Donald M Nonini

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Phone: (919) 962-8092


(919) 962-1613


305B Alumni Bldg.

Area of Interest:

Theoretical: urban anthropology; political anthropology; anthropology of the state; cultural politics of class, ethnicity/race, and gender; political economy; global systems and transnationalism; critical theories of power; theory of the commons.

Geographic: Chinese minorities in Southeast Asia; local politics, economic restructuring, and race relations in the southern United States; urban Southeast and East Asia.


Ph.D. in anthropology, Stanford University, 1983; M.A. in anthropology, San Francisco State University, 1974; B.A. in philosophy, Reed College, 1968.

Professional Background:

I am currently Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before that I was Associate Professor of Anthropology (1994-2002) and Assistant Professor of Anthropology (1987-1994) at UNC Chapel Hill; and Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the Graduate Faculty, New School for Social Research, 1983-1987.

I am an Associate Editor of the journal Social Analysis (2007-2013), and have been a member of the Editorial Board of Critical Asian Studies (previously: Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars) since 1994. I was Associate Editor from 2006-2008 of the International Encyclopedia in the Social Sciences (2nd edition; 9 vols.), Thomson/Gale, 2008, and was Acting Editor of Dialectical Anthropology from 1991-1993.

I have served as the President of the Society of Urban National and Transnational/Global Anthropology (SUNTA) from 2010 – 2012, and currently serve on the SUNTA Board as Past President through 2014.

I am a member of the Executive Committee of the Section Assembly of the American Anthropological Association (2011-2014).

Research Experience:

My new research project is on the urban commons, which will examine theorizations from Marxist political economy, the study of social movements and interdisciplinary literature on the commons to investigate urban commons around such shared urban resources as housing and green space.    It will draw on historical and ethnographic case studies from Europe, the U.S., and Asia.

From 2009 to 2014, I edited A Companion to Urban Anthropology, which has been published by Blackwell Publishers in 2014.   It is the intention that this book will be a paradigm-setting collection of essays on critical concepts in urban anthropology.   In addition to editing this volume with 28 contributors, I also wrote the Introduction and the concept essay on “Food and Farming.”

From 2009 to the present, I have served as Principal Investigator of “One Movement or Two? Moral Logics and Food Action Networks in the Alternative Agrifoods Movement,” a multi-sited ethnographic research project on the alternative agrifoods movement in the southern U.S. and funded by a National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology Grant.  With co-PI Dorothy Holland, I have collected ethnographic data, and led ethnographic and documentary research by four Research Associates and four Community Resident Researchers in four different sites in North Carolina.   Professor Holland and I are currently writing a book on moral logics among both sustainable food/farming activists and emergency food activists working under the current conditions of neoliberal governance in the U.S.  This research has led to the publication of my 2013 article,   “The “Local Food Movement” and the Anthropology of Global Systems,” American Ethnologist 40, 2: 267-275.

In 1978-1980, 1985, 1990-1993, 1997, 2002, and 2007, I carried out ethnographic and historical research on class, citizenship and ethnic politics among urban Chinese in Malaysia.   This research has led to a book which will appear in late 2014 or early 2015 with Cornell University Press: “Getting By” among Chinese in Malaysia: An Historical Ethnography of Class and State Formation.  The book is based on long-term ethnographic and historical research among working-class Chinese men in postcolonial urban Malaysia and overseas. Coming out of this research, in addition to being the author of many refereed journal articles and book chapters, I co-edited (with Aihwa Ong) and authored the Introduction for the widely cited book Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism, Routledge, 1997.

From 1995 to 2007, I participated in a multi-sited, collaborative ethnographic research project with two other UNC Anthropology faculty (Dorothy Holland and Catherine Lutz) and four  Ph.D. students (Lesley Bartlett, Marla Frederick, Thad Guldbrandsen, and Enrique Murillo) on local democracy and its relationship to activism, neoliberal politics, and economic restructuring in five communities in North Carolina. Coming out of this research, with these colleagues I wrote Local Democracy under Siege: Activism, Public Interests and Private Politics, New York University Press, 2007.   This book received the Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff Prize for the Best Book in the Critical Study of North America offered by the Society for the Anthropology of North America, 2008-2009.

