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Dr. Susan Sage Heinzelman, Director 2505 University Avenue, A4900, Burdine Hall 536, Austin Texas 78712 • 512-471-5765

Christen Smith

Core Faculty Ph.D., Cultural and Social Anthropology, Stanford University

Assistant Professor
Christen Smith



Professor Smith received her A.B. from Princeton University (1999) and her Ph.D. from Stanford University (2007). Her primary areas of interest are performance, race, gender, violence and the black body in the Americas with a particular emphasis on transnational black liberation struggles and racial formation. Methodologically she takes an activist research approach to ethnography and has been collaborating with black organizers in Brazil since 2001. Her book, Afro-Paradise: The Black Body, Violence and Performance in Brazil (under contract, University of Illinois Press) explores the black body in pain as an ironic transfer point for defining Brazil as an exotic black space. She has published essays on the performativity of racial formation in Brazil, police violence and the politics of geography in Salvador, and the transnational collective black female body. She continues to work collaboratively with activists on the politics of race and state violence in Brazil and is beginning a new project on violence and the transnational black female body.

Additional affiliations: Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, Warfield Center for African and African-American Studies, Center for Women and Gender Studies,

Courses taught:

Undergraduate: Politics of Race and Violence in Brazil; Black Women, Struggle and the Transnational State; Anthropology for Liberation?

Graduate: Race, Violence and Brazil; Performance, Race, Violence and the Body; Violence, Trauma, Memory


Performance, racial formation, the black body, violence, black women and transnational struggle, black liberation and resistance in the Americas (particularly Brazil and the United States)

WGS 340 • Black Women/Transnatl State

46685 • Spring 2015
Meets TTH 330pm-500pm GEA 127
(also listed as AFR 372F, ANT 324L, LAS 324L )
show description

This course surveys black women’s experiences living with and confronting state

oppression around the world. From the United States to Brazil, black women experience

similar patterns of political, social and economic inequality. Transnationally, racism,

sexism, patriarchy, homophobia, and classism affect the quality of life of black women,

particularly within nation-states with legacies of slavery and colonialism. This course

takes an historical, social and theoretical look at the roots of this inequality and how

black women have chosen to respond to it locally and globally. How have interlocking

forms of oppression affected black women’s citizenship within the modern nation-state?

How have black women, in turn, sought to organize themselves in response to this


Objectives 1) To think critically about the multiple forms of oppression that affect black women’s

lives globally; 2) To consider how black women’s political identity has been defined by

experiences with oppression transnationally; 3) To define and articulate black women’s agency in

response to oppression

Key Topics: Racism, sexism, patriarchy, homophobia, classism, transnationalism,

representation, agency, black feminism.

WGS 393 • Performnc/Race/Violence/Body

46845 • Spring 2015
Meets TH 900am-1200pm CBA 4.342
(also listed as AFR 387D, ANT 391 )
show description

This course examines the complex relationship between performance, the body politic, violence, race, and gender. Course participants will engage with a survey of texts that interrogate thiis relationship from the colonial/conquest//slavery period through today. The focus, while global, will primarily concentrate on the Americas. Using the ethnographic and theoretical lens of performance, performativity, and enactment, we will examine the multivalent layes of violent repression at work within multiple societies at various temporal moments. Within this framework, participants will critically reflect upon how violence, in its alternate forms, impacts identity formation by inscribing race, gender, and sexuality onto the body at multiple social and cultutral junctures. One og the primaru objectives of the course is to theoretically engage with the relationship between the body, identity, and state, structural and symbolic violence. Addressing the politics of representation as a principle theme, we interrogate how theories of performance make power somatically legible, and how the relationship between performance and the body have everything to do with social order and repression.



WGS 340 • Anthropology For Liberation

47989 • Spring 2014
Meets TTH 930am-1100am UTC 1.116
(also listed as AFR 372C, ANT 324L )
show description

The discipline of anthropology has a long, tense history with its colonial past.  As a field, it emerged out of the slavery/conquest/colonial era, and in many ways cannot be separated from the leagcies of racism, sexism, calssism and colonialism that shaped its beginnings.  Given this backdrop, what does anthropology for liberation look like? Is this even possible?  If so, what might a methodology for this model?  What questions would an anthropology for liberation ask, and what models would it uphold?  The purpose of this class is to explore these questions and others as we take a critical look at anthropologists' quests to shifting the the legacy of anthropology from the colonial; toward freedom and liberation.  Through critical readings, we will explore anthropology's relationship to human rights, violence, questions of race, gender and sexuality, imperialism and neoliberalism, and some of the ways that some anthropologists have chosen to use their field work to turn anthropology on its head rather than reinscribe its divisive past.

