Laura C. Brown

  • Assistant Professor

Laura C. Brown is a sociocultural and linguistic anthropologist whose research examines intersections between language, materiality, and commerce with a geographic focus in South Asia.


Research Description

Laura Brown has conducted fieldwork in Tamil Nadu, India examining how the owners of small road-side shops manage to reach agreements and preserve relationships with neighbors, customers, and other interlocutors whose roles and interests frequently oppose their own. Her ethnographic focus was on interactions between shopkeepers, product suppliers, and their customers. However, she uses these conversations, as well as engagements with other sites, such as government run ration shops, political rallies, and newspaper accounts of traders’ behavior, to examine the ways in which everyday talk on neighborhood streets may work as a “back-stage” for the organization of activities associated with broader geographic scales and more overtly political domains.

Professor Brown’s current research further explores the relationship between intimate linguistic exchanges and broader political economic transformations through the analysis of typographic design, commodification, and use by South Asian language speakers. Focusing on small-run print media such as wedding invitations, political fliers, and film star fan club posters, she examines debates over the value, meaning, and ownership of South Asian language scripts in India and the US.


Language and Culture

This course is concerned with the relations between language, thought, and culture. Specific topics include: How might the languages we speak influence our understanding of space and social relations (and how might we know)? How do users figure out the social rules of Facebook? And, what can we make of debates about whether or not a joke is racist?

Anthropology of South Asia: Language and Media

This course draws on recent anthropological work on language and media to examine everyday life in contemporary South Asia. Readings, films, and activities aim to give you a sense of the variety of perspectives anthropologists have used to understand life in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.

An Anthropologist’s Guide to Wealth, Money, and Power

This course introduces you to anthropological ways of thinking about relationships between objects, people, and the social situations they encounter. The course is divided into three sections: Gifts –considers anthropological approaches to gift giving and broad theories about the social significance of exchange, Money –explores the contexts and effects of money and monetization, and Goods – examines how objects achieve and maintain value.

The Ethnography of Writing and Recording

What changes when music is recorded, when letters are written, when protests are tweeted, or calls to prayer are electronically amplified? This course seeks to advance frameworks for the cultural analysis of writing, recording, and other semiotic technologies. Drawing on recent work in anthropology, literary criticism, and linguistics; we examine writing and recording as diverse forms of meaningful and interested action.

Language Ideologies: Languages, Speakers, and Value

“Language ideologies” describes the conceptualizations people have about languages, speakers, and discursive practices. This course examines the how ideas about language are embed in everyday activity, pervaded with political and moral interests, and produced in relation to broad cultural settings. Drawing on recent work in anthropology, linguistics, and related fields, this course invites you to explore the nexus of language, culture, and politics.

Linguistic Anthropology Core Course

This course approaches language as a semiotic practice through which social relations, cultural models, and consciousness are constituted. Specific topics include: approaches to signs and significance; linguistic relativity (relationships between habits of speech, thought, and action); analysis of conversation and interaction; relationships between meaning and intention; models for the apprehension of variation and change; linguistic dimensions of cultural stereotypes; and the means by which languages, styles, and other aspects of cultural patterning, can be mapped onto populations. Throughout the course we pay particular attention to the analysis of linguistic practice as a tool for the study of topics other than language – as a framework for ethnography, for textual research, and for the study of material culture.

Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

This course is designed to introduce students to cultural anthropological methods and concepts that are useful for gaining a better understanding of human diversity. We will examine such topics as family systems, economic and political change, religion and ritual in order to encourage students to question commonly held assumptions about what is "normal" and "natural" in human experience. Films, videos and slide presentations will supplement texts and lectures. Evaluation of the recitation sections will be determined by the recitation instructor. Attendance, class participation, projects and short quizzes will form the basis of the recitation grade.