Wilkinson receives social sciences Alberti prize
Where did you earn your undergraduate degree? How did this experience shape your doctoral studies?
I received my bachelor’s degree in human biology from Stanford University with a specialization in international women’s health and human rights and a minor in African and African American studies. Every day I am grateful for my strong interdisciplinary background in biological, cognitive, and political science, which shapes how I understand and ask questions about the world, including about what I currently study - the politics of gender and anti-feminism.
What life experiences have guided your educational journey, and specifically your path to UCI?
I had begun my study of human biology with an interest in studying the HIV epidemic, but my interest quickly turned to the issues of gender-based violence when I realized what a key factor gender inequality and gendered violence play as social determinants of health and a range of social and economic outcomes. This led me to a collaboration with a feminist legal organization in Uganda to conduct research directly with anti-feminist opposition leaders to better understand their opposition to basic gender-based violence protections. This sparked a lifelong interest in activist scholarship on popular anti-feminism, polarization, and the geopolitics of sexual rights. These are issues I study globally, and especially in Latin America, but they profoundly impact all of us, and I have been impacted by them at every stage of my life.
I was drawn to UCI’s anthropology department because of its dedication to theoretical and methodological innovation, supporting politically engaged research, rigorous training opportunities, and a strong culture of supportiveness and collegiality that I had heard about from current grad students. I was also set on attending a public university and gaining teaching experience. Working with UCI’s amazing undergraduates has been a highlight of my time at UCI.
What made you decide to pursue your current field of study, and what interests you most about your work?
In the decade before I came to UCI, I worked in a variety of roles within intersectional, international feminist and LGBT rights movements defending and advocating for gender justice and sexual rights in various regions. While obtaining a master’s degree at FLACSO-Ecuador in social sciences, I also worked with LGBTQ groups in Ecuador to carry out ethnographic research on transnational ex-gay movements that were promoting “conversion therapy” and the ongoing practice of forced internment of LGBTQ youth in rehab centers. In this research and in my professional work, I observed the resurgence of transnational anti-feminist movements working not only to resist the gains of feminist and LGBTQ movements but who also contained elements that undermine democratic norms. I sought a Ph.D. in anthropology because I wanted to further build my capacity as a researcher and have the time and resources to study how and why these movements are growing around the world and their implications for feminist movements and democracy more broadly. Over the past five years, I have studied how anti-feminist movements have mobilized transnational opposition not only to women’s and LGBT rights but to the concept of gender in Mexico and across the region and the relationship between these movements and democratic decline, insecurity, and distrust.
What implications does your research have for society?
What drew me to anthropology was the opportunity to interact with and learn directly from my research interlocutors through long-term, context-based research. In my view, conditions of hyper-polarization and deepening distrust like those we currently face in many contexts today elevate the importance of this kind of direct, in-depth research that enables us to connect with others across both similarities and differences as we try to understand the immense political challenges we face. This is what anthropological ethnographic research affords. The aim of my work is to contribute to understanding how and why illiberal populism and fascist politics are gaining popular momentum in contexts like Latin America, the US, and Europe and how the everyday politics of anti-feminism play a role in fueling these trends while also bearing their collateral damage. The overturning of Roe v. Wade and a wave of anti-trans and anti-LGBT legislation rolling through the United States makes this research all the more urgent and relevant for me.
Where can your work be found by others wanting to learn more?
Since joining UCI, I’ve published in both English and Spanish on gender and sexual politics, anti-feminism, and anti-gender movements in Ecuador, Mexico, and transnationally. I have also dabbled in ethnographic creative writing and produced an audiovisual artistic rendition of the themes I study and about resilience for an exhibition earlier this year at the UW-Madison Women’s & Gender Studies Consortium. Titled “Rooting Out the Weeds that Bind: Disemboweling the Devil after 2020,” it can be found at: https://consortium.gws.wisc.edu/conference/artist-exhibition-2022/annie-wilkinson/.
