Spotlight on the SOAN Department at UPS


Hi all,

I was recently asked to pen a description of the SOAN department, our curriculum, and how we go about training students in anthropology, for the newsletter of the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA). As you may know, students from Puget Sound have regularly attended the annual conference of the SfAA, where they’ve received numerous accolades and prizes for their work.

In this brief article, I provide an overview of our program, and also feature our current crop of seniors and the impressive constellation of independent research projects they’ve now commenced.

Please check it out!



Anthony Hoffman’s Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]


The US Prison System is a complex web of relationships between various state institutions and private entities. These diverse actors–from private companies who make specialized goods for use in the prisons to legislators to prison guards–have overlapping goals and intentions, and different understandings of how and why the system exists in the first place. Is the prison’s primary purpose to punish, to rehabilitate, to turn a profit, or something else entirely? It really depends who you ask. More importantly, how does this network of considerations manifest in practice? How these tensions play out directly impact the lives of people in prison; these individuals experience the final product of so many political choices, of all of these systems, institutions, private entities, and other forces, coming together.

But what happens when prisoners reenter society? The vast majority of people who are currently incarcerated will eventually return to their communities but they do not leave the system unchanged. Those who have been incarcerated are likely to be impacted by the experience itself but on the most basic level, they return to society with a publicly accessible criminal record. This alone has a huge impact on employment opportunities and often their visibility in the community to law enforcement. It seems punishment doesn’t cease entirely when citizens physically leave the walls of the prison.

On the other hand, incarceration can also interrupt destructive cycles in the lives of individuals. We are familiar with redemption stories of people who go to prison and begin educating themselves or encounter something fundamentally life changing that leads that person to refocus their intentions, the Malcolm Xs so to speak. It is not my intent to romanticize this, because these stories are truly the exception rather than the norm. The US Criminal Justice System has incredibly high rates of recidivism. But surely these cases occur, and I think it’s fair to say that most people involved with “Corrections” would like to find meaningful ways to lower recidivism rates.

What factors allow a select few to break the “revolving door” cycle? Should we expand access to therapeutic programs? Educational programs? Vocational training? Does the system need to be harsher still to deter people from committing crimes? What actually makes a difference in people’s lives on the inside and beyond and what is the system accomplishing? At what point does punishment stop? Does the system criminalize behaviors or does it criminalize people, marking them permanently as second class citizens? The public accessibility of a criminal record alone could be considered a form of punishment that follows a person long after their formal sentences have ended, though some would argue a person’s criminal record is important public knowledge related to public safety.

Through an ethnographic study of formerly incarcerated citizens, I will explore how this experience impacts life outside the prison. In addition to semi-structured interviews, I incorporate participant observation, drawing upon my experiences volunteering with at least one organization that operates a program for prisoners outside the prison walls in conjunction with a local corrections facility. Though I am involved with one organization that operates within a local prison, for specific reasons I will not incorporate any experiences I have had volunteering with any programs that operate inside the walls of the prison into my research. I examine the consequences of being labeled an “ex-con” and whether or not various kinds of programs within prisons can improve opportunities for individuals upon reentry, counteracting some of the social handicaps that come with the legal status as a felon.

Katie Shammel’s Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]

