Ciara Edwards-Mendez’s AHSS Summer Research Project

Ciara is another one of SOAN’s recipients of the AHSS summer research project grants. With her funding, Ciara returned to Los Angeles for the summer, and has designed a fascinating oral history project that explores aspects of her own neighborhood and its history. As the faculty advisor of her project, I asked Ciara to provide our departmental audience with a bit of detail about her emerging project. Here’s what he had to say!

My research doesn’t propose a singular research question, but instead is a collection of ex-graffiti gang members remnants and a set of interviews making up an oral history of their time in the gangs in the 1990s. When gathered, I will correlate all their individual yet analogous recollections to analyze what graffiti meant to them, and assess their perspectives during this time, with particular attention to the dichotomy between art and vandalism, which captures the social realities of the graffiti writers in urban environments. ​​Altogether, this research will explore a multitude of different topics and social themes, such as poverty and violence, and will investigate these artists’ experiences along social, cultural, and political lines. East Los Angeles is a marginalized urban community in which residents began establishing territories and reconfiguring urban space well before the 1990s. But because of tensions, largely defined by the racial and ethnic segregation, and coupled with a deep distrust of the police and ongoing violence, gangs rose in prominence in this period. Graffiti served as a way for members of this urban community to mark turf and establish territory.

I have been in contact with subjects that are now working as muralists or as established graffiti artists. They have detached themselves from any involvement in any graffiti gang activity for the past twenty years, and as I have commenced this project, these artists have brought me to the places in the neighborhood that are important locations from their yesteryears: I’ve been at the walls they’ve tagged, into their houses, and via ethnographic methods, I’ve been trying to blend into the scene, so that I might deploy participant observation to gather as much evidence as possible in addition to the interviews I’m conducting for the oral history​. 

Ciara, that sounds so interesting, and we’re looking forward to hearing more. We’ll catch up with you again in a few months as your project nears completion!


Zach Hermann’s Summer Research Project

Zach is one of the University of Puget Sound’s Matelich scholars, and that scholarship has allowed him to pursue an independent summer research project in cadence with the AHSS summer research students on campus. As the supervisor of his project, I asked Zach to provide our departmental audience with a bit of detail about his research interests this summer. Here’s what he had to say!

The primary research question I seek to engage with in this project will be: How does Reform Jewish youth engage with and understand their role in Palestinian liberation movements?

In recent months, the Israeli occupation has continued to encroach on territory within the West Bank. In response to the actions of the Israeli government, the If Not Now​ movement has created a petition for Reform Jews to demand more from the Union of Reform Judaism in regards to condemning Israeli apartheid. I hope to learn from engaged Reform Jewish community leaders who have signed onto this petition in order to better understand their perspective on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and what drives them to engage with the If Not Now movement.

I hope to create of a resource based on what I learn from the testimonials of engaged research participants in order to propose means for improving If Not Now’s engagements as well as providing insights for the Union of Reform Judaism to better understand the growing ideological shift within young community members.

As Palestinians oppression continues to be justified in the name of Jewish safety, the need for Reform Jews to understand the shifting consensus surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has never been greater. As anti-semitism increases across the globe, the Jewish people must find solidarity in humanity’s collective liberation of the oppressed. Through movements like If Not Now, Reform Jews are learning a new side to their story and face an urgent need to reevaluate their approach to Israel education within the faith. In this proejct, I hope to bring forth voices that can bring clarity to the ways in which both the Union of Reform Judaism and the If Not Now movement can increase and retain their engagements with Reform Jewish youth.

Although Zach’s semester with me in SOAN 299 Ethnographic Methods was thrown out of whack by the pandemic, the project he’s pursuing here certainly reflects the aspirations I try to convey to students — to design projects that are of scholarly and academic interest, but also incorporate applied goals that are useful in assessing real world issues or friction. We’ll check back with Zach at the end of the summer and hear more about his findings then!


