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Mascia-Lees, Frances

Research Interests

Over the last three decades, I have conducted research, published, and/or offered courses in the following areas:  

The Body and Embodiment: gendered, racialized, and eroticized/exoticized bodies; historic and contemporary body practices; embodiment; the senses and aesthetics; materiality and semiotics of the body.

Consumer Capitalism: historic and contemporary consumer capitalism; commodities and materiality; commodified bodies, aesthetic consumption; tourism; cultural studies; critical theory, phenomenologies of capitalism.

Gender, Race, and Difference: feminist anthropology; historical and contemporary politics of gender, racial, and ethnic difference; difference and globalization; bodies and difference; race and the aestheticization of bodies and politics.

Psychology and Culture: intersubjectivity; desire and imagination; subjectivity, language and embodiment; objects and desire; the unconscious; cultural narratives and identity.

Cultural Encounters and Conflict: politics and ethics of historical and contemporary cultural encounters, including conquest, colonialism/postcolonialism, tourism, and globalization; tensions and inequalities they create, cultural and political responses they elicit; gender and cultural encounter; cultural encounters and body politics.     

Cultural Politics and Cultural Representation: ethnographic and popular film; theorizing, reading, and writing ethnography; politics and poetics of ethnographic representation; colonialism and representation; anthropology and literature; cultural politics; political representation and the aesthetic state.

History and Theory of Anthropology/Production of Knowledge/History of Ideas:  anthropological, critical, postcolonial, feminist, psychoanalytic, and post-structural theory; history of anthropology; anthropological discourse and contemporary cultural trends.

United States: Most of my fieldwork is multisided and takes place in the United States, especially at sites of consumption. In addition to work on consumer populations, I have conducted research with Native Americans, student protestors, men and women with body modifications, young women with writing difficulties and eating disorders, craftspeople and artists, and a range of cultural producers, among others. I have also conducted fieldwork in the British West Indies and Mexico.

Research Statement

My research ranges from applied work on indigenous identity and tribal recognition among Native Americans to retheorizing concepts and models that play a central role in anthropology, whether of space/time, the aesthetic, or the unconscious. My main focus is on the body and embodiment, primarily in the context of consumer capitalism. I approach the body as a locus of power and embodiment as a site of culturally ascribed and disputed meanings, feelings, and experiences of being-in- the-world.  In all of my work, my abiding interest has been in the institutions, representations, practices, and structures of knowledge that create and maintain cultural, gender, and racial inequality and oppression, whether in the context of cultural encounters such as colonialism, tourism, and ethnographic research or of consumption at the mall, museum, movie theater, academy, and tourist site. Exploring the relationship of aesthetics to politics, I have been equally concerned with the role imagination and desire play in constituting oppositional subjectivities.

Engaged Anthropology

I am a feminist anthropologist committed to an engaged anthropology that exposes the complex relationship of political ideologies and practices to cultural expressions to better understand how to confront oppression, envision alternatives, and help create democratic institutions. I have been particularly concerned with the politics of knowledge and specifically with a reflexive anthropology that explores the politics and ethics of the ethnographic encounter itself.

Most recently (2007-present), I have put my commitment to engaged anthropology into practice as an International Scholar of the Open Society Foundation (OSF), a non-profit foundation that promotes democratization in post-socialist countries by supporting educational, legal, and economic reform as well as public health and human and women's rights. As part of OSF's Academic Fellowship Program, I have been an International Scholar in Cultural Studies in Bulgaria at Sophia University, in Anthropology in Kosovo at the University of Prishtina, and in Gender Studies at Tbilisi State University, Republic of Georgia. In these capacities I have focused on educational transformation with younger scholars and presented my research to faculty from all over Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Current Projects

“What does politics have to do with aesthetics? Surely, both politics and aesthetics are concerned with imagining, envisioning, and even creating, yet aren't the kinds of things these fields of inquiry imagine, envision and create greatly disparate? Jacques Rancière argues that what is at stake in politics, just as it is in aesthetics, is the distribution of the sensible, and that politics happens not only through the disruption of a certain aesthetic organization of sense experience but through the eruption of a distinct aesthetics.”  
 - Katharine Wolfe on Jacques Rancière in “From Aesthetics to Politics: Rancière, Kant and Deleuze” (Contemporary Aesthetics, April 2006)

