Research Initiatives

Over the last twenty years, the notions of ‘urbanization’ and ‘globalization’ have become a subject of growing ethnographic interest, for they impose a challenge to the anthropologist’s quest for the ‘unspoiled local’ (Lockwood, 2004, Sissons, 2005). Since the commercialization and popularization of the digital media there has been an intensification of transnational connections which has resulted in the fusing and mixing, fracturing and reconstituting of cultures. Yet, while modern technology has accelerated this process, transcultural exchanges have always been at the basis of human interactions, and a push to change. Focusing on the sites of transcultural communication and contact between Australian Indigenous people and African American political activists, this lecture argues for a thriving ‘Indigenous cosmopolitanism’, retracing the history of this relationship from the first documented contacts among members of the two communities up to today. Symbolic sites of contact have been politics, sport and music. The latter in particular has constituted a critical milieu for dialogue to take place. The growing popularity of Hip Hop across Indigenous Australia and the frequent references to a highly political language based on the rhetoric of the Black Power movement, together with articulations of ‘(Aboriginal) Blackness’ have raised questions in relation to processed of identification, identity construction, race, ethnicity and the politics of sexuality. Dr. Minestrelli’s discussion will thus examine the following aspects:
• The establishment of the ‘Indigenous public sphere’ and its (symbolic and real) 
   interactions with the ‘Black public sphere’ through historical events;
• The creation of discourses around Blackness and what it means to be Black in Australia; 
• Authenticity in ‘Aboriginal Hip Hop’;
• Liminal spaces, ‘Glocal’ identities and transcultural dialogues through Rap music;
• The role of Indigenous women in Hip Hop and their global aspirations

When we think of feminist activism, one of the most profound and overlooked contributions to the Women’s Movement has been the institutionalization of Women’s Studies. But there is also a growing fear of what institutionalization has done to the Women’s Movement. While the beginnings of Women’s Studies seem to have “done something” and “gone somewhere,” the political present is often seen as fractured and without direction. This fear started to manifest itself at a time when scholarship on race, the transnational and the postcolonial began to take center stage in Women’s Studies. Although we have more and more Women’s Studies courses on race, these courses (and the bodies hired to teach these courses) are often placed in a difficult position. In this talk, Sonja Thomas gives an overview of the racism embedded in the discipline of Women’s Studies. How does institutionalized racism continue to haunt feminist knowledge production?  What are the realities faced by Women’s Studies students with our current curricula? And how do we view feminists who teach courses on race in the discipline of Women’s Studies?

Sonja Thomas is an Assistant Professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at Colby College. At Colby, she teaches courses on Feminist Theory, Gender and Human Rights, Critical Race Feminisms and Tap Dance and Gender and Politicized Religion.  As a visiting scholar at Lehigh University, she is currently working on a book which examines the tensions between the protection of religious minority rights and women’s rights in postcolonial South Asia.

A joint William R. Scott Brown Bag Talk, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Africana Studies

Bring your own lunch. Dessert and beverages will be provided.

ACT LIKE YOU KNOW: Employing Hip Hop Theater to Create a Safe Space for Protest and Self Expression

With the advent of social media, the imperceptible struggles of underrepresented students at predominantly white colleges and universities are more transparent than ever. The “Being Black at University of Michigan” Twitter hashtag #BBUM, the “I, Too, Am Harvard” Tumblr blog have spawned similar movements at other schools nationally and abroad - including Lehigh University. These campaigns underscore the need for a consistent, productive pedagogical space where students can release their frustrations, speak up and celebrate their identity. 

Kashi Johnson, an alumna and tenured professor in the Department of Theatre, was keenly aware of marginalized student struggles, having shared many of the same criticisms as a student 20 years earlier; so she responded by creating the course, “Act Like You Know.” 

Johnson's unique and contemporary pedagogical approach to improving the campus climate while providing students a space to not only critically think about such issues, but also, affectively embody and feel such concerns, has been a tremendous success. This course is a direct reflection of what hip hop, the arts and performance, are able to accomplish in society and spaces of higher education. “Act Like You Know” has become a beacon for marginalized students in search of finding a place to belong and be heard on a college campus where they often feel ignored. 

KASHI JOHNSON is an actress, director, poet and tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre at Lehigh University, where she teaches courses in acting, African American drama, Hip Hop theater, spoken word performance and directs plays. With the creation of her nationally recognized college theater course ‘Act Like You Know’ Professor Johnson has been an innovator in the area of Hip Hop theater and education. In this course, Hip Hop is the ‘Trojan horse’ that ushers students into the world of performance, identity exploration and truth telling. Students are challenged to engage social justice issues critical to the Hip Hop generation, and challenged to find ways to incorporate these concerns into their performances. Her pioneering, culturally responsive, approach to teaching performance has been critically acclaimed for its ability to give voice to issues of diversity and inclusion. Professor Johnson has given recorded talks for TEDx and season 3 of BlackademicsTV about the story and success of ‘Act Like You Know.’ A member of Actor’s Equity Association, she received her B.A. in Theatre from Lehigh University, and her M.F.A. in Acting from the University of Pittsburgh.

