Neil Nory Kaplan-Kelly

Meet Neil Nory Kaplan-Kelly, a third-generation anthropologist and ’24 UCI Ph.D. recipient. Originally from Poughkeepsie, NY, Kaplan-Kelly has a passion for peacebuilding that he's honed through research from his time as an undergrad at the University of Chicago to his master’s program and Fulbright Fellowship at Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland to his advanced inquiry as an Anteater anthropologist. Below, Kaplan-Kelly talks about his research, the mentors who have guided his pathway to a Ph.D., and what’s next.

Q: What drew you to anthropology, and specifically at UCI? What interests you most about your work?

A: Anthropology is a field that develops new questions about what it means to be human. I am a third-generation anthropologist. For a long time, I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I realized that I wanted to study law as a key part of humanity rather than practice it. UCI’s Anthropology Department is one of the top programs in the country. I am proud to be part of a department that is known for its innovative research, theoretical rigor, and contributions to larger conversations beyond academia.

Q: Tell us about your research. What problem will your findings help solve, and where can your work be found if someone wanted to learn more?

A: I study the importance of legislatures to peacebuilding in Northern Ireland. Further, I argue that legislatures need to be taken more seriously as sites of democracy both within anthropology and public dialogue. I am particularly proud of this online edited collection that I did as Digital Editorial Fellow for Political and Legal Anthropology Review (POLAR).

Q: What organizations and foundations have funded your research while you’ve been at UCI, and any awards you’d like to mention in that pursuit?

A: I am grateful to the Department of Anthropology, the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding’s Kugelman Fellowship, the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies here at UCI for making my research possible.

I was the 2019 winner of the Kathy Alberti Prize for Outstanding Promise as a Future Professor, the School of Social Sciences’ highest honor. I have also been very active in Associated Graduate Students (AGS) where I was the first ever LGBTQ Engagement Chair from 2018-2019.

Q: Who have been your faculty mentors while here, and what impact have they had on your graduate career?

A: Professor Mei Zhan has been a mentor since I started in the program. I have become a better ethnographer, teacher, and person by working with her. Professor Nahum Chandler has taught me to read closely and interpret social theory in global context. Dean Bill Maurer has always encouraged me to ask complex questions and find joy in anthropological practice. Finally, Professor Victoria Bernal’s support for my ideas and feedback on my writing made my project stronger. I was lucky to have such a great committee on my dissertation.

Q: Any unique life experiences that have guided your educational journey? Give us some background.

A: I received a Fulbright fellowship to complete my M.A. in Belfast Northern Ireland. My research would not have been possible without that opportunity. From Belfast to Irvine, I am excited to see what happens next!

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