About Me

Members of El Alto neighborhood associations protest rising food prices in the capital, La Paz. Photo by S. Ellison

I am a socio-cultural anthropologist whose research centers on the politics of foreign aid, judicial reform, conflict, and economic insecurity in Latin America. I received my Ph.D. in socio-cultural anthropology from Brown University (2013), where I studied political and legal anthropology, including anthropological approaches to governance, democracy, dis/order, crime and criminalization, and conflict and its resolution. I spent two years (2013-2015) as a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University, where I  also was a faculty affiliate of the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) before moving to Wellesley College.

As an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Wellesley College, I offer courses in political anthropology, including anthropological approaches to NGOs, states, and transnational governance; the politics and lived experiences of indigeneity; critical development studies; anthropological approaches to crime and punishment; political ecology; the anthropology of Latin America; and urban anthropology.

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My book with Duke University Press, Domesticating Democracy, is based on 17 months of ethnographic fieldwork in foreign-funded legal aid centers, conflict resolution programs, and the criminal courts in El Alto and La Paz, Bolivia. The book examines how the unfolding (geo)politics of conflict resolution programs have become entangled with Andean kinship practices, regional political tactics, and postcolonial governance projects alike. It was awarded honorable mention for the 2018 Victor Turner Ethnographic Writing Prize by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. You can get a 30% discount by entering coupon code E18DEMOC during checkout. The Introduction is available by clicking here.


My ethnographic research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Social Science Research Council, Wenner-Gren Foundation, Jacob K. Javits Foundation, and the Tinker Foundation. In 2013, I was awarded Brown University’s Joukowsky Dissertation Prize in Social Science. I also received the 2013 Elsa Cheney Award from the Gender and Feminist Studies section of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) for my chapter, “The Conflictual Social Life of an Industrial Sewing Machine.”

In 2018, I was named an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)/ National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) International and Area Studies Fellow for my next project.

You can read more about my earlier research Here.

Read along with me and my colleagues at “What Wellesley’s Reading” on iTunes U by clicking here. I discuss Audra Simpson’s book Mohawk Interruptus. Adam Van Arsdale introduces To Know Where He Lies, and Deborah Matzner reads from Backstories, among many others…

Prior to becoming an anthropologist, I worked in Bolivia (2001-2005) with environmental justice and indigenous rights movements, particularly around mining issues, water privatization, and persistent forms of socio-political exclusion affecting indigenous Bolivians, as well as on the impact of U.S. foreign policy and industries operating in the country. That experience informs my teaching on urban governance, political ecology, indigenous resurgence, and critical approaches to transnational institutions and NGOs, but it also instilled in me a concern for how ethnographers might speak to other disciplines, practitioners, and the general public about the work that they do. Additionally, I received my MTS from Harvard Divinity School with a focus on global liberation and feminist theologies, and religion and political movements.

Contact Information:

Susan H. Ellison, Ph.D.
Anthropology Department
Wellesley College
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481
susan.ellison [at] wellesley.edu