My current research brings the domains of politics and aesthetics together with my interest in embodiment to explore consumption in the contemporary United States. Specifically I focus on the widespread revival of the late 19th-early 20th-century socialist Arts and Crafts Movement which was grounded in Marxist principles. The Movement tied the political to the aesthetic by locating beauty in non-alienated labor; celebrating equality, community, and immersion in the details of daily life; and linking respect for others with an aesthetic sensibility. Treating the aesthetic as a form of sensuous embodiment, I explore Jacques Rancière’s claim, asking why a movement that first arose in response to industrial capitalism erupted again in the 1970s as the U.S. moved to a neoliberal political-economy. Contrary to theorists of late capitalism who have treated the “aestheticization of the everyday” as a saturation of the world by signs and images that de-realizes reality and regarded aesthetic commodities primarily as a source of cultural capital, my ethnographic analyses suggest that the Arts and Crafts aesthetic offers many consumers today a way of imagining and being-in-the-world that counters mystification and derives value from sources other than status and class differentiation. Embedded in socialist values and human relations, I explore how the Arts and Crafts aesthetic hones sensory receptivity to the specificity of things in the everyday, pulling affective forces together into a sensibility with creative and transformative potential.

Awards, Fellowships, and Grants

  • 2011-2012               International Scholar, Tbilisi State University, Georgia, Open Society Foundation
  • 2009-2010               International Scholar, Prishtina University, Kosovo, Open Society Foundation
  • 2007-2008               International Scholar, University of Sofia, Bulgaria, Open Society Foundation
  • 2006-2007               Fellow, Center for Historical Analysis, Rutgers, New Brunswick
  • 2005                        American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) President’s Award
  • 2004                        Featured in Biographical Dictionary of Social and Cultural Anthropology,
  • 1999-2001               Faculty Mentor, Kellogg Leadership Institute
  • 1998                        AAA/Mayfield Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Anthropology
  • 1996-1998               Speaker in the Humanities Program, NY Council for the Humanities
  • 1992-1999               Associate Fellow, Institute for Research on Women, SUNY Albany
  • 1991-1992               Visiting Scholar, Five College Women’s Studies Research Center
  • 1991                        NEH Summer Seminar Fellowship
  • 1983-1999               60+ Faculty Development Grants, Bard College at Simon's Rock Campus
  • 1982                        Honors Convocation Award for Academic Excellence, SUNY Albany
  • 1982                        Research Foundation Grant, SUNY Albany
  • 1981                        Benevolent Association Fellowship, SUNY Albany
  • 1979                        Mashpee Tribal Council Research Grant
  • 1978-1982                Herbert H. Lehman Graduate Fellowship

Selected Publications


A Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011) offers original essays that provide new insights on body politics and experiences of the body. Original chapters by many of the leading experts on the body and embodiment in anthropology today cover historical and contemporary approaches and highlight new research frameworks.Paul Stoller (West Chester University of Pennsylvania) says this of the book: “Frances Mascia-Lees has compiled a breathtakingly comprehensive volume on the anthropology of the body. The chapters are creative, sometimes daring, and always insightful. The collection takes our comprehension of the body in social and cultural life to a new level. The volume will be read and debated for many years to come.”

Gender and Difference in a Globalizing World: 21st Century Anthropology (Waveland Press, 2010) focuses on the history of the study of gender and difference in anthropology; the impact of contemporary global processes on the construction and experience of difference; and the gendered, raced, and classed nature of contemporary global processes.

View it at|t

Taking a Stand in a Postfeminist World: Toward an Engaged Cultural Criticism was published by SUNY Press in 2000. Paul Stoller, author of Jaguar: A Story of Africans in America, writes of Taking a Stand: "Mascia-Lees and Sharpe are keen observers of contemporary culture, scholars who cull evidence carefully to reach their conclusions. What's more, they combine careful scholarship with representational inventiveness. They take creative risks with voice, structure, and subject. I'm sure their various takes on the post-feminist world will please many, anger others, and stimulate all."

