Ralph A. Litzinger

Ralph A. Litzinger

Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology

External address: 
208 Friedl Building, Department of Cultural Anthropology, Durham, NC 27708
Internal office address: 
Box 90091, Durham, NC 27708-0091
(919) 681-6250


Ralph Litzinger is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. His early research focused on the culture and politics of ethnicity, nationalism, and post-socialism in China. He has published on Marxist nationality theory in China, on ethnic politics in the post-Cold War global order, on gender and ethnic representation, and on ethnographic film, photography, and popular culture. Other Chinas: the Yao and the Politics of National Belonging (Duke University Press, 2000) was the first major ethnographic study to examine the work and writing of minority intellectuals in the imagining of post-socialist futures. Litzinger’s more recent research engages with questions of border ecologies, bio-politics, activism and advocacy in labor, migrant education rights. He has published key essays on the transnational and media dimensions of anti-dam protest in southwest China; on global environmental NGOs and the privatization of nature; on self-immolation among Tibetans; on the transnational activism directed at Apple and the companies that source its supply chain; and on the emerging field of global media ecologies. The Cultural Anthropology special online issue, “Self-Immolation as Protest in Tibet” https://culanth.org/fieldsights/93-self-immolation-as-protest-in-tibet  remains the most downloaded in the history of the journal Cultural Anthropology’s “Hot Spot” series.  Litzinger’s “The Labor Question in China: Apple and Beyond” http://saq.dukejournals.org/content/112/1/172.abstract  was the most downloaded article in the South Atlantic Quarterly in 2013.   More recently, Litzinger is the co-editor of Ghost Protocols: Development and Displacement in Global China (Duke University Press, 2016).  He is currently working on two book projects, Migrant Futures: Education and Labor in Global China, and Black Lung: An Ethnography of Dust, a collaborative project with former students, miners and labor activists in China.  

From 2001-2017, Litzinger directed Duke’s Asia/Pacific Studies Institute. During this period, he raised over five million dollars for East Asian studies programming at Duke, send the first Duke students in Trinity College to China and other East Asian countries with funding for research and internships, developed APSI’s MA program in East Asian Studies, worked to found the rural education non-profit Dream Corp International (http://www.dreamcorps.org/en/our_programs.html), and the student-led newspaper and now web-based magazine, Duke East Asian NEXUS (http://www.dukenex.us). He also worked with Duke’s Development Office to write the successful application for the Oscar Tang Named Professorship (now held by Professor Prasenjit Duara in Duke’s History Department). From 2007-2008 he co-directed the Mellon-Sawyer seminar, “Portents and Dilemmas: Health and the Environment in China and India, A Comparative Study.” From 2008-2015, he directed the Duke Engage Migrant Education project, a ten-week immersive project at a middle school for the children of migrant workers on the rural-urban fringes of Beijing http://www.dandelionschool.org/a/ENGLISH/general/2011/0105/general_info.html. From 2011-2013, he co-directed the India-China Global Semester Abroad program, and an Environment, Health, and Development seminar at Beijing University. In 2013, Litzinger was awarded the Howard Johnson Excellence in Teaching Award, and, in the same year, the Duke Engage Excellence in Student Mentoring Award. He is on the advisory board of the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), the leading trans-regional labor activist organization in East Asia (http://sacom.hk). He is on the editorial board of the China Environment and Wealth Series at the University of Amsterdam Press.

From 2006-to the present, he has served on multiple committees associated with the establishment of the Duke Kunshan campus in China, and has been a core member on the committee that authored DKU’s global liberal arts curriculum. Litzinger offers courses on “Migrant China,” “Environmental, Health and Development in China,” “Anthropology and Film,” “Global Environmentalism and the Politics of Nature,” “Theorizing the Anthropocene,” and “Millennial Capitalisms.” He is now developing new courses on Apple, The Cancer Memoir, Media Ecologies, and the Anthropology of Extractive Capitalism. 

Education & Training

  • Ph.D., University of Washington 1994

  • M.A., University of Washington 1990

  • B.A., Evergreen State College 1985

Litzinger, R. A. “Tradition and the Gender of Civility.” Chinese Feminities/Chinese Masculinities: An Introductory Reader, edited by Susan Brownell and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, University of California Press, 2001.

Litzinger, R. A. “Globalization from Below: Reflections on the Anthropology of Global Environmentalism.” Links Between Cultures and Biodiversity: Proceedings of the Cultures and Biodiversity Congress 2000, edited by Xu Jianchu, Kunming: Yunnan Science and Technology Press, 2000, pp. 590–97.

Litzinger, R. A. “Re-imagining the State in Post-Mao China.” Cultures of Insecurity: States, Communities, and Production of Danger, edited by Jutta Weldes et al., University of Minnesota Press, 1999, pp. 293–318.

Litzinger, R. A. “Making Histories: Contending Conceptions of the Yao Past.” Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers, edited by Stevan Harrell, Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1995, pp. 117–39.


Litzinger, Ralph. “Desiring China: Experiments in Neoliberalism, Sexuality, and Public Culture, by Lisa Rofel.” China Review International, 2008.

Litzinger, Ralph. “Displacing Desire: Travel and Popular Culture in China , by Beth Notar.” The China Quarterly, vol. 191, Sept. 2007, pp. 769–71.

Litzinger, R. A. “Contested sovereignties and the critical ecosystem partnership fund.” Political and Legal Anthropology Review, vol. 29, no. 1, Jan. 2006, pp. 66–87. Scopus, doi:10.1525/pol.2006.29.1.66. Full Text

Litzinger, R. “The Mobilization of “Nature”: Perspectives from North-west Yunnan.” China Quarterly, vol. 178, Jan. 2004, pp. 488–504. Scopus, doi:10.1017/S030574100400027X. Full Text

Litzinger, R. A. ““Damming the Angry River”.” China Review, vol. 30, no. Autumn, Great Britian China Center, 2004, pp. 30–34.

Litzinger, R. “Theorizing postsocialism: Reflections on the politics of marginality in contemporary China.” South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 101, no. 1, Dec. 2002, pp. 33–55. Scopus, doi:10.1215/00382876-101-1-33. Full Text

Litzinger, R. A. “Government from Below: The State, the Popular, and the Illusion of Autonomy.” Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique, vol. 9, no. 1, Duke University Press, Mar. 2001, pp. 253–66. Crossref, doi:10.1215/10679847-9-1-253. Full Text

Litzinger, R. A. “Beyond the Museum Complex: Minority Culture and History at the Mountain Patterns Exhibit.” Asian Ethnicity, vol. 2, no. 1, Mar. 2001, pp. 86–96.


Litzinger, R. A. "Re-imagining the State in Post-Mao China". Edited by Jutta Weldes et al., University of Minnesota Press, 1999, pp. 293–318.

Litzinger, R. A. "Making Histories: Contending Conceptions of the Yao Past". Edited by Stevan Harrell, Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1995, pp. 117–39.

Litzinger, R. A. "Tradition and the Gender of Civility". Edited by Susan Brownell and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, University of California Press.