WGS 393 • Performnc/Race/Violence/Body

48242 • Spring 2014
Meets T 1100am-200pm SAC 5.124
(also listed as AFR 387D, ANT 391 )
show description

WGS 340 • Black Women/Struggle/Transnatl

47748 • Fall 2013
Meets MWF 1100am-1200pm SAC 5.102
(also listed as AFR 372F, ANT 324L, LAS 324L )
show description

This course surveys Black women's experiences livingwith and confrontingstate oppressionaround the world. From the United Statesto Brazil Black women experience similar patterns of political, social, and economic inequality. Transnationally, racism, sexism, patriarchy, homophobia,andclassism affect the quality of life of Black women, particularly within nation-states with legacies of slavery and colonialism. This course takesan historical, social, andtheoretical look at the roots of this inequality and how Black women have chosen to respond to it locally and globally. Howhave interlocking forms of oppression affect Black women's citizenship within the modern nation-state? How have Black women, in turn, sought to organize themselves inresponse to this oppression? Key themes include racism, sexism, patriarchy, homophobia, classism, migration, and Black feminism.



Class Attendance – 15%

Engaged participation in class discussion – 15%

Midterm – 25%

Final – 25%

Research Report Paper – 10%

Research Report Team Presentation – 10%



 Sample texts

Davis, A. Y. 1983. Women, race & class, 1st Vintage Books edition. New York: Vintage Books.

James, J. 1999. Shadowboxing : representations of black feminist politics, 1st edition. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Oparah, J. C. 2005. Global lockdown : race, gender, and the prison-industrial complex. New York: Routledge.




Afro-Paradise: The Black Body, Violence and Performance in Brazil (Under Contract, University of Illinois Press)
Journal Articles (*indicates peer reviewed)

*2014 “Putting Prostitutes in Their Place: Black Women, Social Violence and the Brazilian Case of Sirlei Carvalho”, Latin American Perspectives, Advanced online publication 2013 


*2013 “Strange Fruit: Necropolitics and the Transnational Resonance of Torture and Death”, Souls 15(3)


*2008   “Scenarios of Racial Contact: Police Violence and the Politics of Performance and Racial Formation in Brazil,” E-Misférica (5.2)


Book Chapters

2014   “Between Soapboxes and Shadows: Activism, Theory and the Politics of Life and Death in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil”, Bridging Scholarship and Activism: Reflections from the Frontlines of Collaborative Research, Bernd Reiter and Ulrich Oslender eds., East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

2009   “Strategies of Confinement: Environmental Racism, Police Terror and the Built Environment in Brazil.” in Environmental Justice in the New Millennium: Global Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity and Human Rights, Filomina Steady, ed. Pp. 93-114. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan


"Do Black Female Victims Get Less Attention?", BBC World Have Your Say, May 6, 2014

"Violence Against Women in Latin America", Latin American Perspectives, 2014


"Beyond Drinking From Water Fountains and Riding Buses, Black People Have a Right to Survive", Huffington Post, November 25, 2014

"Black Community Crisis: Police Violence in Brazil", Truthout, November 20, 2014

"Misplaced ID teaches voting-rights lesson in Texas", The Chicago Reporter, November 10, 2014

"Issues of race, gender and class helped Rousseff win another term in Brazil", Global Post, October 13, 2014

"For Claudia Silva Ferreira: Death and the Collective Black Female Body", The Feminist Wire, May 5, 2014

"Para Claudia Silva Ferreira: Morte e o Corpo Coletivo da Mulher Negra", Reaja ou sera Mort@! Blogspot, June 25, 2014

"An Open Love Note to My Son: On Mourning, Love, and Black Motherhood", The Feminist Wire, July 14 2013

"Uma carta de amor aberto para meu filho: Sobre luto, amor e maternidade negra", Geledes, July 23, 2013


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