UCI Anthropology Research Clusters

The UCI Anthropology research clusters draw upon faculty and graduate student research interests and expertise. They represent the Anthropology Department’s long standing interests in cultural formations linked to politics, social justice, subjugated knowledge, creativity, and visions of how life can be lived. The clusters attempt to work within and beyond the boundaries of anthropology and its subfields in exciting and experimental ways. We read together, circulate writing, and invite guests to present their work. Some clusters intend to work across the university as well as the UC campus-wide system to do workshops and graduate student programming, among other activities. The Department is interested in prospective graduate students working in any of these research areas and interests. For upcoming cluster activities, please see the UCI Anthropology News and Events page.



Anthropology of Law
Justin Richland, Bill Maurer
Affiliated Faculty: Lee Cabatingan, Susan Coutin, Eve Darian-Smith

The Anthropology of Law research cluster explores the manifold normative, structural and practical phenomena that are assembled under notions of law and legality around the globe, considering their social, cultural and political entailments across a variety of analytic scales. Drawing on UC Irvine’s broad and deep bench of faculty expertise in sociolegal scholarship, as well as its one-of-a-kind joint JD/PhD program in Law and Anthropology, this research cluster takes a broadly scoped view of anthropological inquiry into legal phenomena. Research interests among cluster faculty run the gamut, from investigating trans-national legal orders around immigration, the regulatory apparatuses of national monetary policies, the creation of novel regional jurisdictions in the global south, or the enduring vitalities of indigenous legal orders and their interface with settler colonialism. At the same time, the cluster invites opportunities to think across these fields of inquiry, exploring how, for example, questions of sovereignty inform simultaneously the regulation of indigenous and immigrant peoples, their increasing imbrication in bureaucratic regimes and the manner in which national and international legal orders are generated in the process. Likewise questions concerning the circulation and regionalization of laws that inform the flow of financial and monetary policies across state boundaries afford striking comparisons to the role that law and legal institutions play in the spread of notions of human rights and their enforcement, but also in the ways notions of race, gender, sexuality and class find ground in different contexts around the globe. In all these ways the research cluster in the anthropology of law affords its participants a genervative community of inquiry in which to pursue classic themes of anthropological inquiries into law and legal order -- matters like normative pluralism, bureaucratic process, social power and authority, for example -- but always in ways that speak to the unfolding issues of our time.



Digital Anthropology Working Group
Tom Boellstorff, Victoria Bernal

This working group collaboratively approaches “the digital” from an anthropological perspective. This includes ethnographic research on digital culture, and developing anthropological theories and frameworks to explore the digital and the human. Research foci include data and surveillance, digital education, digital labor, digital media, histories of digital culture, mobile devices, online gaming, social network sites (Facebook, Instagram, etc.), streaming and video (Twitch, Youtube, etc.), and virtual worlds. Research interests include class, disability, fandom, games and play, gender, history, labor, method, mobility, race, and sexuality, as well as questions of digital cultures in the global South; citizenship and the nation-state; and embodiment and materiality. There is significant attention to questions of methodology; theoretical engagements link anthropology to Black, disability, feminist, queer, and transgender theory, as well as other conceptual frameworks from across the social sciences and humanities.



Ecologics In/of Anthropology
Valerie Olson, Eleana Kim, Salvador Zarate, Damien Sojoyner, Mei Zhan, Keith Murphy, Sylvia Nam, David Theo Goldberg, Kris Peterson

This research cluster critically examines the multiple genealogies of “ecology” in anthropology and related fields. In the context of current climate crises and multiple Anthropocenes, it asks how critical attention to “ecologics” can contribute to broader interrogations (and other research clusters) of power, location, history, race, and gender.

The materialist turn in anthropology in the 1960s dovetailed with the rise of ecosystem science and cybernetics, and “ecosystems” and “ecologies” quickly became part of anthropological theorizing as well as other disciplines, and eventually everyday vernaculars across the world. In a range of humanistic and social scientific fields today, “ecologies” are arguably as ubiquitous (and as vague) as that of “cultures.”

This cluster focuses on “eco” (or ecology) as an anthropological object of study and analytic. We acknowledge that anthropologists use “ecology” to describe the material and energetic entanglements of living + nonliving relations. Yet this term also indexes the specific genealogy “eco” prefix and the “ology” paradigms of western philosophy. In light of this, what epistemological, political, discursive, and analytical work is “ecology” doing? What assumptions about organicism, holism, or functionalism does it smuggle in? How do we study eco-logics but also acknowledge the need to identify assemblages of inter-relations? How do we research such assemblages and also question the basis and limits of political ecology?



