An ethnology of disruptions in Cambridge, MA

Anthropologist Manduhai Buyandelger tracks racism, virtual realities, and world building in Cambridge during the Covid-19 pandemic


"At home, as I grievingly and reluctantly converted my lively discussion class into a digital format, my students expressed their eagerness to discuss their experiences of the pandemic, their panic on being forced to move out of their dorms, the stress of uncertainty, and, of course, their daily experiences of racism." 

— Manduhai Buhandelger, Associate Professor of Anthropology

Research and Perspectives for the Pandemic
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"Sinophobia, the coronavirus’s ominous companion, has been the newest—although expected—topic of discussion in my class 'Images of Asian Women: Dragon Ladies and Lotus Blossoms.' From the beginning of the spring semester, the disruption in the lives of my students who could be seen as 'Chinese' was both real and surreal.

It was weeks before the coronavirus outbreak would overtake the East Coast of the USA. Yet the effects of Sinophobia had already expanded to Asians and Asian Americans from Chinese to Vietnamese, Thai, and other groups, thus confirming Orientalism’s homogenizing trope.

“'My mind is blown,' one student told me after our brief discussion of racism due to coronavirus. 'I do not recognize my country. I realize that I grew up in a very sheltered environment,' she added. But now she was in 'complete shock.' Like her, many of my students were frightened and confused, especially the ones who had experienced little racism while growing up. They suddenly found their surroundings hostile and unsafe with strangers glowering at them and even yelling racial slurs. 

Full commentary at American Ethnologist


Suggested links

Buhandelger's MIT webpage

MIT Anthropology

Profile at MIT News