From  2005-2007, I undertook comparative research on the commons and common-property regimes, and edited and wrote the introduction for a book on various contemporary forms of the commons and the challenges these face under the conditions of late capitalism, the recomposition of contemporary states, and globalization.   This book was published as The Global Idea of “the Commons,” Berghahn Press, 2007.

In 2000, 2001, and 2003, I studied the transnational strategies, identities, and cultural logics among ethnic Chinese capitalists who fled Indonesia in the wake of violent persecution against Chinese in mid-1998. This research has resulted in two refereed articles.

From 1984-1989, I conducted historical research on the making of an ethnic peasantry, colonial state formation and “primitive accumulation” in the British colony of Malaya, which resulted in the book British Colonial Rule and the Resistance of the Malay Peasantry, 1900-1957, Yale Southeast Asia Studies, 1992.

Present Research and Teaching Interests:

In addition to completing the book “Getting By,” I am currently working on issues related to alternative economic practices including the commons, and, with Dorothy Holland, I am writing a book on sustainable food/farming and emergency food activists in four sites in North Carolina.

I am also interested in changes in the urban class politics and changing composition of Asian states under the conditions of neoliberal globalization, and have published an article entitled,  “Is China becoming neoliberal?” in Critique of Anthropology 28, 2: 145-176, 2008.  This article represents the basis for a possible new research project in urban China.

I regularly teach courses on Urban Anthropology (Anth 567), The Chinese Diaspora of the Asia Pacific (Anth 578), Political Anthropology (Anth 491),  and  Alternative Economic Systems (Anth 466).  I also have taught Anthropology 702, Sociocultural Theory and Ethnography in the Spring, with Arturo Escobar.   I offer graduate seminars in urban anthropology, critical theories of power, globalization and transnationalism, Marxist anthropology, and in other selected topics related to my research.

Books (Refereed):

“Getting By” among Chinese in Malaysia: An Historical Ethnography of Class and State Formation, Cornell University Press, forthcoming 2014-2015.

A Companion to Urban Anthropology, edited by D. Nonini.  London/New York: Blackwell, 2014.

The Global Idea of ‘the Commons,’ edited by Donald Nonini.  Critical Intervention Series, 10.  Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007

Local Democracy Under Siege: Activism, Public Interests and Private Politics,  by Dorothy Holland, Donald Nonini, Catherine Lutz, Lesley Bartlett, Marla Frederick McGlathery, Thaddeus Guldbrandsen and Enrique G. Murillo.  New York: New York University Press, 2007

Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism, edited by Aihwa Ong and Donald Nonini. New York: Routledge, 1997

British Colonial Rule and the Resistance of the Malay Peasantry, 1900-1957 (Monograph Series, 38.)   New Haven: Yale Southeast Asia Studies, 1992

Selected Journal Articles (Refereed)

The “Local Food Movement” and the Anthropology of Global Systems,” American Ethnologist 40,2: 267-275,  2013

“Is China Becoming Neoliberal?”  Critique of Anthropology, 28, 2: 145-176, 2008

“Processes of State, Class and Ethno-racial Formation in Urban Malaysia: Geo-spatial Transformations and Regime Shifts 1970-2000,” Anthropologica 50, 2: 255-268, 2008

“Comment: Thinking about Neoliberalism as If Specificity Mattered,” FOCAAL, 51: 151-153 May/June 2008

“Grounded utopian movements: Subjects of neglect,” by  Charles Price, Donald Nonini and Erich Fox Tree, Anthropological Quarterly 81,1: 187-218, 2008

