Eli Thorkelson

Contact Information

Email: eli.thorkelson@gmail.com
Web: decasia.org


2018—2020 Research Fellow, Social Anthropology, Stellenbosch University
2017—2018 Lecturer, Social Anthropology, Stellenbosch University
2016—2017 Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Anthropology/Digital Liberal Arts, Whittier College
2012—2015 Web Applications Programmer, Division of the Humanities, University of Chicago



Ph.D. Sociocultural Anthropology, University of Chicago
Dissertation: Hostile Futures: Radical Philosophy and the French University Movement of 2009
Committee: William Mazzarella (chair), Lauren Berlant, Susan Gal, Jan Goldstein, John Kelly


M.A. Anthropology, University of Chicago
Thesis: Literary Theory as Commodity & Literary Theorists as Brands


B.A. Anthropology, Cornell University
Thesis: The Silent Social Order of the Theory Classroom
Summa cum laude with distinction in all subjects



“The Infinite Rounds of the Stubborn” selected for Déjà Lu (World Council of Anthropological Associations).


Starr Lectureship, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago


Assistantship in Learning Technologies, University of Chicago Center in Paris (declined)


Doctoral Exchange Fellowship, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris


Graduate Research Program Fellowship, National Science Foundation


Books and Edited Collections

n.d. Disappointed Utopia: Radical Philosophy in Postcolonial France.

Book manuscript in revision.

2010 Graduate Socialization in Anthropology.

Edited collection, published as Vol. 18 of Michigan Discussions in Anthropology.

Articles and Book Chapters

n.d. Hostile Futures: The French politics of the not yet.

In preparation for Critique of Anthropology.

n.d. Reflections on teaching feminist ethnography in South Africa.

In preparation for Transforming Anthropology.

n.d. The relations of intellectual production.

In preparation for Dialectical Anthropology.

In revision Reflexivity and Academic Capitalism: The social life of French university models.

In revision for Current Anthropology.

2019 A Campus Fractured: Neoliberalism and the clash of academic democracies in France.

Anthropology & Education Quarterly 50(1):97–113.

2018 Two Failures of Left Internationalism: Political mimesis at French university counter-summits, 2010–11.

French Politics, Culture and Society 36(3):143-169.

2018 Saving the University in France.

In Navigating the Volatility of Higher Education: Anthropological and Policy Perspectives, Information Age Publishing, Charlotte, NC. Pp. 199-217. Brian L. Foster, Steven Graham, and Joe Donaldson, eds.

2016 The Infinite Rounds of the Stubborn: Reparative futures at a French political protest.

Cultural Anthropology 31(4):493–519.

2016 Precarity Outside: The political unconscious of French academic labor.

American Ethnologist 43(3):475–488.

2016 Antiheroism: The Underdog’s Survival Tactic.

Allegra Laboratory, December 9, http://allegralaboratory.net/antiheroism-the-underdogs-survival-tactic-universitycrisis/.

2015 De quoi l’université états-unisienne est-elle le nom? (What does the American university stand for?).

In La dérégulation académique: la construction étatisée des marchés universitaires dans le monde, Editions Syllepse, Paris. Pp. 209–246. Charles Soulié and Christophe Charle, eds. Annael Le Poullennec, trans.

2012 Navigating doctoral socialisation in Anthropology.

With Katherine Nielsen. Learning and Teaching 5(1):1–9.

2011 Comment ‘la pensée’ se fait monde malgré tout. (How ‘thought’ becomes world after all).

In Frontières et Philosophie: Actes du colloque du Musée d'art moderne de Céret-EPCC (mars 2010). Louise Ferté, Lucie Rey and Patrice Vermeren, eds. Pp. 277–287. Travaux et Documents. Saint-Denis: Université Paris 8.

2010 Experience, Reflexive Socialization and Disciplinary Order in Anthropology.

Michigan Discussions in Anthropology 18:1—38.

2010 The Limits of Theory: Idealism, Distinction and Critical Pedagogy in Chicago Anthropology.

Michigan Discussions in Anthropology 18:324–377.

2008 The Silent Social Order of the Literary Theory Classroom.

Social Epistemology 22(2):165–196.


2017 The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them (Christopher Newfield).

Learning and Teaching 10(3):79-93.

2017 I Love Learning, I Hate School: An Anthropology of College (Susan Blum).

Academography, September 20, https://academography.org/2017/09/20/susan-blum-i-love-learning-i-hate-school/.