Amelia Burkhart’s AHSS Summer Research Project: Exploring the Olmsted City Beautiful Legacy in Washington

The AHSS summer research program allows students to pursue independent research projects under the supervision of a faculty member. While competitive, the summer research program provides students with sufficient funding to explore topics and issues that interest them. With the AHSS program’s emphasis on independent research, students in SOAN have been particularly successful with this competitive grant program. I asked Amelia, one of this year’s recipients, to describe her project. Here’s what she had to say:

The main research questions that I will address will be: What is the scope and nature of the Olmsted legacy in Washington state. How has that legacy shaped the urban form in our state, and where is its legacy still visible in the built landscape?

The City Beautiful movement was about creating spaces where nature and humans could coexist. Before the movement, cities were not planned at all, but were instead an outgrowth of the industrial capitalist process. The City Beautiful movement was the first attempt to bring nature into the urban landscape. Frederick Law Olmsted was one of the architects for this movement. You can see his impact throughout the American landscape, in places such as Central Park. His legacy continued through his two sons — John and Frederick Jr. — who had the same interest in integrating natural spaces in densely populated cities.

Amelia Burkhart

The Olmsted brothers lived in Seattle, where some of their larger projects were incorporated into the 1903 Olmsted Plan and the 1908 Park Expansion Plan. These two plans included the building of seventeen parks and eighteen boulevards in the state. The Omstead brothers’ architectural legacy in Washington is truly vast. Their designs and the architecture therein reflect the current issues occurring at the time the sites were built. In my project, I will assessing their legacy and its impact nearly a century later.

What makes the Pacific Northwest so unique is the fundamental role nature has played in our urban landscapes. And while the basis of my project is investigating the Olmstedian legacy in Washington, I am also interested in more than the history of the space: I will also be exploring the enduring value and social utility of these spaces, which I will be documenting in my project.  

Proletarian Enclaves, Photo Exhibit

Hi all,

Although we remain mostly locked down by the pandemic, a variety of scholarly and academic organizations are hosting virtual conferences this academic year. I’m happy to announce that my photo exhibit — Proletarian Enclaves in the Urban Landscape of Doha, Qatar — was accepted by The Nature of Cities (TNOC) 2021 Festival, and is showing there all this week!

This particular set of images has an interesting backstory. The images included in this exhibit are part of a larger collection that I put together early this summer, thanks to the generous offer of Kevin McGlocklin, the owner of Tacoma’s Bluebeard Coffee Roasters and Cafe. Culling a thematic set of images from my time and work in Qatar, I was able to carry some of the elements from the Bluebeard show to the TNOC exhibit. Here’s the short blurb from the new exhibit, along with several of the included images:

“These images explore the peripheral urban enclaves where much of the foreign workforce dwells in Doha, Qatar. These transnational migrants, most of whom come from South Asia, both build and service the modern city. Although a few stragglers still dwell in the urban core of Doha, most migrant workers now occupy enclaves constructed at the periphery of the city. In the lifeworlds of these men and women, these migrations are, for most, an economic necessity for the households behind them. But these migrations also serve as a right of passage, and comprise a great and difficult adventure that is sometimes rewarding. The cities they inhabit upon arrival, like the one portrayed here, are far from home for millions of migrant men and women who dwell there, and is simultaneously the setting for this social drama.”

Special thanks to Dharmendra and Deependra for their help with several of the sojourns from which these photographs come.


Maya Gilliam’s Research Podcast: All Things Intentional.

This posting is about the podcast that senior Maya Gilliam produced about her summer research project!

Senior Maya Gilliam

The University of Puget Sound offers students the competitive opportunity to pursue independent research over the course of the summer. Projects are funded by the university, and are conducted under the guidance and supervision of a faculty member. The SOAN Department — with its sustained emphasis on quantitative and qualitative methodological training, the disciplinary commitment to fieldwork and the value of experiential learning, and the constellation of interests that have long coalesced under the banners of sociology and anthropology — has greatly benefitted from the AHSS Summer Research Program, and we are proud of the amazing work that our students have conducted in summers over the past decade. You can glimpse some of that collected work here.