“Indonesia Seen by Its Outside Insiders: Its Chinese Alters in Transnational Space” Social Analysis 50, 1, 214-225, 2006

“The dialectics of ‘disputatiousness’ and ‘rice-eating money’: Class confrontation and gendered imaginaries among Chinese men in Peninsular Malaysia,” American Ethnologist 26, 1: 47-68, 1999

“Race, Land, Identity: (At) Tribute to Raymond Williams.”  Cultural Critique 41 (Winter 1999): 158-183, 1999

“‘Chinese Society,’ Coffeeshop Talk, Possessing Gods: the Politics of Public Space among Diasporic Chinese in Malaysia,”positions: east asia cultures critique 6,2: 439-473, 1998

Selected Book Chapters (Refereed):

“Introduction.”  In A Companion to Urban Anthropology, edited by D. Nonini, pp 1-12.  Oxford: Blackwell, 2014

“Food and Farming.”  In A Companion to Urban Anthropology edited by D. Nonini, pp. 394-413.   Oxford: Blackwell, 2014

“Theorizing Transnational Movement in the Current Conjuncture: Examples from/of/in the Asia Pacific,” in Migration in the 21st Century: Ethnography and Political Economy, edited by Pauline Gardiner Barber and Winnie Lem, pp. 64-88.  New York and London: Routledge, 2012

“The Chinese diaspora.” In Encyclopedia on Race and Racism. 3 Vols., edited by John H. Moore.  Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.    Volume 1, pp. 304-307, 2008

“Introduction: The Global Idea of ‘The Commons’,” in The Global Idea of the Commons, edited by D. Nonini,   Critical Intervention Series, 10.   Oxford:  Berghahn Books  (reproduction  of article of same name in Social Analysis,  50,3, 2006),  pp. 1-25, 2007

“Reflections on  intellectual commons,” in The Global Idea of the Commons, edited by D. Nonini. Critical Intervention Series, 10.   Oxford:  Berghahn Books  (reproduction of article of same name in Social Analysis, 50,3, 2006), pp. 66-88,  2007

“Indonesia seen by outside insiders: Its Chinese alters in transnational space,” in Identifying with Freedom: Indonesia after Suharto, edited by Tony Day.  Oxford: Berghahn Books (reproduction of article of same name, in  Social Analysis 50, 1, 214-225, 2006), pp. 105-124, 2007

“Making the case for Kleptocratic Oligarchy (As Dominant Form of Rule in the United States),” in Bruce Kapferer, ed.,Oligarchic Corporations and New State Formations, Oxford: Berghahn Press, 21 pp., (reproduction of article of same name, 2006 Social Analysis 49, 1, 177-189, 2005), pp. 24-43, 2005

“Toward A (Proper) Postwar History of Southeast Asian Petty Capitalism: Predation, The State, and Chinese Small Business Capital in Malaysia,” In Alan Smart and Josephine Smart, eds., Petty  Capitalists and Globalization: Flexibility, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, Albany: SUNY Press,  2005, pp. 167-200

“Diasporas and Globalization,” in Carol Ember, Melvin Ember and Ian Skoggard, eds.   Encyclopedia of Diasporas.  New York: Kluwer/Plenum, 2005, 559-570

“Critique: Creating the Transnational South,” in James L. Peacock, Harry Watson, and Carrie Matthews, eds., The American South in A Global World, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2005, pp. 247-264

“Spheres of Speculation and Middling Transnational Migrants: Chinese Indonesians in the Asia Pacific,” in Brenda S.A. Yeoh and Katie Willis, eds, State/ Nation/ Transnation: Perspectives on Transnationalism in the Asia-Pacific, London: Routledge, 2004, pp. 37-66

“American Neoliberalism, ‘Globalization’ and Violence: Reflections from the United States and Asia,” in Jonathan Friedman, ed., Globalization, the State, and Violence, Altamira Press (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), 2003, pp.  159-197


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