Deanna Barenboim

BA, Sarah Lawrence College. MA, PhD, University of Chicago. Special interests in political/legal anthropology and medical/psychiatric anthropology; transnational migration, diaspora, and mobilities; race, ethnicity, and indigeneity; urbanism, space, and place; expressive culture; new media; Maya peoples, languages, and cultures; Mexico and Latin America; North America. Recipient of grants and fellowships from the US Department of Education, Fulbright, and National Science Foundation. SLC, 2009–

Research Interests

My research focuses on transnational migration, (im)mobilities, and socio-legal inequalities. I ask how movement across borders and encounters with immigration policies and enforcement practices produce emergent political subjectivities, experiential orientations, and forms of exclusion and belonging. Over the past decade, my research has centered on indigenous Mexican migration to the United States, with particular attention to Maya migration from the Yucatán region to California. Between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, over 50,000 people of Maya heritage migrated from Mexico to California, with the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles as the two major receiving hubs. Through my transnational research on this new Maya diaspora, I analyze how race, legal identity, and claims to space, place, and movement co-construct indigenous experience and imaginaries. Emerging from this project, my monograph, Belonging Out of Place, addresses migrants’ experience of racial and legal exclusion in an unexpected place: a zone that offers official sanctuary protections. In related work, I write about the relationship of law enforcement, migrant imaginaries, and Indigenous (im)mobilities in the context of particular immigration policies and deportation campaigns, as well as the linkages of indigenous heritage, material culture, and historical legacies of dispossession. Currently, I am undertaking a research project that looks at the effects of return migration, deportation, and familial separation on transborder citizenship and belonging.

Current undergraduate courses

Language, Politics, and Identity

Spring

This course will ask how words do things in the world, exploring the complex linkages between language, politics, and identity in both past and present contexts. We will pose a range of questions, such as: How does language enable powerful regimes to take force, and how do linguistic innovations constitute a creative means to challenge oppression? What role do the politics and poetics of language play in broader social movements and cultural revitalization efforts? How do particular political configurations produce language shift or constrain the possibilities for verbal expression in specific social groups? How does language take shape through specific narrative forms like testimonio, and how do such forms constitute or enable acts of political resistance? We will look at such topics in a range of ethnographic contexts, with a special focus on the Americas. Our readings will address case studies including: the emergent Zapotec language and music revival in the highlands of Oaxaca, Mexico; the lexicon of terror that shaped the political kidnappings and murders of Argentina’s Dirty Wars; the legacies of secrecy, silence, and creative resistance among Pueblo nations in the US Southwest; the challenges and joys of bilingualism among transnational migrants; and the acts of narrative witnessing employed by a range of activists including political prisoners, indigenous rights leaders, and undocumented youth. Students will be invited to draw upon original linguistic research as a central part of their conference work.

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Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Spaces of Exclusion, Places of Belonging

Fall

How do people construct meaningful places in a favela in Brazil or in the hill farms of Scotland? What should we make of “placeless” spaces or states, such as those instantiated through technologies like social media or Hindu yogic and meditative practice? How should we understand notions of displacement, transborder identifications, or longings for homeland as they play out for Sierra Leonean Muslims in Washington, DC, for Ecuadorians in Italy, or for indigenous Latin American migrants in California and Wyoming? This course explores issues of identity and difference, locality and community, in the context of transnational mobility and the globalized flow of people, ideas, values, and things. Engaging with recent scholarly work in the fields of anthropology, cultural studies, sociology, geography, architecture, and literature, we will seek to decode sociospatial arrangements to better understand structures and processes of exclusion and marginalization. At the same time, we will observe how people’s navigations through space and their efforts at placemaking create sites of collective identity, resistance, belonging, and recognition. Posed in a wide range of ethnographic contexts, our efforts to puzzle through these issues will require attention to the ways in which space and place are, for instance, embodied, gendered, racialized, and (il)legalized. We will likewise attend to the politics and ethics of postcolonial scholarship on space and place and to the meanings of an engaged anthropology that leans toward social justice.