Read excerpts of this book here.

Review of Taking a Stand

Gender and Anthropology was published by Waveland Press in 2000. Of the book, Naomi Quinn of Duke University writes, "Gender and Anthropology is excellent. It is a major accomplishment of synthesis and distillation."

Read excerpts of this book here.

Review of Gender and Anthropology

Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation, and Adornment: The Denaturalization of the Body in Culture and Text was published by SUNY Press in 1992. Howard Eilberg-Schwartz of Stanford University writes of Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation, and Adornment: "This exciting book engages the most current debates about the representation of the human body, especially the female body in various media such as film, literature, and popular magazines. Thoroughly conversant with the latest in feminist criticism, gender theory, and the predicaments of postmodern culture, the authors explore various narratives and images through which the gendered body is currently represented."

Read excerpts of this book here.

Toward a Model of Women's Status. American University Studies, Series Xi, Anthropology/Sociology, Vol. 1. Peter Lang Publishers, 1984.

Now in a new edition, Women's Realities, Women's Choices introduces readers to the field of women's studies by examining the contradictions between social and cultural "givens" and the realities that women face in society. Written collectively by nine authors from as many fields and disciplines, the book acknowledges the gap between women's realities and their choices--and both analyzes that gap and looks at ways to bridge it.  Read excerpts from an earlier edition of this book here.

Other Publications:

