I am currently working on several projects, including a series of publications based on my dissertation research at the University of Chicago (where I graduated in 2011). My dissertation involved extensive ethnographic research with Hmong families that fled Laos after "America's secret war" for refuge in Thailand. Some of these families moved on to resettle permanently in the United States, while other members remained in Thailand for permanent resettlement. I conducted fieldwork for a year in a Hmong village in Thailand, followed by an additional six months of ethnographic research with relatives of those families that now live in the midwestern United States. The ultimate goal of this research was to understand how divergent resettlement to disparate locations has affected the moral beliefs and models of personhood of relatives that left Laos together. I am also analyzing changes in ritual practice, including the transnational ritual networks through which Hmong in the US "outsource" ancestral rites to more knowledgeable relatives in Thailand and Laos. I employed a person-centered ethnographic approach as a primary method, supplemented by various quantitative techniques. This mixed-methods project is situated within my long term interest in understanding social change in various locations of the Hmong diaspora, including the development of morality throughout the life course and the related conceptions of personhood that underpin moral ideas. I am particularly interested in the social processes, practices, and teaching mechanisms (e.g., technologies of self) through which people develop these ideas. I am currently working on a series of articles and a book manuscript (tentatively entitled, "Ancestral Pasts, Ancestral Futures: Morality, Personhood, and Generation in the Hmong Diaspora") based on various dimensions of this research.
In addition to these writing projects I am beginning research and initial fieldwork for my next major empirical project. This builds on my dissertation research by investigating other psychocultural changes in the Hmong diaspora, with a particular emphasis on new religious dynamics. In my comparative ethnographic research to date, I have come to know key players in several independent messianic movements in Hmong communities in the United States and Thailand. In addition, other trends in ritual practice and religious conversion among Hmong in the diaspora seem (at least initially) to manifest similar trends in religious change and accommodation. This next project will involve a larger collaborative undertaking to ethnographically investigate these new religious movements in Hmong communities throughout Southeast Asia, China, and Western locations in the diaspora. The larger goal is to understand the social and political conditions under which these movements arise, and to document variations and similarities across movements, including both synchronic and diachronic comparisons.
Finally, I have also been involved in an interdisciplinary collaborative project with a team of cross-cultural developmental psychologists to look at the socialization of moral ideas in Hmong children in my field site. This burgeoning project will fit into the larger comparative framework that this team is carrying out across East and Southeast Asia to look at cultural variations in parenting beliefs and practices and correlated behavioral outcomes. This project is more developmentally focused in its emphasis on parenting beliefs, parent-child interactions (particular with young children), and the shaping of childhood behaviors.
I earned my doctoral degree in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago, an interdisciplinary social sciences program where psychological anthropology is a main focus. I am currently an assistant professor the Department of Anthropology at Brigham Young University (BYU). I have taught the following courses at the University of Chicago and BYU: Research Design in the Social Sciences (Ethnographic Methods), Ethnographic Data Analysis, Psychological Anthropology, Ethnonationalism and Southeast Asia, Moral and Ritual Institutions, and Kinship and Gender.
My past work has included research on changing health beliefs among Hmong in Alaska and understanding how demographic shifts lead to changes in perceptions of ethnic identity in Guatemala. I have done 6 months of ethnographic research in the western highlands of Guatemala and 4 months of ethnographic research with Hmong in Alaska and Wisconsin prior to beginning my dissertation fieldwork in Thailand and the Midwestern United States. The latter included a total 12 months of fieldwork in a Hmong community in northern Thailand and 9 months of comparative research in Hmong communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Please see the link to my Curriculum Vitae for more details on my interests and research.