UCL Anthropology


Jennifer Cearns


UCL Email: jennifer.cearns.16@ucl.ac.uk
Year of Start: 2016
Supervisors: Prof Daniel Miller, Dr Mette Berg
Subject: Social/ Digital Anthropology
Fieldsite: Miami (USA) & Havana (Cuba)

PhD Research

'Peering into the Future': Sharing, Materiality and the Internet between Cuban Miami and Cuba

Through in-depth ethnographic research with Cuban diaspora in Miami, I intend to explore how Cuban sharing practices may help us to challenge discourses on sharing and giving within anthropology. Recent discourses have characterised the internet's latest iteration- 'the sharing economy'- as analogous to neoliberal ideologies of a 'return' to a fetishized 'communitas' (Turner 1969:132) of yore, representing 'the local', which stands in stark opposition to the all-consuming immoral force of American/global capitalism. An important part of this research will be to demonstrate that digital consumption need not signify a homogenising cultural force, or a process of 'Americanization'; Cubans in both Miami and Havana are negotiating materiality and digital networks within their own plural notions of cubanidad ('Cubanness'), capitalism and [post]socialism, according to their own geopolitical and socioeconomic contexts. Ultimately, the project will consider to what extent this 'new' digital economy of sharing is actually 'new', and to what extent it retains older forms of Cuban sociality as made manifest and performed on either side of the Florida Straits.

Through analysis of examples of digital and material sharing in and between Cuban communities in Miami and Havana, I interrogate what it means to be Cuban, both online and offline, in both capitalist and socialist settings. This research will explore myriad notions of cubanidad, showing Cuban diaspora to be just as instrumental to the construction and performance of Cuban identity both within and outside of the island, following other work on island identity, migration and diaspora (Olwig 1993; Fuglerud 1999; Berg 2015; Bernal 2014; Brinkerhoff 2009; Gardner 1993; Levitt 2012). Traditional anthropological questions regarding the creation and performance of identity and power through acts of sharing and giving (Mauss 1954; Weiner 1992; Godelier 1999; Widlok 2017) will be set alongside more recent questions regarding individualisation and localisation of the internet (Miller et al. 2016; Horst 2011b; Postill 2011), and grounded in the specific context of the Cuban-American spectrum.

Research Interests

  • Exchange, sharing and value
  • Diaspora and identity
  • Digital space and performance
  • Materiality


Forthcoming 'Beauty and the Beach': The Fashioned Female Body and Performance of Gender through Material Culture in Rio De Janeiro
2015 'Beauty and the Beach': Power and Designs for the Female Body in Rio de Janeiro, Latin American Bureau, accessible at: http://lab.org.uk/rio-beauty-and-the-beach
2014 'The Ventriloquist Behind the Shattered Mirror: A Study of Pessoa's Bilingual Oeuvre', Pessoa Plural, Brown University, Issue 6, accessible at: http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Portuguese_Brazilian_Studies/ejph/pess oaplural/Issue6/PDF/I6A05.pdf
2014 'After the World Cup: a photo essay', OpenDemocracy, 19 September 2014, Accessible at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/author/jennifer-cearns

Presentations & Conferences

2015: 'Beauty and the Beach': The Fashioned Female Body and Performance of Gender Through Material Culture in Rio de Janeiro', Oxbridge Brazilian Studies Conference- Best Paper: Winner, University of Cambridge, 2 May 2015. Accessible at: http://oxford.academia.edu/JenniferCearns.

Teaching Experience

  • 2017-2018: Visiting Scholar, Cuban Research Institute, Florida International University
  • 2013-2014: Stipendiary Lecturer in Modern Languages, University of Oxford

  • 2013-2014: Undergraduate Admissions Interviewer, Faculty of Modern Languages, University of Oxford

Education History

  • 2016-2020: PhD, Anthropology. University College London

  • 2013-2014: MSc (Distinction), Social and Cultural Anthropology. University of Oxford

  • 2013-2014: FHEQ Level 4 in Macroeconomics and Economics of Developing (BRIC) Economies University of Oxford

  • 2009-2013: MA (Double 1st Class with Distinction), English and Modern Languages (Portuguese), University of Oxford

Honours, Awards & Funding

  • 2017: Emslie Horniman Scholarship, Royal Anthropological Institute
  • 2016-2019: Economic & Social Research Council Studentship
  • 2014: Santander Academic Award, University of Oxford
  • 2013: Barclay Scholarship for Social Sciences, University of Oxford
  • 2011: Anglo-Brazilian Scholarship
  • 2009: Heath Harrison Scholarship, University of Oxford
  • 2008: Stephen Spender Translation Prize