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Ph.D., Harvard University
Specialties: Language and culture, linguistic anthropology, law and
society, discourse analysis, Oceania American institutions, performance
Area of Research: Political and legal discourse;
bureaucracies and bureaucratic language; social studies of science;
verbal and musical performance.
Area of Fieldwork: Fiji Indian communities, Indian
diaspora, Himalayas, US federal science bureaucracies.
research and writing of Donald Brenneis focuses on the investigation of
language and other communicative activities as social practice. Trained
in both linguistic and social anthropology, Brenneis worked initially
in Bhatgaon, a rural Indian diasporic community in Fiji. At the core of
that research lay the complex relationships between talk and conflict.
Specific topics have included such local performance genres as gossip,
oratory, childrens' arguments, and insult. Communicative form and
style, the interaction shape of particular types of events, and the
social constraints and possibilities they implicate have been critical
dimensions in his analysis. Brenneis' focus on the rhetorical aspects
of language—that is, of speakers' intentions, verbal strategies, and
resulting discourse—is complemented by a concern for its aesthetic
dimensions: If such talk is to "work" politically, the audience and its
expectations, understandings, and assumptions demand serious attention.
In recent years he has pursued these underlying questions in a very
different range of sites, focusing on the ethnography of federal social
science funding panels and the cultural and communicative dimensions of
peer review as a process.
view of contemporary anthropology: 2003 Presidential Address, American
Anthropological Association," American Anthropologist 106:
"Doing anthropology in sound: Steven Feld in conversation with Donald
Brenneis" (with Steven Feld), American Ethnologist 31: 461-474,
Law and Empire in the Pacific: Fiji and Hawai'i
(edited with Sally Engle Merry). Santa Fe: School of American Research
"New lexicon, old language: negotiating the 'global' at the National
Science Foundation," in George E. Marcus (ed.), 1999. Critical
Anthropology Now: Unexpected Contexts, Shifting Constituencies,
Changing Agendas. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press,
"Performing passions: aesthetics and politics in an occasionally
egalitarian community," American Ethnologist 14: 236-250, 1987.