Fall 2012  

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Washington University in
St. Louis

Department of Anthropology

Arts & Sciences

College of Arts & Sciences

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences



New Faculty: Kedron Thomas
by Kedron Thomas

As part of her ethnographic fieldwork in highland Guatemala, Kedron Thomas worked alongside young Maya men in garment workshops. Here, she sews children's clothing that will be sold across Guatemala.
A workshop owner, dressed in the collared shirt, tailored pants, straw hat, and rodillera (wool wrap) that make up the traditional attire of Maya elders in his town, poses with Kedron Thomas beside an industrial knitting machine. The machine is used to make sweaters that feature the global brands popular among indigenous youth.

Guatemala is perhaps best known for traditional clothing, especially the woven blouses and skirts worn by Maya women. Indigenous Maya people, however, increasingly wear Western-style clothing, and there is a dynamic fashion scene in the Guatemalan highlands linked to the global piracy trade. Young men in particular wear t-shirts, sweaters, jeans, and sneakers featuring unauthorized reproductions of global brands. Since 2006, I have conducted ethnographic research with indigenous Maya people in highland Guatemala who affix popular brand names to the clothing they manufacture. I am writing a book about my research, in which I examine practices of copying and imitation (some of which qualify as piracy under international law) that animate apparel manufacturing in the highlands. International trademark law effectively criminalizes Maya people who sew a Nike logo onto their shirts. My book tracks diverse understandings of brands, property, and ownership—which don't always line up with the law—among indigenous manufacturers. I also examine what Maya people think about law and law enforcement. I trace all of this against the backdrop of neoliberal economic reforms, rising violent crime rates sparked by drug and gang violence, and changing meanings of indigeneity and entrepreneurship since Guatemala's internal armed conflict ended in 1996.

In addition to my research on fashion and intellectual property in Guatemala, I recently published Securing the City: Neoliberalism, Space, and Insecurity in Postwar Guatemala, a book on the problems of rising crime and rising inequalities in the country's capital. My interests are now taking me in a couple of directions. I am writing about the relationship between nation-states and illegal activities, exploring how Latin American governments control, but also benefit from, grey zones of illegality and illegitimacy. I have also begun a new project on the global fashion industry from the perspective of apparel and footwear companies headquartered in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. In this research, I am looking at how corporations turn social movements having to do with environmental sustainability and labor rights into opportunities for self-regulation and market growth.

Before coming to Washington University, I taught courses on legal anthropology, anthropological theory, and an introduction to cultural anthropology at Harvard University, Universidad del Valle de Guatemala in Guatemala City, and Webster University. During my first semester here, I offered a course titled Law and Culture in which I invited students to think about the diverse ways that people around the world enforce rules, resolve conflict, and interact with international legal frameworks such as human rights and intellectual property. This fall I am offering a new course titled Anthropology of Clothing and Fashion. We discuss the history of diverse cultural styles; the evolution of brands and branding; the relationships among fashion, ritual, race, and gender; and the globalization of clothing production and consumption.

I am thrilled to be part of this wonderful department and want to thank the faculty, staff, and students for welcoming me so warmly!