I think and write about privacy, intimacy, alienation, and information security.
As a linguistic and semiotic anthropologist I am concerned with how people think about, judge, and manage the movement and circulation of information and (or as) objects (talk, commodities, metadata). Since 2006, I have done ethnographic fieldwork and worked with colleagues in Dakar, Senegal. My fieldwork has focused on the city’s charitable and domestic economies, tracing the kinds of knowledge and ongoing relationships built in and through networks of care managed by the city’s female householders. In this work, I have come to focus on the local value sutura (often translated ‘discretion’) as a guiding principle in Senegalese models of communication and interaction. I use sutura as a means to critically rethink anthropological models of communication, circulation, and individual action and efficacy, and to reframe current issues in global information security.
Conceptually, I am interested in the ways that semiotic practice creates apparent boundedness and the sense of ‘interiors’ and ‘exteriors’ to individuals, groups, moments, objects, and other entities emergent in interaction and interpretation. My work touches on classic themes in the anthropology of gender, kinship/relatedness, domesticity/food, Islam, and urban ethnography. As a linguist, I am particularly interested in vagueness, pronominal systems (particularly anaphoric deixis), silence, and the verbal construction of the “unremarkable.”
I hold a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, and am currently (2019-2021) Term Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department at Barnard College. I have taught courses at New York University in the Department of Anthropology (FAS) and the Division of Applied Undergraduate Studies (SPS), the New School (SPE), Bard College, CUNY (Guttman), the Wesleyan University’s Center for Prison Education, the Bard Prison Initiative, and Suffolk University’s campus in Dakar, Senegal (now defunct).
I have also served as Program Coordinator for the African Humanities Program at the ACLS, and as a medical and legal interpreter for Wolof in New York City.
email me at pfeil [dot] gretchen [at] gmail [dot] com