A hundred miles across Interstate 90, just on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountain range, one finds a small, rural predominantly white town with deep cultural and economic ties embedded in the traditions of the West. Despite its proximity to the chiefly blue city of Seattle, this county persists as a Republican center of Trump politics, with political representation that consistently opposes the progressive ideologies of nearby urban areas. Within this community exists a mobile home community; a small cohort of low-income, hard-working, primarily Latino families that labor in minimum wage positions to help propel the local economy and provide for their families. Due to the lack of economic opportunities in the area, many of these Latino families are unable to afford their own homes, and resort to renting plots of land in the mobile home community to create a place to call their own. In April of 2016, tenants of these plots were devastated to learn that the local county government had negotiated a sale agreement of the land that their homes reside on, purportedly to accommodate fairground space for the annual county fair. The community effectively faced impending eviction.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetMy ethnographic research seeks to explore the unfolding local housing crisis taking place in this trailer park in rural Washington, and to assess the social processes that construct the ethnic and minoritized experience in America. Other analyses of similar populations have pointed to structural violence and marginalization as a significant factor shaping the lived experience and sense of identity that typify minoritized individuals in rural communities across the nation (Wells, 1975). I plan to speak with residents of the mobile home community, their institutional allies, and county representatives to investigate whether the experiences of this predominantly Latino mobile home community are consistent with the narratives of other marginalized populations in rural areas. Through the use of semi-structured interviews conducted in both English and Spanish, I hope to reveal many of the significant social and cultural processes related to race and ethnicity that take place in rural America but are continuously overlooked in sociology and the national dialogue concerning race in our country.

Kathryn Stutz’s Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]

Kathryn 01

Kathryn Stutz outside the Museum of London, standing near the remains of the ancient Roman city walls.

During the summer of 2014 – the summer after my first year studying anthropology at the University of Puget Sound – I worked as a docent at a small Egyptian museum in my then-hometown of San Jose, California. The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, housed in a replica Egyptian temple surrounded by rose gardens, was packed with mummies, gilded sarcophagi, and sleek granite sculptures of goddesses, but one museum object that only our most observant visitors noticed was a square piece of carved stone, which was affixed to the ceiling at the top of a stairwell. This was not a ‘true artifact’ – it was a plaster cast of the ‘real thing,’ the famous Dendera Zodiac ceiling-carving. Casts were common at our small, private museum – any object with a green information plaque was not authentic, but rather a copy of an original which another museum held. Although I had learned during training to tell visitors “if it has a green plaque it’s a copy,” it only occurred to me later that I knew very little about where in the world most of the original artifacts were actually kept, and I resolved to find out more.

My initial research into the Dendera Zodiac led me to a disturbing story: the actual Zodiac can be found at the Louvre in Paris, because a French antiques dealer had, in the 1800s, used saws and gunpowder to remove it from the Egyptian temple into which it had been built and to carry it back to France. At that time, I was reading a book called Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession – a fascinating, if somewhat sensationalizing, popular account of the theft of Native American artifacts from sites in the American Southwest. These parallel stories, showing the ways in which archaeological material has been stolen and stored away, fascinated me and inspired a series of undergraduate anthropological research projects into the complex world of museum collections. I wanted to know what would bring someone to go to such lengths to take possession of an artifact, removing it from its archaeological context or from its rightful owners.

Kathryn 02

Kathryn holding a bronze bull’s head artifact at the British Museum.

There’s something almost magical about a physical object, an artifact, a tool or a ceramic that someone crafted with their own hands, perhaps a very long time ago. The power of artifacts is why we’re drawn to museums – for the chance to be in the presence of objects with history. But this attraction to the past can turn into a dangerous sort of greed to possess these objects – even at the expense of their own longevity. The Dendera Zodiac remained in good condition in Egypt for over a thousand years; when it was removed by the French, both the zodiac relief and the temple in which it stood retained gunpowder damage. Our love of artifacts can be what destroys them.

Yet modern museums are valuable teaching tools, places for people to have contact with objects – sometimes even physical contact, through ‘touch tables’ and experiential educational programs. This year, I will be conducting a thesis investigation into the ways museums balance the often contradictory interests of preservation, education, and use regarding their physical collections, and how the often problematic history of the museum as an institution contributes to the narratives museums present as ‘keepers of culture.’ I will be interviewing museum staff, stakeholders, and visitors, as well as visiting museums myself and digging into the history of museums through historical documents. For hundreds of years, museums have been a way cities, states, nations, and the world define their identities – and now, we can begin to better understand our own modern identities by looking back to the histories of collection and curation embodied in the museum space.

