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.


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.]

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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.

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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.

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.


Elizabeth Marks’ 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.]
In the spring of my freshman year, I had an incredible opportunity to see William Cronon, a renowned environmental historian, speak on campus. At the time I had been wrestling with the decision of whether or not to pair my SOAN major with an additional major in environmental policy. However, after listening to Cronon speak about the ways in which culture is largely responsible for shaping our perception of the human-nature relationship, my mind had been made up for me. Since then, “The Trouble with Wilderness,” an essay of Cronon’s, has become the enduring foundation of both my anthropological and environmental interests. In this essay, Cronon discusses the way in which American culture has created a false duality between humans and nonhuman IMG_2648nature, making it especially difficult to create and instill environmental ethics and policies that allow humans to coexist sustainably with the environment. It is this complex question of the influence of culture on our attitudes about the environment that I plan to explore in my senior thesis project.
More specifically, I am planning to take a comparative approach to this question by examining two different dimensions of American culture: the urban and rural. Currently, the majority of rhetoric surrounding environmental concerns and sustainability stems from urban areas and so too does environmental policy. The paradox inherent in this is that those in rural areas tend to be in more direct contact with nonhuman landscapes and, I hypothesize, may engage with them and think about them in different ways. Therefore, through the course of my research I am hoping to explore how ideas and rhetoric about the environment vary between urban and rural communities.
While I am still in the process of shaping my research design, I plan to speak with individuals from around the northwest who have lived primarily in one of two locales, either urban or rural. I am hoping to discern, through interviews, what environmental attitudes and experiences these individuals hold and how they compare between the two dimensions, as well as the factors and forces that have shaped these attitudes. I am also hoping to research the environmental policies that are in effect in the northwest and assess whether or not, and to what extent, rural and urban perspectives each seem to be represented. I believe this is an especially important topic of study because it seeks to clarify how our intellectual and regulatory approaches to environmentalism may impact different socio-cultural groups and to assess how we might adjust these approaches in order to make them more widely representative of all perspectives and ultimately more effective.

Sophia Howard’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.]

For my senior thesis, I plan to examine the effects of a growing political movement which is cultivating charter schools as its ideal educational norm. At the same time, I hope to identify how charter schools and the families of special need students are navigating a new platform that is detached from bureaucratic policies and standards. Through my research I will reach out to individuals who have been impacted by the change in our national pursuit of educating all students regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, race, and ability. I will conduct semi-structured interviews with teachers, administrators and families, all of whom are a part of the charter school community. IMG_3632 copyAdditionally, I will spend a significant amount of time as a participant-observer inside special education and mainstream classrooms as a way to gain a better understanding of the daily lives of students with disabilities within the Tacoma, Washington area.

As a future educator, I am immensely curious in finding out ways in which school communities can best serve its most vulnerable population. Because our country is at a crossroads both in its politics and in its social responsibility, I believe it is critical now more than ever to explore if in fact federal and state policies are enriching and including all of its students. By investigating this pressing issue, I hope to bring to light the many unheard and overlooked narratives that belong to individuals who deserve equal access and opportunity in and out of the classroom.

Charlotte Parker’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.]

Discussion regarding globalization has been circulating for quite some time, and can be demonstrated through the variety of languages taught in public schools. In United States, foreign language education has remained quite low in comparison with other countries, reinforcing a culture of monolingualism. A way in which to understand which languages are most valued on a national scale is to investigate language education within the United States. Combining an interest in linguistic anthropology and years spent teaching both Spanish and Chinese, I have developed a thirst for understanding the policies involved in implementing foreign language education.

PastedGraphic-1In previous research, I investigated the morphological differences between English and Chinese in an attempt to understand how the languages we speak can hold cultural significance. For my senior thesis, I intend to apply my love of language to an exploration of American language education. In the next few months of research, I will compare language education programs in public schools in Pierce County, Washington and Middlesex County, New Jersey. These districts shall serve as a window into the national issue of how to successfully implement foreign language education. New Jersey is unique as it has the highest enrollment in foreign language programs of all the U.S. states. In contrast, Washington is among the twelve other states with the lowest enrollment. I hope that in comparing schools in these two states, I may be able to uncover illuminating information on how some schools fail while others succeed in introducing language education.

In order to conduct thorough and comprehensive research, I shall combine ethnographic semi-structured interviews and participant observation with an analysis of pre existing data. These interviews will be with individuals within school administration and teachers in language education. My ultimate goal in conducting this research is to contribute meaningful observations to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages on how schools can overcome any larger socioeconomic limitations, and succeed in implementing language education in public schools.

Emily Katz’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.]

When I think about how I learned about sex and communication, there are specific moments and conversations that stick out to me – moments that shaped the way I thought, what I perceived as normal, and my understanding of where I stood in relation to this “normal.” I find this process – the collection of moments and stories and facts that make up a person’s understanding of sex, their body, and their sexuality – particularly intriguing because of the way it influences how people engage in sexual interactions. As a member of Peer Allies, a group of twenty students on campus who focus on sexual IMG_4178assault support, prevention, and education, I spend a lot of my time working to understand why sexual assault happens. The longer I’ve been involved, the more I’ve come to realize that although we cannot do anything to ensure we, or someone we love, will not be sexually assaulted, we can take small steps to change our culture that allows it to happen so frequently and so normally. In order to change this culture, I believe we need to be shifting the way we learn about and talk about sex and communication. In American culture, this is particularly complicated, as we live in a society that is made up of many ethnicities, religions, and cultures, yet we often privilege only a small portion of these – especially throughout our public education systems.

For my senior thesis, I plan to investigate how the process of learning about sex and communication for people of different cultural identities (within American society) affects their conceptions of consent. How do we learn to engage in sexual interactions, and perhaps more important, how do we learn to communicate during them? How does this affect the quality and safety of these interactions? What roles do power and privilege play? I want to look into the intersection of formal and informal avenues of the learning process by comparing the education high school students receive in school to what they are receiving at home, and specifically how that differs across cultural identities. Ultimately, how does this process affect people’s conception of consent?

For this project, I will be focusing on how high school students learn about sex here in Tacoma. Although Washington state law requires HIV prevention education, as well as age-appropriate, “medically accurate sexual health education” (Washington State Learning Standards), and just this year implemented new health standards guidelines that include education surrounding gender identity, healthy relationships, and consent, districts are still able to interpret and implement the guidelines however they feel is appropriate. This means that the quality and depth of sex education greatly varies across the state. I will focus my time interviewing high school students, primarily 16-18 years old, in the Tacoma Public School system. Throughout this process, I will be conducting semi-structured interviews, as well as using visual methodology to map out how they learned about their bodies, sex, sexuality, and consent. I plan to sit in on sex education classes in various high schools across Tacoma whenever I’m allowed, as well as analyze the sex education materials used in these classes.