Ethnographic Genres and Writing
Sherine Hamdy, Roxanne Varzi, Lilith Mahmud, Kris Peterson, Salvador Zarate, George Marcus




Feminist and Queer Anthropology Working Group
Lilith Mahmud, Tom Boellstorff, Victoria Bernal, Anneeth Kaur Hundle

Faculty and graduate students in the department are committed to intersectional and interdisciplinary approaches in feminist and queer theories. We understand gender and sexuality as cultural constructs shaped by racial, political, economic, and hegemonic histories at both local and global levels. In our work, gender and sexuality are not only categories of lived experience produced by unequal power relations. They are also analytical lenses to critique the ideological workings of imperialism, liberalism, and global capital. Specific research foci represented in the department include: feminist transnational studies; feminist and queer ethnographic methods; queer studies in the global South; transgender studies; Black feminist theory; feminist and queer online and digital communities; activism and social movements; anti-feminist conservative groups; citizenship and the state; terror and security; and queer linguistic anthropology.



Geopolitics Working Group
Samar al-Bulushi, Kris Peterson, Anneeth Kaur Hundle

This research cluster considers what it would mean for anthropologists to more explicitly engage with geopolitics, and in doing so, to demystify a seemingly de-territorialized phenomenon ‘out there’ by exploring its grounded instantiations in daily life. We posit that an anthropology of geopolitics allows us to consider relationships between people and places both within and beyond a given territory or nation-state, to encompass how difference operates in the worlds of political elites in transnational social fields. What can we gain by attending more deliberately to political-economic relationships between states and regions (e.g. Gulf Cooperation Council, BRICS, etc.)—especially those that bypass the Global North? How might an ethnographic approach enrich and/or complicate our conceptions of scale and our theorizations of capitalism, race, and empire? We approach geo-politics as a fundamentally peopled phenomenon shaped by social relationships, material processes, and fields of representation and meaning. Our work is deeply informed by feminist and critical race scholars who foreground questions of intimacy and embodiment as they relate to the gendering and racialization of territory.



Global Africa/Global Blackness
Anneeth Kaur Hundle, Samar al-Bulushi, Damien Sojoyner, Sherine Hamdy, Victoria Bernal, Kris Peterson, Lilith Mahmud, David Theo Goldberg, Angela Jenks

UCI Department of Anthropology currently houses at least seven Africa/diaspora focused faculty who are working collaboratively to build a Global Africa/Global Blackness track in our department. This track is focused on research, programming, and teaching alongside the mentorship, recruitment and retention of Black URM and Black African-identifying undergraduate and graduate students. Global Africa/Global Blackness allows us to think and work across historical divisions in the US academy between the fields of African Studies and African diaspora/ Black Studies, and to consider what it means to think about blackness from multiple locations. How can anthropologists examine the dynamic ways that race has both constituted and been constituted by global power formations while at the same time ground our studies of race and blackness in order to grasp how historically specific ideas about difference arise? Over time, we will build further concentrations within this research thematic/track, including attention to the Black Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Trans-Sahel and Trans-Maghreb, and the Mediterranean Ocean. The Global Blackness/Global Africa track attends to: critical approaches to area studies and regionalism; shifting understandings of imperialism/empire and geopolitics; and themes of postcoloniality, transnationality and decolonization. We aim to collaborate with other Africa/diaspora and Black Studies faculty at UCI and to link our work to the pasts and presents of Black/African diaspora communities in Orange County; building university programming and curricula that serves the needs of communities in Southern California. Our work on Global Africa/Global Blackness inherently cross-cuts with an existing research focus on “Global California” in our department, illustrating the significance and interconnectedness of Californian and African histories, presents and futures.



Global California
Salvador Zarate, Damien Sojoyner, Kris Peterson, Anneeth Kaur Hundle, David Theo Goldberg, Leo Chavez, Angela Jenks

The oft-cited claim that “if California were a country it would be the fifth largest in the world” illustrates its significance to the U.S. as much as it suggests the golden-state’s global interconnectivities. With nearly 40 million residents spread across the state’s large urban centers, like those of Los Angeles and Bay Area, to its small unincorporated and rural communities in the Central Valley, the state is a social and cultural geography of difference. This Research Cluster queries California as locally specific and yet globally connected; shaped by centuries of multiple colonization, racialized labor migrations, extraction, disaster-making, and settler fiction-making that has crafted an imaginary of the state as a land of promise– even as it has been a site of deep contestation and resistance by the populations it has depended on and pushed to the margins. Indeed, attunement to geographies of the state, like the California-Mexico borderlands and rural and urban economies and political ecologies, the Pacific Rim, Black historiographies, Latinx and South Asian labor migrations, and Native land and communities tell a different story of global interconnection that, akin to the work of the “Geopolitics Research Cluster,” does not seek to replicate the vantage point of the global north. But instead, through its various epistemological and ontological disjunctures, illuminates a geography always overflowing from its colonial and state boundaries, radiating outward to centers of reference elsewhere.

