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Ahmed Kanna

Associate Professor of Anthropology


Phone: 209.946.3925

Office Hours

George Wilson Hall, first floor


PhD, Harvard University, 2006

AM, Harvard University, 2000

BS, James Madison University, 1997

Curriculum Vitae 

Teaching Philosophy

I emphasize two areas in my teaching: self-critique and empowerment.  Self-Critique: for an anthropologist, it is important to carefully listen to the points of view, stories, and lived experiences of everyday people whose sociocultural, economic, and political backgrounds are different to one's own.  Why we do this as anthropologists, however, may be counterintuitive at first glance. As my first university anthropology professor once said, anthropology is a process of "unlearning" - of your own cultural assumptions and the habits of thought and practice that reinforce your social status quo - as much as it is one of "learning" - about different cultures and societies. Teaching and thinking at this boundary between unlearning and learning is a source of excitement for me as an anthropology teacher, and I always strive to convey that excitement to students.  Empowerment: as the great 20th century German - Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt has taught, there is a deep connection between thinking, ethics, and freedom. A lack of awareness of the politics our routine behavior can have us ending up blithely perpetuating extreme injustice. How does our situation as producers of knowledge - both as teachers and students - in American academe, and in American international studies in particular, participate in the construction of notions of American ethnocentrism, exceptionalism, and superiority? How are these, in turn, products of American patterns of racialization, gendering, and techniques of administration? How might we as teachers and students engage and counteract these systems of power? These are some of the "big" questions about which I attempt to converse and debate with my students.

Scholarly Interest 

My first major research project was on the politics of globalization, urbanism, and cultural and national identity in the Arab/Persian Gulf region. This culminated in numerous publications, including three books: Dubai, The City as Corporation (2011, University of Minnesota Press, excerpted in the 2014 Routledge Cities of the Global South Reader, edited by Faranak Miraftab and Neema Kudva); Rethinking Global Urbanism (with my Trinity College colleague, the urban sociologist Xiangming Chen); and The Superlative City (2013, Harvard University Press).  My articles engaging these and other urban anthropological questions have appeared in City, Cultural Anthropology, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Jadaliyya and Journal of Urban Affairs among others. In this work, I was concerned with how certain built environments, such as skyscrapers, amusement parks, shopping malls, and similar forms tend to dominate the representation of what a city means in neoliberal and global economies of marketing imagery and capital investment, in turn marginalizing much more complex urban histories of economic, cultural, and gender diversity and "non-normative" claims on urban space. Currently, I am working on two projects. The first extends some of my earlier interests in urbanism, globalization, and urban expertise and focuses on the category of the "city" as an arena for militarized and imperial claims over space and culture in the so-called Global South. The second is an ethnographic study of the ways that militarism/militarization infuses and invests cultural spaces and bodies in contemporary American society, and on activist movements of resistance against these processes. 


ANTH 053. Cultural Anthropology. 4 Units.

This introductory course covers the anthropological view of humanity, the character and nature of culture, and the diversity of the human species. The major concepts, methods, and theoretical assumptions of the discipline are illustrated by applying anthropological perspectives to peoples from around the world. Topics include culture, ethnicity, and language; kinship, marriage, and social organization; time and space; religion, magic and rituals; gender and sexuality; power, inequality, and political relations; economic production, circulation, and consumption; social control; and the various forces and forms of change. General Education IC. (DVSYETHCGE1C)

ANTH 132. Modern Middle East. 4 Units.

How do Palestinians and Israelis conceptualize the ideal polity? How do Muslims understand the roles of women and men? How are historical experiences related to the collective memory of a community, and how does memory shape contemporary social life in the Middle East? How are local histories, societies, and cultures related to global processes of politics, economics, and culture? How do modern Middle Eastern peoples see their own identities and how and why do these conceptions differ from Western discourses about the region? This course is an introduction to thinking critically about these and related questions. Readings are drawn from various areas, that include history, anthropology, and literature. Middle Eastern experiences are also surveyed through other media, such as film. Students are encouraged to think critically about and beyond both popular Western images of the Middle East and supposed boundaries between nations and civilizations. Particular emphasis is given to the interconnections - political, cultural, etc. - between East and West, South and North. Sophomore standing.

ANTH 193. Urban Anthropology. 4 Units.

This course focuses on the intersections between anthropology, urban studies, ciritical theory and critical geography. In the near future, the majority of the world's population will live in urban areas. More and more human beings will experience, negotiate, and struggle with urbanized lives. Processes of globalization, neoliberalism, warfare, and mobilizations against these, incresingly occur in urban settings. In this course we look at urban life from various perspectives - ethnographic, historical, geographic, and critical-theoretical - focusing on cases from South and East Asia, South and Central America, Africa, and the Middle East. By focusing on specific case studies, the main purposes of our investigations are to see the city in a global and cross-cultural perspective and to question and contextualize the universalistic image of models of ubanism based on the Western, and especially modern Western, experiences.

INTL 081. Perspectives on World History. 4 Units.

Students study of the shape of human history from its beginnings to the present day. The course is built around the work of several modern historians whose interpretations differ, but whose insights help us to understand humanity's attempt to cope with life on Earth. General education IIB. (GE2B)

INTL 113. World Geography for the Social Sciences. 4 Units.

This interdisciplinary course is an overview of the study of human geography and is designed to promote both geographic literacy and critical geographical thinking. Issues and themes covered include cultural geography; political geography; space- and place-making; landscape, ecology, and resource consumption; cartography and its critics; and national, imperial, and gendered geographies and their critics. Case studies draw from many world regions and cultures. Sophomore standing.

INTL 151. Cross-Cultural Training I. 2 Units.

This course prepares students for interacting in cultures other than their own. It is designed to assist students in developing learning and coping strategies when outside their native cultural environment, such as while studying abroad, as well as the communication and intercultural skills needed for interacting successfully in new cultural environments. Topics include cultural values and assumptions, intercultural communication, and cross cultural problems and adjustment. Prerequisites: Completion of all Fundamental Skills. (DVSY)

INTL 185. SIS Capstone. 4 Units.

This capstone course integrates the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary SIS core curriculum with the experiential learning of study abroad. This is accomplished through analysis of the role of the individual in a variety of cultural and historical contexts that pay particular attention to questions of identity and ethics in a complex global environment. Prerequisites: a semester of study abroad or permission of instructor. Senior standing.


2011 Publication: Dubai, The City as Corporation Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Rethinking Global Urbanism (with Xiangming Chen, 2012, Routledge)

Superlative City: Dubai and the Urban Condition in the Early XXI Century (2013, Harvard UP)

"Gulf Urbanism as a Semantic Field," (Invited Paper, Columbia University GSAPP, 2014)