Faculty
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Previous courses

Culture, Power, and Violence in Latin America

Spring

This course takes up questions of violence through the anthropological study of Latin America, a world region with a long history of civil wars, coups d’états, military interventions, guerrilla movements, and political repression. Considering violence as it relates to social and political power, the course explores overt and discreet violence in a variety of forms, including both the corporeal violence of genocide and torture, for instance, and symbolic violence of ethnic conflict and state neglect. Our readings will address topics such as the aftermath of ethnic genocide in Guatemala; the legacy of torture and disappearances in Argentina; the politics of vigilance and surveillance in the militarized zone of the US-Mexican border; and the everyday resonances of hunger, poverty, and infant death in Brazilian favelas. Considering the confluences and consequences of violence portrayed in these accounts, we will attend, as well, to how violence is lived and experienced through engaging anthropological conceptualizations of suffering, trauma, subjectivity, and personhood. Finally, we will explore a range of personal and collective responses to violence—such as social practices of commemoration, political engagements with human-rights struggles, and state-sponsored practices of truth and reconciliation—in order to understand the linkages among violence, suffering, and social justice.

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Indigenous Rights and Representations

Spring

What role do native identities play in global social and political movements? How do ideas about indigenous peoples shape nationalist sensibilities and international projects? How do notions of cultural authenticity and autonomy figure in the discourse of indigenous rights? Attending to the legacies of colonialism, this course addresses postcolonial representations, performances, and politics of indigeneity by indigenous people themselves, as well as by others, in such places as Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, and the United States. Through a close look at ethnographic texts on this topic, we will investigate how perceptions about and participation by indigenous peoples have figured in environmental activism, transnational trade agreements, educational reform, nationalist campaigns, multiculturalist politics, and international migration. Our course readings will explore how indigeneity is engaged in struggles such as the Zapatista resistance movement in Chiapas, Mexico; the pan-indigenous mobilization against environmental pollution in Ecuador; and efforts toward social justice in the aftermath of ethnic genocide in Guatemala. We will attend to the role of globalization, transnational mobilities, and technological innovation in emergent social movements, as well as new imaginings of indigenous identity. And we will contemplate the implications of indigenous intellectuals’ increasing presence as key actors in both academic and public debate. At the culmination of the course, interested students may opt to participate in the annual meetings of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

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Migration and Experience

Fall

This seminar will engage an emerging body of anthropological research that asks how the broad sociocultural, political, moral, and economic structures and processes that produce transnational migration affect the thinking, feeling, and sensing of people whose lives play out in the balance. Through our readings and seminar discussions, we will grapple with a series of questions that probe the contemporary experience of migration, such as:  What are the felt consequences of living in between “home” and “host” societies and between “traditional” and transformed ways of being? How is the migrant/transborder condition differently shaped by the particular intersections of ethnic, class, state, and other boundaries that are crossed? How do different forms of power shape and constrain migrants’ subjective and intersubjective experiences of time, space, embodiment, and self? In what sense is “illegal” versus “documented” status critical to the everyday politics and poetics of migrant life? In our exploration of these and related questions, we will attend to the ways in which migrants draw on cultural resources to create spaces and practices of connection, protection, and continuity despite the disruptive potential introduced by migration. Latin American and indigenous migration will focus prominently in our selection of readings, which will also include forays into ethnographic contexts such as West African and Filipino migrant experiences in Israel and Yolmo Nepali life in Queens. Students may opt to conduct fieldwork or engage in service learning for their conference projects.  

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Mobilities and Moorings

Fall

In our increasingly globalized world, there is much talk of people, things, and ideas “on the move.” Over the past decade, sedentarist assumptions within the social sciences that fix people in place have given way to a “mobility turn” that emphasizes flows and movement across borders. In this course, we will attend to intersecting mobilities and immobilities from the vantage point of anthropology and related disciplines, with particular attention to the topic of migration and diaspora. Our ethnographic exploration of this subject matter will take us from Ghanaian fishing villages to Italian cityscapes and from Oaxacan weaving towns to the suburbs of Oregon and the interstitial spaces of Internet cafes in the Philippines and beyond. Such forays will lead us to grapple with a series of related questions: What are the structures and technologies that enhance some people’s freedom of movement while constraining other people’s abilities to leave a place or stay in place? What role does entrapment, enclosure, or expulsion play in the making and reinforcing of material, social, and political boundaries and borders? How might migrants and other travelers invoke creative forms of movement in order to affect social mobility? In what ways do these intersecting actual and virtual (im)mobilities assist us in understanding the relationship between space and place, exclusion and belonging? Students will be invited to conduct original ethnographic fieldwork or service learning as part of their conference work.

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Selected Publications