2016 Why There Is No Poststructuralism in France (Johannes Angermuller).

Critical Inquiry, March 17, http://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/eli_thorkelson_reviews_why_there_is_no_post structuralism_in_france/.

2012 The Intimate University: Korean American students and the problems of segregation (Nancy Abelmann).

Learning and Teaching 5(3):94–96.

2011 L’Enseignement Supérieur entre Nouvelle Gestion Publique et Crise Systémique [Higher Education between New Public Management and Systemic Crisis].

Annie Vinokur and Carole Sigman, eds. Learning and Teaching 4(2):75–80.

Selected Commentary

Forthcoming Ten challenges to organizing against precarity.

Forthcoming in Social Anthropology.

2019 The Precarity of Peer Review.

Radical History Review — The Abusable Past, May 14, https://www.radicalhistoryreview.org/abusablepast/?p=3041.

2018 The vignette: A bad ethnographic category.

Decasia, October 12, https://decasia.org/academic_culture/2018/10/12/the-vignette-a-bad-ethnographic-category/.

2018 Teaching Precarity.

Cultural Anthropology Fieldsites, February 12, https://culanth.org/fieldsights/1320-teaching-precarity/.

2018 The Force of Race in a Missouri College Town.

Decasia, February 11, https://decasia.org/academic_culture/2018/02/11/the-force-of-race-in-a-missouri-college-town/.

2017 Levin and Greenwood: Creating a New Public University.

Academography, October 25, https://academography.org/2017/10/25/levin-and-greenwood-creating-a-new-public-university/.

2017 Institutionalizing Critical University Studies.

Academography, June 9, https://academography.org/2017/06/09/institutionalizing-critical-university-studies/.

2017 Academography and Disciplinary Ethnocentrism.

Platypus: The CASTAC Blog, May 2, http://blog.castac.org/2017/05/academography-and-disciplinary-ethnocentrism/.

2016 Teaching and Bad Affect.

Decasia, December 4, https://decasia.org/academic_culture/2016/12/04/teaching-and-bad-affect/.

2016 The Teacher's Body.

Decasia, May 5, https://decasia.org/academic_culture/2016/05/05/the-teachers-body/.

2013 False Consciousness in the Humanities.

Decasia, April 17, https://decasia.org/academic_culture/2013/04/17/false-consciousness-in-the-humanities/.

2011 Early Fragments on the Intellectual Precariat.

Decasia, May 24, https://decasia.org/academic_culture/2011/05/24/early-fragments-on-the-intellectual-precariate/.

2010 Ways of Using Ethnographic Data.

Decasia, September 15, https://decasia.org/academic_culture/2010/09/15/ways-of-using-ethnographic-data/.

2009 Race and White Dominance in American Anthropology.

Decasia, November 22, https://decasia.org/academic_culture/2009/11/22/race-and-white-dominance-in-american-anthropology/.

2008 Anthropology as Trauma and as Transformation.

Anthropology News 49(1):13–14.

2007 On the Socialization of Graduate Students in Anthropology.

Anthropology News 48(4):56.


2018 Qualitative Methods.

Graduate-level introduction to qualitative social research; Lorde, Fanon, ideology and ambivalence.

Stellenbosch University.
2018 Reading and Doing Ethnography.

Introduction to ethnographic fieldwork and fundamental concepts of sociocultural analysis.

Stellenbosch University.
2017 Public Anthropology.

History of global student protest and intersectional politics since the 1960s.

Stellenbosch University.
2017 Digital Cultures.

Ethnographic, conceptual, and historical survey of online cultures and technologies.

Whittier College.
2016 Peoples and Cultures of Europe.

European nationalism; legacies of fascism and the Cold War; precarious migrant work.

Whittier College.
2016 Anthropology of Education.

Plato, Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, Fanon, Dewey, Wacquant, Pascoe, ethnographies of college and classrooms.

Whittier College.
2016 Digital Cultures. Whittier College.
2014 Ethnographic Methods.

Introduction to ethnographic fieldwork, including field photography, documentary and conversation analysis.

University of Chicago.
2011-12 Science, Culture and Society.

Teaching Assistant for year-long History, Sociology and Philosophy of Science sequence.

University of Chicago.
2010 Visual Analysis.

Guest unit in Sociological Methods course.

University of Paris 8..


