Diane Michele Nelson

Diane Michele Nelson

Professor of Cultural Anthropology

External address: 
201D Friedl Building, East Campus, Durham, NC 27708
Internal office address: 
Box 90091, Durham, NC 27708-0091
(919) 684-2069


I began fieldwork in Guatemala in 1985 exploring the impact of civil war on highland indigenous communities with a focus on the more than 100,000 people made into refugees and 200,000 people murdered in what the United Nations has called genocidal violence. Since then my research has sought to understand the causes and effects of this violence, including the destruction and reconstruction of community life (Guatemala: Los Polos de Desarrollo: El Caso de la Desestructuracin de las Comunidades Indigenas CEIDEC1988). In A Finger in the Wound: Body Politics in Quincentennial Guatemala (University of California Press 1999) I describe the relationship between the Guatemalan state and the Mayan cultural rights movement. When asked about indigenous organizing many Guatemalans call it "a finger in the wound." How do material bodies those literally wounded in 35- years of civil war, and those locked in the fear-laden embrace of sexual conquest, domestic labor, mestizaje, and social change movements relate to the wounded body politic? My work draws on popular culture like jokes, rumors, global TV, and subjugated dreams of a "new race" as well as contemporary theories of political economy, subject-formation, the post-colonial, memory, and ethnic, national, gender, and sexual identifications. It explores the relations among Mayan rights activists, ladino (non-indigenous) Guatemalans, the state, and transnational contexts including anthropologists. My new project grows from my interests in cultural studies and cyborg anthropology and explores science and technology development in Guatemala and Latin America more generally. I am focusing on laboratory and clinical research on vector and blood-borne diseases like malaria and dengue and the intersection of this knowledge production with health care in the midst of neo-liberal reforms and popular demands.

Degrees & Credentials

  • Ph.D., Stanford University 1996

  • M.A., Stanford University 1992

  • B.A., Wellesley College 1985

Nelson, D. M. “Review of Violent Memories: Mayan War Widows in Guatemala, by Judith Zur and Fear as a Way of Life, by Linda Green.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 6, no. 4, Great Britain, 2000, pp. 757–58.

Nelson, D. “"Rigoberta Menchú: Is Truth Stranger than Testimonial?".” Guatemala Scholars Network News, 1999.

Nelson, D. M. “Perpetual Creation and Decomposition: Bodies, Gender, and Desire in the Assumption/s of a Guatemalan Discourse of Mestizaje.” Journal of Latin American Anthropology, 1999, pp. 74–111.

Nelson, D. M. “Crucifixion stories, the 1869 Caste War of Chiapas, and negative consciousness: A disruptive subaltern study.” American Ethnologist, vol. 24, no. 2, Jan. 1997, pp. 331–54. Scopus, doi:10.1525/ae.1997.24.2.331. Full Text

Nelson, D. M. “Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism by Elizabeth Grosz.” American Anthropologist, Dec. 1996.

Nelson, D. M. “Maya hackers and the cyberspatialized nation-state: Modernity, ethnostalgia, and a lizard queen in Guatemala.” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 10, no. 3, Aug. 1996, pp. 287–308. Open Access Copy

Nelson, D. “"Gringas, Baby Snatching, and "Partial" Anthropology in Guatemala".” Anthropology Newsletter: Recent Developments, vol. 36, May 1995.

Nelson, D. M. “Skin of the Soul: Women Writing Horror by Lisa Tuttle.” Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review Annual L99l., 1995.