Joint William R. Scott Brown Bag: Africana Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Speaker: Christopher Driscoll, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion and Africana Studies

In 1971, The Last Poets named a psycho-social system in which race, gender, wealth, and other factors cause some people to act as if they are gods and others to fear they’ll become sacrificial offerings to these “gods.” They called it the White Man’s God Complex. In this presentation, I provide a snapshot of what constitutes this complex, then address the complex’s relationship to violence, arguing that this white man’s god complex is sustained by a particular brand of theism wherein “god” functions as a contingency formula (Luhmann, 2013) procuring  a sense of certainty for some through the sacrifice of others. For instance, in 2012 George Zimmerman claimed that his killing of Trayvon Martin was “all god’s plan.” Contrary to what is assumed by many, that Zimmerman’s comments mark an egregious misuse of theism, I instead suggest that in light of the god complex he seemingly represents, he is using theism exactly as it is meant to function within any complex or system. This theism works symbiotically with physical and social deaths, each necessitating the function of the other. Understanding these sacrifices as the lynchpin allowing the god complex to remain intact, I conclude with suggestions about the necessity of, yet also the difficulties associated with, disrupting this white man’s god complex. 

Christopher Driscoll, PhD (Rice University, 2014) is Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion and Africana Studies at Lehigh University. Some of his research interests include race, religion, culture, and humanist and existential thought. He is co-founder of the American Academy of Religion’s Critical Approaches to Hip Hop and Religion Group and a contributing editor for The Marginalia Review of Books. His first monograph, White Lies: Race and Uncertainty in the Twilight of American Religion will be published by Routledge in 2015. 

Bring your own lunch. Beverages and dessert will be provided.


The bodies of enslaved black women were objectified by the commodification of their wombs as reproductive agents that perpetuated and sustained the American slave system. As a result, black women’s wombs become a site of literary and political engagement in which historical and literary representations of reproduction inform larger discussions of identity, gender, race, sexuality, and class politics. The literary emphasis on the enslaved black female body, specifically the womb, positions the womb as a space of potential self-liberation. By simultaneously giving voice to the experiences of oppression and physical/psychological illness, the slave mother fortifies the relationship between bodies in bondage as a result of slavery and bodies in bondage as a result of illness. The motif of the slave mother as wounded storyteller functions to reclaim the womb narrative for enslaved black women, represents the actual and imagined histories of other enslaved black women, and re-centers the black female body as a productive and active source of illness/wellness in history and literature.

“Ecological Losses are Harming Women: A Structural Analysis of Female HIV Prevalence and Life Expectancy in Less-Developed Countries”
Speaker: Kelly Austin
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Director of Health, Medicine and Society Program

Abstract: Increased inequality in life expectancies across nations due to the advent of the HIV pandemic requires rigorous investigation of gender inequalities, as women now disproportionally represent the majority of global HIV cases. While empirical examinations of women’s status on HIV prevalence and life expectancy have amassed, one under-explored area of concern is the influence of environmental decline. I integrate ecofeminist perspectives to inform analysis of the direct and indirect effects of ecological losses on female health outcomes in a structural equation model of 136 less-developed nations. I find that ecological losses reduce women’s longevity via increased HIV prevalence, hunger, and diminished health resources. Conclusions point to the importance of ecological conditions and the efficacy of incorporating ecofeminist frameworks to explain global health and gender inequalities.

Kelly Austin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and Director of the Health, Medicine, and Society Program at Lehigh University. Her current research focuses on examining the interconnections between gender inequality, environmental degradation, and infectious disease in developing countries. Austin also conducts field research on the efficacy of international health aid in the rural district of Bududa, Uganda.

Bring Your Own Lunch • Beverages and Dessert Provided

Nessette Falu is a Ph.D. Candidate in Socio-Cultural Anthropology at Rice University. In August 2013, she concluded a yearlong fieldwork in Salvador-Bahia, Brazil. Her research investigates how self-identified black lesbians (lesbicas negras) draw upon everyday lived experiences to self-advocate and demand respectful recognition toward their sexuality by their gynecologists. This study interconnects various angles that pivot the reproduction of “preconceito” (prejudice) such as the socio-political limitations of Brazilian healthcare reform to combat lesbian discrimination, the entrenched prejudicial attitudes manifesting during gynecological exams, and the thriving and transcending ideas of “bem-estar” (well-being) and sexual health, broadly.

Her ethnographic study explores and exposes invisible acts of freedom by lesbicas negras. Falu was the 2013-2014 Sarah Pettit Dissertation Fellow in LGBT Studies at Yale University. While at Yale writing her dissertation, she was a mentor to several undergraduate students and delivered the Sarah Pettit public lecture in April 2014. Furthermore, she was an active member from 2008-2012 at the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Rice while completing a graduate certificate program. She also worked closely with the Program for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, and Culture that bridges intellectual community and promotes race scholarship and pedagogy. She holds a Masters of Divinity from New York Theological Seminary. She has been a practicing Physician Assistant since 2001 in Neurosurgery, Internal Medicine, and HIV Care. Soon, she will return as Physician Assistant in Oncology at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, NY.  She is now an advisor to the LGBT Working Group at Lutheran Family Health Center, Brooklyn, NY. She is the recipient of a generous fieldwork grant from the Ruth Landes Memorial Foundation, which included seed funds for media production. She concluded the production phase and plans to complete a short documentary about the lives of some lesbicas negras in Salvador in 2015. Her hometown is New York City, Harlem in specific.

Co-sponsored by: Latin American Studies, Health Medicine and Society, Sociology/Anthropology, and Global Studies

Georgette Chapman Phillips was appointed the Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business and Economics in July 2014. She is a professor in both the Perella Department of Finance in the College of Business and Economics and in the Africana Studies Program in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Dean Phillips is an internationally recognized scholar who has garnered many honors and teaching awards. Her research and teaching is focused on the intersection of law, economics and public policy within in the context of the built environment. Dean Phillips is published in the areas of urban and regional planning, local government law, real estate and housing.

Dean Phillips holds a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School and a bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College, where she currently serves on the Board of Trustees.

Bring your own lunch. Beverages and light dessert will be provided.