2018 “Introduction to an ethnography of theory.” Invited presentation at Literary and Cultural Studies seminar, Department of English, Carnegie Mellon University.
2018 “Disappointed utopianism and its everyday life: Radical philosophy and homosociality in postcolonial France.” Invited presentation, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado-Boulder. (Cosponsored by Gender Studies, French Studies, and Philosophy.)
2018 “Banlieue Utopia: Radical philosophy in postcolonial France.” Centre for Humanities Research, University of Western Cape.
2017 “Revolution was not on the agenda: French political subjectivity after 1968.” Indexing Transformation seminar, Stellenbosch University.
2017 “Utopian in the morning, neoliberal by afternoon.” Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Stellenbosch University.
2016 “Desubjectification and normative ambivalence in French philosophy.” American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings, Minneapolis.
2016 “The ruses of academic radicalism.” Society for Cultural Anthropology Meeting, Ithaca, NY.
2015 “Cruel laughter and the French production of philosophical facts.” American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings, Denver.
2015 “Saving the University? The Production of an Oppositional Faculty Collective on the Scene of French University Reforms.” Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Meetings, Pittsburgh, PA.
2014 “Saving the University? The Production of an Oppositional Faculty Collective and the Politics of French Neoliberalism.” American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings, Washington, DC.
2014 “The impasse of precarious academic identity.” Invited presentation at 200 Years of Dialogue Between Knowledge and Power: Historicizing the Challenges of Higher Education in the 21st Century. European University Institute, Florence, Italy.
2014 “The bed, the people, and the work of thought.” Society for Cultural Anthropology Meeting, Detroit.
2014 “L'échec de l'internationalisme universitaire après la grève de 2009: Analyse ethnologique des « contre-sommets européens » de Dijon et Bruxelles.” Department of Sociology, University of Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint Denis, France.
2014 “The Failure of Left Internationalism.” Social Theory Workshop, University of Chicago.
2013 “Disappointed Utopianism and the Future of Radical French Philosophy.” American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings, Chicago.
2013 “Roundtable participant, The AAA and Labor Issues: Initiatives, Goals and Dialogue.” American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings, Chicago. (Special session organized by the AAA’s Committee on Labor Relations.)
2013 “'68 Thought: An ethnography of reflexive concept-work in a French radical philosophy department.” Invited presentation at Anthropology Department Colloquium, Rice University.
2013 “Postcolonial academic labor and the nationality of post-1968 radical philosophy.” Invited presentation at Archaeologies of Frenchness conference, University of Chicago.
2013 “The struggle to organize the struggle: industrial and post-industrial temporality in French universities.” American Ethnological Society/Association for Political and Legal Anthropology Conference, Chicago.
2013 “Precarious work and the limits of the French academic labor movement.” Countering Contingency: Teaching, Scholarship, and Creativity in the Age of the Adjunct Conference, Pittsburgh.
2013 “Je n’en peux plus: The visceral conflicts of the faculty in a post-68 philosophy department in Saint-Denis.” Modern France Workshop, University of Chicago.
2012 “The transitivity and intransitivity of ‘la pensée’.” Semiotics Workshop, University of Chicago.
2012 “L'usage politique de modèles d'université étrangers : l'université américaine aux yeux des français. (The political use of foreign university models: The American university through French eyes).” Invited presentation at ARESER (Association de réflexion sur les enseignements supérieurs et la recherche), University of Paris 1, France.
2012 “Hostile Futures: Temporal conflict and the survival of the opposition after the 2009 French university strikes.” Society for Cultural Anthropology Conference, Providence.
2012 “Precarity and class fantasy in French universities in 2010.” Anthropology of Europe Workshop, University of Chicago.
2012 “The relations of intellectual production in a radical French philosophy department.” Milwaukee Labor and Working-Class History Graduate Student Colloquium, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
2012 “Emancipation and the relations of intellectual production in French radical philosophy.” Knowledge/Value Workshop, University of Chicago.
2011 “The problems of experience: precarious work in French public universities.” Invited session on Flexible Labor in Academia. American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings, Montreal.
2011 “French academic precarity and the politics of moral crisis.” Graduate Student Symposium on Labor, Northwestern University, Chicago.
2011 “First as fantasy, then as farce: Internationalism in the European university movement.” Rethinking Europe conference, Center for German and European Studies, University of Minnesota.
2011 “Comment ‘la pensée’ se fait monde malgré tout, ou, analyse ethnologique d’un symbole central du cosmos philosophique français.” (How ‘thought’ becomes world after all, or, ethnographic analysis of a central symbol in the French philosophical cosmos).” Colloque Philosophie et Frontières (Philosophy and Borders Conference), University of Paris-8/Museum of Modern Art at Céret, France.
2011 “Emancipation at the University of Paris-8, between occupied space and philosophical text.” Anthropology of Europe Workshop, University of Chicago.
2010 “On an anthropology of a philosophy of emancipation.” Paris Center Workshop, University of Chicago.
2010 “A break in the circularity of utopia: On the temporary persistence of the Ronde Infinie des Obstinés.” European Association of Social Anthropologists Conference, Maynooth, Ireland.
2010 “French universities and the politics of resistance and resignation.” Poster presentation displayed at “Beneath the University, the Commons,” University of Minnesota.
2009 “Ethnographic preface to an epistemology of university models in recent French politics.” University of Chicago Paris Center Workshop, Paris.
2009 “Philosophy and university politics: Methodological overview.” Atelier doctoral, Department of Philosophy, University of Paris-8 (Saint-Denis), France.
2009 “Politicized intellectual collectives.” With Andrew Yale. Reworking the University conference, University of Minnesota.
2008 “The will to knowledge and cultural crisis in universities.” Rethinking the University conference, University of Minnesota.
2007 “Liminality, socialization, democratization (and ambivalence): Rethinking graduate education.” American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings.
2007 “Knowledge as Ideology: Lycée philosophy classes and the category of the intellectual.” Semiotics workshop, University of Chicago.
2007 “The case of the Bad Writing Contest: Literary theory as commodity & literary theorists as brands.” Michicagoan linguistic anthropology conference, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
2006 “Bureaucratic order and social purification in literary theory classrooms.” American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings.
2005 “Ethnography of literary theory classrooms.” Social Science & Higher Education Network meeting, Herencia, Spain.

