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Donald L. Donham

Donald L. Donham

Distinguished Professor

324 Young Hall Department of Anthropology
University of California, Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis, California 95616, USA

Fax: (530) 752-8885

Office Hours for Winter 2015 :

  • Tuesdays, 2-3 and by appointment


As an undergraduate, I studied chemistry and mathematics at Baylor University and then went on to receive a Master's degree in chemistry from Stanford.  After teaching chemistry for two years at a historically black college in the South during the Vietnam War, I turned to anthropology and eventually received a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Stanford.  Postdoctoral fellowships followed at Cambridge University, first in the Economics Department and then in the African Studies Centre.  Before coming to UC-Davis in 2003, I taught at Stanford and Emory Universities.  I have been a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and at the Woodrow Wilson International Center

Research and Teaching Interests
My principal focus of interest has been understanding forms of power as these change, and the ways that economic systems intertwine with cultural forms.  I am particularly interested in historical methodology as it applies to ethnography; marxism and post-marxism; narrative as social theory; the interpretation of violence; the history of cultural anthropology; and the ways that sexuality, gender, and class interact in transnational settings.

My graduate students currently work in Africa, the Middle East and South America.  They have researched topics such as the culture of unemployed youth in urban Ethiopia; the politics of land and Zulu identity in rural South Africa; the formation of new forms of religious piety among the Shi`i of Lebanon; humanitarian aid in northern Uganda; architecture as an economic and cultural practice in Buenos Aires; and avant-garde sexualities in an out-of-the way Brazilian city.

At the undergraduate level, I teach Ant2, "Introduction to Cultural Anthropology," Ant30, "Sexualities," Ant100, "The History of Social and Cultural Anthropology," and Ant140B, "East and Southern Africa."


Edited Books

The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia (with Wendy James).  James Currey Publishers, 2002

Remapping Ethiopia: Socialism and After (with Wendy James, Eisei Kurimoto and Alessandro Triulzi).  James Currey Publishers, 2002

States of Violence: Politics, Youth, and Memory in Contemporary Africa (with Edna Bay).  University of Virginia Press, 2006


Work and Power in Maale, Ethiopia.  Columbia University Press, 1994

History, Power, Ideology:  Central Issues in Marxism and Anthropology.  University of California Press, 1999

Marxist Modern: An Ethnographic History of the Ethiopian Revolution. University of California Press, 1999

Violence in a Time of Liberation:  Murder and Ethnicity at a South Gold Mine.  Duke University Press, 2011

Photograph by Santu Mofokeng

Book:  Violence in a Time of Liberation

From 1993 onward, I carried out almost two years of fieldwork at a South African gold mine I am calling "Cinderella."  My book, Violence in a Time of Liberation, is an account of the murderous split in the black workforce that occurred at Cinderella just at the time of the world-famous South African elections of 1994.  As apartheid ended, two Zulus were killed and many others wounded in a conflict that was interpreted by virtually all local actors, black and white, as "ethnic."  What I show, in contrast, is that aroused ethnic identity among black workers was more an outcome of the conflict than one of its causes.  Appreciating this point allows a restoration to view of the political issue that drove the conflict:  namely, the shape of national liberation.  I use this case study to suggest why we may expect to see many more conflicts simplified to ethnic and religious identity in a current, media-saturated world, and why therefore a new methodology for "reading" these cases will be increasingly important.

Photograph by Santu Mofokeng


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Dept. of Anthropology

328 Young Hall
One Shields Ave.
University of California
Davis, Ca 95616-8522

Ph.  530-752-0745
Fax. 530-752-8885