In 2011, my career came full circle when I moved back to Kentucky to direct the Appalachian Center and Appalachian Studies Program at UK. I grew up in Nicholas County, Kentucky, and told my sixth grade class I wanted to be an anthropology professor someday. I went to college in Memphis, and worked in jobs around the country from a Spanish-speaking free clinic in Arizona to directing a bioregional project on Cape Cod before going to graduate school in Anthropology at U Mass / Amherst, where I learned from a participatory research collective and from conversations at the intersections of political ecology, cultural geography, anthropology, and political economy. Residents of my home community in KY taught me a lot during my ethnographic dissertation research there in the 1980s, and continue to do so. I participated in starting the Culture & Power Ph.D. program in Anthropology as a faculty member at UC Santa Cruz in the early 1990s, and the Ph.D. program focused on comparative diasporas and social justice (as a faculty member and then department chair) in Anthropology at the University of South Carolina, before coming to UK in 2011. I am teaching in Appalachian Studies for several years, but work with graduate students in Anthropology.
As a cultural anthropologist, my topical focus is political anthropology and my ethnographic fieldwork has been in the U.S., Mexico, and Sri Lanka. Theoretically, my work is informed by writings on political economy and power (e.g., Marx, Gibson-Graham, Foucault, Ong, Monroy-Gómez, Wolf, Freire and Horton), interpretive perspectives (e.g., Geertz, Williams and Wittgenstein), and postcolonial and womanist perspectives (e.g., Fanon, Hill Collins, and hooks), along with those I interview and the students I learn from in every class. I assume epistemological parity between those inside and outside academic contexts. Everyone constructs, acts on, and reworks theories about social contexts all the time.
For over 25 years, I have been talking with people about how they make sense of the many events and processes glossed as “globalization” and act on those understandings. This began with conversations in my hometown about imagined futures in relation to the changing global tobacco, textile, and auto industries and how the local activity of “placing” was used to situate not only people in social networks, histories, counterhistories, and landscapes, but also to situate ideas, power, and transnational decision-making. Related to that long-term project on interpretations of globalization, I have been interested in what gets articulated in the space opened by discussions of policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement and anti-immigration legislation. I am especially interested in the selective marginalization of particular groups through capitalist logic and practice and ways to counter that marginalization.
Cultural anthropology’s strongest contribution is engaged listening, I think, and I have listened to stories (and silences) situated widely across social, national, political, disciplinary, identity and occupational borders. In studying globalization, I have tried to avoid drive-through ethnography and have instead initiated multi-sited research projects in which (1) there is collaboration between researchers doing long-term work on related issues in each of our own national contexts and (2) multiple participants in interviews can use interview material for their own purposes, not just my own as an anthropologist. My research is shaped by the attention to power and research ethics in which I was trained by Sylvia Helen Forman, Myles Horton, and Paulo Freire. In doing work as a Fulbright researcher on interpretations of globalization in the tea sector of Sri Lanka (to compare with an ongoing focus on the tobacco industry), I found that many I interviewed made predictions about young people leaving agricultural jobs in the future, but they had not asked young people directly about their plans. After organizing a forum for young people in the tea sector to publish their own thoughts on the future, in Tamil, Sinhala, and English, I realized that I had been doing a history of the future for several decades in rural Kentucky, but had not listened enough to the views of young people. Essays by 7th-9th graders in Nicholas County, Kentucky, form the postscript of my most recent book, Tobacco Town Futures: Global Encounters in Rural Kentucky. That book was written equally for a readership in my hometown and anthropology classrooms.
My individual research program is focused currently on interpretations of foreign trade zones and jurisdictions of place in the U.S. In my work at the University of Kentucky Appalachian Center, I am involved in a number of collaborative research projects (see http://appalachiancenter.as.uky.edu). Throughout those projects, we are looking for inclusion of a broad range of perspectives and points of convergence (if not agreement) in discussions of the future of the region.
In the fall, I teach APP 200 (Introduction to Appalachian Studies), which is a UK Core Course in US citizenship, and in the spring I teach a 500-level class for undergraduates and graduate students called Global Appalachia. In the spring of 2013, the students in that course are communicating via a wiki about common readings with students in a course taught by Prof. Subhadra Channa at the University of Delhi.
Anthropology courses I have taught in the past include undergraduate and graduate courses on globalization, cultural theory, introductory cultural anthropology, political and legal anthropology, engaged anthropology, regional courses on Latin America, the U.S., Mexico, and South Carolina, anthropology of public policy, ethnographic methods, anthropological ethics, field schools, and courses called Culture through Film, Constructing Regions, and Communicating Anthropology. I will probably teach anthropology courses in the future at UK; I welcome anthropology students at this time in my interdisciplinary Appalachian Studies courses and as advisees.
Tobacco Town Futures: Global Encounters in Rural Kentucky. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press. 2011.
The Gender of Globalization: Women Navigating Cultural and Economic Marginalities. Co-editor, with Nandini Gunewardena. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press. 2007.
NAFTA Stories: Fears and Hopes in Mexico and the United States. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. 2001.
More than Class: Studying Power in U.S. Workplaces. Editor, and Introduction. Series in the Anthropology of Work. Albany: SUNY Press. 1998.
Selected Articles and Chapters:
Neoliberal governance and faith-based initiatives: Agentive cracks in the logic informing homeless sheltering in South Carolina’s capital. Rethinking Marxism 24(2): 202-214. April 2012.
Talk of `broken borders’ and stone walls: Anti-immigrant discourse and legislation from California to South Carolina. Southern Anthropologist 35(1): 21-40. 2010. Free link: http://www.southernanthro.org/downloads/publications/SA-archives/2010-1-kingsolver.pdf
Living wage considerations in the right-to-work state of South Carolina. Anthropology of Work Review 31(1): 30-41. 2010.
`Like a frog in a well’: Young people’s views of the future expressed in two collaborative research projects in Sri Lanka. Human Organization 69(1): 1-9. 2010.
`As we forgive our debtors’: Mexico’s El Barzón movement, bankruptcy policy in the U.S., and ethnography of neoliberal logic and practice. Rethinking Marxism 20(1):13-27. 2008. (Reprinted in English and in Greek in Re-Public: Imagining Democracy 10/8/2009.)
Capitalism. Encyclopedia of Race and Racism (volume 1). John Hartwell Moore, ed. Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA. Pp. 268-271. 2008.
Farmers and farmworkers: Two centuries of strategic alterity in Kentucky’s tobacco fields. Critique of Anthropology 27(1):87-102. 2007.
Strategic alterity and silence in the promotion of California’s Proposition 187 and of the confederate battle flag in South Carolina. In: Silence: The Currency of Power. Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb, ed. Pp. 73-91. New York: Berghahn Books. 2006.
Thinking and acting ethically in anthropology. In: Thinking Anthropologically: A Practical Guide for Students. Philip Carl Salzman and Patricia C. Rice, eds. Pp. 71-79. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. 2004. Revised for second edition and third editions.