Carolyn Rouse is a Professor of Anthropology and African American Studies at Princeton University. Her interest in anthropology began during her junior year at college. "I was studying wildlife biology in Kenya. I found I was much less interested in the kidney efficiency of indigenous ungulates than in observing services at a pentecostal church in Nairobi."
After returning to Swarthmore College, Rouse set the ambitious goal of becoming a documentary film director/producer at a time when filmmakers used expensive 16mm film and edited on Steenbeck flatbeds. For three years following graduation, Professor Rouse had the fortune of working with fascinating filmmakers including Fred Wiseman and Ed Bianchi. After a film writers’ workshop at the Sundance Institute, Bianchi invited her to work on a motion picture starring Cyndi Lauper (the film was never released). It was on this film shoot that college discussions about sexism and social reproduction, theories that seemed so abstract at the time, began to make sense. Bianchi was wonderful, but he was surrounded by people seeking sexual favors from the good-looking women they hired.
Rouse became painfully aware that she probably would never fit into mainstream film culture. Over the next several weekends she sat in Cuban cafes in the Art Deco district of Miami composing her application for the MA in Visual Anthropology (MAVA) program at the University of Southern California. Founded by Barbara Myerhoff and Timothy Asch, the USC program was the premiere documentary film program in the country. The MAVA program inspired Rouse’s deepening interest in anthropological research, and ultimately she moved into the PhD program.
The question of why people have the capacity to accept systems of inequality is the question that drives Rouse’s research. Why would mothers and grandmothers bind their daughters' feet? Why would a woman throw herself on her husband's funeral pyre? Why are heads of companies allowed to make over 300 times what “the workers” make?
At first Rouse challenged Karl Marx’s assertion that liberation emerges only with a radical change in the modes and means of production. Young and hopeful, Rouse wanted to believe that liberation was possible even in systems with vast inequalities in capital distribution. Malcolm X’s conversion to Islam, Rouse hypothesized, was one such example. For many years Rouse worked with and interviewed African American converts to Islam in an effort to ethnographically describe this liberation. Ultimately Rouse found that liberation, disconnected from substantial material changes in capital ownership, is partial at best.
Rouse’s second major research project explored racial health disparities. The findings of that research are the subject of this website.
Work on suffering led to her interest in development discourses about suffering and rescue. Her latest research involves building a high school in Ghana in order to study what is right and wrong with development discourses and practices. The book title of that work in progress is Development Hubris: Adventures Trying to Save the World.
Uncertain Suffering: Racial Health Disparities and Sickle Cell Disease (UC Berkeley 2009)
Engaged Surrender: African American Women and Islam (UC Berkeley 2004)
Chicks in White Satin (Editor, 1993)
From Purification to Prozac: Treating Mental Illness in Bali (Director/Producer, 1997)
University of Southern California (PhD 1999)
Swarthmore College (BA 1987)