“Ecuador’s Citizen Revolution 2007-2017: A Lost Decade for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.” In Seeking Rights from the Left: Gender, Sexuality, and the Latin American Pink Tide, edited by Elisabeth J. Friedman, 269–303. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019.
“Gender as Death Threat to the Family: How the ‘Security Frame’ Shapes Anti-Gender Activism in Mexico.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 23, no. 4 (August 8, 2021): 535–57. https://doi.org/10.1080/14616742.2021.1957974.
“‘Gender Ideology’ as Modular Discourse: A Transatlantic Survey of Activism against Gender.” In The Handbook of Global Sexualities, edited by Ryan Thoreson, Zowie Davy, Ana Cristina Santos, Chiara Bertone, and Saskia Wieringa. The Handbook of Global Sexualities, 2020.
“Hasta Que Cambies: Disciplina, Castigo, y Las Prácticas de ‘Deshomosexualización’ En Los Centros de Rehabilitación En Ecuador.” In Antología Derechos Sexuales y Derechos Reproductivos, edited by Mercedes Prieto and Ana María Goetschel. Quito: FLACSO Ecuador, 2018.
“La Revolución Ciudadana de Ecuador (2007-2017). Una Década Perdida Para Los Derechos de Las Mujeres y La Igualdad de Género.” In Género, Sexualidad e Izquierdas Latinoamericanas: El Reclamo de Derechos Durante La Marea Rosa, edited by Elisabeth J. Friedman, Felicitas Rossi, and Constanza Tabbush, 319–56. CLACSO, 2020. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv1gm01z9.13.
“Latin America’s Gender Ideology Explosion.” Association for Queer Anthropology Section News (blog), March 21, 2017. https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/AN.379.
“Reckoning with ‘Humanising Fascists’ and Other Requisites of an Anthropology of the Far Right.” Social Anthropology 29, no. 2 (May 2021). https://doi.org/10.1111/1469-8676.13058.
“Rooting out the Weeds That Bind: Disemboweling the Devil after 2020.” Feminist Anthropology 3, no. 1 (2022): 170–79. https://doi.org/10.1002/fea2.12069.
Who were your faculty mentors while here, and what impact have they had on your graduate career?
I have had the privilege of counting on an amazing team of mentors at UCI. My advisor, professor Kristin Peterson, has been such a generous and attuned mentor, and I have gained so much from her expertise on research design, ethnographic writing, and transnational political economic analysis. I have also been guided by professor Lilith Mahmud’s expertise on conspiracy theories, nationalism, and right-wing studies; professor Jenny Terry’s expertise in feminist studies of science and feminist theory; and professor Nancy Postero’s (UCSD) area expertise on Latin America and political anthropology. I have had some wonderful professors with whom I have taken coursework at UCI. It’s the strong core foundation in both theory and research design that makes our department stand out.
What do you plan to do after finishing your graduate degree? How has UCI prepared you well for this role?
I will be joining the Sexualities Project at Northwestern University (SPAN) in the fall as a post-doctoral scholar, where I will teach undergraduate courses on topics like misinformation, conspiracy theories, post-truth politics, anti-feminism, anthropological studies of right-wing movements, and the politization of science. I also plan to publish some of my research findings, expand my research and learn some new methods for studying disinformation online, and to continue my ongoing service work drawing on my research to serve as a country conditions expert for LGBTQ asylum seekers from Mexico.
Any other tidbits you’d like to share?
I am deeply honored to have been nominated for and received the Kathy Alberti prize. In honor of the many caregivers who have helped me complete my Ph.D. as a parent and caregiver myself and without whom I could not have completed this work, I have donated the monetary value of the award to Families Belong Together, a project of the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance (NDWA, https://www.domesticworkers.org/). NDWA works for the respect, recognition, and rights of the nearly 2.5 million nannies, housecleaners, and home care workers in the United States and to support and keep families - of all kinds - together, as they belong.