Diane M. Nelson, Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology

Diane M. Nelson
Office Location:  201D Friedl Building
Office Phone:  (919) 684-2069
Email Address: send me a message

Teaching (Fall 2019):


Ph.D.Stanford University1996
M.A.Stanford University1992
B.A.Wellesley College1985
Junior year abroadUniversidad de Sevilla, Seville, Spain1983
American Field Service 4-month student exchangeMérida, Mexico1980

Central America & the Caribbean
Political Economy
Popular Culture
Research Interests:

My work is concerned with subjectivity and power and draws on close to 25 years of work in Guatemala (over seven years in country). Specifically, I try to understand how complex social formations like nationalism, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality intersect with violence and the state to produce people’s senses of identity. I began working in Guatemala in 1985 in the midst of the civil war. Since then I have studied the causes and effects of that war and what genocide means on the ground to those who survived it. This has led to my long-standing interest in new social movements, like the pan-Mayan ethnic revitalization project, that have emerged in the wake of the war. I draw on theoretical frameworks inspired by feminist and post-colonial thinkers who urge careful consideration of the relations between power and knowledge in view of unequal global power relations. Because so much of what I study addresses the role of the body, how it is understood as “raced” or gendered, and how different entities—from liberation movements to military states—try to control it, I have been influenced by thinking on biopolitics (the production and care for life itself), in relation to necro-politics (the production and uses of death). The body is experienced by each individual in culturally specific ways, but it is also lived as part of larger imaginaries that are impacted by the media, understandings of science and technology, and popular culture, so my work also draws on cultural studies and medical anthropology.

Areas of Interest:

Cultural anthropology
ethnic national identities
critical theory
popular culture
power and subject formation


critical theory • Cultural anthropology • ethnic national identities • gender • Genocide • Guatemala • Mesoamerica • popular culture • power and subject formation • Reparations • science and technology studies

Current Ph.D. Students  

Representative Publications

  1. Nelson, DM, Reckoning: The Ends of War in Guatemala (February, 2009), Duke University Press  [abs] [author's comments]
  2. Nelson, DM, “Mayan Ponzi: A Contagion of Hope, a Made-off With Your Money,”, E Misférica, on Line Journal of Nyu Hemispheric Institute (2009) [nelson]
  3. Nelson, DM, Los efectos especiales del horror, in Re-pensando la violencia, edited by García, JL; Bastos, S (2010), University of Cordoba, Spain
  4. Nelson, DM, Stumped identities: Body image, bodies politic, and the Mujer Maya as prosthetic, Cultural Anthropology, vol. 16 no. 3 (January, 2001), pp. 314-353, WILEY [repository], [doi]
  5. Nelson, DM, Maya hackers and the cyberspatialized nation-state: Modernity, ethnostalgia, and a lizard queen in Guatemala, Cultural Anthropology, vol. 10 no. 3 (August, 1996), pp. 287-308, WILEY [repository], [doi]