Take 5: Anthropologist Kathryn Dudley

Take 5 offers a brief introduction to Yale faculty members in a Q&A format. The featured faculty member selects 5 out of 10 questions to answer. Any opinions shared are not necessarily those of YaleNews.

A scholar of American culture and economy, Kathryn M. Dudley is a professor of anthropology and American studies. She is recognized for her research on economic dislocation, the globalization of industry, and social trauma. She has written two books: “The End of the Line: Lost Jobs, New Lives in Postindustrial America” (winner of the Harry Chapin Media Award for Best Book and the Wisconsin Library Association Literary Award for Best Book) and “Debt and Dispossession: Farm Loss in America’s Heartland.” She has also made a video documentary of land loss in the rural South titled “Black Farmers and the Case of Pigford v. Glickman.” Dudley teaches courses on inequality in America, cultures of work, ethnographic writing, and interdisciplinary approaches to community studies. Her honors include the Margaret Mead Award of the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology for anthropology that reaches a broadly concerned public.

What scholarly/research project are you working on now?

I have just finished a new book. It’s called "Guitar Makers: The Endurance of Artisanal Values in North America." It’s an ethnography of the social movement founded by luthiers who began building acoustic guitars, mandolins, and banjos by hand during the folk music revival of the 1960s, a time when musicians felt that mass-produced instruments were inferior to those built during the 1920s and 1930s. My book explores the cultural meaning of “bringing wood to life” in a political economy that threatens the world’s rainforests with extinction. I argue that guitar makers pursue an alternative approach to commodification in a market society: one that highlights the material vitality and creative agency of human and nonhuman making.

What world problem would you fix, if you could?

I would empower everyone to imagine and enact alternatives to the regimes of normativity that sap our creativity, impoverish our lives, and imperil our planet.

What is your most treasured classroom memory — either as a student or a teacher?

When I was in training to become a yoga teacher, my fellow yogis and I would coax our selves and one another into greater awareness of our movements, sensations, and feelings. I found that learning to do something and teaching others how to do it involve the same extravagant gesture: extending yourself outward beyond your sense of limits and negotiating a razor’s edge of confidence and fear.

What do you do for fun?

I track the intensities of rural life. A beaver patrolling the pond, its tail slapping in decisive ownership; the dog barking boldly at wild turkeys, running terrified when they chase her; rabbits born in the barn, my horse standing guard, sole witness to the mother’s inexplicable death; or searching the stars for Orion, a recurrent wish for recognition in a vastly indifferent night sky.

What person, living or dead, would you like to spend a day with?

Jane Goodall during her early research in Gombe Stream National Park. I would watch her watching the chimpanzees, and watch them watching her, trying to get a feel for what was happening between them. I wonder if is this where it began? The intellectual plot that promises to end anthropology as we know it, decentering “anthropos” in favor of the collaborative posthuman study of collective life on earth.

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