Aaron Ansell

Aaron AnsellThe Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation recognizes Aaron Ansell, a cultural anthropologist who studies issues of rural hunger and politics in Brazil.

An assistant professor of religion and culture in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Ansell has a regional specialty in Northeast Brazil and interests in the democratization of poor farmers, patronage, capitalism, and social justice.

The Brazilian government tries to eradicate poverty while making politics for the poor more democratic. If successful, these efforts could provide a model for other governments who try to assist the destitute members of their societies.

But to know what these policies really do, Ansell examines the culture of the beneficiaries and study how their actions shape the overall effects of the policies that reach them.

His work focuses on the intersection of language and material exchange; in particular, the discourse systems that rural Brazilians use to reconcile traditional patronage politics with liberal models of democracy.

Ansell’s recent research addresses poor people’s engagement with Brazil’s public health-care system.

While working towards his doctoral degree at the University of Chicago, Ansell received grants from the Fulbright-Hays and Wenner-Gren foundations to study Brazil’s flagship anti-poverty program. The resulting book, “Zero Hunger: Political Culture and Antipoverty Policy,” examines political change and progressive policies in rural South America.

The volume, which won the 2015 book award from the Brazil Section of the Latin American Studies Association, argues that Brazil’s progressive redistributive policies have functioned as social engineering techniques, dismantling traditional political relations in the name of democratic transparency and accountability.

Ansell’s scholarly articles explore the linguistic and discursive aspects of power, poverty and democracy in Brazil, and are mostly published in anthropology journals, including American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, and the Journal of Peasant Studies.

He currently serves as a contributing editor for the Society for Linguistic Anthropology’s monthly news column, and has written several outreach columns related to U.S. politics. He received his doctoral degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago.



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The goals of the Scholar of the Week are to recognize individuals while also telling people about research and scholarly activities at the university.

Recognition is based on research and/or scholarship.

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Please provide a sentence describing the research, scholarship, or creative work in non-technical, generally accessible language. A second sentence with an example or application is helpful.

  • Send nominations to: Srinath Ekkad, Associate Vice President for Research Programs, Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.