Over the chaotic summer of 2020, senior Maya Gilliam pursued an independent project that sought to explore the ideas, commitments, and practices integral to various intentional communities in the contemporary era. Although her original plans were to travel around the western states exploring various manifestations of international community, the pandemic constrained Maya to the PNW, and simultaneously made fieldwork difficult for Maya and for several other students pursing independent projects. Nonetheless, instead of producing a paper or an article, Maya pulled together this insightful and fascinating podcast that summarizes her summer exploration. I’ve linked to it below — have a listen!

All Things Intentional Audio File

This is really excellent, Maya! I love this work, and I’m now thinking about how other students might explore this medium in Ethnographic Methods. Thanks for leading the way 🙂


Collaborative Creation of a Nepalese Research Center: An AHSS Summer Research Project

Greetings all,

Several students in the orbit of the SOAN Department have new AHSS Summer Research projects they’re pursuing amidst the tumultuous summer. I asked Karina to tell us a bit about her summer project, and her work with my good friend Deependra Giri. Here’s what she had to say:

Collaborative Creation of a Nepalese Research Center 

Karina CherniskeKarina

This summer I am honored to be working remotely with Deependra Giri in the collaborative construction of an NGO in Nepal. Deependra has a vision to create an NGO in Nepal, his home, and hopes that the NGO will support researchers on various projects. I intend to help him built his vision, and these efforts will coalesce in creating a website that will distill some of the key research elements he intends to provide, including translation, scheduling, data collection, and establishing qualitative samples. Additionally I will be conducting my own interviews with Deependra and others to explore the current challenges and socio-political climate in Nepal, and attempt to discern what role international research plays in Nepalese society. In the project I hope to gain a perspective on the presence and role of NGOs in South Asia, and better understand how they are responding to the unique needs of the global pandemic. 

While I had originally intended to travel and to Bhairahawa, Nepal, I will now be communicating with Mr. Giri remotely. This changes the participant observation emphasis of the project, but still allows for many of the original goals to be implemented. I am excited to learn more about the ways that communities in Nepal are sharing resources and coming together to meet the needs of all people in the face of an uncaring federal government.

Good luck to you, Karina! We’re obviously sorry to hear your trip to Nepal was called off, but this project sounds wonderful nonetheless! Some additional details: With the sustained emphasis on independent field-based research, students in Puget Sound’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology have frequently received support from the University’s competitive program for funded student summer research. Indeed, the sequence of fascinating projects — conducted by SOAN students as part of the University’s AHSS program. This year was no exception, and we’re proud of our students’ success! But the global pandemic threw a wrench in these students’ plans. As a result, projects funded and approved for summer research had to be quickly reconfigured to the new realities of the Summer of 2020. The reconfigured results are detailed above.

Alternative Lifestyles: Off-the-Grid and Intentional Communities: An AHSS Summer Research Project

Greetings all,

As previously noted, several students in the orbit of the SOAN Department have new AHSS Summer Research projects they’re pursuing amidst our tumultuous summer. I asked Maya to tell us a bit about her summer project, and here’s what she had to say:

Alternative Lifestyles: Off-the-Grid and Intentional Communities

Maya GilliamIMG_9861

My project revolves around individuals or groups of people who choose to organize community and live in ways that deviate from the norm. Specifically I am interested in ‘alternative’ or ‘off the grid’ lifestyles. Washington state has an abundance of these communities that I aim to make contact with and to further understand the driving forces of these places, and the common values they share. The project will delve into particular communities to grasp a deeper knowledge about the social circumstances they respond to. Through this project I hope to aid in dismantling the oversimplification of alternative communities in mainstream culture, and extrapolate and explain their complexities. Although pandemic protocols don’t allow student researchers to engage in person with subjects, I am going to get creative and find a number of ways to explore this topic. My research will look into both historic intentional communities and their changes throughout time. Additionally, I want to grasp a sense of the ways in which these communities are responding to the contemporary crisis. What community ethos are arising in this moment? How is the pandemic changing these communities?

