BA Hons. (Oxford), MSt (Oxford), PhD (University of Pennsylvania)
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 have been responsible for the following recent and ongoing activities:
- Sense of Political Community research project in Scottish schools, which looks at the impact of 16- and 17-year old pupils voting in the Scottish Independence Referendum (September 2014) on pupils' political engagement
- Politics of Oil & Gas in a Changing UK: International Perspectives public conference in May 2013, which brought together leading figures from industry, unions, government, environmental movements and the academy to debate key topics in energy politics
- Political Community workshop and PhD summer school in June 2013, which we will follow up with a second event in June 2014, prior to publishing a volume on the topic.
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. It has been reviewed so far in the journals The Americas (in English) and in Social Anthropology (in French).
I pose two questions in the book: What is history? And why do people value it? Basing my inquiry on fieldwork near Guadalajara in west Mexico, I focus on one reason for which people commonly value history—knowing history is said to make for better citens, which helps to explain why history is taught at schools worldwide and history questions are included in citizenship tests. I combine my Mexican fieldwork with my personal experience of history in Scottish schools and at Oxford University to try to pinpoint what exactly it is that makes people who know history seem like better citizens.
Much has been written about national history and citizenship; I concentrate instead on the history and citizenship of towns and cities. My Mexican informants talked (and wrote) not only of Mexican history but of their towns’ histories, too. They acted, at the same time, as citizens of their towns as well as of Mexico. Urban history and citizenship are, I show, important yet neglected phenomena in Mexico and beyond.
Rather than setting history on a pedestal, I treat it as one kind of knowledge among many others, comparing it not just to legend but also to gossip. Instead of focusing on academic historians, I interviewed people from all walks of life—bricklayers, priests, teachers, politicians, peasant farmers, lawyers, laborers, and migrants—as well as drawing on a talk about history by the famous Mexican novelist Juan Rulfo.
2. In the eyes of the law, in the eyes of society: a citizenship tradition in Mexico
I am completing a book on citizenship in Mexico, 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. Citizens and their stance toward religion: the demands of modern government
I am completing the introduction and a chapter for a volume that I am co-editing on Modern Government, Sovereignty, and the Category of Religion. It is a commonplace among scholars that religion is a problem or issue for citizenship; not that it need be incompatible with citizenship but that there may be a tension. Much has been said about what a citizen is to do with her or her religion. In recent years, for example, scholars have written of a “post-secular” world in which citizens can do more with their religion than has been permitted hitherto, including by bringing it into politics. Some such as Jurgen Habermas, Tariq Modood and Charles Taylor have argued for such a world. Others have worried that the world is in practice going in that direction. Rogers Brubaker has noted, for example, that religion is replacing language as a dividing mark among citizens.
Unlike those scholars, the volume that I am co-editing starts by treating religion not as a self-evident phenomenon but instead as a category, and one which is intertwined in turn with other categories. In my own chapter, I show how it is intertwined with citizenship. Our modern idea of religion is precisely that, an idea that has taken shape in modern times. As I explain in my introduction to the volume, modernity has multiple histories and so does the modern idea of religion. We focus in the volume on one such history: how governments from the eighteenth century onwards (roughly) came to define “religion” in highly ambivalent terms as a sphere of life that was of vital importance and yet somehow problematic for the sovereign claims of modern government. I argue in my chapter that modern government has also reworked what it means to be a “citizen”, while making more and more demands on those whom it recognizes as such. One of the key demands that modern government has made of “citizens” is that they take a particular stance toward “religion”.
"Ser ciudadano y ser indígena, entre el Estado de derecho y el vivir en sociedad" in ed. Jorge Uzeta Identidades diversas, ciudadanías particulares: Reflexiones sobre la relación entre "ser indígena" y "ser ciudadano" Zamora: El Colegio de Michoacán. 2013
"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 (See reviews in The Americas and in Social Anthropology)
"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, 2013) and the Carnegie Trust (2004, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013), as well as a British Academy Conference Support Grant to hold the conference at the British Academy in January 2010 and funding from the Gordon Cook Foundation for a workshop in March 2013. I have also received a substantial donation to set up and direct the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law at Aberdeen, which is hosting a series of conferences and offering PhD studentships.
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.