"Women’s and Gender Studies is attracting more and more men into the program. We want to raise the profile in terms of its ability to speak to issues that concern men."
Anthropologist Susan Reed has spent four years in Sri Lanka studying the island's traditional Kandyan dance. Her book, Dance and the Nation: Performance, Ritual, and Politics in Sri Lanka, documents her exploration of the transformation that took place after Sri Lanka gained its independence from Britain in 1948. What had been a village ritual, originating in the central mountainous region of Kandy, became a state-sponsored, national symbol of ethnic identity.
The significance of dance continues to evolve, as Reed discovered during a visit in summer 2010, her first visit since civil war ended in 2009. Today, young children compete in Kandyan dance performances on Sri Lanka's equivalent of the television show "So You Think You Can Dance." "The dances I studied were rooted in ritual form, so when you see a 6-year-old kid performing a ritual on stage, that's a desecration to traditional dancers for whom this is a sacred practice," Reed says. "There is a lot going on in terms of what I'd call extreme secularization of dance."
Dance and the Nation, released in April 2010, includes a companion DVD with some of Reed's video footage from the field. More of Reed's footage from Sri Lanka will also be available online at the EVIA Digital Archive, a website designed to share select ethnographic video from around the world.
Reed also directs the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender. Shortly after the January 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti, Reed drew on Bucknell's faculty to host a panel about the country. "I felt like our mission was to educate our students about Haiti more broadly — not just, this is a poor country that needs our help, but, this is a country with a very rich culture," she says. The forum tapped the expertise of faculty members in English, French, international relations, sociology and geography.
In the coming years, the center and the Women's and Gender Studies Program will host a series of lectures and films on the issue of masculinities. "Women's and Gender Studies is attracting more and more men into the program," Reed says. "We want to raise the profile in terms of its ability to speak to issues that concern men."
Reed plans to begin a new project in Sri Lanka during an upcoming sabbatical. During her recent visit, she discovered a number of organizations working with individuals with disabilities through dance and performance. One group, for example, teaches traditional dance to young adults with Down syndrome; the dancers have performed across the country and in Europe.
"As an anthropologist I'm interested in the connection between culture and disability," Reed says. "I do want to do something in research that will have a concrete, positive impact for these organizations."
Reed also hopes to teach during her next visit. "The Sri Lankan universities suffered during the war period," she says. "They are in a rebuilding process, and I want to help contribute to the effort of rebuilding."
Posted Sept. 20, 2010
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