For this project I will do a considerable amount of book research, in addition to reaching out to specific communities to do zoom or phone interviews. Collecting as many interviews and first hand accounts as possible is greatly important for an ethnographic study like this. I aspire to come away from this project with a much more extensive historical and contemporary understanding of alternative lifestyles, and present this acquired knowledge through a captivating platform (blog, podcast, or magazine article). I am really looking forward to engaging in this topic, continuing to be flexible with my work, and learning new and unprecedented tools for safe and responsible ethnographic research.

We’re excited to hear about your findings, Maya! Good luck this summer, and we’ll check back in a few months to hear how it’s all going! Some additional details: With the sustained emphasis on independent field-based research, students in Puget Sound’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology have frequently received support from the University’s competitive program for funded student summer research. Indeed, the sequence of fascinating projects — conducted by SOAN students as part of the University’s AHSS program. This year was no exception, and we’re proud of our students’ success! But the global pandemic threw a wrench in these students’ plans. As a result, projects funded and approved for summer research had to be quickly reconfigured to the new realities of the Summer of 2020. The reconfigured results are detailed above.

An Exploration of the Urban Landscape and Marginal Communities in Tacoma, Washington: An AHSS Summer Research Project

Greetings all,

Several students in the orbit of the SOAN Department have new AHSS Summer Research projects they’re pursuing amidst the tumultuous summer. I asked Oscar Edwards-Hughes to tell us a bit about his summer project:

Interstitial Space: An Exploration of the Urban Landscape and Marginal Communities of Tacoma, Washington

Oscar Edwards-Hughes

IMG_1140Cities, and the urban landscape they comprise, are complicated collections of social, political, and historical forces. In the United States, and much of the world, these cities are simultaneously two things: a patchwork of private property and public space, and densely populated areas with a notable social fabric. In all cities around the world, there are better properties and worse properties, and considering contemporary inequality in America specifically, there are wealthy Americans and poor Americans. Of these poorer Americans, many live on the same city streets we see and walk down every day. This project is an exploration of that junction — between urban space in America and American society.

Interstitial space “comprises the zones and spaces between plans, the unplanned, spaces that for some reason or another have eluded planners’ gaze,” (Gardner ND). This unplanned or abandoned space can be seen throughout urban areas, consisting of spaces where planning and boundaries are unclear or non-existent; a space seemingly missed or uncalculated by city planners. At first glance this space seems totally functionless, but previous academic research suggests the possibility that interstitial space, sometimes referred to as “junk space,” provides functions for communities overlooked by the general public (Koolhaas 2002).

This summer I will be conducting a series of interviews with community outreach coordinators, activists, and law enforcement personnel. With these interviews I hope to discover what communities of people are involved with this interstitial space, their differing opinions and roles, and the interactions between them. These interviews are to serve as a tool for gaining more insight into what work is already being done, or has been done, in these spaces, as well building an understanding into the history of these spaces. The heart of my project will be observation in Tacoma’s interstitial spaces in an effort to understand how this space is functionally vital to some of the most marginal members of our society. I will be spending time in Tacoma’s interstitial spaces, observing the things, people, and happenings I see in the space, and documenting my experiences through writing and photography. In my research, I will be observing how people interact with this space, what functions the space serves, what common happenings occur, and what common identifying features these spaces share. I will be observing normal everyday occurrences and abnormal events, the movement and attitudes of people, the mundane and the exciting, etc. Through this observation I aim to build an understanding of the domain, the people interacting with the space, and the space’s functionality.


We’re proud of you, Oscar, and we look forward to hearing about how this project goes over the remaining summer. Good luck! Some additional details: With the sustained emphasis on independent field-based research, students in Puget Sound’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology have frequently received support from the University’s competitive program for funded student summer research. Indeed, the sequence of fascinating projects — conducted by SOAN students as part of the University’s AHSS program. This year was no exception, and we’re proud of our students’ success! But the global pandemic threw a wrench in these students’ plans. As a result, projects funded and approved for summer research had to be quickly reconfigured to the new realities of the Summer of 2020. The reconfigured results are detailed above.

