- Catherine Whittaker
- Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
- Research Interests
- Gender, and Violence, Mexico, Mesoamerica, Nahuatl, morality, cosmology, Narrative, Intersectionality, Catholicism, Marginality, Democracy, Religion And Ritual, Politics of Indigeneity, Cosmopolitics, Testimony and memory
Weaving the Serpent Skirt: Cosmologies of Violence and Gender in Highland Mexico
This thesis focuses on an oft-neglected side of violence against women (VAW): symbolic and spiritual dimensions. The people of Milpa Alta, Mexico City, are often stereotyped as “backward and “violent”, yet local discourse emphasises conflict mediation through love, empathy, and respect. While there is no grassroots indigenous women’s rights movement, Milpaltense women participate in a communal struggle for social, environmental, and spiritual justice. Viewed through the prism of local cosmologies of gender, women emerge as being equally, but differently, powerful as men. I suggest that social workers would be more effective in reaching and helping women if they built on local knowledge and values. More broadly, introducing rights-based notions of victims and perpetrators, and implicit saviours from the latter, does not necessarily empower women, but risks leading them onto a path of social isolation and spiritual bankruptcy. Spiritual justice, based on a deep sense of cosmic interwovenness (a kind of animism), is key to realising Milpaltense women’s rights.
My main questions are:
In what ways might the high occurrence of VAW be linked to local worldviews and gender symbolism?
What happens when we speak of “VAW”, “gender violence”, and “victims”? Would it be more productive to frame this differently in specific contexts?
What might we learn from local violence and conflict prevention or mediation strategies?
What are the implications for our understanding of human rights?
2013 MSc in Social Anthropology, The London School of Economics
2012 MSc in Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology, The University of Oxford
2011 BA in Latin American Studies & Anthropology of the Americas, The University of Bonn, Germany (Minor in Egyptology)
Recent Awards & Grants
2017 Research student-led special project grant for "Introducing Occult Anthropology: An Anthropology of Religion Symposium", University of Edinburgh
2016 Emerging Leader in Anthropology Award (NASA), American Anthropological Association (mentored by Prof. Lila Abu-Lughod, Columbia University)
2016 People's Choice Award, 3-Minute Thesis Competiton, SSPS, University of Edinburgh
2015 Scholarship for Visiting Scholars, Mexican Foreign Office (SRE)
2014 SSPS Special Award in Anthropology, University of Edinburgh
Dec. 2017 Accredited as Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Social Anthropology 1A: The Life Course (SCAN08013) - tutor (1st year Undergraduate)
Latin American Anthropology (SCAN10069) - guest lecturer and tutor (3rd year Undergraduate/Honours)
Ritual and Religion (SCAN10023) - tutor (3rd year Undergraduate/Honours)
Fundamentals: Studying Anthropology (SCAN08007) - in-class teaching assistant (1st year Undergraduate)
2017 Book chapter "Suckling the snake: Motherly goddess worship and serpent symbolism among contemporary Nahua in Milpa Alta, Mexico." In Maternità e politeismi/ Motherhood(s) and polytheism, ed. by G. Pedrucci, F. Pasche Guignard, and M. Scapini, pp. 505-514. Bologna: Pàtron.
2017 (forthc.) Working paper "The cosmopolitics of rights and violence in Central Mexico." Proceedings of the Trilateral Workshop, How can anthropology contribute to affirmative action in South America in fields of human rights, gender equality and environmental sustainability? in Montevideo, Uruguay, 20th-24th February 2017.
June 2016 Article Sahagún reloaded? The priest, his pyramid, and deliberate syncretism in Milpa Alta. Mexicon: Journal of Mesoamerican Studies, 38(2): 33-35, peer-reviewed.
Jan. 2016 Review American Anthropological Kinship: 114th American Anthropological Association annual meeting, Denver, Colorado, 17-22 November 2015.” Anthropology Today 31(1): 28.
Recent Conference Presentations
May 2017 Paper "Analytical Haunting: An Ethnographic Journey in Central Mexico." CASCA/IUAES Conference, University of Ottawa, Canada.
