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New U. of I. professor to lead nation's premier anthropologists' group

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor

Released 9/7/2007

Virginia Dominguez
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Virginia Dominguez has been elected president-elect of the American Anthropological Association, the primary professional society of U.S. anthropologists.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —Virginia R. Dominguez, recruited as an “excellence hire” by the University of Illinois anthropology department in January, has been elected president-elect of the American Anthropological Association. Her term as president-elect begins Dec. 2; she becomes president in two years.

With nearly 12,000 members from 100 nations, the AAA is the primary professional society of U.S. anthropologists. Previous presidents include such renowned researchers as Ruth Benedict, Franz Boas and Margaret Mead. One other U. of I. faculty member served as president of the AAA: the late Joseph Casagrande, a linguistic anthropologist, in 1973.

Dominguez, who specializes in cultural politics, ethnicity, semiotics, critical discourses, the Middle East (especially Israel), and the United States and the Caribbean, has been named the Edward William and Jane Marr Gutgsell Professor at Illinois. In residence on campus since January, but on leave, she will begin teaching in the spring semester.

Dominguez previously taught at the University of Iowa, where she co-founded and directed the International Forum for U.S. Studies (IFUSS). Prior to that, she taught at the University of California at Santa Cruz and at Duke University. She also was a Fulbright Visiting Professor of Social Anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Salgo Professor of American Studies at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest.

At Illinois, Dominguez will serve as consulting director of IFUSS. Jane Desmond, who also was recruited to Illinois from Iowa, will serve as director of the forum, which, too, has relocated to the U. of I.

Dominguez served as editor in chief of American Ethnologist from July 2002 to June 30, 2007, two years longer than normal. She is on several editorial boards, including those of Comparative American Studies and Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power.

Donald Brenneis, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and also former president of the AAA and former editor of American Ethnologist, said that Illinois is “very lucky” to have hired Dominguez, and that she, in turn, is very lucky to be joining “such a fine program.”

“The anthropology department at the U. of I. has long been known as a
wide-ranging, lively and intellectually ecumenical program, one that sustains productive interdisciplinary conversations and has shaped long-term, very productive engagements with other fields, among them music, linguistics, African American and American studies.

“The department also has long provided intellectual, institutional and editorial leadership within our profession, with, most recently, Janet Keller having edited American Anthropologist and now heading Ethos: The Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology, and Virginia Dominguez, who has completed a very productive term as editor of American Ethnologist and is now moving into the key positions in the AAA.”

In her platform statement for the leadership of the AAA, Dominguez wrote that she is “deeply aware of the very real challenges posed by electronic publishing and archiving,” and she is “committed to being imaginative and vigilant in dealing with them.”

“But I will work to keep our professional focus on the planet’s assets and problems, and our contributions to it as writers, researchers, teachers, filmmakers, critics, advocates, museum professionals, institutional leaders and public intellectuals.”

According to Steven Leigh, the head of the U. of I. anthropology department, Dominguez “significantly increases our department’s intellectual reach, both theoretically and in terms of the many world areas where she has conducted research.”

“She brings a truly global perspective to contemporary anthropological problems,” Leigh said. “Her research abilities are matched by a deep commitment to undergraduate and graduate teaching.”

Dominguez will be teaching the department’s introductory course, “Anthropology in a Changing World,” next semester, “providing our undergraduates exceptional opportunities to learn from one of our discipline’s most accomplished leaders.”

Dominguez said she hopes to bring to her new department, which she characterized as having “unbelievable strength,” the “energy and vision of an international community of anthropologists and other humanities and social science scholars of the U.S. with whom I have been working over the past dozen years.”

With regard to IFUSS, Dominguez said she expects to make possible short-, medium-, and long-term visits and projects involving “colleagues abroad who study us here, some of whom will participate in innovative teaching and training as well as working groups. I want to make us all ‘productively uncomfortable’ in our standing assumptions and priorities about how we do ‘business.’ Risk-taking is something I value.”

Dominguez is sole author of three books, and is working on a fourth, “Mamama’s World(s): When the Enemy is Unclear.” She also is a co-author of two other monographs, and a co-editor of three other volumes, including “From Beijing to Port Moresby: The Politics of National Identity in Cultural Policies.” Dominguez has written more than 50 published articles.

She is past president of the U.S. Society for Cultural Anthropology and past director of the Center for International and Comparative Studies at Iowa.

Dominguez was born in Cuba and spent much of her early life “in and out of the United States,” she said. Other places she has called home are Uruguay, where she went to high school; Puerto Rico; Mexico; Lebanon; Israel; and most recently, Hungary.

A  “fascination with how people and societies conceptualize sameness and difference both within and outside the units they consider their own” has been at the core of her work for several years, she said.

Her earlier work addressed sameness and difference within the literature on kinship, descent, alliance systems and “race” and “within the literatures on religion, ‘totemism,’ and ethnosemantics.”

“Much newer work,” she said, “addresses related concerns under the rubric of ‘imagined communities,’ and is evident in discussions of transnationalism, multiple identities and hybridity.”

Dominguez said she tries to explore how ethnicity or identity “develop over time and across particular spaces, how they become discursively naturalized, systematized and institutionally entrenched, and how and why they appear to change.”

This leads her to incorporate research methods more commonly employed outside anthropology, including archival, census, legal and print media research and public discourse analysis.

Much of her current research “uses and theorizes photographic representations, as well,” she said, adding that she is now “exploring ways in which visuality challenges us differently as scholars.”

Such work occasionally takes Dominguez to “somewhat unplanned places,” including a project she and two U. of I. doctoral students are collaborating on: the use of photography in U.S. military occupations on several continents since the end of the 19th century, “focusing ironically not on the dramatic and controversial ones like those taken at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, but, rather, on the ones that tend not to attract attention, like brick pavements, types of potatoes, ditch digging, etc.”

“I am interested in what doesn’t get noticed, which is most things, both verbal and visual, why, how and what such lack of noticing enables.”