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Contact Info:
Tufts University
Department of Anthropology
302 Eaton Hall
Medford, MA 02155


Sharon Kivenko

Ph.D. in Anthropology, Harvard University, 2016
Masters in Theological Studies (MTS), Harvard Divinity School, 2004
B.A. in Religion and International Relations, Tufts University, 1999

Performance (dance and music-making); embodiment, social belonging and subjectivity; nationalism and transnationalism; ritual. Geographical focus West Africa and the African Diaspora.

Scholarship & Research
My research lives at the intersections of performance, embodiment, and social belonging. My work both as an ethnographer and as a professor telescopes-out from the body to consider the kinds of bodily social encounters that influence and determine individual and communal being-in-the world. The main focus of my research has been on the performed ways in which professional dancers and musicians from Mali, West Africa garner social recognition in local, national, and transnational arena. My research is part of a larger set of scholarly efforts in dance studies, social anthropology, and gender studies to highlight the complex relations among arts production, labor, migration, and citizenship; relations that themselves illuminate how paying attention to somatic modes of being in the world reveal nuanced perspectives on race, gender, class and sexuality.

I am currently working on my first book manuscript entitled Mobile Bodies: Migration, Performance and Social Belonging in Malian Dance, which argues that somatic practices like Malian vernacular and state-sponsored forms of dance and music-making have, in this era of commodified, globally circulating "ethnicity," become outmoded as tools of post-colonial nation-building. Malian dancers and musicians have therefore seized opportunities to participate in transnational landscapes of performance – performing abroad as well as collaborating with foreign cultural tourists and artist in Mali – as a means toward building their own social, economic and, in several instances, political recognition and influence at home. Mobile Bodies, therefore, is an account of bodily modes of social formation that also offers a theoretical framework for thinking about the physically active ways in which individuals navigate and grapple with their social worlds.

I am also in the early stages of my next major project that looks at the unexplored practice of Malian men who disguise and participate as women in Malian popular performance. Dancing the Divide, as the project is currently titled, raises questions about gendered performance and the performance of gender in sub-Saharan Africa. Through an in-depth investigation of a seemingly tacit "gender-bending" practice in a geographical region that is overtly marked by binary gender roles, I will begin by asking if this "cross-dressing" practice is radically non-conforming? Or whether it re-inscribes proclaimed heteronormative orientations of social roles and social position in Mande societies? This project contributes to growing literature on gender and performance in Africa, and is of particular salience to current issues around gender conformity and contestation in Mali and in sub-Saharan Africa more broadly.