Scholarly organization


Editor, Academography: Critical Ethnography & Higher Education: academography.org.


Manuscript reviewer (Anthropology & Education Quarterly, American Ethnologist, Anthropology and Humanism, Contradictions/Kontradikce: A Journal for Critical Thought (Prague), Cultural Anthropology, Political Theory).


Chair, Committee on Post-Secondary Education, Council on Anthropology and Education.


Co-Organizer, Lab, Classroom, University: Science studies meets the anthropology of education. With Ian Lowrie. American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings, Denver.


Co-chair, Committee on Post-Secondary Education, Council on Anthropology and Education.


Co-Organizer, Work Chronotopes: Work, Space, and Temporal Rhythms. With Duff Morton. Society for Cultural Anthropology Meeting, Detroit.


Co-Organizer, Compromised futures, politics of the present. American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings, Chicago.


Panel organizer, Politicking for a compromised future. American Ethnological Association/Association for Political and Legal Anthropology Conference, Chicago.


Panel organizer, Living with dead futures. Society for Cultural Anthropology conference, Providence.

2007, 2011

Co-Coordinator, Anthropology of Europe Workshop, University of Chicago.


Panel organizer, Trauma, transformation, and tactics: Rethinking the socialization of graduate students in anthropology. American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings, Washington, DC.


Co-Organizer, Regards Croisés: Crossing Cultural Borders. Collaborative workshop with University of Chicago and University of Paris X.

Research experience

2018 Follow-up ethnography in Paris and Saint-Denis.
2017 Follow-up interviews in Paris and Saint-Denis.
2014 Follow-up interviews in Paris and Saint-Denis.
2012 Follow-up interviews in Paris.
2009–2011 Two years of ethnographic research on French academic institutions and politics. Based in the Parisian region, particularly in Saint-Denis, with additional research visits to Brussels, Aix/Marseille, Quimper, Dijon, Céret, and Toulouse.
2008 One month of French language training, Retournac, France.
2006-7 One year of documentary and archival research on the politics of “bad writing” in American literary studies. Conducted in Chicago.
2006 Two months of French language training, IS–Aix-en-Provence, France.
2003 Three months of ethnographic research on literary theory classrooms. Conducted at Cornell University.


Human languages: English (native), French (fluent), Spanish (basic).

Computer languages: Ruby, Python, PHP, SQL, bash, Javascript, HTML/CSS, C++ (coursework), Java (coursework).