  • "Introduction." In Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment, edited by Frances E. Mascia-Lees, Wiley-Blackwell, Mascia-Lees, 2011.
  • "Aesthetic Embodiment and Commodity Capitalism." In Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment, edited by Frances E. Mascia-Lees, Wiley-Blackwell, Mascia-Lees, 2011.
  • "Prologue: Autoethnography." In Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment, edited by Frances E. Mascia-Lees, Wiley-Blackwell, Mascia-Lees, 2011.
  • "Why Women Have Breasts", Anthropology Now, 1(1):4-11, Mascia-Lees. 2008
  • “Truth as Cultural Story.” In Teaching Anthropology, edited by P. Rice and D. McCurdy, McGraw-Hill, 2007
  • “Cruelty, Suffering, and Imagination: The Lessons of J.M. Coetzee,” American Anthropologist, 108 (1): 84-87, 2006 (Mascia-Lees and Sharpe).
  • “Reimagining Globality: Toward and Anthropological Physics. Anthropology News, 47 (5): 9-11, May 2006 (Mascia-Lees and Himpele).
  • Can Biological and Cultural Anthropology Coexist?” Anthropology News, 47 (1): 9-13, January 2006.
  • "Introduction: Language Ideologies, Rights, and Choices: Dilemmas and Paradoxes of Loss, Retention, and Revitalization." American Anthropologist, 2003:105 (4):1-2 (Mascia-Lees and Lees).
  • "Drawing Shadows to Stone: The Photography of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, 1897-1902." Journal of Museum Anthropology, 1999:50-57.
  • "The Postmodernist Turn in Anthropology: Cautions from a Feminist Perspective." Reprinted in Art and Interpretation, edited by Eric Dayton, Broadview Press, 1999:567-582 (Mascia-Lees, Sharpe, and Cohen).
  • "Locked In or Locked Out or Holding Both Ends of a Slippery Pole: Confusion of Metaphors, Collaborations, and Intellectual Travesties." In Making Worlds: Gender, Metaphor, Materiality, edited by S. Aiken, A. Brigham, S. Marston, and P. Waterstone. University of Arizona Press, 1998:227-242 (Mascia-Lees and Sharpe).
  • "Cultural Encounters: Conquest, Colonialism, Travel, Anthropology, and the 'Writing' of Culture." Appendix: In International Studies in the Next Millennium: Meeting the Challenge of Globalization, edited by Julia A. Kushigian, Praeger Publishers, 1998:141-152.
  • "The Other as Fetish." Reviews in Anthropology, 1998:337-348.
  • "Women Writing [and] Their Bodies: Exploring the Conjunction of Writing Difficulties, Eating Disorders, and the Construction of Self and Body among American Female Adolescents." Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 1996-1997:167-181 (Mascia-Lees and Sharpe).
  • "The Postmodernist Turn in Anthropology: Cautions from a Feminist Perspective." Reprinted in Gender and Scientific Authority, edited by E. Hammonds, S. Kohlstedt, and H. Longino, University of Chicago Press, 1996:48-74 (Mascia-Lees, Sharpe, and Cohen).
  • "Piano Lessons." American Anthropologist, 1995:763-769 (Mascia-Lees and Sharpe).
  • "The Anthropological Unconscious." American Anthropologist, 1994:649-660 (Mascia-Lees and Sharpe).
  • "The British Virgin Islands as Nation and Desti-nation: Representing and Siting Identity in a Post-Colonial Caribbean." Social Analysis, 1993:130-151 (Cohen and Mascia-Lees).
  • "Always Believe the Victim/Innocent Until Proven Guilty/There is No Truth: The Competing Claims of Feminism, Humanism, and Postmodernism in Interpreting Charges of Harassment in the Academy." Anthropological Quarterly, 1993:87-98 (Sharpe and Mascia-Lees).
  • "The Postmodernist Turn in Anthropology: Cautions from a Feminist Perspective." Reprinted in Anthropology and Literature, edited by Paul Benson, University of Illinois Press, 1993:225-248 (Mascia-Lees, Sharpe, and Cohen).
  • "Die postmoderne Wende in der Anthropologie: Vorbehalte aus feministischer Sicht." Reprinted in Unbeschreiblich Weiblich? Beitrage zur Feministischen Anthropologie, edited by Gabriele Rippl, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1993:209-242 (Mascia-Lees, Sharpe, and Cohen).
  • "Culture, Power, and Text: Anthropology and Literature Confront Each 'Other,'" American Literary History, 1992:678-696 (Mascia-Lees and Sharpe).
  • "Soft-Tissue Modification and the Horror Within," introduction to Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation, and Adornment: The Denaturalization of the Body in Culture and Text. SUNY Press, 1992:1-9 (Mascia-Lees and Sharpe).
  • "The Marked and the Un(re)marked: Tattoo and Gender in Theory and Narrative," in Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation, and Adornment: The Denaturalization of the Body in Culture and Text. SUNY Press, 1992:145-169 (Mascia-Lees and Sharpe).
  • "Fieldwork as Cultural Process," Reviews in Anthropology, 1991:223-230 (Mascia-Lees and Cohen).
  • "Reply to Kirby's Comment on 'The Postmodernist Turn in Anthropology: Cautions from a Feminist Perspective.'" Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 1991:401-408 (Mascia-Lees, Sharpe, and Cohen).
  • "The Female Body in Postmodern Consumer Culture: A Study of Subjection and Agency." Phoebe: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Feminist Scholarship, Theory and Aesthetics, 1990:29-50 (Mascia-Lees, Sharpe, and Cohen).
  • "White Women and Black Men: Differential Responses to Reading Black Women's Texts." College English, 1990:142-153 (Sharpe, Mascia-Lees, and Cohen).
  • "Investigating the Biocultural Dimensions of Human Sexual Behavior." Medical Anthropology, 1989:367-383 (Mascia-Lees, Tierson, and Relethford).
  • "The Postmodernist Turn in Anthropology: Cautions from a Feminist Perspective." Reprinted in Conversations in Anthropology: Anthropology and Literature, special issue of the Journal of the Steward Anthropological Society, 1990:251-282 (Mascia-Lees, Sharpe, and Cohen).
  • "The Postmodernist Turn in Anthropology: Cautions from a Feminist Perspective." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 1989:7-33 (Mascia-Lees, Sharpe, and Cohen).
  • "Lasers in the Jungle: Reconfiguring Questions of Human and Non Human Primate Sexuality." Medical Anthropology, 1989:351-366 (Cohen and Mascia-Lees).
  • "Double Liminality and the Black Woman Writer." American Behavioral Scientist, 1987:101-114 (Mascia-Lees, Sharpe, and Cohen).
  • "The Angel on the Farm." Christian Science Monitor, March 5, 1986 (Sharpe and Mascia-Lees)."Evolutionary Perspectives on Permanent Breast Enlargement in Human Females."
  • American Anthropologist, 1986:423-428 (Mascia-Lees, Relethford, and Sorger).

