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Haverford College
Department of Anthropology
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Faculty: Research: Maris Boyd Gillette

Maris Boyd Gillette

Broadly speaking, my research examines how capitalism shapes cultural ideologies and social practice; how institutional discourses and individual sentiments combine to create memory; and how people use objects to express identities and produce knowledge. I have worked as an academic and an applied anthropologist, a curator, and an ethnographic filmmaker. My three most recent publications provide a good sense of the kinds of work that I do: “Process and Product in Collaborative Media” in the journal Practicing Anthropology, “The Porcelain Entrepreneurs of Contemporary Jingdezhen” in the catalogue Landscape in Blue, and “Women’s Empowerment and Choice in the Xi’an Muslim District” in the edited volume Walking the Tightrope: Gender and Islam in Asia.

My first field work was in a Chinese Muslim neighborhood in a large city (Xi’an) in northwest China. In my book Between Mecca and Beijing I argued that Xi’an Muslims used consumption to establish collective identities in their neighborhood and city (including in relation to the dominant non-Muslim population), among other Muslims in China (including non-Chinese Central Asian Muslims), as citizens of the modernizing Chinese nation, and in relation to international Islam and the developed and developing world. Locals used particular goods to emphasize different facets of who they were in relation to these contexts.

My next research, published in five articles, focused on memory and how psychoanalytic theory could inform ethnography. I used my northwest China materials to examine how speakers, when they tell stories, produce idiosyncratic, subjective meanings from within cultural and discursive formations. I also investigated how the state and religious institutions frame cultural memory, shaping the sentiments that narrators experience when they remember historical events.

My current research is based in Jingdezhen, often called China’s porcelain capital. I got interested in Jingdezhen while curating an installation of Chinese porcelain made for Muslim markets at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While researching the objects, I learned that almost nothing had been written about the people who made porcelain. Since 2003 I have been doing ethnographic field research in Jingdezhen, trying to understand the lives of ordinary porcelain industry workers and how they have been affected by China’s shift from a planned to a market economy. I’ve written about copying and counterfeiting in Chinese ceramics ( and made a movie about the massive layoffs that happened when the central government in China decided to privatize porcelain production ( Currently I’m writing a book about Jingdezhen’s transition to capitalism that I’ve tentatively entitled Porcelain for Profit.