Three SOAN seniors, Will Lammons, Phillip Boyette, and Kailey Rocker, successfully defended their honors projects recently.
Will Lammons' project is titled "Putting Your Válvula on the Pulse of the City: Transnationalism, Ritual, Identity, and Politics in the Graffiti of Mérida, Yucatán." This project examines graffiti in Merida, the capital of Yucatan, as a transnationalized urban art form that is placed within the local cultural context of Merida and Yucatan and is used to construct individual identity for the "graffiteros" (graffiti artists). Merida presented a unique opportunity for Will to conduct research because all graffiti that takes more than twenty five minutes to paint is also painted on the facades of peoples' houses with their permission, making it one of the few legally petitioned graffiti cities in the world. With local cultural content of the art, often including "Maya-esque" imagery, graffiti is also used as a means of constructing community identity and even building on the idea of a modern Yucateco identity that combines elements of Classic Maya with the contemporary Maya and arguing that all Yucatecos are connected through this. This in turn is co-opted by the government through the commissioning of graffiteros and the allotment of governmental buildings as painting space in order to propagandize what seems to be an organically constructed theme of Yucatecan pride and a transnationalized street art.
When asked about the process of research for his project, Will said, "It has been an amazing process, and I hope that this project will be able to carry the stories and work of Merida's graffiteros to parts unknown. It has also helped me grow in a strange and discomforting way that I feel Kurt Vonnegut could only begin to understand."
Phillip Boyette's project, "Mickey Mouse Conquistador: Disney's Ambivalent Conquest of Yucatán," focuses on the presence of American culture, specifically Disney, in Oxkutzcab, Yucatán. Phillip challenges the notion of "cultural imperialism" (that is, the notion that American or Western culture is subverting local culture) and the related idea of cultural degradation (the notion that the incorporation of American culture is something to be lamented or detested). By observing how Disney products and images are used and conducting interviews with parents, Phillip found that Disney has become an important symbol locally for three reasons: Disney is a symbol through the consumption of which people view themselves as cosmopolitan or modern; parents consider Disney to have the ability to teach educational lessons and important values to children growing up within an ideologically dangerous landscape; and, finally, Disney and American culture in general is considered very much a part of their own culture due to the frequent migrations of friends and family members to and from the United States. Acknowledging these local meanings associated with Disney, Phillip argues that the notion of cultural imperialism is invalid because people are actively appropriating Disney images and narratives for their own ends. Moreover, he believes that the opinion that the popularity of American culture in the area is a sign of cultural degradation is ethnocentric (or, more bluntly, racist) in that such an idea seeks to confine a group of people to their past and not allow them to progress into their own modernities.
Phillip said about his project, "Although I found writing my ethnography a very daunting task, the energy and enthusiasm I gained for the project while I was doing field research allowed me to push through some tough times and seemingly insurmountable writer's block. I absolutely loved meeting new people, practicing Spanish, and trying to understand the worldview of a group of people that I would never have been able to meet otherwise. For me, this project was primarily cultural understanding and personal growth; I strove to attain empathy and understanding with other people across a language barrier and to learn more about myself and my place in the world-- writing, editing and defending the work itself were secondary."
Kailey conducted the research for her project, "Promoting and Preserving the Cultural Heritage of Drisht Castle, Shkodra, Albania: The Local Stakeholders' Perspective in Cultural Heritage Management," in Albania.
Kailey's project focuses on how cultural-heritage tourism is becoming a popular solution used by developed and developing nations to preserve significant archaeological sites, while also providing economic benefits to local communities. In most developing nations, these cultural-heritage projects are mainly sponsored and supported by the federal government, involving little or no discussion with local stakeholders. This results in little input and buy-in from the local populations that will be most affected by such projects. Should there be more of an effort made to involve the local population in the preservation and development of archaeological resources, and if so, what factors might cause the local population to either accept or reject a cultural-heritage project? Kailey's study focuses specifically on the castle complex and town of Drisht near Shkodra, Albania, and its potential for cultural-heritage development and tourism. An ethnographic survey of the families living within the walls of Drisht was performed. Kailey collected information regarding their views of the cultural significance of Drisht and the heritage projects proposed for the castle, and their family histories, and economic situation. Architectural information regarding the size, functionality, and state of conservation of each of the houses at Drisht was also recorded. A relational database and geographic information systems (GIS) were used to spatially and visually represent and query both the architectural and ethnographic survey data. Her results indicate that local stakeholders must be consulted and considered in any proposed cultural-heritage project, whether in Albania or elsewhere in the world.
The work of these three students is an excellent example of the high quality independent research that students in the department engage in on a regular basis. It is also a wonderful testimony to the field experiences (local and international) that our students have during their time at Millsaps.