Edited Special Issues:

“Cruelty, Suffering, Imagination: The Lessons of J.M. Coetzee,” Special In Focus in the American Anthropologist, 108 (1): 84-87, 2006 (Mascia-Lees and Sharpe).

Constructing Meaningful Dialogue on Difference: Feminism and Postmodernism in Anthropology and the Academy. Two special issues of Anthropological Quarterly, April and June 1993 (Mascia-Lees and Sharpe).

Human Sexuality in Biocultural Perspective. Special issue of Medical Anthropology, 1989.

Women in the Eighties: Strategies for Survival. Selected Papers from the 1983 New York State Women's Studies Conference. Siena Press, 1984 (Ognibene and Mascia-Lees).

Courses Taught

Graduate Courses:

Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment

Anthropology of Gender

Culture and Desire

Gender, Culture, and Political Engagement

History of Anthropological Theory

Phenomenologies of Capitalism

Psychological Anthropology

Theorizing and Writing Ethnography

 Undergraduate Courses:

Anthropology Goes to the Movies: Ethnographic, Documentary, and Popular Film

Anthropology of the Body

Anthropology of Gender

Colonialism and Cultural Representation

Consuming Culture: Commodities and Consumption in a Transnational World

Cultural Encounters: Travel, Tourism, and Anthropology

Cultural Politics of Nazism

Cultural Stories: Narrative and Identity in the U.S.

Ethnography of Women

Exotic and Erotic in the 19th- and 20th-Century Western Imagination

Gender and Modernity

Interpreting Text/Interpreting Culture: Anthropology and Literature

Reading Ethnographic Writing

Introductory Courses:

Introduction to Anthropology

Introduction to Archaeology and World Prehistory

Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

Introduction to Cultural Ecology

Introduction to Cultural Studies

Introduction to Human Evolution

Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies

Interdisciplinary Courses:

Constructing Self/Constructing the Other: The Politics and Poetics of Hollywood Film (honors seminar)

Writing Cultural Encounters (honors seminar)

Contemporary Black Critical Thought

History of the Social Sciences

Research Methods in the Social Sciences

Women's and Gender Studies Courses:

Feminist Theory

Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies

General Education Seminars:

Moral Perspectives

Utopian Thought and Communities

Voices Against the Chorus (Great Books of Modernity)

Academic Appointments

  • 2011                        Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences, SAS, Rutgers University
  • 2004                        Professor, Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University
  • 2004 - 2010              Chair, Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University
  • 2004 -                      Graduate Faculty in Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University
  • 2001 - 2006              Editor-in-Chief, American Anthropologist
  • 2000 - 2004              Guest Professor, Department of Anthropology, Sarah Lawrence College
  • 1999 - 2000              Adjunct Professor, Department of Anthropology, Hunter College
  • 1998 - 1999              Professor, Social Studies Division, Bard College-SRC
  • 1991 - 1992              Chair, Social Studies Division, Bard College-SRC
  • 1986 - 1996              Founder and Co-Director, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, Bard College-SRC
  • 1990 - 1997              Associate Professor, Social Studies Division, Bard College-SRC
  • 1983 - 1989              Assistant Professor, Social Studies Division, Bard College-SRC
  • 1983                         Visiting Instructor, Department of Anthropology, SUNY, College at Oneonta
  • 1982-1983                Asst. to the Vice President, Office of Research and Educational Development, SUNY Albany
  • 1982                         Visiting Instructor, Department of Anthropology, SUNY Albany
  • 1977 - 1978              Recorder, Office of Records and Registration, SUNY, College at New Paltz

Other Professional Appointments

Consultantships in Media Programming:
Indigo Films, 2007
Advisor to Earth and Sky Radio Series for new "Human World Project," MSNBC, 2000
WGBH, 1999-2000
City Arts, 1999
ABC News, 1992

New Chair Mentor, Rutgers University, 2005-2006
Faculty Mentor, Kellogg Leadership Institute, 1999-2001

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