Erin B. Taylor
Research Associate at DERC, RMIT, Melbourne
Managing Editor at PopAnth: Hot Buttered Humanity
I am an economic anthropologist with an aesthetic sensibility. My main areas of interest are material culture, consumption, financial behaviours, use of technology, and public communication. I’m British-Australian, and I speak fluent English and Spanish, conversational Portuguese, and a smattering of French and Haitian Creole.
When I first entered the hallowed halls of university in 1996 I enrolled in a fine art degree. Various people questioned by choice, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. Studying art theory and creating installations trained me to conceptualize, design, and produce my own projects from beginning to end. It allowed me to research anything I wanted in the creation of a work of art. It taught me to think outside the box. Not wanting to be an artist or an art teacher, however, I had to move on to greener pastures. But to where?
After a week of taking a course in anthropology, I had my answer. As the study of “humankind in all times and places,” anthropology, like art, gave me the scope to think big. I knew without a doubt that I would go on to pursue a PhD in anthropology.
And I did. In 2003, after a stint of working in the UK, I enrolled in a PhD at the University of Sydney under the supervision of Professor Diane Austin-Broos. As an undergraduate I had spent three months in Chile, so I decided to head to a Spanish-speaking country in order to put my language skills to use. For fifteen months I lived in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, spending most of my time living in a squatter settlement.
My thesis, Abajo el Puente: Place and the Politics of Progress in Santo Domingo (2009), examines how barrio residents use their material environment to cope with their poverty and build futures. My thesis has since been turned into a book, Materializing Poverty: How the Poor Transform their Lives (2013, AltaMira). I am also the editor of Fieldwork Identities in the Caribbean (2010, Caribbean Studies Press).
Before submitting my PhD thesis, I landed full-time work lecturing in the Department of Anthropology at The University of Sydney, Australia from January 2008-December 2010, teaching across the Global Studies degree, Anthropology Honours, Reading Ethnography, Economic Anthropology, Urban Anthropology, and Introductory Anthropology.
From 2010-2012 I worked with with Dr. Heather Horst and Dr. Espelencia Baptiste on a project called Mobiles, Migrants and Money: A Study of Mobility in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, funded by the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMTFI) at the University of California, Irvine. Our mission was to find out how Haitians were using both formal and informal financial services, then investigate the adoption of the new mobile money services introduced after the earthquake. We produced two major reports detailing Haiti’s financial ecology and money practices.
An exciting outcome of the research was our surprise collaboration with the British Museum. We collected money-related objects from Haiti, which were displayed in the Museum’s Citi Money Gallery when it was re-launched in 2012. One of our artefacts was even featured on the Museum’s giant posters in the London Underground.
In July 2011 I took up the position of postdoctoral research fellow at the Instituto de Ciências Sociais at the Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal. This research-only position saw me returning to the field, this time to the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with Gawain Lynch and Heather Horst. We looked into material and cultural differences between the towns on either side of the border and how locals used mobile phones to mitigate, or take advantage of, some of these differences.
I’m a strong believer in public communication. Noting a lack of publishing platforms for anthropology, Gawain Lynch, John McCreery and I launched PopAnth: Hot Buttered Humanity in September 2012. Since then, the site has attracted well over a quarter of a million visitors. One of our main objectives is pedagogical. We provide editorial guidance to anyone who wishes to write popular anthropological articles. We also promote popular anthropology generally through our use of social media.
My current adventure involves trying to figure out how economists are taught to think. I’ve enrolled in a graduate diploma in economics through LSE, so this summer you can find me bushing up on algebra and statistics while sipping a caipirinha on the balcony of my beach-side apartment in Portugal.