Diane Michele Nelson

Diane Michele Nelson

Professor of Cultural Anthropology

External address: 
201D Friedl Building, East Campus, Durham, NC 27708
Internal office address: 
Box 90091, Durham, NC 27708-0091
(919) 684-2069


I began fieldwork in Guatemala in 1985 exploring the impact of civil war on highland indigenous communities with a focus on the more than 100,000 people made into refugees and 200,000 people murdered in what the United Nations has called genocidal violence. Since then my research has sought to understand the causes and effects of this violence, including the destruction and reconstruction of community life (Guatemala: Los Polos de Desarrollo: El Caso de la Desestructuracin de las Comunidades Indigenas CEIDEC1988). In A Finger in the Wound: Body Politics in Quincentennial Guatemala (University of California Press 1999) I describe the relationship between the Guatemalan state and the Mayan cultural rights movement. When asked about indigenous organizing many Guatemalans call it "a finger in the wound." How do material bodies those literally wounded in 35- years of civil war, and those locked in the fear-laden embrace of sexual conquest, domestic labor, mestizaje, and social change movements relate to the wounded body politic? My work draws on popular culture like jokes, rumors, global TV, and subjugated dreams of a "new race" as well as contemporary theories of political economy, subject-formation, the post-colonial, memory, and ethnic, national, gender, and sexual identifications. It explores the relations among Mayan rights activists, ladino (non-indigenous) Guatemalans, the state, and transnational contexts including anthropologists. My new project grows from my interests in cultural studies and cyborg anthropology and explores science and technology development in Guatemala and Latin America more generally. I am focusing on laboratory and clinical research on vector and blood-borne diseases like malaria and dengue and the intersection of this knowledge production with health care in the midst of neo-liberal reforms and popular demands.

Education & Training

  • Ph.D., Stanford University 1996

  • M.A., Stanford University 1992

  • B.A., Wellesley College 1985

Nelson, D. M. Reckoning: The Ends of War in Guatemala. Duke University Press, 2009.

Nelson, D. M. Under the sign of the Virgen de Tránsito. Duke University Press, 2009, pp. 1–28. Open Access Copy

Nelson, D. M. A Finger in the Wound: Body Politics in Quincenntenial Guatemala. University of California Press, 1999.

Nelson, D. M., and Carlota McAllister. “Aftermath: Harvests of Violence and Histories of the Future.” War By Other Means Aftermath in Post-Genocide Guatemala, Duke UP, 2013.

Nelson, D. M. “100% OMNILIFE: Health, Economy, and the End/s of War.” War By Other Means Aftermath in Post-Genocide Guatemala, Duke UP, 2013.

Nelson, D. M. “Mayan Pyramids.” The Guatemala Reader, edited by Levenson Grandin and Levenson Oglesby, Duke University Press, 2011.

Nelson, D. M. “Los efectos especiales del horror.” Re-Pensando La Violencia, edited by Julian Lopez García and Santiago Bastos, University of Cordoba, Spain, 2010.

Nelson, D. M. “Los Efectos Especialdes de los "Mecanismos del Horror".” Guatemala, Violencias Desbordadas, edited by D. M. Garcia, Julian Lopez et al., Universidad de Cordoba, 2010, pp. 153–83. Open Access Copy

Nelson, D. M. “Life During Wartime: Guatemala, Vitality, Conspiracy, Milieu.” The Anthropologies of Modernity: Foucault, Governmentality, and Life Politics, edited by J. X. Inda, Blackwell Press, 2005.

Nelson, D. M. “The Cultural Agency of Wounded Bodies Politic: Ethnicity and Gender as Prosthetic Support in Post-War Guatemala.” Cultural Agency in the Americas, edited by Doris Sommer, Duke University Press, 2005, pp. 28–28.

Nelson, D. M. “Low intensities.” Current Anthropology, vol. 60, no. S19, Feb. 2019, pp. S122–33. Scopus, doi:10.1086/701040. Full Text

Nelson, D. M. “’Yes to Life = No to Mining:’ Counting as Biotechnology in Life(Ltd) Guatemala.” The Scholar and the Feminist Online, Oct. 2013.

Nelson, D. M. “Vitamin.” Somatosphere: Science, Medicine and Anthropology, Oct. 2013.

Nelson, D. M. “Banal, Familiar and Enrapturing: Financial Enchantment after Guatemala’s Genocide.” Women’S Studies Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 3–4, Dec. 2012.

Nelson, D. “Pirates, robbers, and mayan shamans: The terrible and fine allure of the spirits of capital.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 39, no. 3, Nov. 2012, pp. 437–58. Scopus, doi:10.5621/sciefictstud.39.3.0437. Full Text

Nelson, D. M., and D. M. Members of Occupy Chapel Hill. “Her Earliest Leaf’s a Flower.” Cultural Anthropology Hotspots (On Line). Occupy, Anthropology, and the 2011 Global Uprisings., 2012.

Nelson, D. M. “Pirates, Robbers, and Mayan Shamans: The Terrible and Fine Allure of the Spirits of Capital.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 39, no. 118, 2012.

Nelson, D. M. ““The Power of Sweetness” Commentary.” Current Anthropology, vol. 51, no. 5, Oct. 2010.

Guyer, J. I., et al. “Anthropological Theory: Introduction.” Anthropological Theory, vol. 10, no. 1–2, Mar. 2010, pp. 36–61. Scopus, doi:10.1177/1463499610365388. Full Text

Nelson, D. M. “Reckoning the after/math of war in Guatemala.” Anthropological Theory, vol. 10, no. 1–2, Mar. 2010, pp. 87–95. Scopus, doi:10.1177/1463499610365374. Full Text


Nelson, D. “"Los Maya-hackers".” Proceedings From the First Maya Studies Conference, Guatemala City: Cholsamah Publishing, 1997.

Nelson, D. M., and Carlota McAllister. War By Other Means Aftermath in Post-Genocide Guatemala. Duke UP, 2013.

Nelson, D. “Letter from the Field: From Inside the Guatemalan Coup.” Stanford Anthropology Newsletter, Nov. 1994.