Apr. 2017 Paper "Dead or Alive? Femicide, haunting, and the spectrality of analytical categories in Central Mexico." Introducing Occult Anthropology: An Anthropology of Religion Symposium, University of Edinburgh, UK.
Mar. 2017 Paper "Psycho-States and the Mind Politic: (Dis)ordering psychopath(olog)y." Advanced Workshop for Anthropological Research on Health, Medicine and Wellbeing, University of Durham, UK.
Sep. 2016 Paper "Good vs. Bad Speakers: Language Ownership in the Face of Language Death." Indigenous Languages and Cultures Conference, University of Sheffield, UK.
August 2016 Poster "Do we know what violence is?" Maurice Halbwachs Summer Institute Crime, Dis/Order, Narrative, led by Jean and John Comaroff, Lichtenberg-Kolleg Goettingen, Germany.
July 2016 Paper "Of Virgins, Vipers, and Witches: Dangerous Motherhood in Central Mexican Cosmology Today." EASA Conference, University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy.
July 2016 Paper "The violence of interpretation: Pitfalls and opportunities of anthropological interventions in the violence-against-women conversation." ASA Conference, University of Durham, UK.
Mar. 2016 Paper “A dysfunctional democracy? Local elections, identity, and magic in Mexico.” CCLAS Latin American Symposium “Democracy”, University of Edinburgh, UK.
Nov. 2015 Paper “Battered or battling? Contested constructions of gender violence among Nahuatl speakers of Central Mexico.” 114th American Anthropological Association annual meeting, Denver, CO, USA.
Oct. 2015 Paper “Gender violence: a universal phenomenon?” (in Spanish) IV. ALA Conference of the Latin American Anthropological Association, Mexico City.
Feb. 2017 - present Founding member, Comoveras (trilingual, international anthropological affect writing group).
Nov. 2017 Co-organiser, Scottish Training in Anthropological Research 3 workshop: Decolonizing Anthropology, University of Edinburgh, UK. (Compiled relevant research and led workshop group to create a decolonial anthropology podcast to be featured on forthcoming website.)
Apr. 2017 Main organiser, Introducing Occult Anthropology: An Anthropology of Religion Symposium, University of Edinburgh, UK.
Oct. 2016 - present PhD representative for Anthropology, University of Edinburgh. (Lobbied for the introduction of various measures towards improving the safety of research students during fieldwork, including the creation of a forthcoming Fieldwork Crisis Fund.)
Aug. 2017 Seminar presentation "Evidence and where to find it: 6 findings about social work research in Scotland, 2014-2017." Scottish Government, UK.
May-Aug. 2017 SGSSS Intern (paid) "Social Services Research Support", Scottish Government, UK.
Sep. 2016 Review "Utopias of Crime: Review of the Maurice Halbwachs Summer Institute 2016.” Allegra Lab: Anthropology, Law, Art, World blog http://allegralaboratory.net/utopias-of-crime-review-of-the-maurice-halbwachs-summer-institute-2016/
June 2016 Article "The Aztecs are back! Paradoxes of deliberate syncretism in Mexican Catholicism today." Mexicolore, educational website http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/spanish-conquest/the-aztecs-are-back
Dec. 2015 Presentation “‘Victims’ or ‘fighters’? Suggestions for re-imagining strategies to counter gender violence from the cosmovision” (in Spanish) at a public symposium on the prevention of violence against women and children, organised by Inmujeres (Women’s Institute) in Tecómitl, Mexico City.
Aug. 2014 Essay “The gift of life: a soldier’s death as sacrifice.” IANS: It Ain’t Necessarily So, collaborative social science blog for the general public (+25,000 views) http://www.itaintnecessarilyso.org/articles/2014/08/20/the-gift-of-life-a-soldiers-death-as-sacrifice
Sep. 2010 Intern (paid), Cosmo TV, WDR (West German Broadcasting Network), Cologne, Germany: co-authored reports on “Islamophobia” and “Russian Mafia” for television programme on immigration (~ 130,000 viewers)
2008- 2009 Junior Editor (paid), <du-machst.de> online magazine, “Europe & the World”-, section, BPB (Central Political Education Agency), Bonn, Germany: attended workshops, supervised authors, wrote articles, and uploaded content