I came to Aberdeen as a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies in 2002, after completing a BA in History and a Masters in Social Anthropology at Oxford University, a PhD in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, and having taught Anthropology at the University of St Andrews. I have been doing research in Mexico since 1992, and I have also done research since 2008 in the East Bay Area of northern California.
As well as teaching in Hispanic Studies, I am Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law for which I am currently organising 3 activities that are related to our 2012-13 theme of Political Community:
– Citizenship Education forum for teachers, parents and researchers (22 March) which will look at the formation of political community in schools
– Politics of Oil & Gas in a Changing UK public conference (8-9 May) which will help us reflect on the dynamics of political community when valuable resources are at stake
– Political Community workshop and summer school (25-28 June) which will bring together scholars from 8 disciplines to address a range of challenging issues.
Most of my current writing is on different aspects of citizenship:
1. Knowing history, being citizens in Mexico
My book Knowing History in Mexico: An Ethnography of Citizenship was published by the University of New Mexico Press in October 2012. While much has been written about national history and citizenship, I focus on the history and citizenship of towns and cities. Basing my inquiry on fieldwork in west Mexican towns near Guadalajara, I begin by observing that people talked (and wrote) of their towns’ history and not just of Mexico’s.
Key to my study is the insight that knowing history can give someone public status or authority. It can make someone stand out as a good or eminent citizen. What is it about history that makes this so? What is involved in knowing history and who is good at it? And what do they gain from being eminent citizens, whether of towns or nations?
As well as academic historians, I interviewed people from all walks of life – bricklayers, priests, teachers, politicians, peasant farmers, lawyers, and migrants. Resisting the idea that history is intrinsically interesting or valuable – that one simply must know the past in order to understand the present – I explore the very idea of ‘the past’ and asks why it is valued by so many people.
2. Notions of citizenship in Mexico (and California)
I am currently writing a book on notions of citizenship in Mexico and California, based on fieldwork that I carried out between 2007 and 2010. My approach is set out in two recent articles entitled “Beyond the State? Civil Sociality and Other Notions of Citizenship” and “In the Eyes of the Law, In the Eyes of Society: A Citizenship Tradition in West Mexico”. Social scientists generally begin with a definition of citizenship, usually the rights-bearing membership of nation-states, and have given less attention to the notions of citizenship held by the people whom they study. Not only is how people see themselves as citizens crucial to how they relate to states as well as to each other, but informants’ own notions of citizenship can be the source of fresh theoretical insights about citizenship.
During interviews and participant observation across two contrasting regions of Mexico in 2007-10, I found that my informants did talk about citizenship as rights-bearing membership. But my informants said most often that to be a citizen was simply to live in society, ideally in a civil way, which I term civil sociality. Civil sociality is, I argue, a kind of citizenship beyond the state because it is not focused on how people relate to states. The main theoretical insight that arises from my Mexican informants’ notions is that citizenship is not necessarily a relationship with states – there are other ways of thinking about citizenship.
The project included two periods of comparative research in California in 2008 and 2010.
3. Religion as an issue for the citizen
I am writing the introduction and a chapter for a volume that I am co-editing on Modern Government, Sovereignty, and the Category of Religion. Why is having (or not having) a religion so often construed as a problem for citizenship? Religion is felt to be in tension with modern ideas of knowledge and pedagogy – as if there were something unmodern about religious schools – as well as with modern ideas of law or of economy. The same is true of the modern idea of the citizen: the term “religious citizen” makes many people uncomfortable as if it were an oxymoron.
Why is religion felt to be a problem for citizenship? I argue that the modern state has defined religion and the citizen in such a way as to bring them into tension, even while insisting that people as citizens take a proper stance toward religion. By focusing on the Mexican case, I show that different states have defined religion and the citizen in different ways. It is not just that states define religion differently but that people respond, too, in different ways. I argue that Mexicans, in this case, have resisted the state’s attempt to define the proper stance of citizens to religion.
“Ser ciudadano y ser indígena, entre el Estado de derecho y el vivir en sociedad” in ed. Jorge Uzeta Identidades diversas, ciudadanías particulares. Acercamientos etnográficos a la relación entre “ser indígena” y “ser ciudadano”. El Colegio de Michoacán and CESMECA-UNICACH. 2013 (in press).
“Spoken like a State: Language and Religion as Categories of Liberal Thought” (response to Rogers Brubaker “Language, Religion and the Politics of Difference”) in Studies of Ethnicity and Nationalism 13(1). April 2013.
“In the Eyes of the Law, In the Eyes of Society: A Citizenship Tradition in West Mexico” in Citizenship, the Self and Political Agency special issue of Critique of Anthropology 33(1). March 2013.
Knowing History in Mexico: An Ethnography of Citizenship University of New Mexico Press, 2012.
“Beyond the State? Civil Sociality and Other Notions of Citizenship” in Citizenship Studies 16(7). 2012
“Trajectories of Culture in West Mexico” in History and Anthropology 23(3). 2012.
“A Just Rule of Law” in Social Anthropology 18(3). 2010.
“A Higher Ground: The Secular Knowledge of Objects of Religious Devotion” in ed. Tim Fitzgerald Religion and the Secular: Historical and Colonial Formations Equinox. 2007.
“Rooting and Cultura in West Mexico” in Bulletin of Latin American Research 26(3). 2007.
co-edited with Andrew Gordon (including co-authored introduction), Citizenship Beyond the State, special issue of Citizenship Studies 11(2). 2007.
“Creativity in Advertising, Fiction and Ethnography” in eds. Tim Ingold and Elizabeth Hallam Creativity and Cultural Improvisation Berg. 2007.
“The Skewing of History in Mexico” in American Ethnologist 36(3). 2006.
“The Time of Place in West Mexico” in eds. Wendy James and David Mills The Qualities of Time: Anthropological Approaches Berg. 2004.
“Citizens of Towns, Citizens of Nations: The Knowing of History in Mexico” in Critique of Anthropology 23(2). 2003.
I have received a series of grants in support of my research in Mexico and California from the British Academy (2005, 2007, 2008, 2010) and the Carnegie Trust (2004, 2007, 2008, 2010), as well as a British Academy Conference Support Grant to hold the conference at the British Academy on 14-16 January 2010. I have also received substantial funding to set up and direct a Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law at Aberdeen, which will host a series of conferences and offer PhD studentships. For the Citizenship Education forum in 2013, I obtained a grant from the Gordon Cook Foundation.
I teach advanced undergraduate courses on a wide range of topics including “Citizenship in Latin America”, “The Rule of Law in the Americas”, and “The Golden State: History, Culture and Politics of California”. I also teach on the Masters programmes in Social Anthropology, Ethnology and Cultural History, and in Latin American Studies. I supervised to completion a PhD thesis on Mexican intellectuals and journalists during the 1970s, and I am currently co-supervising PhD projects on claim-making by Ghanian market women, the Brazilian programme for the protection of human rights defenders, nationalism in Poland, and the social contract in Turkey. I would be interested in supervising PhD research on citizenship and related topics, whether in Latin America, the United States, or anywhere else in the world.