Catherine L. Besteman

Francis F. Bartlett and Ruth K. Bartlett Professor of Anthropology

Office: Diamond 302 [ campus map ]
Box 4702

Phone: 207-859-4702
Fax: 207-859-4425
Mailing Address:
4702 Mayflower Hill
Waterville, Maine 04901-8847
Besteman, Catherine L.


B.A. Amherst
M.A.; Ph.D. University of Arizona

Areas of Expertise

  • Inequality and racism
  • insecurity and violence
  • Africa, South Africa, southern Somalia, US
  • refugees, mobilities, humanitarianism
  • engaged anthropology
  • activism
  • cities

Professional Information

I have taught Anthropology and African Studies at Colby since 1994. My teaching and research interests focus on analyzing power dynamics that produce and maintain inequality, racism and violence, as well as activist and community efforts for social change. I have studied these issues in southern Somalia, South Africa, and the U.S. My work has been supported by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the School of Advanced Research, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Current Research

Somali Bantu Refugees in the US. Since 2003, Lewiston, Maine has become home to thousands of Somali and Somali Bantu refugees, some of whom come from the village in Somalia where I conducted fieldwork in 1987-8. My current research documents their experiences and how their presence has transformed Lewiston. I am currently working on a book about Somali Bantu efforts in the U.S., Kenya, and Somalia to fashion lives at the intersection of militarism and humanitarianism as an example of a new norm of globalization, analyzing the way the refugees are creating subjectivities and new social relations as paradigmatic of a new global order. This project is supported by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation and American Council of Learned Societies. View the website built by Colby students, members of the Somali Bantu community of Lewiston, and myself: The Somali Bantu Experience: From East Arica to Maine. Our museum exhibition at the Museum L/A associated with this website, Rivers of Immigration: Peoples of the Androscoggin, won awards from the American Association for State and Local History and the New England Museum Association.
Post Apartheid Transformation in Cape Town. This research project studies the challenges of effecting transformation in a city left with enduring material and ideological divisions after apartheid. Transforming Cape Town, (University of California Press 2008) follows the efforts of 6 projects of transformation, chronicling the success and failures of new grassroots initiatives to combat poverty, transform education, and support youth development. This book was recognized with a Leeds Honor Book Award from SUNTA.
Public Anthropology. Anthropology is a discipline of profound importance in a globalized world. Demonstrating anthropology's critical insights on contemporary issues is the central project of two coedited books with anthropologist Hugh Gusterson (George Mason University). The Insecure American (University of California Press, 2009) and Why America's Top Pundits are Wrong (University of California Press, 2005).
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The Insecure American, coedited with Hugh Gusterson, University of California Press, 2009

Transforming Cape Town, University of California Press, 2008 (Leeds Honor Book Award, Society for Urban, National, and Transnational Anthropology, 2009)

In Why America's Top Pundits Are Wrong: Anthropologists Talk Back (University of California Press 2005), coedited with Hugh Gusterson, anthropologists challenge the portrait of the post Cold War world promoted by some of American's foremost commentators.

Violence: A Reader (Palgrave Press and New York University Press 2002) is a collection of significant theoretical and ethnographic studies of violence by social scientists.

Unraveling Somalia: Race, Violence, and the Legacy of Slavery (University of Pennsylvania Press 1999) is an ethnographic account of life in the Middle Jubba Valley of Somalia just before the civil war began.

The Struggle for Land in Southern Somalia: The War Behind the War (Westview Press and Haan Publishing 1996), edited with Lee V. Cassanelli, analyzes the historical factors that contributed to the patterns of violence in southern Somalia during the civil war.

Selected Recent Journal Articles

2014 "On Ethnographic Love." In Roger Sanjek, ed., Mutuality. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
2013 "Refuge Fragments, Fragmentary Refuge." Ethnography.
2013 “Three Reflections on Public Anthropology.” Anthropology Today 29(6): 3-6.
2013 “Somali Bantus in a State of Refuge.” Bildhaan: An International Journal of Somali Studies 12: 11-33.
2012 “Translating Race Across Time and Space: The Creation of Somali Bantu Ethnicity.” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 19(3): 1-18.
2010 "“In and Out of the Academy: The Case for a Strategic Anthropology.” Human Organization 69(4): 407-417.
2009 “A Refuge Odyssey: A Story of Globalization and Somali Bantu Refugees.” Anthropology Now 1(2): 96-108.
2009 “Counter Africom.” In The Counter-Counter Insurgency Manual, or Notes on Demilitarizing American Society. Network of Concerned Anthropologists Steering Committee. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, p. 115-135.


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