Current Research

July 22, 2017

My research seeks to better understand processes of adolescent identity development from a psychological anthropology perspective. I bring together anthropology’s insights into how cultural institutions shape the field of potential identities and psychology’s insights into how individuals internalize these identities to construct a self-concept. By looking at both the broader social processes and individual psychological processes, we get a more complete understanding of how identities operate in the world.

I focus on gender identity and moral development from adolescence to early adulthood, a period of the life course often marked by increasingly solidified self-concepts and growing awareness of society’s influence on the self. I explore two main questions:

  1. How do societies construct and reproduce certain identities that individuals can draw upon for making sense of their own lives?

  2. How do individuals take up these identities through processes of socialization and internalization?

My most recent project addresses these questions by looking at how the institution of Buddhist monasticism in northern Thailand mediates boys’ uptake of concepts of morality and masculinity in Thai society.

Thai novice monks at school

My recently completed dissertation, “Making Monks, Making Men: The Role of Buddhist Monasticism in Shaping Northern Thai Identities,” draws on two years of ethnographic research with adolescent boys and young men who ordain as Buddhist monks for several years to complete their high school education for free. While monasteries have long been central to Thai boys’ education and moral development, these roles have taken on greater significance in recent years given Thailand’s increasing social and political uncertainty. Social changes have led to concerns over the state of Thai masculinity and boys’ moral development at the same time Thais are questioning the ability of Buddhist monks and monasteries to be models of moral masculinity. I look at the ways in which monasteries socialize boys to be particular kinds of moral men in Thai society. Through in-depth interviews and my own participant-observations while temporarily ordaining as a monk in a rural village, I trace how everyday interactions between young monks and the lay people who financially support them construct the very ideals of masculinity and morality the young monks are supposed to be internalizing.

Methods

  • Ethnographic participant-observation
  • In-depth interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Archival research