liminal researcher, working at the edges of dance and ethnography, body and story, and land and ocean. Three ‘trickstering bodies’ – “soft body,” “play body,” and “pleasure body” – served as shapeshifting practices that mediated these edges and transformed me – the researching body – in the process. This dancing ethnography became a body itself, and revealed and enacted the metamorphic power of a physically located shapeshifting story. (Supervised by Prof. Sheridan)

Melanie Leider ‘23

Rebirth to Ancestral Practices: The Politics of Reproduction in the Ecuadorian Amazon
The history of the politics of reproduction in Ecuador is fraught with the legacies of colonialism and racism. Despite state moves toward constructing a more equitable intercultural healthcare system, Western obstetrics prevails over ancestral birth practices. In the absence of state recognition and funding, AMUPAKIN, an Indigenous Quichua birthing clinic located in the Ecuadorian Amazon, has initiated an Immersive Amazonian Quichua Midwifery Program (PIPKA) that invites women from around the world to visit and study under traditional midwives. This ethnographic thesis aims to evaluate how Western biomedicine, traditional  Quichua midwifery, and Western midwifery interact at in this clinic through the PIPKA program, and how these interactions might contribute to intercultural healthcare in Ecuador. In January 2023, I observed and experienced how the midwives, PIPKA students, and clinic patients together negotiate birth from distinct social perspectives. This participant observation, along with multi-sensory ethnography and semi-structured interviews with the midwives, students, patients, and staff, form the basis of this study. To make sense of the power dynamics implicated in such multi-scalar interactions, I draw from medical anthropology and feminist political ecology to shed light on how Western obstetrics maintains its dominance by misrepresenting and marginalizing ancestral birth practices. This insight throws into question Ecuador’s celebration of its multicultural status. Additionally, I point out that while PIPKA provides AMUPAKIN with immediate financial stability, it also introduces essentialist stereotypes about indigeneity from beyond Ecuador that could threaten the preservation of Quichua ancestral medical knowledge. Ultimately, I argue that AMUPAKIN’s struggle for survival results from a lack of horizontal dialogue among diverse health practitioners, which produces Western medical hegemony and intercultural misunderstanding. (Supervised by Prof. Nevins)

Giselle Orozco ‘23

Finding Similarities in Our Differences: A Comparison Between the Experiences of First-Generation College Mexican and Chinese American Students
This thesis examines the similarities and differences in the experiences of first-generation Mexican- and Chinese-American college students. By comparing these two groups, this study highlights the importance of keeping cultural backgrounds in mind when dealing with first-generation students. I interviewed five Mexican-Americans and four Chinese-Americans about their experiences growing up and the evolution of their identities at college. The thesis begins by examining their reflections on experiences in school, use of language, relationships with family, and religion. It explores their identity formation in college, which includes the traditions they have maintained, their experience in college, their reflections on their maturation process, and the impact of labels on their transforming identity. The thesis concludes by examining how Bourdieu’s notion of habitus is limited when applied to the experiences and reflections of the interviewees. (Supervised by Prof. Oxfeld)

Paige Osgood ‘23

Regarding the Temple of Debod: An Ethnographic Study of Heritage Claims, Gift Obligations, and the Ethics of Care at Cultural Heritage Sites in Madrid, Spain
The Temple of Debod is an unlikely and rare example of the sanctioned reconstruction of an ancient Egyptian archaeological site in the secondary location of Madrid, Spain. But the Temple of Debod is also a site of defacement and neglect. In order to consider the particular agendas and effects of heritage projects in closer detail, this study compares the Temple to the curatorial practices at a second site in Madrid: the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (MAN). The MAN is a well-kept museum highly praised for its conservation and curation, strikingly different in appearance, patronage, and upkeep than the less maintained Temple. This thesis critically examines the logic at work in elevating one monument, the MAN, over another, the Temple of Debod. As I show, a comparative cultural analysis of the MAN and Temple of Debod reveals how different meanings and practices of “heritage” intersect with different influences of nationalism and tourism to shape particular logics of conservation. A key part of this work involves the deployment and development of broader anthropological categories such as heritage, material culture, tourism, care, and politics, and how those converge in particular public understandings of “cultural heritage management” in Spain. Beyond the theoretical implications of this work in anthropology, this thesis also provides recommendations for all cultural heritage sites. Specifically, this thesis promotes the ethics of care at the MAN and hopes that its recommendations serve as points of departure for the Temple of Debod and other cultural heritage sites to improve their ethics of care. (Supervised by Prof. Bright)

Erica Swirsky ‘23

Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Agency, Socioeconomic, and Higher Education in Rural New York
Rural high school students are faced with unique challenges as they approach graduation. Saranac Lake High School, located in the Adirondack Park, demonstrates the tension between educational goals, especially given their economic and cultural context. I provide ethnographic and empirical evidence to argue that a college degree holds a lower economic and cultural use value in Saranac Lake, which deters students from pursuing higher education. Moreover, academia is not culturally promoted or prioritized and therefore college preparation is primarily driven by a student’s ability to advocate for themselves and utilize the limited resources available. I met with seniors in two focus groups and asked about their plans after graduation and they make that decision. These groups highlighted a lack of local attention to the higher education process and students’ desire to expand their options. Rural areas intrinsically have a limited jobs market, which leaves students, college-bound or not, with a smaller array of choices and limited socioeconomic mobility. Choosing to enter the workforce instead of attending post-secondary education actualizes agency for students who are constrained by the rigidity of academic culture. My ethnographic research combined with American Community Survey data connects their individual lived experience to New York state’s broader economic context. The statistical analysis reveals that the increase in salary an individual gains from having a bachelor’s degree is significantly smaller in rural regions than in metropolitan areas. The economic and cultural value of a college education in the Adirondack region is much smaller than elsewhere in the state. (Supervised by Prof. Nevins)

Cale Wisher ‘23

Grand Canyon Shadows: The Investigation of Suicide and Disappearance in the Heart of the American Southwest
Grand Canyon is considered by many to be one of the most iconic and dramatic landscapes in the United States. Millions of people visit annually to gaze upon its grand cliffs. And while many see National Parks as a destination for tourism, they also are a popular destination for suicides. Between 2003 and 2009, there were 286 suicide events documented across 84 National Parks, and Grand Canyon is among the top contributors to this total. Since 2000, 55 of  a total of 284 deaths at Grand Cnayon have been deemed suicide. Suicide in Grand Canyon National Park is a unique phenomenon as compared to other places because of two distinctions: 1) travel to Grand Canyon and 2) utilization of the landscape as a means by which to commit the act. People have been documented traveling to Grand Canyon with the sole purpose of killing themselves. It can be further broken down into its constituent parts in what I call the Grand Canyon Suicide Model. I argue that four primary sociocultural factors are at play: spiritual beliefs, storytelling, imitation, and a history of mental illness. Analysis of these four factors helps to explain why someone might travel across the globe to commit suicide, as opposed to performing the act closer to home. It is impossible to completely prevent suicide deaths at Grand Canyon, but a better understanding of these dynamics is important for prevention measures. (Supervised by Prof. Sheridan)