Catching Up with Samantha Lilly (’19)

Hi all.


Sam, here during her visit to Lithuania.

Alumnus Samantha Lilly (’19) received a Watson award — a highly competitive award that allows students to pursue a project central to their intellectual passions for an entire year upon graduation. Moreover, the Watson requires students to do so in four or five different countries around the world. Sam began researching her project on suicidality in SOAN 299: Ethnographic Methods, and then continued exploring that very same theme in an AHSS Summer Research project. That same interest is driving her trek around the world: she’s trying to understand how suicide is framed, conceptualized, and addressed in different cultural settings. And after a few months in the Netherlands, she’s now wrapping up her time in Argentina. I asked her for an update, and here’s the reply I received!

Hello from Buenos Aires, Argentina! This is not my first time writing something for the University of Puget Sound’s Sociology and Anthropology blog. In the summer of 2018, when I Andrew was my research advisor, I had the opportunity to tell you all about the ethnographic study I was conducting concerning the narratives Survivors of Suicide have surrounding their loved one’s death. 


At the World Congress on Mental Health meeting, 2019.

I have since graduated from UPS. Now, I am Thomas J. Watson Fellow! My project, “Understanding Suicidality Across Cultures” aims to, unsurprisingly, understand suicide across cultures from a medical, political, historical, indigenous, religious, spiritual, and socioeconomic perspective. The overall goal of the project is to learn from other cultures.

What do these communities know that we in the States do not? What must I learn or unlearn to better understand the unique situatedness of each culture and the people found within?


At the offices of the Dutch suicide prevention line.

I spent two and a half months in Europe (the end of July to the middle of October), primarily based in the Netherlands, traveling from city to city every day (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, etc.). I spent most of my time interviewing psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, bioethicists, and general practitioners about their impressions of the 2002 Dutch Euthanasia Law. This law, unlike Death with Dignity Laws in the States, also allows people who have a diagnosed psychiatric illness to request to die with the aid of their General Practitioner. Indeed, there are many requirements and criteria that must be met in order for the patient to be approved e.g., unbearable suffering, no viable alternative, amongst other things.


Sam befriended these boys via the urban soccer pitch

Some of these psychiatrists allowed me to speak with their patients who are requesting to die via psychiatric euthanasia – one of my favorite days in Europe was spent in Antwerp, Belgium drinking beer and coffee with Amy, who was approved for psychiatric euthanasia three years ago, but has yet to utilize it. I also spent an abundance of time interviewing suicide prevention networks as well as their national rail operator, ProRail.

I have also been going out of my way to “feel the edges” of my project. I toured the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam with an expert on Van Gogh’s suicide and then later traveled to the South of France to retrace Vincent’s steps to understand the ecological and aesthetic deterrents to suicidality.

But, one of the most impactful periods of my fellowship thus far was found Lithuania. I flew to the Baltic Country because it boasts the highest suicide rate in the European Union. (And, also the third highest globally.) There, I gleaned incredible insights into the impact cultural trauma and the transgenerational transmission of trauma from suicidologists and representatives from the United Nations. There are no words for this experience.


At the Boca Juniors game in Buenos Aires

I am now living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here, I spend a lot of time with the incredible people working within the Argentinian Ministry on Mental Health. In 2010, the ministry and directorate implemented a mental health care law based in human rights (Ley de salud mental N 26657).  Its end goal? To eliminate psychiatric hospitals across the nation. However, when I am not working within the government, I travel to the remaining psychiatric and general hospitals interviewing patients on their past suicide attempts, their experience with stigma, and the psychiatrists who run the wards. Although it takes a lot of reflection and time to comprehend what I’m learning, one thing is made immediately clear: community based approaches to suicidality are significantly more effective than simply involuntarily committing and medicating patients.

