Focus on Faculty: Arlene Davila

Arlene DavilaArlene Davila is an award-winning Anthropologist and a CLACS affiliated faculty member. She teaches classes in Anthropology and Social and Cultural Analysis.  Her research focuses on race and ethnicity, media studies, globalization, visual culture, political economy, consumer culture, and Latinos in the U.S.

Originally from Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, Arlene has been committed to studying Puerto Rico since early in her academic and professional career.

She studied Anthropology at Tufts as an undergrad, and came to New York to focus on museum studies. She went on to work at the Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art (MOCHA), and later to El Museo del Barrio.  Throughout, she found she was increasingly interested in the politics of identity and representation, which led her to study Anthropology at CUNY.

After CUNY, her first teaching position was in Anthropology and Latino Studies at Syracuse University. She says she had been skeptical about academia, but was drawn to it after doing research for her first books on Puerto Rican culture.

“I was really hooked. Researching and interviewing people and doing ethnographies – that’s what made me stick to academia,” she said.

Arlene has published extensively on the subject of Latinidad and visual representations of Latin@s.  Her book Latino Spin: Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race, won the Latin American Studies Association best book in Latino Studies award for 2010. Some of the books she’s best known for include Barrio Dreams: Puerto Ricans, Latinos and the Neoliberal City. Latinos Inc.: Marketing and the Making of a People, Mambo Montage: The Latinization of New York, and Sponsored Identities: Cultural Politics in Puerto Rico.

Most recently, she published Culture Works, which “ addresses and critiques an important dimension of the “work of culture,” an argument made by enthusiasts of creative economies that culture contributes to the GDP, employment, social cohesion, and other forms of neoliberal development.” To celebrate the book’s publication she hosted a book signing and tango milonga at McNally Jackson bookstore in Manhattan.

“It was so much fun. It was just not the traditional book party, where people have to show up because they’re your colleagues. It was a very community event, it felt warm and welcoming,” she says.

She is building on research she did for this most recent book, and beginning a new project that focuses on shopping mall cultures in Latin America.

“I’m interested in the emergence of shopping malls, and the ‘so-called’ emergence of middle classes in Latin America. There’s a new boosterism where retail is at the center.  I’m curious about this development, and why and how it is places like Russia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Peru that are at the center of this industry. Why is that, and what are the economic and political conditions that are leading to that? And who are these ‘new Middle classes’ everyone is talking about?” she says.

Visit the CLACS website to learn more about faculty members and the M.A. program.

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