Professor Bernal's research has addressed a range of issues relating to gender, migration, nationalism, transnationalism, development, cyberspace, and Islam. She has carried out ethnographic research in Eritrea, Tanzania, and the Sudan. Bernal has been the recipient of a number of prestigious grants and fellowships from Wenner-Gren, Fulbright, and Rockefeller Foundations among others. Her book analyzing rural transformations and the complex interplay of development policies, labor migration and peasant households, Cultivating Workers: Peasants and Capitalism in a Sudanese Village was published by Columbia University Press. Her articles and chapters have appeared in numerous collections as well as in anthropological, African Studies, and interdisciplinary journals, including Cultural Anthropology, American Ethnologist, American Anthropologist, Comparative Studies in Society and History, African Studies Review, and Political and Legal Anthropology Review.
Professor Bernal is currently working on three major research projects. "Eritrea Online: Diaspora, Cyberspace, and Social Imagination" analyzes the Eritrean diaspora and its use of cyberspace to theorize the ways transnationalism and new media are associated with the rise of new forms of community, public spheres, and sites of cultural production. Eritreans use the internet as a transnational public sphere and a medium for political expression and organizing. Through the web, the diaspora has mobilized demonstrators, amassed funds for war, debated the formulation of the constitution, and influenced the government of Eritrea whose leaders are believed to themselves participate in on-line political debates under assumed names. Other populations of migrants and exiles are engaging in similar activities, and the influence of diasporas is a global phenomenon. Geographic and technological mobility are giving rise to new publics and new public spheres where struggles over meanings and power are staged and social action is mobilized. Bernal's research analyzes the involvement of the Eritrean diaspora in transnational fields of political mobilization and in Eritrean national debates from diverse locations to reveal hidden aspects of transnational migration and to explore the interconnections between citizenship and democracy in the U.S. and Europe and struggles for social justice and democratization elsewhere. In this research project Bernal uses the Eritrean experience as a lens through which to bring into focus answers to key questions concerning the emerging world order associated with population movements, de-territorialized identities, and new technologies, paying particular attention to cyberspace as a site of cultural production and political expression.
A second research project "Donors and Democracy in Dar es Salaam" explores implications of the rise of transnational funding and transnational organizing for feminist activism and for our understanding of the ways that globalization is linked to fundamental changes in civil society. Tanzanian NGOs are produced and animated as much by foreign funds, initiatives, and discourses as by anything Tanzanian. Tanzanian women's NGOs, moreover, are not simply struggling in relation to the Tanzanian state and local authorities of various kinds; they are also struggling with international donor regimes. While universalist discourses of human rights at the global level have been the subject of much debate, little attention has focussed on the transformations of public cultures and politics within national arenas as these become globalized. Contemporary discussions of women's citizenship rights, gender equality, and democratization are inadequate if they fail to capture this de-nationalization of civil society and the complex interpentrations of local and global governmentalities and the porous boundaries of states and so-called nongovernmental organizations. This research project draws on fieldwork in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on local NGOs and international donors to show how a focus on postcolonial feminist activism can help us to see globalization, democratization, and international rights issues in new ways.
A third project "Democratizing Women: NGOs, Marginalization and Empowerment in the 21st Century" is a collaborative project of Professor Bernal and Professor Inderpal Grewal in Women's Studies at UCI. This interdisciplinary project focusses on globalization, feminism, and the welfare and empowerment of women in so-called "developing" countries. In the last decade there has been a massive shift in development and democratization initiatives away from government agencies to non-governmental organizations (NGOs). A tremendous amount of the worlds resources with regard to gender equity is now being spent through and on NGOs that are run by and/or for women. What is lacking is a theoretically engaged body of research and analysis on the implications of this global shift. The initial phase of this project is an international symposium on these issues, co-organized by Professors Bernal and Grewal to be held in Bellagio, Italy in August 2004 with support from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Professor Bernal is currently the Director of Graduate Studies in Anthropology.
Professor Bernal and Professor Inderpal Grewal, Women's Studies are the co-organizers of a Bellagio Symposium on "NGOs, Marginalization and Empowerment in the 21st Century" to be held in August 2004 in Bellagio, Italy supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.
In Fall 2003 Professor Bernal was the convener of a resident research group on "Feminism, Global Cultures, and Cyberspace" at the UC Humanities Research Institute.
"Diaspora, Cyberspace and Political Imagination: the Eritrean Diapora Online."
Global Networks 6(2):161-179, 2006.
"Eritrea On-line: Diaspora, Cyberspace, and the Public Sphere."
American Ethnologist 32(4):660-675, 2005.
"Eritrea Goes Global: Reflections on Nationalism in a Transnational Era."
Cultural Anthropology 19(1):3-25, 2004.
"From Warriors to Wives: Contradictions of Liberation and Development in Eritrea."
Northeast African Studies 8(3):129-154, 2001.
"Equality to Die For?: Women Guerilla Fighters and Eritreas Cultural Revolution."
Political and Legal Anthropology Review 23(2):61-76, 2000.
"Colonial Moral Economy and the Discipline of Development: The Gezira Scheme and Modern Sudan."
Cultural Anthropology 12(4):1-33, 1997.
"Islam, Transnational Culture, and Modernity in Rural Sudan."
In Gendered Encounters: Challenging Cultural Boundaries and Social Hierarchies in Africa, edited by M. Grosz-Ngate and O. Kokole. Pp. 131-151, Routlege Press: N.Y. and London.