Amongst all of the interviews with professionals, I also spend a lot of time asking locals and friends “why they stay alive?” This is my nice way of asking: “why haven’t you killed yourself?” I transcribe and code each of these interviews and the results are philosophically fascinating! I’ll let you know more when I am more confident in the findings. (-;


Basking in football fandom in Argentina

I will soon head to the Argentine countryside to work on a farm that advertises itself as an alternative to traditional and medical forms of psychotherapy. Then, shortly after Christmas, I fly to New Zealand to learn from the Māori people, whose youth kill themselves at an unfathomable rate in comparison with the rest of the world. After my stint in New Zealand, I fly to Indonesia to delve into the religious and spiritual perspectives concerning suicidality. And, lastly, I will make my way to Nepal, the poorest country in South Asia, to understand how socioeconomic distress amongst indigeneity and religiosity affects the Nepali people in the city of Kathmandu and  those in the Terai plains, in Bhairahawa.

I’m four months into my Watson Year and there is so much I have left unsaid in this blog post. Here are a few highlights beyond what I’ve said above.

  1. I am obsessed with the Turkish food found in the Netherlands. I’d do anything for another kapsalon or Turkish pizza. I also am obsessed with the people there. I miss my Dutch friends daily.
  2. I have learned so much about what it means to “fail up” (another main tenant of the Watson). Plan B should be as good, if not better, than Plan A.
  3. I have the opportunity to play fútbol with the psychiatrists, service users, and psychologists from Hospital Álverez every Friday (I dedicated a lot of my life to the sport). And, it is one of the most beautiful collaborations of passion I have ever experienced.
  4. As a barista, it is beautiful to have a skill that is applicable worldwide. I get to pour my own cappuccino every day, no matter what country I’m in.

If you want to follow along outside of the SOAN Blog – feel free to visit my personal Watson blog at

Dank je wel! Gracias!

Sam (:

Alena McIntosh’s AHSS Summer Research Project

Hello again,


Alena McIntosh in her natural environment

As noted in the previous post, students at the University of Puget Sound can compete for funding to support their summer research endeavors. Our department’s students were particularly successful in past years, and again this year we’ve had numerous proposals successfully funded. This is the second of three we intend to showcase here on the blog. In short, the AHSS Summer Research Awards, varying from $3250 to $3750, allow students to pursue an in-depth research project over the summer months. I’ve asked each of this year’s batch of students to tell us a little bit about what they’ll be doing with their time, energy, and grant monies in the coming summer. Here’s what Alena McIntosh had to say about her new project:

This summer I will be conducting research in Kathmandu, Nepal on the urban infrastructure of transnational labor migration. International labor migration has increasingly become a central component of economic stability and growth within Nepal and I am curious to see how out-migration has impacted the built landscape of the city of Kathmandu. We live in an interconnected world unlike any time in human history. Today, transnational labor migration is both a common and essential component for the survival of many people around the world. I am aiming to gain a better understanding of a side of transnational labor migration that is relatively understudied by anthropologists. I am fascinated by how the landscape of the city can be built to reflect social and cultural beliefs and values. I want to uncover the ways in which labor migration has been etched into the built environment of Kathmandu.


The bustling streets of Kathmandu, where the proliferation of migration infrastructure is visible in the sorts of businesses that accumulate in many neighborhoods of the city

I am planning on conducting community level analysis by performing semi-structured interviews, photo ethnography, and engaging in participant observation with residents and business owners in certain areas of Kathmandu that serve as migration hubs within the city. The broad questions that frame this research are as follows: How has internal migration impacted existing communities? How is community reflected and constructed in these new urban spaces? Who is responsible for the development of migration infrastructure and what purposes does this infrastructure serve? How is gender understood within migration infrastructure? How has the experience of return migrants and the influx of international culture shaped the built landscape of Nepal?

The goal of this project is to help add further nuance to the ongoing scholarly debate regarding the impacts of transnational labor migration systems on sending countries. Additionally, I hope to compile an oral history of the neighborhoods of the city most affected and help to document the change that has occurred and is currently occurring within these spaces.

This is a fascinating research agenda, Alena, and we look forward to hearing more from you as the project gets underway. Good luck!