Matthew Wettig’s Senior Thesis Project

Matthew![Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the role that the police play in society.  Particularly, I’ve often been struck by the amount of authority vested in police officers.  Growing up in Chicago, I witnessed overtly and implicitly how this dynamic shaped the relationship between the police and the community they serve.  In 2012 and 2013 I was fortunate enough to write for a magazine based out of Columbia College, where I was able to explore my interest in the police further.  I was given opportunities such as interviewing the then Chicago Police Chief Gary McCarthy, talking to various community organizations about the violence epidemic, as well as hosting a town hall meeting to present my findings.  My passion for criminology grew as I arrived at UPS.  In the spring of 2017 I conducted research with the Tacoma Police Department (TPD), examining their handling of police misconduct and internal affairs.

For my current research, I intend to explore the perceptions of efficacy surrounding the TPD’s community-oriented policing initiative.  Moreover, I seek to examine the ways in which the TPD and community members frame narratives of interaction.  This has been largely affected by the implementation of Project PEACE (Partnering for Equity and Community Engagement).  The drafting of Project PEACE was a collaborative effort between the TPD and community members, in an effort to continue to foster a positive relationship with citizens and the police.

This can largely be seen as a progressive effort on most fronts with endeavors such as: building trust and legitimacy with the community, improving policy and oversight, enhancing mental health response units, expanding the community policing division, and enhancing training and education on institutional racism and implicit bias.  However, Project PEACE also involved the bolstering of proactive policing strategies within the Community Policing Division, which utilizes the Tacoma Crime Control System (TCCS).  The TCCS is an algorithmic system designed to suppress crime by analyzing crime statistics throughout the city.  Recently, this technology has received criticism that it simply reinforces trends of biased policing.  These are all aspects that will be explored further in dealings between the TPD and the Tacoma community.

To conduct my research, I intend to utilize both quantitative and qualitative methods.  Quantitatively, I seek to ground my research in crime statistics in Tacoma.  Moreover, I will be conducting participant observation in the form of police ride-alongs and community meetings, as well as structured, semi-structured, and unstructured interviews with members of the TPD, the City’s office, as well as individuals in Tacoma.

Gibson Buttfield’s Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]

Over time, the way we share music has changed; from records to the radio, to cassettes to CDs, and finally across the internet in the form of MP3s and WAVs, it has never been easier to create, share, and acquire music. Through these changes, the way that we experience and interact with music has taken new forms, and with the introduction of social media platforms specifically for music, such as Soundcloud and Spotify, our interaction with music has changed substantially. The inclusion of these social media-spheres has given artists and their fans direct lines of communication that change the dynamics of the audience-performer relationship. I hope to unravel why these platforms have become so popular and the reasoning behind why this is the next step in how we spread and interact with music.

pic for blogMusic appreciation and performance has been present for most of my life. I recall my sister gifting me CDs with notes written in sharpie across the paper envelope. I coveted these possessions and still have many of them to this day. I have played in rock, funk, jazz, world, and reggae bands from a very young age, and today I am in a band and enjoy producing and writing tracks in my free time. Because of the centrality of music in my life, I am surrounded by musicians and artists who are also seeking to find meaning in this new media-scape, and I can only assume that this is not a feeling exclusively felt between me and my friends, but also across the globalized world. My involvement in the music community also provides to me a list of individuals who would be valuable assets for interviews and participant observation.

The data I will be collecting in this project will consist primarily of ethnographic interviews with artists who utilize these platforms as well as listeners who use them as a source of music. I plan to construct a survey of the Puget Sound student body to obtain representative statistics about how my generation interacts with music. I hope to interact with artists from a wide range of different genres to gain a broader sense of understanding regarding who is using these platforms and see if there are any trends that are genre specific. I would also like to interview managers to get a sense of what they are recommending to the artists they manage and how these recommendations shape the musical scene. This project could shed light on how technological changes in the world around us shape how we interact with one another and create social spaces.