Diane M Nelson
  • Diane M Nelson

  • Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Women's Studies
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • 201D Friedl Building
  • Campus Box 90091
  • Phone: (919) 684-2069
  • Fax: (919) 681-8483
  • Office Hours: Varies by semester, dates and times posted on door
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Research Description

    My work is concerned with subjectivity and power and draws on close to 25 years of work in Guatemala (over seven years in country). Specifically, I try to understand how complex social formations like nationalism, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality intersect with violence and the state to produce people’s senses of identity. I began working in Guatemala in 1985 in the midst of the civil war. Since then I have studied the causes and effects of that war and what genocide means on the ground to those who survived it. This has led to my long-standing interest in new social movements, like the pan-Mayan ethnic revitalization project, that have emerged in the wake of the war. I draw on theoretical frameworks inspired by feminist and post-colonial thinkers who urge careful consideration of the relations between power and knowledge in view of unequal global power relations. Because so much of what I study addresses the role of the body, how it is understood as “raced” or gendered, and how different entities—from liberation movements to military states—try to control it, I have been influenced by thinking on biopolitics (the production and care for life itself), in relation to necro-politics (the production and uses of death). The body is experienced by each individual in culturally specific ways, but it is also lived as part of larger imaginaries that are impacted by the media, understandings of science and technology, and popular culture, so my work also draws on cultural studies and medical anthropology.
  • Selected Publications

      • D.M. Nelson.
      • (February, 2009).
      • Reckoning: The Ends of War in Guatemala.
      • Duke University Press.
      • [PDF]
      Publication Description

      Following the 1996 treaty ending decades of civil war, how are Guatemalans reckoning with genocide and with the fact that almost everyone collaborated in some way with the violence? Meaning “to count, figure up” and “to settle rewards and punishments,” reckoning promises accounting and accountability. Yet Diane Nelson shows that the means by which the war was waged, especially its raced and gendered modes, unsettle the very premises of knowing and being. Symptomatic are the stories of duplicity and living with “two faces” pervasive in post-war Guatemala and applied to the left, Mayan people, and the state. Drawing on over twenty years of research in Guatemala, Nelson explores how postwar struggles to reckon traumatic experience illuminate the assumptions of identity more generally. Nelson lashes together stories of human rights activism, Mayan identity struggles, forced-voluntary participation in massacres, and popular enjoyments like traditional dances, horror films, and carnivals, with exhumations of mass graves, official apologies, and reparations. She discusses the stereotype of the Two-Faced Indian as colonial discourse revivified by anti-guerrilla counterinsurgency and by the claims of duplicity leveled against Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú, as well as functioning as a survival strategy for some. Nelson examines suspicions that state power is also two-faced, from the left’s fears of a clandestine para-state behind the democratic façade to the right’s conviction that NGOs threaten Guatemalan sovereignty. Comparing anti-malaria and anti-subversive campaigns suggests biopolitical ways the state is two-faced, simultaneously taking and giving life. Emphasizing that the ends of war are always sites of struggle, Nelson offers a ground-up take on political transition as Guatemalans find creative ways forward, turning ledger books, technoscience, and even gory popular culture into tools for making sense of violence, loss, and the future.

      Book was published in May 2009

      • D.M. Nelson.
      • (2009).
      • “Mayan Ponzi: A Contagion of Hope, a Made-off With Your Money,”.
      • e-misférica, on-line journal of NYU Hemispheric Institute
      • .
      • [web]
      • D.M. Nelson.
      • (2010).
      • Los efectos especiales del horror.
      • In Julian Lopez García and Santiago Bastos (Eds.),
      • Re-pensando la violencia
      • .
      • University of Cordoba, Spain.
      • [PDF]
      • D.M. Nelson.
      • (2001).
      • Stumped Identities: Body Image, Bodies Politic, and the Mujer Maya as Prosthetic.
      • Cultural Anthropology
      • ,
      • 16
      • (3)
      • ,
      • 314-353.
      • [PDF]
      • D.M. Nelson.
      • (1996).
      • Maya-Hackers and the Cyberspatialized Nation-State: Modernity, Ethnostalgia, and a Lizard Queen in Guatemala.
      • Cultural Anthropology
      • ,
      • 287-308.
      • [PDF]
  • View All Publications
  • Specialties

    • Identity
    • Gender
    • Central America & the Caribbean
    • Political Economy
    • Popular Culture
  • Education

      • PhD,
      • Anthropology,
      • Stanford University,
      • 1996
      • MA,
      • Anthropology,
      • Stanford University,
      • 1992
      • BA,
      • Department of Anthropology, Concentration in Spanish,
      • Wellesley College,
      • 1985
      • Junior year abroad,
      • Universidad de Sevilla, Seville, Spain,
      • 1983
      • American Field Service 4-month student exchange,
      • Mérida, Mexico,
      • 1980
  • Awards, Honors and Distinctions

      • Bass Fellow and Eads Family Professor of Cultural Anthropology,
      • April, 2011
      • The Robert B. Cox Trinity College Distinguished Teaching Award,
      • Duke University,
      • December 2009
      • Franklin Humanities Institute Seminar for Interdisciplinary Studies,
      • 2004-2005
      • Latin American Studies Title VI research grant,
      • 2004
      • "Revisiting the Harvest of Violence" conference,
      • Wenner-Gren Fellowship,
      • January 2004
      • Thomas Langford Lectureship Award,
      • Duke University,
      • May 2003
      • Latin America Studies Title VI research grant,
      • 2003
      • Latin America Studies Title VI research grant,
      • 2002
      • Nominee, Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award,
      • 2002
      • Oregon Academy of Science, Teacher of the Year,
      • 1998
      • Vining-Davis Faculty-Student research fellowship,
      • Lewis and Clark College,
      • 1998
      • Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society,
      • 1996
      • Mellon Fellowship in Anthrpology for dissertation,
      • 1993
      • National Science Foundation dissertation field research fellowship,
      • 1992
      • Field Research Grants,
      • Department of Anthropology and Latin American Studies, Stanford University,
      • 1990-1991
      • Amanda Butler Pierce poetry award,
      • Wellesley College,
      • 1985
      • Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society,
      • Wellesley College,
      • 1985
  • Teaching

    • CULANTH 213.01
      • CYBORGS
      • Friedl Bdg 107
      • WF 11:45 AM-01:00 PM
    • CULANTH 801S.01
      • THEORIES CULTURAL ANTHRO
      • Friedl Bdg 118
      • F 03:05 PM-05:35 PM
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