This Research Cluster presses on the need to weave the deep connections and histories of migration, labor, culture, and resistance of minoritized subjects' daily remaking of the contours of the state, a process of negotiation that is global in scope. This Research Cluster offers a crucial space to rethink, as faculty and students situated in California, our own relationship to the state and our localities but also imagining acts of scholarship beyond these forms in ways that do not efface their importance. In addition, the goals of this Research Cluster include supporting local and state students in ways that make demands on the original intent of the California Master Plan, while fully acknowledging and protesting against the state’s construction and maintenance of a State Prison Industrial Complex that has thoroughly saturated the learning experiences and outcomes of many working-class and working-poor youth of color throughout the state.



Interrogating South Asia and South Asian Diasporas
Anneeth Kaur Hundle

This research focus seeks to question the category “South Asia” as both a geographical boundary and an epistemological framework, especially in its relationship to South Asian diasporas. Some of the questions that we ask include: given that it is an area studies discipline that emerged as a result of U.S. military and foreign policy decision-making in the wake of the post-Second World-War era, what does it mean to be working on South Asia or its diasporas today, particularly in the US academy? What kinds of relationalities – capitalist, regionalist, or intranational – does the area studies and diaspora formation proffer or obscure? What are some of the tensions/conflicts/contradictions that emerge from within the field formation, particularly since the field by definition involves a process of exclusion? For instance, the hegemonic status of India within South Asian studies obscures scholarship on other nation-states existing outside its geographical boundaries, including the internal complexity within the Indian nation and the increasing salience of Hindutva projects within the region and diaspora communities abroad. How do we attend to South Asia and its diasporas through nationalist, racial, religious, caste, class, gender and sexuality formations? Likewise, how might we unpack and work through the complexity of global South Asian diasporas, including attention to specific histories of race, religion, capital, labor and migration within the British imperial milieu and North American settler-colonial states, and ensuing cross-racial and religious intimacies and connections? Is it possible to posit “South Asia” as an epistemology which can contest or challenge other ways of knowing? What is its precise relationship to the field of South Asian diasporas as a field formation?



Political Anthropology, Nationalism, and the Right
Victoria Bernal, Leo Chavez, Lilith Mahmud, Justin Richland




Semiotic Anthropology
Keith Murphy, Justin Richland, Tom Boellstorff

Semiotics provides a flexible but rigorous method for analyzing meaning, and how meaning is made, in the social world. This research cluster takes an ecumenical approach to semiosis, drawing from a range of perspectives and exploring a vast collection of domains, but the core motivation driving the work we do is a commitment to understanding how systems of meaningful signs (e.g. language, law, media, art) are constructed, maintained, reconfigured, and more in the textures of cultural life. Whether considering the textual, discursive, and nonverbal elements of face-to-face interaction, the forms, structures and circulations of text artifacts, or the digital and analog assemblages of mediatized social engagement, the semiotic anthropology undertaken in our department is grounded first and foremost in the humanistic empiricism of ethnographic field research and what is learned when semiosis is understood as an irreducibly ideational and material, and analyzed as such.



Sikh Studies
Anneeth Kaur Hundle

The Dhan Kaur Sahota Presidential Chair in Sikh Studies in the Department of Anthropology provides novel approaches to the field of Sikh Studies through its engagement with anthropology and is the first ever chair based in an anthropology department in the US academy. Sikh Studies is an interdisciplinary field of study that has traditionally been connected to religious studies, Punjab/diaspora studies, the area studies field of South Asia studies, among others. Indeed, scholars concur that the question of “what is Sikh Studies” is an open one that is not self-evident. There have been debates, spanning the South Asian subcontinent and among diaspora intellectuals in the West, which have tried to fix and define what the field is, question what kinds of relations of power are bound up within it, and expand what its disciplinary, theoretical focus and geographical scope should be. At UCI anthropology, Sikh Studies is a combination of the academic study of Sikhi and its translation into Sikhism (framed as a spiritual, philosophical and ethical tradition), Sikh communities (collectivities organized around the tradition), and the always shifting and changing circumstances and possibilities of “Sikh life” in relation to context and power. Sikh Studies engages with critical religious studies approaches and a broader department thematic of interrogating South Asia and its diasporas. Current research focuses include the topics of Sikh feminisms and institutional histories of Sikh Studies, Sikh histories in California and the UC system.

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